Following upon the recent controversial campaign conducted by Dr. Piet Croucamp against Dr. Louise Mabille of Tuks, Mr. Johann Botha of Johannesburg has lodged a complaint against Croucamp with the University of Johannesbur for unprofessional and unethical conduct. The text of his letter is reproduced here.
Dear Dr Croucamp, Prof Sadie and members of UJ Executive Management,
The recent public debacle surrounding a complaint of alleged hate speech by Dr Piet Croucamp from the Department of Politics at UJ against Dr Louise Mabille, former academic from TUKS, refers. Given the serious nature of the allegation, in conjunction with Dr Croucamp’s position as academic, public figure as political analyst and commentator, and representative of the University of Johannesburg, it was important that his actions in this regard should be beyond reproach. However, it would appear that this has not been the case, and, as such, has the potential to reflect negatively on the respected reputation and integrity of your university unless constructively dealt with.
It would appear that Dr Croucamp based his complaint on a sentence from a recent opinion piece on feminism written by Dr Mabille and published on the Praag website, in which she says: “Naturally, it is much easier [for Western feminists] to endlessly complain about ‘Calvinism’ than to ask the question why the rape of babies is a cultural phenomenon among black ethnic groups”. Dr Croucamp construed this statement as racist and hate speech in nature.
While Dr Mabille’s statement is of course provocative and debatable, it is not my intention to defend her or to justify such a statement, nor to judge whether it is indeed racist and/or an example of hate speech. That is for Dr Mabille to do, although I understand that she has retracted her remark with apology.
Rather, while Dr Croucamp’s complaint and subsequent actions appear to have the honourable motive of standing up against and counteracting racism and hate speech, his handling of the debacle unfortunately raises serious doubts about the true nature of his motives and practical actions in this regard, which already had negative implications in general for the state of debate on race in South Africa and attempts to deal with racism and hate speech effectively.
Firstly, in a TV interview with eNuus on Kyknet earlier this week and available on Youtube (where I first had the opportunity to watch it this weekend), Dr Croucamp did not put Dr Mabille’s remark in proper context. He did not clearly state that she asked why Western feminists find it easier to endlessly complain about ‘Calvinism’ rather than asking ‘why the rape of babies is a cultural phenomenon among black ethnic groups’. Instead, he contracted her remark to a statement that the rape of babies as a cultural phenomenon among black people, thus facilitating and amplifying his allegation of racism and hate speech. Yet he went even further: He alleged and in fact emphasised that she purportedly stated black people have a ‘genetic propensity‘ toward the rape of babies.
In actuality, and as should be clear from sentence I quoted, she made no such statement, nor does the broader context of her article suggest such an interpretation. In contrast, and bearing in mind the fact of her article’s obvious intent to expose the intellectual hypocrisy of many Western feminists, it appears far more likely that she intended part of her remark as a reference to the prevalence of the myth that HIV/Aids can be cured by having sex with a virgin or baby, which is a ‘cultural phenomenon’ presumably in the sense that people often commit these acts under influence from (arguably aberrant ) traditional healers (an interpretation since commonly expressed by many people on social media and online news commentary platforms). In this context then, Dr Mabille would appear more guilty of imprecision and/or provocation in her remark than necessarily racism and/or hate speech.
As a regular commentator in the media, Dr Croucamp naturally would be aware that his comments necessarily could influence the perceptions and opinions of eNuus viewers. However, by adding a far more inflammatory slant to a Dr Mabille’s remark by failing to place it in its full and proper context and instead baselessly portraying it as an argument of black people’s racial genetic propensity, Dr Croucamp thus not only acted unethically, unprofessionally and with intellectual dishonesty, but also with grave social irresponsibility given our broader South African community’s sensitivity towards race. Ironically, Dr Croucamp’s misrepresentation during the TV interview was much more likely to fuel the flames of polarisation (as hate speech does), rather than counteracting it, as has since been clear from the reaction of members of the public on social media and online news commentary platforms. In short, he clearly contradicted and undermined his own alleged cause.
Secondly, my impression from reports in the media and Dr Croucamp’s Twitter account (though he has deleted several relevant tweets in recent days), is that Dr Croucamp had shown great haste in contacting the media (Kyknet’s eNuus in particular – he has a rather high media profile on Kyknet actuality programmes). He did not merely approach the University of Pretoria with a request that Dr Mabille’s remarks be investigated (even though she expressly made it clear that she made her remarks in a personal capacity), then contacting the media in the event the reaction was unsatisfactory. This shows an apparent desire by Dr Croucamp to publicise the matter as much as possible and (by simultaneously threatening to lay a complaint of hate speech at the Human Rights Commission) indeed in a provocative manner. In this context, however, presumed agent provocateur or not, it should have been even more crucial that Dr Croucamp’s motives, behaviour and comments would be beyond reproach.
Thirdly and finally, Dr Croucamp has evidently been involved in an ongoing war of words with Praag and Dan Roodt in particular, sparked by Dr Croucamp’s recent controversial comments about the ‘Afrikaner’. From what I can tell after reading up on the matter, his engagement with them has been highly crude and undignified. Whatever his personal views towards and perceptions of their provocations, he certainly has no basis of a moral high ground. Furthermore, it is my understanding from several sources that he fared poorly in a public debate against Dr Mabille in April, as well as during the occasion of another public debate (of which Dr Mabille was one of the organisers) at UP between Dr William Lane Craig and others in May.
Viewed in context with the above then, it throws further doubts on his true motives in sparking the debacle re Dr Mabille. Everything considered, it would appear that Dr Croucamp more than likely targeted Dr Mabille as an easy target for his own personal considerations rather than the pursuit of any presumed lofty ideals, and subsequently played the woman, not the ball.
To be sure, his actions during this debacle do not reflect favourably on his own integrity as a private individual, public political analyst and commentator, academic or representative of the University of Johannesburg at all.
Dr Mabille took responsibility for her actions, and I think it only right that Dr Croucamp does the same regarding his own. A public apology to Dr Mabille may be a good start.
Given the serious sensitivities of cases regarding race and racism, the need that such issues be debated and dealt with in a responsible manner in line with the advancement of the objectives of our Constitution, and in conjunction with the way that Dr Croucamp’s regrettable behaviour during this particular incident reflects on your university, I trust that you will seriously consider this matter and follow it up constructively with Dr Croucamp and other affected parties.
PS: For the record, I am not involved with Praag and do not identify myself with their activities in any way. As a private citizen, however, I am concerned with the fundamental principle of personal and social responsibility guiding one’s actions.