Straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel

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NOT POPULAR IN THE PACIFIC: Heather du Plessis-Allan.

NOT POPULAR IN THE PACIFIC: Heather du Plessis-Allan.

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Afamasaga M. F. Toleafoa

The tirade by NZ radio 1ZB commentator Heather du Plessis against the Pacific Islands has rightly invited adverse comment, only a small part of which has filtered to us in Samoa I suspect. 

But the reprint in the Weekend Samoan this morning of Bruce Willis’ ANU Development Policy Blog piece “Play the ball not the person…” prompts me to put pen to paper. 

The writer is obviously critical of, among other things, the references to Ms. du Plessis South African country of origin. He suggests that “rather than punish the heretics,” her critics who obviously includes numerous Pacific Islanders, “should seek out converts instead” presumably by, according to him, turning well-intentioned but ignorant Australians and New Zealanders into well informed people on their Pacific Island neighbours.  

I have not followed any of the discussion myself other than what I can read in the NZ Herald online and what the Samoa Observer reprints. And the little that I have come across on the affair is mostly well measured comment expressing dismay at NZ going back to the language and views of the 1970s. After all a great deal of progress has taken place in New Zealand’s relations with the Pacific Islands and in race relations in New Zealand herself, thanks largely to leaders like Ms.Adern that Ms. Du Plessis also ignorantly trashed, and others before her. And which is why the outburst by Ms. du Plessis, a relatively recent migrant from apartheid South Africa must rankle with people both in New Zealand and in her Pacific neighbours. 

Bruce Hill’s blog is critical of the ire directed at Ms. Du Plessis suggesting that the focus of the quite legitimate outrage should be to inform well meaning but ignorant New Zealanders and Australians about the Pacific Islands! Surely Mr Hill, forty plus years after the lessons of the divisive immigration policies of the 1970s in New Zealand, well intentioned New Zealanders and Australians can’t be that ignorant still about their Pacific Island neighbours! Or did Ms. du Plessis speak the truth for them all when she said Pacific people don’t matter anyway? An eerie reminder of another people that apparently don’t matter, the Afro-Americans in Trumpland! 

How many more years do these “well meaning” Australians and New Zealanders need to learn something about their Pacific neighbours, other than the bile that equally ignorant journalists like Ms. Du Plessis dish out from the comfort of their ivory towers? And why put the burden of this education on the Pacific peoples, the very victims of this ignorance? Isn’t blaming the victim the ultimate form of abuse Mr Hill? How about the ANU Development Policy institution. Or is it too busy playing apologist for journalists that are ignorant themselves or may have something to gain by stoking the fires of this ignorance? 

 The sad part is that while journalists like Ms du Plessis are spreading their Pacific Islands don’t matter bias, the geopolitics of the region are changing anyway and fast. As Chancellor Angela Merkel said of Trump and his ilk in relation to climate change, the world can’t wait for the very last skeptic to be convinced to act. Australia and New Zealand are no longer the only players in the Pacific. China’s presence in the Pacific is a reality and China is not held back by the constraints of ignorance among journalists and voters and domestic politics that New Zealand and Australia have to contend with. Other Asian nations with the means are becoming equally more active in the development of Pacific island economies and social services. Leaders like Prime Minister Ahern with firsthand knowledge and experience in the Pacific understand that reality.

It has often been suggested that one of the fears with people like Trump coming to power and prominence is it will embolden the bigots, the racists, the white supremacists and all the haters of other people around the world, to openly practice their craft. We have already seen a resurgence in Europe and in the US of the political far right with their extreme nationalistic and divisive views of the world. And whatever reasons prompted Mis.du Plessis to use her power on air to give voice to the ugliness in her heart, the Trump effect can’t be ignored as a contributing factor.  

After all, it is not that long ago that an Australian right wing blogger and columnist Mr Andrew Bolt heaped abuse on Samoa’s Prime Minister for daring to challenge Australia to take the lead in addressing climate change, an issue so crucial to its small Pacific island neighbours. The attack was personal and pointedly rude about Prime Minister Tuilaepa himself and his person, and about the Pacific Inland peoples as a whole. Bob Howarth, an Australia based media consultant and educator described the attack as follows “Bolt’s verbal attack on the Prime Minister of Samoa is typical of one of Australia’s most right-wing columnists with opinions reflecting the worst bias and outright racism that appeals to the most narrow minded audience”

Mr. Hill may and may not have responded with a call to play the ball and not the man in this full on personal diatribe in his very own front yard. If he did, one hopes he was able to educate the perpetrator about the realities in the Pacific today. The Prime Minister of Samoa has just returned from an official visit to China and a meeting with the leader of that country. Climate change was one of the issues China offered to help Samoa with. If Mr. Hill did not, then one hopes he will understand if his criticism of those expressing dismay at Ms. du Plessis’ similar diatribe against Pacific people can’t be taken seriously. The Good Book does warn about people who take pains to strain out a gnat but would then swallow a camel.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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