Magazine article The Spectator

Thabo's Tantrum

Magazine article The Spectator

Thabo's Tantrum

Article excerpt

Does our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, think that black people are inherently sexually depraved? I have to tell you that the HM Treasury press office has yet to come back to me on this vital question. I think that they are stalling for some reason.

The President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, seems to believe that these dark thoughts lurk somewhere at the back of Gordon's mind. He has accused the Chancellor of promoting nostalgia for British imperialism and 'joining a discourse that demonises blacks'. Such a discourse necessarily carries with it the 'age-old white stereotype that we, as Africans, are sexually depraved'.

Gordon's crime was to have announced, while on a visit to Tanzania, that 'the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over'. He also said that we should be proud of the empire. I have scoured his speech for references to sexual behaviour patterns but have, sadly, found none at all. Quite obviously we should just take Thabo's word for it that this is what Gordon meant, on a subliminal level at least.

Thabo himself has been quite sexually aroused recently. He became very aroused indeed when a South African journalist, Charlene Smith, accused the government of not taking rape seriously. Ms Smith knows what she's talking about, not least because six years ago she was stabbed and raped in her home. South Africa has the worst rape statistics of any country on earth, according to Interpol - 113.7 rapes per 100,000 women. In South Africa, a woman is raped once every 20 seconds and, according to the country's Law Reform Commission, there are 1.7 million rapes every year. The South African National Prosecuting Authority has stated that 50 per cent of all court cases are for rape and the figure rises to some 60 per cent in the Durban area.

The prevalence of rape in South Africa is not far short of 50 times higher than in Britain and four times higher than in the next worst country, the USA. In mitigation, I might add that very, very few African countries provide detailed statistics for rape - but I'm not sure if this caveat supports or contradicts Thabo's case, as the President habitually talks about the continent as a whole, as if he were president of that too. Certainly it appears that Gordon Brown would have been on reasonably firm ground if he'd said that, according to the latest figures available, South African men seem comparatively sexually depraved, if you are prepared to accept (as most of us would) that rape is an act of depravity. But, as I say, Gordon didn't mention sexual behaviour at all - it is simply something which any normal person would infer from his very brief comments about the empire. Maybe it was the absence of an implied, subliminal 'comparatively' that so irked Thabo.

But Thabo does seem to have a bee in his bonnet. He talks about sexual depravity with the fervour and regularity with which Gordon Brown once talked about those exciting five convergence criteria for joining a single European currency. According to Charlene Smith, 'the President clearly has a difficulty with sex and sexuality'. Perhaps this difficulty lies behind his stupid and dangerous disavowal of a link between HIV and Aids as well. Who knows?

The President expanded upon his theme. These decadent whiteys who refuse to acknowledge the evils of their colonial past contribute to a portrayal of Africa as a continent 'destined to experience perpetual catastrophe and unnatural disasters, given that we have now been deprived of benevolent and morally upright white rule'. …

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