Free speech 1, PC faint hearts 0

Staff Writer | Mar 16, 2019
That was the resounding score at the Institute of Race Relations’ packed event in Stellenbosch this week, when IRR CEO Frans Cronje and outspoken columnist David Bullard engaged students and others in civil debate on the future of South Africa.

This is the outcome the PC brigade regarded as so dangerous there was even a call on Stellenbosch University to ban the event.

Instead, on the strength of real debate on race, ideas and policy, the IRR – far from facing hostility and brickbats – has been asked to come back by diverse students invigorated by the opportunity to share and contest ideas.

In the wake of the IRR’s fierce rejection a day earlier of an apologia for apartheid in an AfriForum documentary, the Stellenbosch event – which was conducted in the presence of AfriForum Youth – proved, as Cronje pointed out in his introductory remarks, a signal demonstration of how it is possible to argued the merits of ideas on civil, rational and respectful terms, and without abandoning principles.

Free speech, he argued, was central to confronting the country’s problems, and to guaranteeing an authentic debate especially about the damaging flaws in race-based thinking and policy-making.

As long as government policy continued to be based on race, it would fail to achieve the ‘ideological modernisation’ necessary to ‘sweep away the raft of policies that stand between South Africa and its potential as a free, prosperous, and open society’.

The IRR’s ‘unambiguous rejection’ of race as a basis of policy was, for the time being, ‘heretical’.

Yet, Cronje noted, South Africa ‘is not a society divided against itself.’

He concluded: ‘The great unmet challenge of South African politics is to unite the middle of good, hard-working, law and order South Africans – black and white. That unity has threatened every government that has ruled our country and with your help it is a threat we can make materialise.’

David Bullard was in fine form, suggesting at one point – to much laughter - that God had given South Africans Zimbabwe as an example, a way of saying ‘Guys, don’t f…k it up!’

He said he was, for his own part, ‘largely optimistic’ about South Africa, and its ‘fabulous human capital’ … but only ‘if we get it right’. The country ‘will never thrive while the mass of people are living in poverty’.

Success would depend on South Africans being prepared to ‘speak out, think out of the box and put pressure on people in power’.

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