SOUTH AFRICA: JOHANNESBURG: Chairman of Remgro Limited Johann Rupert speaks with MSG Afrika Group chairman Given Mkhari during the Chairman’s Conversation in Sandton, Gauteng.
Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
SOUTH AFRICA: JOHANNESBURG: Chairman of Remgro Limited Johann Rupert speaks with MSG Afrika Group chairman Given Mkhari during the Chairman’s Conversation in Sandton, Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
SOUTH AFRICA: JOHANNESBURG: MSG Afrika Group chairman Given Mkhari speaks with chairman of Remgro Limited Johann Rupert during the Chairman’s Conversation in Sandton, Gauteng.
Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
SOUTH AFRICA: JOHANNESBURG: MSG Afrika Group chairman Given Mkhari speaks with chairman of Remgro Limited Johann Rupert during the Chairman’s Conversation in Sandton, Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Social media debate on the Power FM Chairman’s Conversation has generated more heat than light. Instead of reflective thinking, critical dialogue and respectful exchange, so-called black twitterati and other social media platforms have exploded in vulgar name-calling and self-righteous finger pointing.

The most depressing feature of all this is the mean-spirited attack on both MSG chairman and host Given Mkhari, and his guest, billionaire businessman Johann Rupert.

Perhaps what we need to understand is that freedom of expression belongs to those who have nothing to lose when they express their thoughts and views. Unlike many ordinary folk, Rupert can speak his mind without fear or favour. He owes no one an explanation.

It is preposterous to suggest that he was out to insult black people or to allege that he is arrogant. Truth always afflicts the comfortable.

Rupert cannot be held responsible for how others feel about his truth. He was invited to be himself. 

We should have expected him and, above all, allowed him to speak freely according to his history and conscience.

And he seems to have done just that.

This is a man who had nothing to lose if he were to keep silent. We appreciate his courage to come out of his cocoon after 68 years. This is a cultural coup for Mkhari to expose society to the thoughts of a man of this calibre.

In fact, for the last 25 years whites like Rupert have been condemned to silence with no voice to speak freely. They have confined their thoughts to the margins of exclusive braais and dinner tables. Yet their voice is important. 

They are an inextricable part of the fabric of this nation. 

MSG Afrika Group chairman Given Mkhari speaks with chairman of Remgro Limited Johann Rupert during the Chairman's Conversation in Sandton, Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

It is a welcome development that ‘JR’, as he is fondly called, was willing to come out of his comfortable cocoon to speak freely and clearly according to conscience. 

In fact, more whites should come forward. 

As for black reactionaries that feel affronted, let’s go look at the men and women in the mirror. At some point, someone had to burst the bubble. We need to be realistic.

We do need loyal patriots who will tell us off. We are too complacent. We need dissenting voices.

This is no time for a single perspective or narrative. We are diverse but must remain focused on working together.

It is predictable and monotonous for some blacks - especially in the privileged class - to cry racism every time a white speaks uncomfortable truths.

But that in itself is neither an argument nor insightful analysis. In fact, spiritually exhausting and boring. 

As for me, I had no expectations. I was just looking forward to a brutally honest South African conversation. If correct, it was neither a debating competition nor a boxing contest.

It was a platform to exchange views to provide new insights and understandings about contemporary history.

We need this kind of frank talk. It is a cornerstone to social cohesion and nation building. 

The greatest threat to our democracy is our unwillingness to listen to the other side. Most of the time, people are not opposition. It is just a question of emphasis on how things should be done. 

It is unfortunate that the host, Mkhari, was burdened with black expectations of a so-called radical black perspective, if there is still such.

If so, we need to acknowledge that blacks have long splintered into different groups. They have never been a homogeneous group.

There will be those who praise the Chairman or JR. Other will criticise him. 

But there is nothing good or bad in what they did. It is all about what people think.

In a democracy, there will not be a single view. It is a good thing.

What we need to learn is open-mindedness and a receptive attitude. We need tolerance.

To safeguard our democracy we have to learn to defend and protect the rights of those we disagree with to speak. It can only enrich us.

The much-vaunted conversation happened. Those who listened attentively learned a few truths and gained insights into one of South Africa's greatest sons. We also learned about how we are seen.

It is what it is. Let's do it again Given Mkhari. I take it you know that you cannot please all the people all of the time.

But you unveiled a brilliant plan and partnership to make things happen. We are looking forward to see the conversation evolve in a new strategic direction where we can say, ‘Now we are doing’.

It is one of the most pragmatic developments out of your conversation.

  • Sandile Memela is a writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

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