I logged onto Facebook a few days ago only to be greeted with a picture of a woman, I know, Beatrice Mateyu, carrying a placard with a handwritten red-ink dick-awakening message that several people on my timeline had uploaded. Just in case you’ve just crawled from under a rock, go and look for that placard because it’s message is too offensive and unprintable to be quoted in this column.
The placard was rude in every sense of the word, to say the least.
Eeeish! Lord have Mercy! Was my immediate reaction. Eish! eish eish! I cringed. I seriously couldn’t believe that someone was bold enough to march with such a placard in Malawi. A few hours later I read that Beatrice Mateyo had been placed under arrest for carrying the placard and I wasn’t surprised although I felt it wasn’t necessary for the police to do so.
In all fairness, I had actually expected this to happen. I’m in no way condoning the arresting of this woman – don’t get me wrong – if it was up to me, I would simply have confiscated the placard and let the woman continue marching with the others.
I don’t know if the act was illegal under our laws but I still think arresting her was a bit too extreme.
Nevertheless, what that woman did was immoral and somewhat stupid. Pure and simple! I’ve seen a lot or arguments for and against her use of the N word but to me, I think she went overboard. Using that word is swearing.
I guess what makes it worse is the fact that Chichewa language is very vulgar. Profanity is no different from passing gas or peeing in a public pool. It’s repulsive. It offends people.
I know that you might be thinking that it doesn’t offend your friends. Right? Well, sure. A room full of people who are okay with cussing is a lot like a room full of people who don’t mind if you pick your nose and eat the snot, as long as they can do it, too. Of course it’s not offensive to people who swear, as much as you do.
Heck! Truth be told, me and my close acquaintances swear all the time, to each other. Everybody does. But we do it within ourselves and not everywhere and to everyone.
‘The N word’
But here is the cue. We swear selectively. I have never heard or even imagined that in our swearing one would have the balls or the guts to swear at another like N***** ya amayi ako or N***** ya akazi ako or even N***** ya m’chemwali wako.
Please don’t try this at home or elsewhere, you will become mincemeat!
I am sure, if this happens, someone can go home without teeth or indeed someone can kill someone. You just can’t do that. I have been to Nsanje and Nkhotakota where profanity is just a norm and common happenstance but even there they do not swear using the N word.
But none of us live in a vacuum. If it was just about our friends then maybe swearing would be okay. But it’s not. We must interact with people from all walks of life and try not to offend one another.
We call it umunthu. And, say what you want to say but would any of you be okay if your 12 year old son, daughter, niece, nephew or grandchild came to you and said “Amayi /aunt/ agogo, kodi muli ndi N******?
Come on; let’s not throw our morals to the dogs.
However, what counts as ‘swearing’ is a very subjective thing, ad clearly, there are plenty of contexts where no word is off limits (because, thankfully, free speech is a thing in Malawi), so it seems like a difficult thing to enforce.
I’ve also never heard of anyone being prosecuted for this.
Almost everyone I know swears (even some Christian/ religious people I know have their own substitution words they use for swearing – which really isn’t any different.) Foul language has become as much as part of our society as smoking or drinking.
It’s not my place to judge or condemn anyone for it. I do it, too, and have no room to judge anyone else. But in order to co-exist peacefully then I cannot pretend using profanity in public is okay. Yes, it’s your choice, but wouldn’t you rather be a good citizen and respect the next person?
Nonetheless, we all know that in every communication process, context is key and paramount. I agree, elsewhere, it wouldn’t matter, perhaps. But in Malawi and not in vernacular and ultimately not that motherly organ.
The language used on that placard was too vulgar for the Malawian context. The message could have been made with less cringe-worthy diction in the context of the Malawian public where it is possible to communicate about sensitive things without being explicit about them.
We are talking about kids, the youth here. I have seen some people hailing the fact that since it has succeeded in raising all this debate then the placard is a success. What success?
Merely raising a debate without transforming reality is nothing but empty and cheap.
All bad things including cashgate and maizegate raised debates. At the end of the day, it is not the debate that matters but the tangible things we learn from such debates. And is there to learn in this debate?
I for one have learnt nothing from this debate. Honestly.
We can mention vagina, cunt or pussy in public. We cannot mention N****** in public. That is a fact. Even those defending the placard as an act of bravery are not brave enough to mention it on their Facebook pages.
The etymological content is the same for the four words mentioned above but the socio-linguistic connotations are utterly different. That won’t change in Malawi for a while. N***** cannot just be mentioned willy-nilly.
Women in Malawi bare their breasts in public heat of Nsanje or breastfeed their babies at Wenera bus depot. It is normal and it is not a crime just as in other countries gullible feminists are comfortable mentioning vagina in public but these women will never bare their breasts in public in New York, Paris, London or Berlin, for them it is immoral and not normal.
The explicit, combative and no holds-barred approach that the activist is insisting on today alienates the whole noble anti-gender based violence from the majority of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters in Malawi who are victims of GBV and do not identify or sympathize with the vulgar language used to describe a phenomena that can be so described soberly but to a bold effect.
The biggest fallacy here is to think that simply because we are explicit then we are bold enough. The notion that the society shouldn’t reduce the value of women to their sexual organs it is respectfully submitted, can and should be driven home without offending the cultural, religious and moral sensitivities of the majority of the many on whose behalf the battle is being waged.
All in all, there’s a difference between freedom of expression and gratuitous profanity.
Would all the women and men that wasted times defending Beatrice, the placard carrier, carry such an obscene, senseless and stupid placard in public?
Can they allow their children, their relation et al to do so?
I think that there is a distinct difference between what we should and shouldn’t do in the privacy of our toilets to what we can or can’t do or say in public I abhor what the placard carrier did but of course, it doesn’t amount to an offence under any law in Malawi. The police, to say the least, were also just silly in arresting Beatrice.
I know Beatrice is smart, intelligent and clever but on this one, she lost the plot. It is kinda thick and dim-witted to use the N word in public. But then, she is jobless, husbandless like many activists and so the anger towards men is on the high and she can do anything.
I can only imagine her three children asking her: “Mummy why did they arrest you?”
And Beatrice answering: “I was carrying a placard on Gender Based Violence…”
“And what did it say?” the other child asks. “Mummy, I mean the placard?”
“Eeeeh! Aaaaaah! I was just expressing myself?”
I don’t know what or how Beatrice Mateyo would explain it better to her three children.
If you really want to know what the placard said please go and find it….Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :