I’ve recently noticed something frustrating about South Africans of different races on Twitter: we often talk past each other. I got into a discussion about the NHI yesterday – something I’m still going to blog about separately once I have done my research. But eventually I had to bail out because I felt we were talking past each other and 140 characters wasn’t enough to state my case (hence the upcoming blog post). I also had some deadlines that I needed to take care of, urgently.

This morning I’ve watched a long-time friend @samanthaperry discussing important issues with someone else I follow on Twitter: @JoziGoddess. Sam started it by posting this:

Zama responded with this:

And we were off. It went back and forward for about 20 minutes, covering BEE, wealth redistribution as well as corruption in both the public and private sectors. I could see that both were getting frustrated because of the seeming inability of the other to see their point of view and I realised then that the problem wasn’t only that 140 characters is very limiting for a debate but that they were talking past each other. This seemed to be creating tension and I, unwisely, tried a couple of times to broaden the topic under discussion. I was ignored. But that’s fine, I shouldn’t have butted in in the first place.

Please note that I only use this exchange as an illustration. I could have used any of the exchanges I’ve witnessed or been part of on Twitter in the past six months. I have immense respect for both these ladies: Samantha from knowing and working with her for a long time; and Zama from following her on Twitter and reading her Tweets. These are intelligent ladies but they couldn’t find common ground in that discussion.

Watching that, and the unhappy way it ended, got me thinking that as South Africans we talk to each other but we don’t really listen. We all have prejudices that are very difficult to see past and are rooted in our respective backgrounds. That’s a given but what’s really sad is that just about every such debate eventually becomes about race. It happened to me yesterday. I criticised Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, our former health minister and her successor, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, calling them both idiots. The response I got surprised and irritated me:

In the cold light of day, however, I can see where that comes from. It’ a deeply held prejudice among many black people that criticism of any black person by a white is automatically racist. But it goes both ways, as Zama showed in a tweet she posted after her discussion with Samantha:

And she’s dead right. But all of this makes me sad because it is evident that we all have our views about what is and isn’t wrong with South Africa but we can’t see to find common ground from which to venture into these areas of contention and eradicate those prejudices. Again, Zama said it best:

Come people. Apartheid wounded us all in different ways and turned us into a divided society. Let’s live the dream; Let’s talk to each other but also listen to each other; Let’s look for commonality rather than differences.