Shark Cage Diving, Nelson Mandela and the Myth of White Contrition

This is not an article about Nelson Mandela. It is a warning about the dangerous and dishonest attempts by many white South Africans to establish their democratic and human rights credentials in the eyes of the world.

For them and many Western ‘liberals’ Mandela was not a man with many great qualities and a number of major flaws. For them he was a brand, to use as a smokescreen for their apathy towards the social ills that haunt this country and indeed many others across the world.

As a privileged white South African male I am sure to attract a fair amount of opprobrium for daring to question the validity of the mass outpouring of Mandela tributes by privileged white South Africans. That is to be expected. Selfishness, hypocrisy, denial and economic entitlement is so entrenched in the communal white psyche that any contrary view is considered heresy.

Add to that the profound ignorance about the South African constitution, South African history and the liberation process, even among white media workers, and you have evidence of a section of society in perpetual denial and mired in self-delusional apathy. How many white journalists have actually gone through all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports? How many of them have read the WHOLE constitution, not just the preamble and the Bill of Rights? As of today’s date only 431 people liked the TRC ‘s webpage – there are almost 5 million white people in South Africa, and I’m pretty sure there are more than 431 white journalists and writers in the country.

What do white South Africans really care about?
The answer is glaringly obvious when you look at the issues they are vocal about, and their consumer habits. White South Africans go frothy at the mouth over green issues such as fracking, rhinos and canned hunting. Anything that takes the human factor (mostly non-white)) out of the equation. The fact that most of the exploitation and degradation of the environment is indirectly caused by themselves is conveniently forgotten, or in the case of activities like the shark cage diving industry actively participated in.

Anything that infringes on their quality of life (read material enjoyment thereof) is met with derision, vitriol and self-righteous indignation. Very rarely are constructive, selfless solutions proffered. It seems to always be about the WIFM – ‘what’s in it for me?’. Even democracy think tanks, media diversity organisations and NGOs seem to be stocked with upwardly mobile white professionals, more intent on building a marketable resume than actually making sacrifices for a particular cause.

A good example would be the case of the white law professor at one of South Africa’s top universities, who regularly holds forth on life, the universe and democracy in local publications. He seems more concerned with showcasing his (often limited) insight into society and its ills, than actually getting off his comfy university chair and doing something about it.

Compare his ivory tower mentality to another lawyer, George Bizos, who defended Mandela at the Rivonia trial. Bizos has been a lifelong champion for human rights and to all accounts had foregone a lucrative career in the private sector to focus on the liberation struggle. His life’s story makes for fascinating reading, escaping Nazi occupied Greece as a thirteen year old and gaining access to Wits law school despite arriving in South Africa unable to speak English.

Nelson Mandela himself was a lawyer who did most of his work for free. What a contrast to a pompous academic who has appointed himself as remote societal arbiter. How many white lawyers have given up private sector careers to represent the poor and vulnerable? Not many if you look at the prevalence of free law clinics across the country.

It is often difficult for outsiders to understand that South Africa is and has always been two countries within the same borders. On the one hand there is a minority section that rivals the developed world in many ways, while on the other hand there is a majority society of economically, educationally and participatory disenfranchised. The only thing that has changed is that some black South Africans have gained access to the privileged class. What many South Africans do not understand, or do not want to acknowledge, is that that system is kept in place because of an accommodation reached by big white owned industries with the ANC government post 1994.

Therefore, privileged members of society have a moral duty to hold all business practices to account if we are to establish a truly free and fair society. This was brought home to me once again this past week and lead to me penning an angry missive to my friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Here follows a slightly edited version:

The past week Facebook has been flooded with Mandela tributes. I assume it was because the posters are all ardent supporters of democracy and human rights. I find it therefore very strange that the same people support anti-democratic and corrupt practices when it affects their pocket. Basically, fuck democracy and decency as long as I can make some money, go on holiday, buy a new iPad.

I can continue this rant with general references to media diversity, business ethics, willful ignorance etc, but as usual it will just fly right over the intended target’s head.

So let’s make it personal. A while ago Reprobate wrote an extensively researched article on the shark cage diving industry in South Africa. It was generally well received despite the obvious search engine spam efforts of the shark cage diving industry, through which they try to blot out any dissenting voices.

However, I found it disconcerting that many of the people I know, work in the travel industry, but could not be arsed to read or comment on an issue that affects one of the products they sell: shark cage diving trips.

I am not asking that you agree with me, or shower me with praise for the wonderful writer that I am. If you think it’s rubbish then say so. I ask that you engage in stead of just lazily posting a picture of Nelson Mandela, because everyone else has.

The reasons for this rant have been building for a while, but a recent unprovoked attack by one of the shark cage diving operators on my father while he was fishing in the Gans bay area, has broken the camel’s back. As a writer and media activist I have been way too complacent about the apathy of people in my immediate circles; while corruption and social injustice have become the order of the day.

So let’s throw down the gauntlet. I know most of you because I respect and value you on some level. Those who know me well, know that I am not generally flippant when it comes to friendship, even if you are someone I only knew for a brief period. On the flip side I have a notorious reputation for intolerance when it comes to hypocrisy, dishonesty and selfishness.

I apologize to the innocent for my aggressive stance on this matter, but as per the overused quote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So, read the fucking article, especially if you are in the travel industry, or a regular ocean user. Let me know what you think, comment, tweet, like, and so on. I don’t care if you think it’s a total load of hokum, or that I can’t string a sentence together, but please just get off your arse.

If you are too illiterate to understand all the big words, let me know so I can contact your employer to warn them that they are wasting money on an idiot. Your silence will be perceived as a distinct ‘fuck you’ to me, my family and the communities that suffer due to corrupt government and business practices. On the other hand if you have your own story to share, please do, I will publish it (with your permission of course).

Thank you to all those friends who have already read, commented, forwarded etc. Let’s put some pressure on a multi-million dollar industry with some very questionable business practices, and show that we really care about democratic values and social justice.

The link to the original article: The Shark Cage Diving Industry: above board or submerged in controversy?

Some final words from Edmund Burke:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

There is an irony in the fact that the part of South African society that has had access to the best education for decades, is often the most ignorant about important socio-economic issues in their own country. An ignorance that will eventually cost them dearly if the example of white Zimbabwean complacency during the eighties and early nineties is to be followed.

The heart breaking reality is that the insidious legacy of white entitlement, selfishness and hypocrisy is now being copied by the burgeoning black middle class. The twin diseases of privileged apathy and widening class inequalities are spreading deeper into our society, and is therefore the true love child of white South Africans’ fake adoration for Nelson Mandela.

Further reading:
Truth and Reconciliation Commission website
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
George Bizos: No One to Blame – In Pursuit of Justice in South Africa & Odyssey to Freedom (autobiography)