‘The soft bigotry of low expectations’ is a phrase that generally intends to mean the practice of expecting less from members of a disadvantaged group and thus implicitly encouraging those people not to reach their full potential.

This appears to be what Nando’s did when it made the decision to terminate the sponsorship of The Burning Platform, the flagship current affairs programme on CliffCentral.com. CliffCentral.com is the brainchild of media personality Gareth Cliff, being the first online podcast-based media platform in South Africa.

The discussion at issue involved John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), and One South Africa’s national spokeswoman, Mudzuli Rakhivhane. Cliff had had OneSA on a previous ‘election’ episode but this was the first time Rakhivhane was on as a guest.

In the hour-long interview, Rakhivhane came across as very confident and articulate. She didn’t appear to be intimidated by the experience; if she was it didn’t show. Unlike all the assumptions made by the black chattering classes/black twitterati, Rakhivhane was treated respectfully by Cliff, as was Steenhuisen. 

She explained the role of OneSA, which is to support independents who share core values of OneSA. She said that the three core values of OneSA were ubuntu, non-racism and non-sexism. This left one with a sense that OneSA stood for something that all the parties stood for, but it said nothing that gave a sense of what its values are as a unique institution supporting independent candidates in a meat-and-potatoes municipal election.

Rakhivhane also on occasion displayed a lack of understanding of basic political concepts such as how and why the official opposition is a parliamentary concept.

She also didn’t understand how the publication of the list of candidates prior to the election worked. But these are not overly significant and one might attribute these lapses to youth and relative inexperience in the hurly-burly of electoral politics.

What it did suggest was that the entire concept of OneSA is limited by the fact that, as it doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of the election processes, it is likely to make these gaffes. After all OneSA leader Mmusi Maimane never held the position of councillor, in contrast to the ten years’ experience of Steenhuisen.

The thrust of Steenhuisen’s input was that the DA’s record of delivering at local level was a good one, and that it’s about basic services to improve people’s lives – things one must get right at local level. 

Then Cliff said that in order not to be seen to be giving Steenhuisen a soft ride, he must ask Steenhuisen about the posters the party put up in Phoenix, which had been claimed to be racist for seeming to support the Indian community during the dreadful unrest in July.

Steenhuisen put forward an explanation, and there was much to and fro between him, Rakhivhane and Cliff on the merits of the argument. Rakhivhane’s view was clearly opposed to Steenhuisen’s and she attacked him on it, which is her right.

Then the red-rag-to-the-bull moment occurred. Rakhivhane said that she took the poster as an affront, that racial tensions between blacks and Indians did not begin in Durban, and that what had been said was not helpful.  

The clip on Twitter, which was posted on Rakhivhane’s twitter feed, starts with a clearly annoyed Cliff saying that he is sure there are 100 000 people who are going to sleep tonight worrying about where their next meal is coming from, and about five people worried about the ‘hideous racism our there’. At this point Rakhivhane started talking over him in disagreement: ‘I must interject’. Cliff persists in presenting his view and refers to the IRR providing ‘endless reports’ which say that racism is at the bottom of their list of people’s priorities and concerns. Rakhivhane tries to talk over him saying: ‘You don’t experience the kind of racism that I experience on a daily basis as a black woman’. Cliff’s view was that this was not an issue in this election.

Whether one agrees with Cliff’s tone or his refusal to agree with Rakhivhane, he ‘spoke over’ her as she ‘spoke over him’. Racism between black and Indian people, she said, had stretched over decades, pioneered by the apartheid government to make sure that they ‘gave Indian people just that little bit of extra privilege so that that creates a mindset that says “You know what? I am better than this race and class below me”.’ This analysis did not aid her cause. All through this, Cliff just listened. Then he asked Steenhuisen to answer Rakhivhane’s questions before moving on. 

So far, so standard for a debate. Then Cliff said he didn’t want to do what all media organisations have done and that is to create a false equivalence between a DA poster with ‘the abhorrent theft of billions of rands from the coffers of this country, which has really affected the poor and exacerbated the differences between us, and say that the DA is as equally as awful as the ANC.’

In her tweet on these two minutes Rakhivhane said:

‘When they try to talk over you and tell you that your experiences as a black woman in South Africa do not matter. Racism is structural and even operates at a municipal level. The literal definition of black lives don’t matter.’

This was guaranteed to get the support of the black chattering classes on Twitter, as it did. The issue becomes about her. It’s sad to see the employment of self-pity by a woman who seemed strong enough not to be self-pitying. It also highlights the glaring hole in the middle of ‘structural racism’ and ‘lived experiences’ that no one ever spells out what the experiences are, and so they can never be addressed. Similarly one cannot tackle a societal issue if everyone’s experience is different.

However, the award for mealy-mouthed cowardice goes to Nando’s, which announced that it was withdrawing, ‘with immediate effect’, its over five-year sponsorship of The Burning Platform, for the reason:

‘In the case of The Burning Platform episode aired on 21st October 2021 … Nando’s was of the view that Gareth Cliff failed to create an environment where freedom of speech was possible by talking over Mudzuli Rakhivhane and dismissing her view whilst not allowing her to adequately express it.’

I would venture to suggest that one, some or all of the following were the reasons for the decision, that Nando’s:

  1. was terrified of what the Twitter storm would do to its brand;
  2. was terrified that it might have the EFF or similar protesting outside its outlets and destroying them;
  3. buys into the identity politics of Rakhivhane and her Twitter supporters by virtue signalling;
  4. didn’t do the hard yards of watching the entire episode and judging whether or not Cliff had, except for this issue, been polite and given Rakhivhane time and opportunity to express herself; and
  5. had wanted to terminate the relationship for some time and picked this as the opportunity to do so while retaining the moral high ground.

It looks like a rather naff set of circumstances in which a tough, irreverent brand should cave so utterly. If I was Rakhivhane I would be offended by the suggestion given by Nando’s that I was a defenceless woman relying on the patriarchy of Nando’s to come to her aid. There was nothing in her performance that suggested she needed Nando’s support.

OneSA needs to coach its spokesperson on how not to lose your cool, to avoid being sarcastic to the host, to be more knowledgeable, and to maintain the dignity of the organisation. Sadly at the end of the day she chose to play to Twitter rather than the voting public. 

If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend