“Help me, I’m being oppressed!”
“Others are suffering worse oppression.”
“Help me, I’m living in squalor.”
“Elsewhere there is worse squalor.”
“Black Lives Matter.”
“All lives matter.”
“Please help, I’m being raped.”
“What about the hundreds of other children who were raped and murdered?”
“Help, Israel is perpetuating a genocide, killing one in every 200 people living in Gaza!”
“What about the thousand people Hamas killed on October 7?”
Whataboutism is a dangerous counter-argument.
In response to the more than 11,000 Palestinians murdered by the Israeli Defence Force since October 7, thousands of Capetonians took to the streets in support of Palestine on Saturday.
They came out in their numbers too on Sunday, and unfortunately things got ugly.
The passion ignited by this genocide is strong in South Africa. Because we know what it is like to be colonised. We know what it is like to be oppressed. We know what it is like to be forcibly removed from our homes. It happened from fewer than 60 years ago, and continued until as recently as 40 years ago.
There are people alive today who remember how, by law, bulldozers came to demolish their homes, and they were relocated far from the economic opportunities the central business districts offered. How they were forced out, by law, from their homes on the mountainsides above Constantia and other high-value properties across the country.
There are people alive today who recall how families were torn apart by the apartheid regime, and we vowed never again to let it happen.
So of course we react in solidarity when we see the apartheid state of Israel raining unholy hell on the civilians of Gaza, murdering thousands indiscriminately, breaching international law and committing war crimes.
How can we stand in silence?
And yet, the editor of one of the most successful news platforms in the country penned an editorial asking when South Africans will march in response to the 27,000 South Africans murdered in a year.
That is classic whataboutism.
It’s a tactic used to diminish the enormity of the tragedy we are witnessing in real time 7,500km away.
Yes, 27,000 South Africans murdered in opportunistic, premeditated, or passionate crimes. Twenty-seven thousand out of a population of 62 million. Over the course of a year. In Gaza, 11,200 people out of two million have been murdered in a little over a month.
That’s one in every 200 people.
I applaud my media colleague for taking up this fight for justice for the thousands of victims of gang violence and crimes of passion in our own country, but not at the expense of minimising the suffering of the people of Gaza.
Do they deserve to have a blind eye turned on genocide simply because a thousand people more were murdered in October in South Africa than were killed by Hamas on October 7?
The curious thing for me in all these arguments either for or against Israel is that the proponents of Israel’s genocide are saying the apartheid occupying state had “a right to defend itself against the October 7 attack”, while on the right side of the argument, people around the world are calling for common humanity and decency to prevail, to stop the murder of thousands of civilians who for almost eight decades have suffered at the hands of an oppressive regime.
The hearts of the world opened towards South Africa during its Struggle for freedom, bar the silent ones who sided with the apartheid regime and continued to support them by continuing trade and providing arms and support.
Similarly the hearts of the world are open towards Palestine which is being crushed under the boot of an oppressive regime that refers to Palestinians as “human animals”, bar the warmongers who continue to support Israel.
To address this injustice with whataboutism is in and of itself unjust.
We are witnessing, in real time, a genocide and ethnic cleansing under the thinly-veiled guise of self-defence.
In an earlier editorial, I said this conflict was as much a religious one as it was geopolitical. I take that back. This is not a conflict; it is ethnic cleansing on a genocidal scale, and we must do everything in our power to stop it.
To echo Thuli Madonsela, waving a Palestinian flag is neither anti-Semitic nor supportive of Hamas. Supporting Palestine does not mean I am anti-Jewish. I stand with the thousands of Jews worldwide who have also called for an end to Israel’s apartheid practices and genocide of Palestinians.
If you can’t bring yourself to side with the human tragedy playing out in Gaza, then maybe you should stop conflating the Zionist Israeli apartheid government with the Jewish nation.
And to my colleagues in the media, keep a watchful eye on the language you use to describe the genocide being carried out by Israel, and don’t try to conflate it with the incidental murders taking place in our free, democratic and fair country.
The time will come for the South African government to reckon with us over its failure to protect our people.
But this is not that time.
This is the time for us to support Palestine.