Following Ashwin Willemse’s walk off the SuperSport set, citing a “patronising” Nick Mallett and Naas Botha, Supersport has decided to retain the services of all three men. This decision, my friends, is the beginning of corporate rainbowism, a world where people of different races cannot be allowed to have difficult or uncomfortable discussions, race must stay out of the equation.
To start at the end of a process is in itself an interesting process. To believe in sausage so much that it has no connection to a cow is to live in a different world; where slaughter does not exist. This is a world that is clean and without dishevel. Worlds can be like this or can be made to be. They can also be messy, which is also its own kind of clean, its own order, its own organising principle. Clean and messy can live side by side as one or in separate spaces. There is space for all types. This end process (as imagined by Supersport before complications) is Ashwin Willemse sharing work duties with Naas Botha and Nick Mallet after the walk-off debacle. It’s clean. A gentleman’s disagreement is re-agreed. A miscommunication or misunderstanding is straightened out. This is the typical picture propagated by uncaptured corporate South Africa – cleanliness.
This is how corporates profess to work; with a measure of intense organisation and discipline. In such an order, to hope for anything but the neatest end is to be delusional.
So, what were the possibilities?
1. Willemse turns Kaepernick and forsakes job security to advocate for racial equality. A movement is started, hashtags trend and a hero exalted.
2. Naas Botha and Nick Mallet are fired in a stance that sends a message about racial intolerance. The guilty are shamed, humiliated and maybe even jailed. The masses cheer.
3. Botha and Mallet are retained and Willemse fired. The message: blacks are unprofessional whiners and corporate SA is anti-black. This is the route of dystopia, where the black people continue to dream about sticking it to the (white) man.
Supersport however took the road less travelled, the Alice in Wonderland option. The small door. Although this has proved impossible and ill-advised, they decided to retain the services of all three men and have them share a studio the following week. This initial decision my friends is the beginning of corporate rainbowism. No difficult discussion should be had if they can be avoided. Since the dawn of democracy corporate SA has let white supremacy rein but that is no longer the case. Just as apartheid pushed business tycoons to seeks another route to riches, the digital evolution currently upon us has business speaking a new language. Netflix and digital media technologies as a whole are squeezing Multichoice and the entity cannot afford to lose both white and black audiences. The base of the company is too tiny to upset the apple cart.
Welcome to a world where people of different races cannot be allowed to have difficult or uncomfortable discussions (war is bad for business), race must stay out of the equation. This is a cartel economy. It is not an economy based on disruption and competing ideas but an agreement between seemingly minority players happy to fix the game. South Africa has always been a cartel economy. This denial of racism is the most extreme form of rainbowism; the races considered so equal that racism can never exist. When it is hinted, and bursts into the national consciousness it is to be expelled (Remember the movie Men in Black – we all gather round and a flash of light wipes our memories clean?).
The news cycle will move on. Until the next incident. Flash of light. Wash and repeat.
We cannot blame Willemse. No one wants to be a hero. Ask any hero. We cannot blame the aggressors. They do not know any better. We cannot blame business for keeping to a certain order. The system is the system. Do we blame ourselves? Self-flagellate? We don’t have to.
The system mutates. If we are not to dismantle it because that proves too difficult, then we just have to strive to move with it. If Masheba Ndlovu is going to tackle weighty issues of women abuse and out women bashers all the while selling the big brand that keeps Metro FM afloat, then let’s not fool ourselves. If we are to ride the system, its best to stay atop the beast than beneath its feet.
Amid all the noise, if you saw no way that Willemse could share a stage (especially a week on) with individuals who patronise him, then you are not alone. One person had to be fired, and we could accept our man losing. But for all to win is a bit of a stretch. In fact, no one wins when the wounds are allowed to fester – not even Supersport.
In this confusing saga, however, the idea of stretch might actually be the answer. Stretch your imagination. South Africa and the world is no longer for narrow and feeble minds. If you are messy you will have to be clean, and if you are clean the reverse is true.
The next time the issue of race, or the issue of being in this fraught land, comes up, be angry if you must. Fight if you must, console, coerce, educate, plead, beg, punch, touch, be touched…Most importantly stay open to the limitlessness of possibilities. Anything is possible. The other option is to stay out of the loop, which in itself is a different kind of order.
* This piece was first published on The Journalist.