Our vulgarity is not limited to words. Sometimes it is communicated through the medium of fine art, says the writer.
Not to be outdone by President Donald Trump, South Africans have been writing up their own anthology of vulgarity, says Tinyiko Maluleke.

In his song Sower of Words, Vusi Mahlasela suggests that celebrated poet Ingoapele Madingoana spent his last days “searching for pieces of poetry in the eyes of foul-mouthed people, who gurgle swear words with beer, and [proceed to] spit at places of worship”.

This, I am afraid, is a pointedly accurate description of what South Africans are becoming: the quintessential foul-mouthed pope, capable of the most grotesque vulgarity. Unfortunately, the lunacy of vulgarity is not limited to Mzantsi.

Though not started by him, vulgarity is personified in US President Donald Trump, who is on record acknowledging the habit of grabbing women by the you-know-what. Now, all manner of Trump wannabes are coming out of the woodwork.

British Prime Minister Teresa May has made no secret of her affinity with Trump, including offering to become a Trump broker of sorts in Europe. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte requires the police to shoot and kill suspects as part of his brutal “war on drugs”. Recently, he called Barack Obama a son of something we cannot repeat.

Leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders reportedly speaks of “Moroccan scum” whose male members are sheer “testosterone bombs” needing to be locked up in refugee asylums.

Frau Frauke Perry, leader of the Alternative für Deutschland, has allegedly compared immigrants to a “heap of compost” and said they should be shot at on sight on trying to enter Germany illegally.

Heir-apparent to the French presidency, Marine Le Pen, was hauled into court for likening the presence of Muslims praying in the streets of France to the Nazi occupation of France in WW II.

Not to be outdone, South Africans have been writing up their own anthology of vulgarity.

During the 2017 Sona, our dishonourable members called President Zuma “menemene”, “tsotsi” ,”constitutional deliquent” and “incorrigible man, rotten to the core”.

The following are some of the insulting names our political leaders and their sidekicks have called one another over the years: cockroaches, tea-girls, monkeys, skuur pots, Chihuahuas, dead snakes and pieces of vomit.

Our vulgarity is not limited to words. Sometimes it is communicated through the medium of fine art. Remember the works of Brett Murray and Ayanda Mabulu, which depicted the genitalia of a very important South African? Meanwhile, the likes of Babes Wodumo, Mroza and King Monada are providing us with the soundtracks for these, our days of vulgarity.

Vulgarity is Nkandla. Corruption is vulgar. The Marikana massacre was vulgar and so were the Esidimeni silent deaths. Vulgar is the ongoing silent massacre of some members of the LGBTI community. It is vulgar when South Africans are repeatedly shot dead for apparently looking like monkeys and warthogs. Rape is vulgar.

I have listened carefully to those who argue that the primary vulgarity lies in the conditions of inequality, corruption, poverty and racism. They argue that such vulgarity from above can only be met with more vulgarity from below.

It is of course unacceptable that peaceful protest is seldom, if ever, taken seriously. The truth is that governments and the ruling elites are essentially content with the status quo and are eager to maintain it, at all costs.

We certainly have to deal seriously with the vulgarity of structural violence. All this notwithstanding, I still reject the twisted and defeatist logic that says only vulgarity can cure vulgarity.

To conclude, let us return to Mathew Phosa’s Damascus moment. Edward Zuma poured scorn on it, saying Phosa made him want to vomit. Edward Zuma’s reaction was way over the top. Let Phosa have his Damascus moment in the sun. But then Phosa himself went one step further, calling Edward Zuma “a little piece of vomit”.

Fast-forward to early March when we meet Phosa, on his knees, eyes half-closed, receiving the fervent prayers of balding, bearded men of the cloth in the Eastern Cape. In that video clip Phosa is presented as “upresident e zo ngena”.

For a person aspiring to the highest office, now fortified by prayers, Mathews Phosa should ask Jesus to help him apologise to Edward Zuma. I have no doubt that the Eastern Cape bishops will gladly lend their considerable episcopal weight to such a noble endeavour.

* Maluleke is a professor at the University of Pretoria and an extraordinary professor at the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter handle – @ProfTinyiko.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent