My advice to columnists who bandy the term ‘right-wing’ around should take care not to attach labels to people they know nothing about.
I must begin with an apology. When my last column appeared on 7 July, I ended by mentioning that I was off to the UK to watch over the orderly and seamless selection of a new British prime minister without all the fuss, expense and kerfuffle of a general election. Not surprisingly, the lefties at The Guardian newspaper and their local groupies got very hot under the collar about this process and compared it to a coup. It is, quite simply, a case of the party in power selecting a new leader and it’s something the SA government has done twice in the past and will probably do again in the very near future.
Anyway, on my return from the UK, I was so exhausted after the impeccable service at the sharp end of the Emirates flight from Dubai that I fell into a deep slumber and failed to file a column timeously. In my defence, I would argue that my intelligence sources had already informed me that Helen Zille would be announcing her marriage to the IRR on the very day my column was due to appear and I didn’t want to upstage her. Or maybe I didn’t want to be upstaged. ‘Whatever’, as the young are wont to say.
I imagine that if Helen Zille ordered a glass of blanc de noir wine over lunch some scrofulous left-wing journo would accuse her of drinking a racist wine, citing the subjugation of the poor exploited black grape to the advantage of the white wine. A metaphor for all that is wrong in South Africa. A classic example of white (well, pinkish) privilege over black suffering encapsulated in a glass.
Pretty well anything Helen Zille does these days is subjected to scrutiny, so it was hardly surprising that her joining forces with the IRR as a Senior Fellow would ruffle a few feathers. What I hadn’t imagined is that I would be a vicarious beneficiary of her appointment.
It’s eleven years since I left the employ of the Sunday Times and, by rights, I should just be an historical oddity by now. But my name keeps popping up in the strangest of places which, as one ex-journo friend points out, ‘keeps the legend alive’, so I suppose I should be grateful.
Ismail Lagardien, writing on the Daily Maverick website, penned a piece ominously titled ‘There is much more to Helen Zille’s shift to the right’, hinting, no doubt, at the possibility of an outbreak of burning crosses on Clifton beach and a rush for white pillow cases at the local Whitehouse store. Having sketched the rise of the ‘alt-right’ anti Muslim movement in Europe he goes on to write:
‘Debutant Zille was welcomed, so to speak, by David Bullard, unabashed and quite proud right-wing writer in the following way:
“Now Helen Zille has finally shaken off the shackles of high political office, it has enabled her to attempt to educate her fellow citizens with some stark home truths based on a lifetime of political experience. The newly liberated Helen grabbed the attention of the Twitterati last weekend with her suggestion that if white privilege exists, then black privilege also exists; particularly among the rather lacklustre members of the ruling party who are quite happy to draw their vast taxpayer-sponsored salaries, claim as many perks as possible, then sit back and wait for the kickbacks to roll in; in short, ‘black privilege’ is being able to loot a country and get re-elected, she explained.”’
Now, I can’t deny that I wrote the above, but where, in heaven’s name, does the tag ‘unabashed and quite proud right-wing writer’ come from? Not that I am losing sleep over this. After all, to be regarded as right wing in a country as far left as South Africa is becoming would equate to being regarded as a centrist in the UK.
As far I can recall, I have never met Lagardien. I see he claims to be a writer and a columnist but, until I read him on Daily Maverick I had never heard of him. Which is not to say that he is neither a writer nor a columnist but simply to say that our respective writing universes have not interacted as far as I can recall and since I have been writing a regular (and, I like to think, pretty iconic) column since 1994 I am sure I would remember the name. So how come somebody I have never met (as far as I can recall) thinks he knows enough about my political views to feel confident enough to label me right-wing? Would Lagardien react with equal good humour I wonder if I were to speculate in print on his sexual preferences or his recreational drug use? I doubt it, so my advice Mr Lagardien is to not attach labels to people you know nothing about. And to learn how to write a readable column.
My second dishonourable mention came from Daniel Friedman, the digital news editor for that deeply respected newspaper of record, The Citizen. Young Friedman is the boychild of Steven Friedman, Bizday’s resident left-wing garden gnome and a man who, as far as I know, has never had an economically productive job in his life. Friedman Jnr’s alter ego is a ‘comedian’ who goes by the name of ‘Deep Fried Man’ and you can draw your own conclusions as to his talent for comedy by going onto YouTube and typing ‘I want to make love to your sister’ in the search facility. It may well be that you judge him to be one of the finest comic talents to have emerged since Peter Cook. Or not, as the case may be.
Friedman Jnr’s piece was called ‘Helen Zille, the IRR and the increasingly crowded right-wing closet’ and went on to explain why Zille’s link to the IRR was very dangerous indeed, citing various evidence for this point if view. Rather flatteringly, I was ‘Exhibit A’ and my participation in an IRR event in March in Stellenbosch was offered as a reason for Helen to get the hell out while she still can. Friedman quite correctly pointed out that there was a backlash (more of a backwash in reality) to my invitation, but neglected to mention that the event went off without incident, was well attended and, judging by the after-party, was a roaring success. It’s amazing the pulling power we ‘disgraced newspaper columnists’ have over audiences, Daniel, and that’s probably why I was invited to speak and you weren’t.
Friedman goes on to mention links with AfriForum and the ‘unreliability’ of IRR polls which have a nasty habit of producing results that don’t sit well with the lefty narrative. Like Lagardien, Friedman bandies the term ‘right-wing’ around believing that his readers are so stupid as to believe that the 90-year-old IRR with its impeccable record of liberalism and opposing injustice presents a clear and present danger. In this he is a soul mate of the absurd quasi academic Kelly-Jo Bluen who, at an IRR event in London in June, made a complete fool of herself in public by pointing out to an incredulous audience that ‘in South Africa, the IRR is regarded as a white supremacist hate group’.
Reading his piece (and previous pieces he has written), it’s difficult to know what Friedman wishes for a future South Africa. Civil war maybe? A utopian, socialist, Venezuelan-based economy? Beggar-nation status? Whatever it is, it certainly doesn’t accord with anything the IRR or Helen Zille stand for. So maybe concentrate on that comedy career, Daniel, because political punditry isn’t your forte. On the other hand, it’s one guaranteed way to get people laughing at you.
David Bullard is a columnist, author and celebrity public speaker known for his controversial satire.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.
If you like what you have just read, become a Friend of the IRR if you aren’t already one by SMSing your name to 32823 or clicking here. Each SMS costs R1.’ Terms & Conditions Apply.