I was listening to a talk show on SAFM this morning that touched on a topic that causes me much irritation (well among others).
The host, Siki Mgabadeli, invited a pastor to delve into the issue of folks who p*ss in public, toss trash onto the streets, burn tyres, and generally act the destructive fool in townships across South Africa.
The pastor relayed his distress and attributed the behavior to a lack of self-respect.
He also pointed out that this destructive behavior is usual in the black townships but not so in the formerly all-white suburbs and Central Business District (CBD).
Callers mostly supported his view but a significant number also blamed apartheid.
The apartheid argument attributes the behavior to poor self-esteem and racist brainwashing.
Blacks, a few callers asserted, will not publicly urinate in the suburbs and the CBD because they still fear the white man.
One caller even argued that a strong emphasis on Biko's Black Consciousness was needed to stop blacks from p*ssing in public.
The contours of the interaction reminded me of the Booker T. Washington "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" argument in the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow South.
Like Washington's context, the discussion evoked themes of black dysfunction, self-help, and the omnipresence of the white man (whiteness).
This is obviously a complex and mine-laden area but a few thoughts come to mind.
The first and most honest reaction is that the last time (yesterday) I saw a black man p*ssing in public and another tossing trash onto the streets there was not a white man in sight.
It seems to me that the issue of race in this case, particularly the white man as the agent of pointed black dysfunction, is a gross distortion of our current socio-political reality.
There is very little reason to conjure black offenders as subjective victims. The argument is unspecific and a cop-out.
What is missing for me is a general sense of citizenship and civility throughout South Africa.
Where one can point to blacks tossing trash there would be other instances of Asians cutting into line or whites not obeying traffic rules at an intersection where pedestrians are present, for example.
Political scientists make a lot of noise about political culture and its intersection with order and civil society values.
I recognize that it is tricky to offer a formula as an assessment, or diagnosis.
Nonetheless, I am struck by the lack of civility that lives alongside our democracy.
Just yesterday a meeting of a labour union (COSATU) was disrupted when attendees started throwing bottles at each other.
Last week a meeting of athletes gathered to discuss the Caster Semenya debacle and the response by Athletics South Africa (ASA) was disrupted when members of ASA allegedly showed up drunk and disrupted the meeting.
We need more honesty in the debate about our post-apartheid condition. 15 plus years after apartheid it is no longer persuasive to center our condition(s) on victimization.
Post-apartheid racism is a reality and a problem that requires nuanced confrontation.
But can we really in all honesty declare the unruly and uncivil behavior of some of our citizens in the townships and beyond on apartheid?
I don't think so.
We need to look deeper. Perhaps the pastor's diagnosis of a lack of respect is a good place to start.