Yes, we are a nation of warriors, especially when confronted by incidents that reveal our continued struggle with racism, such as those that headline the news this week – a discussion on race hosted by media personality Gareth Cliff and the withdrawal of national cricketer Quinton de Kock from the most recent match of the Proteas.
In response to a point made by the black participant on the daily experience of racism of black South Africans, Cliff, in his podcast, declared her comments as “anecdotal and unimportant”.
De Kock withdrew from the team following a Cricket South Africa board directive instructing all players as a team to ‘take the knee’ in solidarity with the global #BlackLivesMatter movement.
De Kock on Thursday explained that his decision to withdrew followed a lack of consultation with players to explain the instruction. After engaging on the matter, he confirmed his support for the instruction and #BlackLivesMatter. He will take the knee at upcoming matches.
Quinton de Kock statement 📝 pic.twitter.com/Vtje9yUCO6— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) October 28, 2021
Following the podcast, Cliff lost the sponsor for the show. However, rather than addressing the content of the discussion, Nando’s cited the disparaging way Cliff interacted with his guest as the reason for their decision.
Cliff is yet to respond.
The public response on social media and other media quickly developed into heavy debates on constitutional freedoms, pervasive racism, histories of racial injustice and the demands of identity politics.
As a nation, we swiftly stepped into our warrior instincts, deciding on the essentials of the fight and who is the enemy, rushing to campaign against him.
Arguably, for the public discourse to develop in this way is to be expected and acceptable in a nation with its struggle and victory for freedom so close, as are the legacies of a fraught past.
Yet, South Africans are not only warriors but also peacekeepers with a set of instincts that foreground conversation and the collective design of solutions.
As a nation, we constructed this second set of instincts as part of the national project for reconciliation during the first decade of democracy.
Today, then comrades and enemies are and attempt to become compatriots in a shared space of democratic citizenship.
Read in this way, public discourse therefore can be seen as inevitably swaying between the instincts, performances and campaigns of the warrior and the peacekeeper.
Individuals, groups, organisations and the state all enact the underlying identities – identities that are more similar than they are different between people and groups that on the surface seem very different and seemingly opposite.
Public discourse on race emphasises the standard categories of the apartheid race bar, thereby reducing the complexities of the debates and resulting performances by individuals, collectives and organisations.
The reduction leaves us little option but to be and act only as warriors or peacemakers when diverse voices with different opinions engage one another in public discourse.
However, in between the two foundational instincts so closely associated with a transitional society lies a series of developing instincts that hints at an underlying set of new identities to direct the future of a nation – a new “typology of the warrior”.
This refers to the many configurations of how the instincts of the warrior and peacemaker combine when each different voice, citizen or group engages with every new incident and joins its discourse.
Hidden in how a nation responds to issues of race and racism lies the instincts not only of the warrior and the peacemaker, but also of the rebuilder, the enforcer, the humanitarian, the bridge builder and of the free.
* Rudi Buys is the executive dean of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute.