Bullard’s href=”http://www.thetimes.co.za/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=741855″ target=_blank mce_href=”http://www.thetimes.co.za/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=741855″most recent “Out to Lunch” column, in which he speculated about what an uncolonised South Africa would have looked like, turned out to be his last.
Makhanya fired him on Thursday (10 April) before the section of the coming edition (13 April’s) in which the column would have appeared, went to print. No replacement has been found yet. “We have to relook it,” he says.
Makhanya admits Bullard’s brief was to be controversial and to “stir”, but says “there is a difference between being controversial and being racist”.
He says what Bullard wrote was “against the values of the newspaper”. “We don’t stand for 1940s NP racism. We cannot condemn the behaviour of the Free State University students (the Reitz hostel mock-initiation video) and at the same time espouse exactly the same views.”
After speaking to Bullard about his column on Tuesday, he doesn’t doubt that Bullard “believes those things” he wrote. “It was not satire gone wrong.”
Asked if it would have made a difference whether Bullard “believed” what he had written or had written it to stir debate, Makhanya said he didn’t “wan’t to hypothesize”.
‘I blame myself’
Makhanya didn’t see Bullard’s column before publication. “It should never have been published in the first place.
“I try to see everything, but it is humanly impossible to see every bit before it goes to print. I take full responsibility. I blame myself.”
He says the paper is reviewing its internal processes as a result. Disciplinary steps against employees who edited the column before publication are not on the cards.
Makhanya says he doesn’t want columnists to feel that he is looking over their shoulders.
“When you give someone a column, you hand over that space. They can do what they wish to do.
“But there is a responsibility on the columnist to treat it with responsibility.”
It is the first columnist he has fired. “It was not easy. He is extremely popular Ã¢Â€Â“ he was one of our top columnists.
Makhanya says he has defended Bullard over the years, but this time he cannot.
Neither commercial pressures nor “any other pressure” played a role in making the decision. “I took the decision as a matter of principle. It was my decision alone.
“… It was not an act of censorship. We encourage a diversity of views.”
He says he is not aware of readers who have cancelled their subscriptions to the paper or have threatened to boycott it owing to the decision, but it can be expected that there will be such people.
He says a “lot of people Ã¢Â€Â“ black and white” Ã¢Â€Â“ have supported the decision. “What bothers me is the strong objection by people who thought he did the right thing.”
Makhanya was not prepared to discuss the details of Bullard’s contract.