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When black people don’t live up to Gareth Cliff’s standards

Black Twitter was outraged when radio personality Gareth Cliff inquired about who was footing the bill for South African football captain Senzo Meyiwa’s state funeral. Cliff responded to the furore in a blog post on his website, but the incident shows South Africa’s struggle for reconciliation is nowhere near finished.

The nation had barely laid Meyiwa to rest on Saturday when Cliff took to Twitter in apparent concern for taxpayers.

Vuyo Yekani, former spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education and Training, responded to Cliff’s tweet, suggesting the DJ “celebrate black success”. Instead of taking Yekani’s advice, Cliff responded like this:

As a South African citizen, Cliff had a right to question the cost of the funeral and who might be paying it. If reports are true, the ANC might be strapped, which means state expenditure could be even more of a concern than it usually is. Not to mention, as Cliff says, funerals are often a time for politicians to cash in on some sympathy.

“[The tweet is] a good question, and one which we should all ask,” Cliff wrote, “especially because politicians love using the grandstand a funeral provides as a soap-box from which to manipulate emotional people.”

But the tweets are still infuriating.

In his blog Cliff claims to know the history of our country, but his reference to Messi shows little understanding of the legacy this history has left. South Africa’s black middle class is still emerging, and success stories like Meyiwa’s are rare to find. Outside of soccer, not many black heroes exist in democratic South Africa, and those who have made it are inspirational to young black people who are grappling to overcome poverty and the privilege history has gifted to a select few.

Cliff’s remarks were born from his own privilege, which he then used to set standards which suggest that Meyiwa wasn’t good enough for his own funeral.

But who is Gareth Cliff to say that a man doesn’t possess the right skills to be mourned with a state funeral? And when did skills dictate how people should be buried?

While Cliff wrote that he would “rather see heroic members of society buried in this fashion than politicians”, his tweets highlight a failure to understand what Meyiwa represented for many South Africans and how this footballer became a symbol of black achievement.

Cliff, with his own misguided sense of what the majority should spend its money on, was blind to the meaning of Meyiwa’s passing, focusing solely on what he thought was important. Perhaps Fikile Mbalula’s observation that Cliff suffers from a “Verwoerd hangover” isn’t too far from the truth. After all, apartheid had a lot to do with white people thinking they knew best. And when Cliff was called out for his transgression, he painted himself the victim.

“I don’t mind if we paid for Senzo’s funeral, but I mind that I am the bad guy for asking the question,” Cliff said on his blog. “Sadly, for a time, I became more important to these angry people than Senzo.” He dismissed the anger against him, saying critics were “emotional” and thereby irrational.

But this trivialisation of black anger is an affront to legitimate concerns around privilege in South Africa, and black people are tired of it.

“It is about time white South Africans recognise that the black majority has suppressed its anger in the hope of your type changing their attitude,” Mike Maile said in an open letter to Cliff.

Meyiwa’s death was not an isolated incident; in South Africa, around 18 people die of gun-related wounds each day. It’s true many of them will be ignored in today’s headlines.

His death however was a catalyst for national mourning because he was a public figure with a rags to riches story, a person who touched others with his humility, skill and determination to succeed; he beat all the odds set against him and reached a level of success many black youth aspire to. Cliff’s failure to acknowledge this and attempt to set a standard for black success is a distortion that dismisses the accomplishments of democratic South Africa’s black heroes.

One man cannot tell South Africans how they should mourn, and he certainly cannot tell them that their hero wasn’t good enough.

Gareth Cliff [Nathi cartoon]

– Featured image via the

7 Comments
  1. Frank says

    What you don’t seem to understand dear author, is that Garth Cliff is not in anyway trying to take away what a great inspiration Senzo was and is to this country. He is merely asking why the stateis paying for his funeral. Surely anybody with a bit of intelligence can see that our government is already cash strapped what with all the corruption and expenditure on other stuff and money that should be spend for other stuff like improving our countries infrastructure. What makes this one man so special? He hast even played 10 games for the National side and now by this right he is entitled to a state funeral such as the likes of Nelson Mandela? Why did someone like Hansie Cronje not get a state funeral? Yes I know he is white and he was involved in a match fixing scandal, but he was a inspirational captain to all before he got greedy. And will someone like Joost van der Westhuizen get a state funeral? And say someone like Makhaya Ntini dies tomorrow, will he receive a state funeral?

    My point is, neither me nor Gareth are trying to take away the fact that a young life was tragically taken away from us way to soon. We mourn his death, as he was a great up and coming star and he did inspire a lot of people because of how well he did, but does this give him the right to a state funeral? What exactly is the requirement to a state funeral? And why is the fact that he was shot at his girlfriends house not being given more attention? He was married with a child and had a girlfriend?!?! I’m sorry but as any human being that believes in being faithful in a marriage, this should bother you.

    So in conclusion, I stand with Garth in that he is in his right to ask why does Senzo get a state funeral. Not because of race, skin colour or culture, but merely the fact of what gives him the right to a state funeral? I can promise you that both I and I am sure Gareth would have asked exact the same question if it was a white man say for example AB de Villiers or a Francois Hougard. Would they have got a state funeral? I highly doubt that….

    So let’s remember Senzo for the great soccer player he was and for the hope and inspiration he gave us, but let’s not go overboard and put him on a pedestal and not allow anybody to to ask any questions.

  2. Joe says

    Maybe our heroes should be corrupt, like Hansie, the dishourable and disgraced white man.

  3. ETHICAL says

    @joe – Our heroes are corrupt, ZUMA, Yengeni, Bheki Cele etc. Its a pity, the HEROES that fought for equality are being put on the same platform as the greedy a-holes currently in government. With reference to questioning the funeral, everyone is entitled to their opinion. So if someone is white they are not allowed to ask or say anything as they ALL CAUSED APARTHEID?? Even the ones not responsible for it or born in that era? Get a life. Get real. Look at the bigger picture. Our people are struggling. Lets talk about that important stuff.

  4. Jeff says

    I asked the question, why did he ask? He works in the media and an announcement had been made LAST WEEK that this would be a provincial funeral. Did he object then? Instead he chooses that one moment—like he did when Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s funeral was being held—to open his mouth. Sarcasm gets the kind of response he got by the way, go ANYWHERE in the world. Manto had done a lot of controversial things, but as Mike Maile points out, choosing that moment when the funeral is underway is INSENSITIVE. Would AB de Villiers, Jean de Villiers get provincial (Meyiwa’s was not a state funeral) funerals? The shock of losing a high profile player in HIS PLAYING DAYS, is hard to deal with. Fikile Mbalula celebrates rugby, cricket, athletics, swimming victories like he does football ones. He reserved the worst kind of criticism for Gordon Igesund’s team, and he hugs white sports stars as ecstatically as he does black players. And through all this, we hope no other player dies IN HIS PLAYING days for a long, long time.

  5. Glenn says

    Cliff fails to even notice the profound irony in his claiming that politicians love to grandstand around these sorts of tragedies, when that is exactly what he is doing! Cliff is a grandstander of note and ought to remove the log from his eye first.

    He also asks the wrong question in the wrong way.

    What he should ask is why was a large memorial service needed? The answer to that is the number of people who attended the memorial service. If the stadium was empty, well then it was a waste of money. If not, it was not. If it was not then politicians made the correct call. End of story.

    Further, to claim that Messi would not have a large memorial, were he to be murdered is moot and presupposes a whole lot of other issues.

    On this matter Cliff is off the edge of a precipice – or a Cliff I guess.

  6. […] media erupts with the offended and the […]

  7. jess nicolle says

    people dont like honest opinion gareth is honest. have always liked him.

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