Terminology, my dear Watson

The past week the media and commentators had been abuzz about the ‘blackface’ incident.  I read that the Human Rights Commission has now, on his own accord, decided to monitor the disciplinary proceedings. 

No pressure on the disciplinary committee, though.

Let’s contrast this with another incident that happened many years ago.  It’s really so old hat one should have forgotten about it long ago, but there is something in the difference in responses that does tickle me.  And I do not think that, fundamentally, the then prevailing sentiments have since changed. 

Rember the name Andrew Babeile?

It’s a not so good story that, judging from recent reports [http://www.citypress.co.za/news/ex-prisoner-regrets-fulfilling-promise-mandela/], might have turned out all right in the end.

The story is more or less as follows:  In the late nineties the then 16 year old Andrew Babeile led a group of youths from Huhudi township to the Afrikaans school in Vryburg, insisting on being admitted.  Not everyone in Vryburg was thrilled by the idea, but after intervention by the government, Andrew and friends were admitted.

It turned out not to be an excessively happy affair, with Andrew eventually being the only student from Huhudi who remained in the school.  It was most probably not Andrew’s fault, but he was not the most popular boy in the school.  In (apparently one of many) altercations between himself and one of the other schoolboys, he stabbed another boy with a pair of scissors. 

For this he was sentenced to jail.   

Promptly an educational trust was set up in Andrew Babeile’s name.  Nelson Mandela visited Andrew in jail, and contributed R20 000 towards this trust.  In fairness to Madiba, he also visited the victim of the stabbing in a consilliatory move to bring down temperatures in Vryburg.  I accept Madiba’s good intentions in this regard, and do not for one moment believe that his contribution was intended as a stamp of approval for Andrew’s misdemeanour. 

Andrew’s release from jail was seized upon by political opportunists.  To them I don’t quite extend my faith in Madiba’s good intentions.  In the run-up to Andrew’s release, the people from his township were urged to remain calm.  It is unclear why, because they were pretty calm as it was.  On the day of his release, a huge do was arranged for Andrew, with the ANCYL involved, as well as Malusi Gigaba. 

The then ANC MP Dennis Bloem coming out in support of Babeile and complaining about his too severe parole conditions.  The ANCYL approached the then Minister of Justice to consider a presidential pardon for Andrew.

Now, it is obvious where I’m heading with this.  So let me not state the obvious. 

Instead, I would like to meander on the reason for the differences in approach.   I might have found some guidance in the following.  A wise man suggested that I look for the answer in the principle of hegemony.  As I have not heard of the word before, I Googled it:

“In contemporary society, the exemplar hegemonic organisations are churches and the mass communications media that continually transmit data and information to the public. As such, the ideologic content of the data and information are determined by the vocabulary with which the messages are presented….   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony

I would assume that the political rulers of the day would also form part of the hegemonic organisations.  And what I understand from the above is that those in power (also the power to influence people, not only political power) basically determines the content of definitions. 

They determine which actions constitute socially unacceptable behaviour, and which not. 

Which actions constitute racism, and which not.

And of course, they may be right.  Or maybe not.