On Firing Yourself and Standing Up Against Bullies

I’ve had to ask myself – mainly because somebody else asked me – why I stand in support of Patricia de Lille’s fight with the DA. Is it a group thing?

Perhaps – certainly if we’re talking about the group of the underdogs, the bullied, victimised, principled.

It’s certainly not a party political thing – although, along with many others, I believe that the DA has really done a series of terrible things throughout this fraught course which cannot be left to stand if one supports the principle of fair, equitable and transparent processes. The party may well also reap at the next election the costs of its actions in the De Lille matter, as others have pointed out.

I don’t especially eschew group identity – except when it pre-determines how I should relate to the world, who else I should identify with, whom I should step away from.

As a social being, I love belonging to the various groups of which I choose to be a part, even the group identity markers I carry in my genes. I’m a happy (albeit critical) citizen of this nation state.

I suppose it’s easy to assume – as some have – that my views on De Lille’s ouster from the DA are based on looks, specifically the perceived racial group one’s looks presumably place one into.

After all, the way we look informs our view of the world, doesn’t it? More importantly, it confirms our place in it, some would say. That’s how De Lille and I came to be in the same population registration group under the Nationalists. And why should anything change?

The old Nat apologists under a new name still need to confirm that they don’t see the world divvied up like it legally was until about 24 years ago.

One of the great sadnesses of the new South Africa is how many non-Nats also insist that someone’s view of, or place in, or voice on the world, must follow their racial categorisation as day follows night. I’ve always reserved the right to see beyond the groups we’ve been boxed into, even the boxes we happily – and unthinkingly – place ourselves in.

So, I was not drawn to De Lille because of a heroic fight by a “coloured’ woman against a racist cabal.

Certainly, a good fight involving a bunch of racists on the other side is one I will join any day. But I’ll stand on the side of anyone (black or white), facing a racist (white or black) mob.

But, I realise my standing with De Lille has everything to do with my own story. Critics will say it’s about being in a coalition of the wounded. And they’d be right.

The claim that De Lille ‘fired herself’ resonated with me immediately. You see, 14 years ago this month, I was accused of firing myself from a job. I had been called into my then boss’s office late on a Friday afternoon and told that the board had accepted my resignation from my job. Problem is, I hadn’t resigned.

I was forced to go through labour law channels to assert my rights. I lost a CCMA arbitration and was waiting for a date for an appeal hearing in the Labour Court when my former employers and I agreed to settle out of court. The terms of that agreement limit what I might publish about my former employment so the less said here, the better.

But people who find themselves in situations such as De Lille’s mostly realise long before they’re accused of firing themselves that a season is coming to an end, even if the employment relationship has not completely broken down. They have no interest in getting their job back, returning to a toxic and debilitating professional environment or hanging ten with disingenuous colleagues.

They have one simple objective – to clear their name, fight any suggestion of impropriety (note, these are often spurious, slight hints, not firm, factual allegations that can easily be tested in an appropriate forum); they want to provide to the public and their loved ones a truthful account of what transpired to affirm the values of honour and integrity (especially relevant to children who may face a destabilised future and the pressure of peers at school or on the playground).

De Lille has been denied that opportunity.

I hope she doesn’t give up the fight. Often, however, individuals are persuaded to give up the fight, settle a dispute that attacked their very fibre, the core of who they are, that presented them as someone, something else. Often, they’ll even walk away completely without the benefit of a conditional settlement, at great cost, still proclaiming (if only silently) the correctness of their cause.

Giving up doesn’t mean one is guilty of whatever slurs have been thrown at one or that one realises one’s case is weak. Why do people give up the fight? Because it is costly in every respect, it wears one down, destroys something inside, surreptitiously, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

A few weeks after settling with my former employer, I had a heart attack. It was the first recognition that I had a weak heart muscle – or that, perhaps my heart had been damaged by the stress and the subsequent heart attack itself.

My heart had carried me through three years of holding the fort, of standing up to corporate and legal bullies, of facing the betrayal of colleagues – friends really – whom I had fully trusted. That moment when I consciously relaxed, breathed freely, unburdened myself of the stress of defending, walked away from the fight, my heart allowed itself to slump.

Standing for De Lille, supporting her, is a very personal decision for me. And I’m willing to be a group of one, standing up for the right thing, in this instance.

On Firing Yourself and Standing Up Against Bullies

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