Comedian and Journalist Daniel Friedman did not incite or encourage white genital mutilation, but there is an argument that he owes an apology for using loaded terms without taking into account the actual incidents those words are associated with.

Last month, comedian and news editor of the Citizen’s online platform Daniel Friedman was suspended after allegedly posting a racist tweet.

In the intervening time, a horrific attack on Timothy Rademeyer and Dirkie Voges on a farm near Bapsfontein, in which Rademeyer’s genitals were hacked with a sharp object, prompted YouTube activist Willem Petzer, a critic of Friedman’s, to assert in a video: ‘The torture in this farm attack are exactly the things that the Citizen’s online editor, Daniel Friedman, thought was a massive joke and who made a comedy skit mocking “these sort of behaviours”.’

Petzer was referring to a 2015 YouTube video, ‘White Genocide’, which Friedman – in his persona as comedian DeepFriedMan – made and has defended. In the video, Friedman sings: ‘Before you can say “why the anger”, they’ll cut-off your white cock with a panga and hold it up and say “that’s a beauty, I’m gonna take it home and turn it into muthi”.’ The Citizen defended the video on the grounds that it was satirising not farmers, but those white suburban South Africans who had believed there would be a genocide of whites after the death of former President Nelson Mandela.

It is not my intention to attack Daniel Friedman personally, but I believe that, in However,the light of muthi killings and the fact that pangas have been used in farm killings, it was insensitive and tactless of him to use the words he chose in his satire. Rather than mocking white people, Friedman could be argued to have unintentionally mocked the almost exclusively black victims of muthi killings. Five years before the video was released, Candice Bailey reported in ‘Muthi killings is a way of life in rural areas’: ‘One in five people in South Africa’s rural areas has had first-hand experience of a human body part being trafficked after a muthi killing.’

She went on: ‘And, of the body parts mentioned in their accounts, male genitals, breasts, hearts, fingers and tongues are the most commonly listed, according to research undertaken by the Human Rights League in Mozambique and supported by Childline in South Africa. The study’s findings are all the more shocking after the recent discovery of 10-year-old Masego Kgomo’s mutilated body in dense bush in Soshanguve, Tshwane.’

The point is: muthi killings have been a brutal and well-known horror for a long time.

As for farm murders, did Friedman mean to make fun of them? I don’t think so, his error was in using words that evoke actual incidents in South Africa and expecting people to understand what he meant, not what may be associated with it.

Comedy is by nature subjective and culturally specific. For example, in some families it is a matter of acceptable convention to tell jokes about the deceased at a funeral (if the deceased lived a long and reasonably good life). In other families, this would be considered inappropriate. One has to take into account the audience and context. What better example can there be than Justine Sacco’s tweet, ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ in a failed attempt at ridiculing stereotypes. This caused a massive outcry on Twitter and Sacco lost her job and suffered enormous damage. This is an indication of how important context and audience are in making jokes.

In defence of Friedman’s ‘White Genocide’ video, the Citizen published an article criticizing Petzer for what he had said. The article referred to Petzer as a ‘brat’ and said he had deliberately twisted the meaning of the video to create the impression that it was about farm murders. And here we come to the difficulty of the term ‘white genocide’.

Whether or not Friedman was aiming his satire at cushy suburbanites, the term has often been associated with farm murders. Against a legal definition, white South Africans cannot be said to have experienced, or be experiencing, genocide. However, the risk of targeted, ethnically motivated attacks on a minority are not a laughing matter. Tolerance of an attitude of violence against white people has been growing in public and not just thanks to statements from the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema.

For example, at the beginning of last year, in response to three students dying in an accident at Hoërskool Driehoek in the Vaal Triangle, a Facebook user posted: ‘Don’t have heart to feel pain for white kids. Minus 3 future problems.’ This was condoned by radical black nationalist party Black First Land First, which celebrated the deaths. How is that any different from the most classic dehumanization tactics against minorities? Such sentiments seem to have filtered all the way into the meetings of NGOs, judging by the experience of a friend of mine who was shocked recently when a white dominee told a meeting: ‘I have come to realise that to be white is to be less than human’, and almost everyone in the room (white and black) nodded their heads in solemn agreement.

Making light of violence – real or imagined – against white people feeds into normalising the notion that white pain and death do not matter and do not need to be taken seriously. Petzer was not a ‘brat’ for surmising from loaded terms such as ‘white genocide’ and jokes about cutting off the penises of white men that Friedman was making light of farm murders. It is disturbing that Friedman and the Citizen were not horrified at the misunderstanding – which could have been rectified without resorting to name-calling. By the same token, offence caused by the video does not justify the anti-Semitic backlash aimed at Friedman.

The resort to name-calling, which turns legitimate differences of opinion into personal bickering, overshadows the real issue. Although I firmly believe the difference between what is right and what is wrong is discernible in most situations, it is often in the contest between Right and Left perspectives that the truth emerges. It would be uninteresting and there would be little to be gained if all journalists agreed with one another, which is why a reasonable approach to disagreement, and respectful sensitivity to context, are essential.

To quote that friend of mine who was present at the NGO meeting: ‘There are two types of hypocrites in this world; those who don’t know they are hypocrites and those who do. The problem is, many journalists are actually activists. This is totally fine, but only if you are honest about it.’

So why don’t we all just get real about it and ditch the double standards?

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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2 COMMENTS

  1. There is also the matter of Friedman tweeting about named critics having herpes infected mouths.

    One needs a really funny sense of humour to find that funny.

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