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