'Bullard fired for his 19th century views'

By Justine Gerardy

Ex-Sunday Times columnist David Bullard had two job offers before 9.30am on Friday - just hours after being sacked by the paper for being a racist.

"I've got a story to tell about the new South Africa and I've got opinions, and people want opinions," Bullard said yesterday.

"Negativity sells. I'm an Afro-realist, not an Afro-pessimist."

Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya fired Bullard by cellphone on Thursday night for his column that was printed last Sunday, which depicted a heavily stereotyped, pre-colonial South Africa.

Bullard said he didn't regret writing a column that was meant to antagonise and be edgy. "It was a flight of fantasy designed to stimulate conversation. Exactly like most of my other columns have done."

On Friday, Makhanya said the column should never have been published.

" said black people are stupid and we'll always remain stupid. That was the line. An editor shouldn't be policing columnists - however there are some things that you cannot advocate."

But Bullard's brief was to be controversial. He said: "I regard my column as showbiz. My brief is to be outrageous - a guy who upsets people on a Sunday and sells newspapers."

Makhanya, who called Bullard an "equal opportunity offender" in the columnist's second book, agreed that Bullard's columns always got a lot of responses, but said he appeared to hold "19th century views" in the latest column.

"I wasn't going to have someone with those views writing for the Sunday Times."

Bullard claimed the axing was an excuse to get rid of him.

An internal assessment is now under way at the Sunday Times to find out how the column made it into print.

Bullard, who has written his column for 14 years, questioned how a known controversial column was not monitored and the alleged offence picked up.

"If they passed the column, they must be as racist as I am to have written it; if this is indeed a racist column," he said.

Makhanya admitted the paper's "very good systems" had failed.

The decision to can the column was his and did not involve outside pressure.

"It was Mondli Makhanya's decision. I'm not going to blame anyone else."

Bullard also clashed with Sunday Times colleagues in February after he wrote a scathing article for Empire magazine that criticised Avusa management, which own the paper, and noted a "creeping mediocrity" in the newsroom.

Asked to apologise to his colleagues, he refused.

Makhanya, whose paper was noted for its fearless tackling of the ANC-led government last year, said the issues were separate. Bullard claimed otherwise.

"I've been found guilty in the kangaroo court of Mondli Makhanya," he said.

"I thought we had freedom of speech. If it's mean to be hate speech, rather than sacking the guy who wrote it, let's examine it and take the debate forward."

Makhanya said there was no conflict.

"Racism is racism." Also "nonsense" was Bullard's allegation that a government threat to withdraw advertising following explosive coverage of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's boozing and theft record had scared him.

He did not want to get into a personal slugging match, Makhanya added.

Eight years ago, Bullard wrote that visiting US president Bill Clinton's black entourage would have been pleased that their ancestors were taken abroad into slavery when they saw conditions in South Africa. The latest column followed a similar path, he said.

The SA National Editors' Forum did not want to comment on Friday.

In an interview at the members-only Rand Club on Friday, Bullard (dressed in a black-and-white pin-striped suit) admitted he was "brash, arrogant and noisy".

He was disappointed but not angry with the axing. It had been trying for his wife, who bore the brunt of what people said. "I don't mind too much, but she's a bit more sensitive about it," he said.

A talk by Bullard at the club next Thursday had 140 bookings on Thursday night. By Friday morning, the number of bookings had jumped to 180.

"Wait until you see the next article in Empire," said Bullard. "Because now I don't have to hold back at all."

As for an Out to Lunch replacement, Makhanya said: "We'll have to look at what we'll do this week."

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