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Verashni Pillay: What Marius Roodt Did Was Wrong. But It Does Not Exonerate Me. 

If you’re wondering why I have not spoken sooner, it’s because I’ve been listening and trying to understand.

19/04/2017 18:04 SAST | Updated 19/04/2017 21:30 SAST

I did not feel anger when I first saw Marius Roodt's face.

I felt a deep and almost crippling sorrow.

Sorrow, because at first glance he looked like someone I could be friends with.

But mostly, sorrow that this happened on my watch.

If you're wondering why I have not spoken sooner, it's because I've been listening and trying to understand. Many things went wrong but here's what I could have done better.

  • Content of the blog: even if the identity was not in question, it required far more robust discussion in the newsroom and very careful framing if we did decide to publish it.
  • I did not make it clear enough in my initial response that I absolutely do not agree with the disenfranchisement of any group of people. I don't hate white men.
  • Editing my initial response. Even though I made a note about the edit, I realise this may have come across as inauthentic and I am deeply sorry for that.
  • While ID checks and verification was not part of our original process or that of any blogging site I know, I could have expected this and catered for it in an environment of fake news and media attacks.

But there's a deeper sorrow at play here for me: our lack of racial healing.

In my quest to get people to understand that privilege exists, that black pain is real and whiteness an unfair norm, I have not made it clear why this was necessary in my columns on this issue.

Because I believe in healing. This, ultimately, is what I want us to strive for as a country in our race relations. But to get to that place, I felt we've needed to be far more honest with each other about our respective pain and privilege as black and white South Africa than we have been.

In the introspection we've been doing as a team, one of them said something that really struck me. We need to be critical and healing.

Despite the pressure for me to recant my thoughts in my initial response I cannot, authentically, do that.

I still believe that despite the gains for equality and universal human rights in the last century, the fact is that white men still enjoy disproportionate power. And yes, I believe that a loss of oppressive power is necessary to create a truly level playing field.

I believe black pain is real and black tax a reality for almost every black South African I know, whether or not they're part of this feted black middle class.

I believe the facts in the original blog were wrong, such as the idea circulated by President Jacob Zuma himself, that white people own 97% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. I am sorry and remorseful that this got through our checks. But I don't believe that the latest correct figures, that black South Africans directly own just slightly less than white South Africans of the JSE, is anything to settle for.

I cannot resort to a glib rainbowism. But I must be clearer about the eventual aim of my desire for more honesty: healing. My hope is for a South Africa where there are more honest, inclusive conversations, fewer accusations and growing suspicion of each other and eventual, authentic healing.

What Roodt did was wrong. But it does not exonerate me.

I do not believe I can get through this life without making any mistakes. I have never held myself to that standard, even if others do. When I do make a mistake, I want to admit it fast, learn from it and humbly and hopefully keep producing better work.

I still hope I could be friends with someone like Marius. There is a deep hurt in our country – still. I want to be part of the healing. Honestly and authentically so.

  • We are awaiting an adjudication from the press ombudsman about the content of the blog. We will be publishing this soon along with the measures we will be taking to strengthen our systems, according to the recommendations of those we have brought in to help us.