Harvey and Ramalaine on Harvey’s claim of a Cape Town workers-class identity of vulgarity

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Background

On April 20, Ebrahim Harvey posted a Facebook post with the heading: FACEBOOK MUST ACT AGAINST APPALLINGLY VULGAR AND BRUTAL POSTS as a lament in hope of soliciting response be it from those who are FB friends and plausibly from Facebook itself. The Posting attracted varied responses and one such was from Clyde Ramalaine which essentially assume a set of questions of clarity from Harvey. To this Harvey responded he would need more space to ventilate and engage the questions as well express himself better since Facebook does not allow for such lengthy responses. Ramalaine volunteered to facilitate an opportunity for Harvey to in attempt of answering the raised questions pen a more comprehensive version which he offered to publish on the AfricaNews24-7 digital platform with a response to Harvey’s more extensive version.

Herewith please find as first instalment of two the original Harvey FB post and the comment from Ramalaine on that post. Affording more of us to weigh in on an important though very discursive subject.

We herewith publish the first of two instalments of this discourse and will also on Thursday publish the second installments. [Except for editing grammatical and syntax corrections the content of the work was kept in its original form]

Facebook must act against appalling vulgarity and brutal posts
By: Ebrahim Harvey

I’ve been observing this most vulgar and abusive trend coming especially from some Cape Town people on Facebook since I reluctantly joined in 2015. It raised it’s most ugly and brutal head again over the past few days after I posted something about the coronavirus, Ramaphosa and the ruling ANC.

I learnt already in the 1970s that no matter what big and sharp differences you might have with people it is very important to conduct those debates in a dignified manner. So important is this matter, especially in revolutionary politics, that Leon Trotsky devoted a section in his book Problems of Everyday Life to the necessity for what he correctly called ‘cultured speech”.

I lived in Cape Town for over a decade and taught for a short while in Manenberg in the 1970s. Coming from Joburg I was shocked from the outset about how vulgar the ‘Coloured’ people especially were in that city. The very worst and often unspeakable vulgarity came not so much from the middle-class Coloured areas but the poorest working-class townships.

I even watched little children of under 10 utter the worst profanities I ever heard in my life in Joburg where I was born and grew up. At the school I taught in Manenberg, Silverstream High Schoo, it was shocking how embedded was the most unsavoury and brutally vulgar language pupils uttered. I’m trying to show how deep is this socio-cultural problem in Cape Town is, especially in Coloured townships on the Cape Flats.

After the vulgar abuse I was again subjected to over the past three days I decided that I needed to post something on this vexatious matter. Please go and see the responses from Selim Gool over the past 2 days to my post on the ‘Left’ of Cape Town. Just to quickly give one example: this was his language in response to me: “illiterate arse hole”, etc, etc.

I watched the very same vulgarity coming from the equally vulgar pen of Abdul Karriem Matthews for as long as I can remember. Often when he starts with similar vulgar language I get so alienated that I don’t bother to read the rest of his post. The tragedy of this unnecessary and atrociously vulgar language in the posts of these two people, especially Abdul, is that he is often very good at sharply raising issues facing the working class of Cape Town. In that regard, he is often concrete, persuasive and compelling in his arguments, if only he could discard the regular vulgarities he peppers his posts with.

This is a very serious problem with deep roots that I believe lies in the period of slavery in Cape Town. So disturbing is this trend that I raised it in discussions with scholars and a few leading activists in Cape Town when I lived there, among whom was the late Neville Alexander. This man was exemplary in how he both wrote and spoke to people. Not once did I hear one word of vulgar profanities from Neville.

No matter how strongly Neville might have differed with people, including from the ANC with whom he had serious differences, he never once descended to such depths of vulgar and abusive profanities. I lived a few doors from his home in Lotus River/Grassy Park during the early 1990s. Even though I had some differences with him it was always a pleasure to talk to Neville and to read his books and articles.

Facebook MUST figure out a way of acting against and forbidding such wanton vulgarity in the posts of such people.

Besides questions of personal conduct, dignity, respect and so on, what such vulgar language does is that it discourages communication, discourses and debates about very important matters this country is presently confronted with.

Ebrahim Harvey is a journalist, political writer, analyst and author of “Kgalema Motlanthe a Political Biography”. FILE PHOTO: Supplied

Harvey does not escape his own trapped state of mind on Cape Town workers class identity in frames of vulgarity. 
By: Clyde Ramalaine

Dear Ebrahim, I read your post as one born in Woodstock and spent considerable time as a resident of Mitchell’s Plain. I think you make critical points however I do not think you escape your trapped state to make these assessments on people of Cape Town in frames of vulgarity.

You argue Cape Town at your experiential level as a former decade long resident as vulgar and you define that in linguistic expressions we must surmise. You then seek to make a comparison between the elites and workers class, the latter whom you readily highlight as showing a prevalence for your frame of vulgarity.

You then literally drag Neville Alexander arguably one of the last true revolutionary thinkers from the Cape into the fray to lend credence to your uncritically adopted Trotsky “cultured speech” notion and belief of what should make for astute acceptable conduct of those who are public in debate. Why is Alexander the standard – don’t get me wrong I am a follower of Alexander and refer in my research to him often.

We can argue why you bring Alexander and many others as your long history often evidenced in what some would consider name dropping presents. [please get me right I am not suggesting you are name dropping I am saying you could be perceived to be because your life path had taken you from a Piroshaw Camay to an Alexander and everyone in between]

I think this is a false comparison on several levels. Firstly your uphold of Trotsky while your prerogative is not necessarily critical. Meaning as a thinker I would have wanted you first to explain Trotsky’s notion of “cultured speech” and to go beyond that and critique it because it is foolhardy to consider his interpretation as the final authority on such. Maybe if you had proved more critical to Trotsky you may have not had such strait-jacketed view on vulgarity as particularly a class issue in the manifestation of Cape Town people.

Secondly, you have not in your posting explain what you define in the usage of the construct of vulgarity until you share with us this your handle and desist assuming we automatically know or share a common understanding of what is ”vulgar” you give us limited space to objectively engage you. In the absence of access to your understanding of “vulgarity” as you propagate we will be guessing.

Thirdly, you then play adjudicator one Matthews’ style, approach and writing-identity as him making salient arguments on many fronts yet it puts you off for its vulgarity. This is an entitled opinion on your part yet it’s also an assumption because we do not know if all those who have been exposed to Matthews share your conviction in this regard. Again you assume there is a “standard” that warrants to be upheld shall we assume your borrowed Trotsky “cultured speech” notion? We must ask whose standard, determined when and for what purposes? How did it become the generally assumed standard?

I do not think you have made your case on this vulgarity at best you had inadvertently attempted to superimpose a plausibly European elite thinking, which you may have embraced, as the standard for what should inform expressions of thought in a designated Cape Town geographic space.

It is further interesting that you limit this your “vulgarity” to Cape Town and see no need to draw links or even reference if you had experienced any similar vulgarity in engaging, for example, Northern Cape Communities better understood in Namakwalanders. How would thinkers from this neck of the wood express themselves linguistically in a form of nativeness sound on the “cultured speech trained” ear of Harvey?

Help us engage you better freed from having to make a litany of assumptions that may cloud a point you are rightly seeking to make and warrants engaging. How much of you complain about in this regard can be attributed to our limitations and preferences that we often innocently or consciously superimpose?

Respectfully submitted.
Thank you !

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA