Hi, I’m Anneliese. I’m progressive. But conservative too.


Hi, I’m Anneliese. I’m progressive. But conservative too.

Labels are lazy, says ANNELIESE BURGESS. Lefty. Liberal. Right-winger. Woke. She rejects all of them.


IT was 1986. I was 18. The country was in a state of emergency. I was sitting in the bakkie watching my father dose cattle. For some reason, I opened the cubbyhole and found it stuffed with R1 bullets.

I ask my father about the bullets. He told me he had removed them from his magazine the previous night when he and other members of the Indwe Commando were called to patrol a Queenstown township for the second night in a row. He told me of mass arrests by the police. Of hundreds of people locked in hangars at the airstrip. He told me of the moon rising and the haunting hymns coming from the hangar. 

My father told me that day that something was terribly broken in South Africa. And that people with good hearts would need to start thinking for themselves. He told me that white people were hostages of their minds and of their fear.

And that was why he went on patrol with an empty magazine in his army-issue rifle.

It is a conversation that has remained seared into my mind. It was the beginning of my political awakening but I suspect it also contributed to my absolute and militant aversion to anything that even vaguely smells of groupthink.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Labels are lazy

There is nothing I find more boring than a label. Nothing is more interesting than someone who can process complexity and look at things from different angles — even angles they might disagree with.

Labels are lazy.

Lefty. Liberal. Right-winger. Woke. Conservative. Counter-revolutionary (remember that one lefties?).

I am many things. I hold progressive views on most social issues, but I also have some conservative ones.

And I don't want to restrict my definition of activism or intelligence to those who politically agree with me. I value rational conversation and like to engage with people who disagree with me. A recent experience of engaging with a friend who identifies as “100% woke" left me exasperated at the closed-mindedness of her arguments and the zinging undercurrent of intolerance.

A curious inability to live and let live seems to go hand-in-hand with the self-righteousness of zealots on both extremes of the political spectrum. The absurdity of some aspects of “woke” culture is echoed in the same foolishness and stupidity we sometimes see on the right. Both hinge on an absence of rationality and independent, logical thinking. 

I want to have no part in any aggressive, belligerent brand of political correctness where you cancel those who don't share your political views. It is harmful. It reduces individuals with whom we disagree to nothing more than the sum of their political beliefs. It robs us of our humanity.

I refuse to be defined by a single label.

I unapologetically stand against discrimination and injustice. Whether it be racism, homophobia or transphobia. And yes, I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist. Misogyny has no place in the kind of world I wish to live in. And yes, I support the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy (my life would have turned out very differently if I had not had access to abortion). And I find the death sentence barbaric and cannot understand why it still exists anywhere. In that sense, I am a traditional lefty.

However, there are social issues on which my views differ from those of the mainstream left narrative. Immigration is one. I cannot understand why questioning the wisdom of mass, uncontrolled immigration is seen as right-wing — here or anywhere. In my mind, it is logical that a country has the right — and the responsibility towards its citizens — to manage immigration. 

Does that mean I support practices like Donald Trump's terrible family separation policy? Of course not. Does it mean I am horrified when a boat of desperate people capsizes in the Mediterranean? Of course I am. Does it mean I make excuses for the performative xenophobia of Gayton McKenzie trashing foreign-owned spaza shops in Soweto? No, it doesn't. Anyone who does that should be arrested. Him included.

Questioning the wisdom of our porous borders should not get me dismissed as a right-winger (as has happened numerous times in my work and discussions with so-called “progressive" friends). Nor should I be branded a xenophobe by questioning how 19 shops run by foreign traders exist in my hometown and why not a single South African-owned one remains.

I support abortion. But do I think late-term terminations should be allowed only in extreme circumstances? Damn right I do. 

I am horrified by what is happening in Gaza. Yes. Horrified. But do I also understand the primal wound within the Jewish psyche that is driving this war? We can stand up for Gaza without falling into lazy antisemitic tropes. 

Religion frightens me. Fanaticism is the root of so much evil, so much violence and so much intolerance. But does that mean I don't support people's right to be religious? Of course not. Does the fact that I would never feel at home in an ethnically exclusive organisation like Solidarity mean I dismiss them as right-wingers (as so often happens)? No, it doesn't. I reject that view emphatically. As I reject the view that being politically conservative automatically equates to being a dirty racist. 

Does the fact that a Christian institution of higher learning like Akademia University makes absolutely no sense to me mean that I don't support its right to exist? No, it doesn't. I would just never send my child there.

I want her to have a big world with many languages, opinions and political views. I want her to think for herself, just as my father wanted for me that day in 1986 in the bakkie at the cattle kraal. 

And is there any place where we should guard the principles of independent thought more jealously than in the media? Over the past decades, I have attended many editorial conferences. How many times have I heard a story proposal being shot down because someone thought it did not conform to the mainstream editorial view? That someone or something was made out to be too “right-wing" or the topic made us uncomfortable, and therefore the story dies. The answer is many times. (And I have no doubt the same happens in newsrooms with more conservative values than the ones I have worked in.)

So, we journalists often nestle ourselves into a comfortable echo chamber where we all think the same and pat ourselves on the back for our progressive values. In my book, true progressiveness is about encouraging multiple views and listening to other opinions. And no, this doesn't make me a boring old liberal. I reject that label, too. It makes me a person interested in the world and interested in listening to others because that is how we learn to know each other. And understanding makes the world a better place.

♦ VWB ♦

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