After reading Xolela Mangcu’s frothy condemnation of what will ultimately be David Bullard’s last Sunday Times column, I braced myself for the worst and prepared to be thoroughly indignant when I got round to reading it.
But when I eventually did get to the so-called controversial and allegedly racist piece, I was puzzled. He got fired for this? That seemed like a total over-reaction.
Don’t get me wrong — the column, in true Bullard style, was patronising and arrogant. Sweeping stereotypes and flawed logic abounded. So did hopeless ignorance about Nguni tribal culture. But all in all it was just clumsy, misinformed, lame and boring. Hardly seething with malignant racism. I just couldn’t for the life of me work out what the fuss was all about.
One can almost imagine Bullard at the keyboard, clawing his way through writer’s block as his deadline loomed. I suspect his tongue, when not wrapped around a cigar, was placed firmly in cheek. “Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing” was the result.
The outcry in response to the column shows that Bullard has clearly hit a nerve. But firing him is sending out a message that some topics are too hot to handle. Is Bullard the soutie equivalent of Deon Maas, the firebrand booted off his Rapport perch for making lovey-dovey noises about satanism a few months ago?
Of course the similarities stop with the dismissal. One can’t help notice that none of the usual media luminaries (Max du Preez, Anton Harber, Jonathan Shapiro) are leaping to Bullard’s defence, beautifying him as a martyr for free (albeit controversial) speech — like Maas was. Perhaps Bullard’s self-celebrated repugnance has something to do with it. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is because race and colonialism remain rather touchy subjects — and Bullard has approached them like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
With the suspension of Bullard, we are running the risk of stifling debate and discussion. And though you might be thinking that with Bullard’s lowbrow contribution that’s probably not such a bad thing, it actually is — because you may just be shutting up people who have something more pertinent, considered and worthwhile to share.
Censorship is never a good thing. Self-censorship, inevitably a result of the tyranny of political correctness, is even worse. Bullard’s colonialism piece deserves a lampooning — not a lashing. To be quite honest, it’s not remotely worth the latter.