Since my role in reporting the tweet that got David Bullard axed from the Daily Friend is now public, I’d like to take a moment to clarify my views on the matter.

I’ve been a life-long admirer of Bullard’s writing. When I was still at school, delivering the Sunday Times to subscribers, I would always read his column before embarking on my bicycle, heavily loaded with newspapers that in those days were as thick as telephone books.

I thought of him as South Africa’s answer to P.J. O’Rourke: a flamboyant satirist, unafraid to offend, and able to convey important ideas in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner.

I defended him in 2008 when he was fired by Mondli Makhanya, the editor of the Sunday Times, over a column in which he extolled the benefits that colonialism brought to Africa. I described his column as condescending, grating, offensive, and probably racist, but did not believe that this merited suppressing the debate Bullard, ineptly in my view, was trying to stir.

I acknowledged that Makhanya had every right to fire him, and that this was not a question of free speech. The right to freedom of expression protects citizens from the state. It does not oblige private organisations to tolerate any and all speech.

I questioned Makhanya’s motives for firing Bullard, however, since it surely wasn’t news that Bullard was wont to offend, and he had recently written a scathing critique of the Sunday Times and its publishers.

Puerile and dangerously counterproductive

One might have hoped that Bullard would learn from this incident, but since then, he has said a lot of things that are off-colour and could be interpreted as racist. Even if he does not mean them to be racist, and means only to provoke those who shout ‘racist’ too lightly, they’re not half as clever as he appears to think they are. Provocative race-baiting strikes me as puerile and dangerously counterproductive in the South African socio-political milieu. It hardly makes for good satire, in my opinion.

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) is an advocacy organisation. It acts as a public policy think tank that promotes classical liberalism as a means to defeat poverty and tyranny through a system of limited government, a market economy, private enterprise, freedom of speech, individual liberty, property rights, and the rule of law. Its main object, as described in its Memorandum of Incorporation, is to promote democracy, human rights, development, and reconciliation between the various peoples of South Africa.

In the old South Africa, for over 60 years, it strongly opposed Apartheid, and was derisively painted as ‘pinko-liberal’, ‘left-wing’ and ‘k*****-boeties’ by the illiberal nationalist regime. The struggle against Apartheid was won by a left-wing alliance of African nationalists, unionists, socialists and communists, all of which also adhered to illiberal ideas. Although the IRR had not changed its liberal principles one iota, it now risked being painted, equally falsely, as a right-wing organisation and defender of the old order.

To be effective in its mission, the IRR must be taken seriously by policymakers and the general public. It cannot expose itself to the risk of being dismissed as an organisation that tolerates racism.

It was with this risk in mind, as a member of the IRR Council, that I brought Bullard’s recent controversial tweet to the attention of the IRR’s CEO, Frans Cronjé.

Apparently, we were to read into the ‘k-word’ the word ‘kleptocrat’. Presumably, only the perpetually offended woke brigade would assume that it referred to the racist epithet, and this would expose them as being small-minded, over-sensitive, race-obsessed, and politically correct to the point of censorship.

I don’t buy this explanation, however. Why would we need a new word for ‘kleptocrat’? The existing term is perfectly serviceable.

Bullard didn’t help his case for claiming he is not racist when two days later he corrected a black detractor’s spelling, and sarcastically added, ‘The white man comes to the rescue yet again…’

Petty race-baiting

This sort of petty race-baiting shouldn’t be prohibited by the state. I’m a free speech absolutist. However, it does splash back onto organisations with which he is associated. In the case of the IRR, it undermines not only its political goal of promoting classical liberal principles in the governance of South Africa, but also the race relations it upholds in its very name.

The IRR’s decision to dismiss Bullard as a columnist from its publication, the Daily Friend, stands in stark contrast not only to my own blog post of 2008, but also to the brave defence of Bullard raised by Politicsweb editor James Myburgh, against pressure from a major funder.

Myburgh’s decision to reject an ultimatum from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) to fire Bullard or lose its financial support was eminently correct. A news publication ought to tolerate a wide range of views, even if they are offensive, and should never sacrifice its editorial independence to the dictats of donors, advertisers or owners.

Unlike the IRR, Politicsweb is not an organisation committed to promoting a particular ideology or set of political principles. The question of whether its contributors support or undermine those principles therefore never arises.

It is important to note that the IRR acted without any pressure from its donors, even though the FNF is also an important supporter of the IRR. If the FNF had presented the IRR with an ultimatum similar to the demand it made of Politicsweb, the situation would be become more complicated, but the result would have been the same.

Principles and public reputation

The IRR would have first had to cut its ties with the FNF, in order to protect the organisation’s integrity, before cutting ties with Bullard, to protect its principles and public reputation.

There is no doubt in my mind that the CEO would have done so, had this circumstance arisen. It would not have been the first time he sacrificed donor funding to secure the integrity and principles of the IRR.

I fully support the decision of James Myburgh not to bow to donor pressure and fire Bullard. It was the right thing to do, for an independent news and opinion publisher. Without any inconsistency, however, I also support Cronjé’s decision to dismiss Bullard as a columnist for the Daily Friend, in order to protect the principles and public image of the IRR, and I don’t regret the small part I might have played in what led up to that decision.

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

If you like what you have just read, subscribe to the Daily Friend

42 COMMENTS

  1. I have to say that I am extremely disappointed in the IRR’s response to Bullard’s tweet. Lot of the lefties say that the IRR is a right wing racist organisation and it looks that you are trying to show your “woke” credentials. Remember what Salman Rushdie said: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

    “two days later he corrected a black detractor’s spelling” How do you know he was black and not a white right winger mocking blacks with bad spelling? Twitter does not verify the validity any of a person’s claim of race, sex, nationality, etc. I am a 74 year old white heterosexual atheist male born in Hungary and living in SA for the last 50 years, but I could easily claim on twitter that I am a 20 year old Nigerian muslim lesbian living in the US.

  2. Dear Ivo,
    I have to say old chap, that when you came across from the Daily Maverick to the Daily Friend, a discordant note was struck in my head. Anyone who could tolerate that environment of ersatz liberalism for as long as you did, was going to need to do quite a bit of work to convince others of your true stripe. Now we have David Bullard’s departure and we learn of your involvement in ‘splitting ‘ on a colleague. Mmm…. doesn’t sit well Ivo, but let’s wait and see.

  3. Petty, Ivo; petty, narrow minded and mean spirited- and your self justification even more so.
    IRR- very disappointing.

  4. Your article has this at the bottom:


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

    Why is it so difficult to apply that to Bullard posting his own Tweet?

    The problem with your article is that you are pandering to the terms of racial nationalists when you let people who are offended by something that you recognize as a joke decide what you can and cannot say.

    All good card carrying leftists would have probably labeled your work as racist at some point or another.
    Does that mean you should also be told to take a hike from the IRR?

  5. Ivo, your goose is cooked and the explanation for the tip-off sounds weak and smells of guilt. The boy who cried wolf. How ironic, not so long ago you have been propelled from Daily Maverick …for expressing your… views. First of all David Bullard is a punching satirist and you don’t take satirists seriously (he doesn’t take himself seriously) especially on twitter. Anyway playing a foot soldier of political correctness in a country turning into communist utopia is loopy.

    • “punching satirist”?! Good grief! He’s just a tone deaf stirrer who passes sarcasm off as wit. Pieter Dirk-Uys is a satirist. To be a satirist you have to do a very clever thing called prosopopeia which involves your taking on the voice of the person you intend to mock. David Bollard never rose to that level.

      • PDU is a perverted old washed up has been.
        And the spelling is Bullard and not Bollard
        I note oh Ivo has his Malan cap on, so where’s yours then. ?

      • Thank you, Andrew, for your comment on my comment. It is much appreciated, but it’s like, you know, your opinion on the matter, and opinions are like a** holes, everybody has one. Your definition of satire seems to be too simplistic. Satire, according to the English Dictionary, is any kind of mockery, humor, exaggeration or irony to ridicule, expose or criticize people’s stupidity or vices, especially in the context of latest politics, and the “clever thing called prosopopeia ” or personification, is not necessarily a requisite to a satire. Have a nice day, Andrew. PS: BTW, you sound like Ivo.

        • Thanks for your opinion on what satire is. You’re right! Satire is used too bluntly nowadays. No distinction between the crude, sarcastic sort that Bullard does and the more sophisticated, courageous, witty, disarming sort that Pieter Dirk Uys was known for.
          PS: Prosopopeia is not personification, neither is parody.

  6. On a point of information Ivo. My column of 2008 did not extol the benefits of colonialism. It warned about the coming of a new type of colonialists from a place called China. Maybe you’re just not very good at getting the point?

    • Actually, David, let’s remind ourselves of how you made that pertinent point, becuase your supporters here are bit like Trump supporters saying “He tells it like it is.”
      Headline: “Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing ”
      Paragraph 1: The “evil” white man came with mere disturbance of the peace.
      Paragraph 3: The ignorant tribesmen blissfully unaware of the gold they’d be exploited to mine.
      Paragraph 4: “There are no roads because no roads are needed because there are no cars.” Because why? Because we can assume Africans don’t trade and travel?
      Etc, etc, paragraph after paragraph of racist insult and justification of colonialism, all of it as if none of the technological advances we have now could have been had some other way, like … lets think really hard now because you know how elusive a little logic can be … um … how about fair trade?

      Then there’s the conclusion: “Suddenly the indigenous population realise what they have been missing all along: someone to blame.” Almost like, well, if we didn’t do it, the Chinese would have. But that’s the least of the problem with it. Does anyone living in a post-Apartheid South Africa with just a little education need it spelled out why that last paragraph is every bit as offensive as the K-word? Certainly no journalist writing that deserves his job, or if he does, it’s with the Oranje Volksblad, not a Sunday national.

      • DB doesn’t need anyone defending himself as he is more than capable of doing that on his own.
        When an open minded person or a liberated person or should we say a FREE person (owned by no one, no not even your boss) reads his writings you relate and identify that it’s written from that point of reference, very liberating indeed. Personally I find it quite cathartic actually.
        Somehow one doesn’t find that with Ivo but that’s who you defend. Ivo’s recent ”confession” on splitting on DB really sucks cloaked with all this IRR hogwash.
        I suggest IRR go officially register as a political party then.

  7. Whatever happened to the original ‘sticks and stones’ adage; giving offence is very different from taking offense. In wokeland taking offense has become an art form.

    • Okay, Tim, why don’t you go and do a Adam Catzavelos performance for us and see how well that defence works in a court of law – that is since your conscience doesn’t seem to be a good arbiter in these matters.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above here. Your explanations Ivo, are simplistic and I am annoyed that Dave Bullard is gone from the IRR. Something smells in the house of Usher.

  9. Like most of the commentators above, I am disappointed and saddened by the response of Ivo, the IRR and the FNF to Bullard’s tweet. But I love the unintended consequence of encouraging massive funding support for Politicsweb, which is richly deserved. No bad deed goes unrewarded.

  10. Dear Ivo
    The K-word is banished when civility, discipline, empathy, logic and argument are superseded by derogatory uninformed malicious generalisation, distraction and bigotry.
    Backed up by IRR research which indicates that 64% of surveyed black South Africans think race relations have improved since 1994, am I allowed to conclude that accusations of “racist” has lot in common with k-word utilisation?
    On this premise your “justification” for outing Bullard as a racist on a completely unrelated platform strikes me as nothing other than pathetic and sycophantic virtue signalling to the woke narrative now hijacked by desperate political opportunism. The true racist battle is with the hypocritical purveyors of the White Monopoly Capital myth who have spent the last 26 year selfishly gorging on the fruits of capitalism while simultaneously grinding the economy into the ground. So respect free speech and leave satirists do what satirists do best… stoking introspection.

  11. The IRR “promotes classical liberalism as a means to defeat poverty and tyranny through a system of limited government, a market economy, private enterprise, freedom of speech, individual liberty, property rights, and the rule of law”, and has “not changed its liberal principles one iota”.

    The IRR is willing to jettison its own principles “in order to protect the principles and public image of the IRR”.

    Hmmmmm……

    There is now no doubt in my mind that, had the FNF in fact turned the screws, the IRR would have buckled immediately.

    As the inimitable Churchill correctly pointed out, if the IRR is lucky, the crocodile will just eat it last. Pity.

    • The IRR did not jettison any of its principles. They are well within their rights to exercise their right to freedom of association.

      • You are correct, Jacques. It is encouraging that so many are willing to engage openly on the question of free speech, as this thread shows, yet there appears to be some confusion, too. Free speech is not the issue. Over the past two years, we have defended the right to free speech of, among others, Julius Malema and Andile Mngxitama, because, as some in this thread have pointed out, it is a fundamental principle the IRR cleaves to, and it cleaves to it because it is the foundational freedom of open, democratic societies. But defending Malema’s and Mngxitama’s right to free speech did not mean the IRR agreed with what they said, or could be mistaken for lending its support in any way to the programmes and principles of the EFF or the BLF.
        The key issue for the IRR in judging David Bullard’s tweet is the first principle of liberalism: liberty of the individual. For us, society is made up of individuals who can be judged only on their merits, not what language they speak, what gods they worship, what their gender is, their class or their skin colour. Whether he’d meant ‘kleptocrat’ or ‘kleptomaniac’ or any other K word you could imagine doesn’t alter the fact that Bullard deliberately played on the anticipated misapprehension of readers that he was referring to a racial slur which, for more than a century, has reinforced and served to validate the very opposite of liberty of the individual. The risk here is more than a reputational one. It is not about the image of the IRR, but what it stands for. As we said on the record last week: ‘The edifice of racialism was and still is propped up by name calling that has a long history of harm and hurt …. The K-word in particular has for too long been used only to denigrate and demean people on the basis of their skin colour, and nurturing it in any form only sustains that harm – and sustains the rationale of all racialism.’ We believe countering racialism of every kind is an article of faith, because it always undermines individual liberty. We believe that race and anything that might be said about it short of threatening imminent violence or inciting harm (as the Constitution defines the free-speech limit) cannot be placed beyond scrutiny, for that, too, is a threat to liberty. But this was not the issue last week. As we said: ‘We don’t ever call for those we disagree with to be censored or sanctioned or charged, but we subscribe equally to the right to freely associate, and we choose to associate with those who support our liberal ideas.’

        • Not having any love lost for David Bullard, I do not think it is fair to suggest that he was in any way endorsing or flaming racialism. I support the idea that you may not wish to associate with him, but I do not think that this tweet is anywhere near as noxious as it is made out to be. The risk with the K-word, and merely calling it the K-word, is self-censorship. As such, jumping on this bandwagon with a knee-jerk is an own goal, and it means accepting the premise of the ideological opposition that certain words have magical powers and automatically result in dog-whistling and widespread offence.

          To be clear: Not sure what David Bullard was doing on your platform in the first place, so by all means get rid of him. But tweets alluding to verboten terms – please. Pull the other one.

          • I hear you, Garg; there is always a risk of making more of things than might seem warranted. But I think the point is less that certain words have magical powers than that they have a meaning, and the meaning we object to is precisely the premise of the ideological opposition (a meaning which is, in fact, far from being verboten)

  12. If, as you say Bullard was fired to protect the image of the IRR. Why have the disclaimer at the end of each article that reads

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

    That would suggest that the Daily Friend is open to divergent view points. You can’t have it both ways!?

      • Why because these boundaries make you comfortable? I agree with Pierre an although I previously thought Ivo Vegter was honest, I still think he is, However when a so called liberal think tank starts ridding itself of people who might offend them starts to make one wonder. The IRR should allow both points of view and let the reader discern. Even if they don’t like the taste. He is unfortunately sitting on the fence. A two faced person unfortunately, but at least he is honest. Disappointed too though at his response.

  13. Ivo, I used to wonder how you tolerated working at the Daily Maverick. Now I know that you have turned into one of them.

    I do not believe that the Friedrich Naumann Institute did not whisper in confidence some words into Frans’s ear that threatened the IRR’s funding and its existence. Ballard’s name would have been mentioned.

    The best pragmatic solution for the “greater good” would have been for the IRR to quietly “let go” Bullard and kept mum to the public. Not ideal but better than than losing creditability.

    • I agree with this. A quiet let go would have seemed more sincere than a massive public horn blowing exercise. Oh well, I do in general support the direction of the IRR and enjoy the content it provides. No skin off my nose so far.

  14. That you even need to try to justify triggering his sacking speaks volumes.

    I only ever came to this site to read Bullard’s columns for the satire and humour. The only reason I came onto this side now for the first time since his sacking is because I was expecting a smear article and lo and behold!

    Only problem for you is that you’re smearing yourself with your own sh*t.

    He’s seems pretty clean through non-liberal-idiot, non-race-tinted glasses.

  15. You do not have to publish Bullards articles but the IRR did as did the ST many years ago perhaps the editors should take more responsibility the “publish and be dammed” attitude is fine but take responsibility for it dont blame the writer. I shall not be following the daily any more sad day.

  16. By the way, I see both Gareth van Onselen and you have called PW a news site. Maybe – but it editorials / opinion section are mostly by liberal writers. The not so liberal writers all basically write anti-ANC stuff or some like Mugabe seem to function as some caricature of the ANC. All stuff the comment section enjoy or in the case of Mugabe seem to react to as some ideological trigger. So it is a bit of a stretch to me to pretend a site with John Stuart Mill as its logo is a news site. It has a news section and publishes some news / media releases but it is mostly for a liberal environment and readership.

    So I think you guys are both here trying to make yourselfs look better against James Myberg with this support of his decision as a news site editor.

    For what it is worth I think JM’s defense says a lot about the man (compliment). Although it has a lot of self serving bs in it as well. At least he stands by his decision to hire Bullard. This is my biggest gripe – what liberal cause does David Bullard serve and why did two liberal online publications feel the need to pickup Bullard knowing what his style and columns is all about? Free speech – please – why not hire and even bigger sh$tstirrer to signal how much you care about free speech?

    Nah our liberals should be honest and admit DB and his writing strikes a cord and resonates not only with some liberals but also this idea that they should fight an American style culture war – pick up guy nobodys wants to hire – in country where you cannot even bank on a quarter of the culture supporting you. Both the IRR and PW have to ask if this was not an own goal?

  17. Personal opinion: David Bullard is only interested in shameless self-promotion and is not a principled person, let alone someone with classical liberal principles. No real loss here.

  18. Own goal after own goal this last couple of weeks for our classic liberals. One part they need to understand in the battle of ideas or cultural wars on social media is your position relative to the “opposition”. In the US polarisation can work on some level with two camps roughly 50/50 over a set of issues. RSA is not the US and liberalism faces a completely different set of challenges.

    Take our social media liberals today posting two videos (Renaldo and Roman) on how CR is just a racist. These two videos will be a net loss in the war of ideas and culture wars they want to fight. It is simply reactionary and position liberals as just the opposite identity politics provocateers as those on the left. Call the CR argument out – plenty to criticise – but do you have to call him a racist too? It plays well with the minority in SA that believe the ANC is racist…the rest just got another reason to label these two sites and everyone that appear on it alt-right, reactionary and right-wing identity politics. But then again…confusing likes, contrarian content and comments sections for advancing the political scoreboard has become somewhat of a institutionalised trend among our classic liberals…

  19. The picture at the top of the site has an over representation of males. Can you follow reddit founder example and fire yourself to make room for more females?

  20. It’s funny how life works. It was only yesterday, Mr Vegter, you were crying foul, claiming greenies were out to deplatform you en kyk hoe lyk ons nou. Not a pretty picture as, in addition to your engineering Bullard’s @IRR downfall, Bullard claims on Twitter that you were also ‘lobbying hard for @PolWeb to fire me’. If true, you haven’t covered yourselves in glory. As for your representation here and elsewhere of Bullard’s clearly tricksterish intention, either you’re being disingenuous or you’ve been suckered:

    Fool (sings):
    Fools had ne’er less wit in a year,
    For wise men are grown foppish.
    They know not how their wits to wear,
    Their manners are so apish. (‘King Lear’ Act 1 Scene (iv) l. 158-61)

  21. Well now you just have to read the readers comments to have it reinforced in your mind that this is indeed a neoliberal right wing bog! The Hun, Niall O’Hagan, B. Nevill, David Fourie, Eva Barbara, Tim Bester, Ian Perry, Lionel Greenberg, etc … you lot clearly don’t really know what freedom of speech is. To you it’s just a simple fundamentalist dogma.

  22. In philosophy we’d call David Bullard a Humpty Dumpty – someone who thinks he can make words mean what he likes, and is then reduced to a meaningless mass after an awful crash. Is it a cravat or a belt he had on, I wonder?
    The incident also reminds me of how so many white racists in this country argued about the K-word, appealing to its etymology and saying it’s just an old Arab word for unbeliever.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    ‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice ‘what that means?’

    ‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

    ‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

    ‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    ‘Ah, you should see ‘em come round me of a Saturday night,’ Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: ‘for to get their wages, you know.’

    (Alice didn’t venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can’t tell you.)

    ‘You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,’ said Alice.

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