David Bullard: should he have been sacked?

By Jane Rosen

 

 

Once upon a time, a little boy was born in Britain. He grew up to be a cocky, controversial columnist who smokes cigars and wears black framed glasses. His name, David Bulllard.

Bullard, now living in South Africa and being notoriously brilliant at writing weekly controversial and satirical columns for the

 

 

 

Sunday Times

, was fired some days ago from the widely read newspaper. The column that he wrote that was responsible for his dismissal (April 10) was entitled “Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing.” (6 April). It set his contention that without colonialism, “simple tribesman” (Africans) would still be living in “huts”. He went on to say that if these families lose a child to a hungry lion or crocodile, “they would mourn for a week or so and have another child”.

Bullard’s sacking and his column have sparked off both political and roast-chicken dinner debates. The biggest question is that of the issues surrounding free speech and censorship in what is seen as a democratic country.

To some it has been filed in their minds as “hate speech” and some scathing criticisms have been buttered onto Bullard’s already burnt toast. Fellow columnists like Moshoeshoe Monare have responded viciously, writing that it is “Bullard craving attention, trying very hard at being a martyr or a hero…unfortunately our heroes and martyrs believed in equality and human dignity”. And then goes on to say, “The only black person who can find this satirically funny is a sorry human misfit whose mental faculties and brain were really damaged by apartheid or colonialism.”

Yes, Bullard’s column was seen as very offensive. And yes, he most definitely flirted promiscuously with a seriously sensitive issue. But how do you censor comedy, critique and satire?

Bullard’s original brief was to be controversial. In his apology letter to

 

 

Business Day

on Friday 18 April he wrote, “I can’t claim to believe everything I have written because some columns were written purely for sensation…last week I pushed that boundary too far.”

Bullard is his own worst enemy

 

f you want to know what Bullard thinks of all this post-column hullabaloo, go to the

 

Business Day

’s website and search for an article entitled “Bullard: an apology to my readers and friends”. This is what I think of it all.

Having had lunch with Bullard some time ago we have remained in contact and, after a few good conversations with the ex-columnist, I can assure you he is not a racist. And anyone who is shot in their own home and refuses to leave South Africa, mostly out of love for the place, is okay in my books.

The man who fired Bullard, Mondli Makhanya, is not a stupid man, nor is he a push-over. Allegations that there was pressure from government to get rid of Bullard are absurd; remember last year’s big media story? Makhanya exposed ANC stalwart Manto as “a drunkard and a thief”, and rumours were rife that he and head reporter Jocelyn Meyer were to be arrested. Makhanya and the

 

Sunday Times are no friends of the government, or the ruling party.Bullard is not stupid either. What he is, however, is his own worst enemy. He brandishes a flamboyant and often incendiary pen unapologetically. This hammered the final nail in his column’s coffin. In Volume 1 Issue 3 of Empire magazine, he lambasted his employer the Sunday Times

for handling his beloved motoring journalism so badly, and accused the paper of creeping mediocrity.

What Makhanya is, is embarrassed. Let’s be honest, an edition of the

 

Sunday Times weighs roughly 13kg; there is no way anyone can read through and approve all of that content. But, there are systems in place to make sure content is checked thoroughly. The fact that Bullard’s piece made it into print means two things, firstly, Makhanya and the higher-ups treated Bullard’s column as a sure-bet and two, whoever did approve it found nothing wrong with it. When a country is up in arms, it is tough for an editor to accept, and I suspect coupled with the Empire

incident, Makhanya finally lashed out and fired Bullard on his cell phone on the Thursday after the Sunday concerned.

Bullard appeared on Kieno Kammies’ show on 702 for two hours a little while back, and while he fended off rather violent phone calls and enjoyed more sympathetic ones, he repeated the fact that Makhanya, who he referred to as a dear friend, had asked him to apologise to his colleagues over the allegations in

 

Empire

. Bullard would not.

South Africa is at a sensitive time in its young democracy: a power crisis threatens our stability and effects our day to day lives, our president-hopeful is up on a barrage of charges and Zimbabwe is a worrying boil that desperately needs lancing. And Bullard’s column certainly touched a nerve. But even if SA was a country with an extremely mature press, and mature readers, there’s still a lesson here: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

 

Ciro De Siena

Ex-Rhodes student

 

 

 

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