Mostly what it said was this: the idea of white privilege is a vicious lie cooked up by self-hating white liberals and corrupt black communists to take our stuff.

As I read these comments, each so angrily self-righteous and insular, I began to get a strange sense that I had read them before, and quite recently. And soon I realised I had.

A few months ago I was researching a column about people who believe that the Earth is flat, and I had found myself on a forum, gazing with a mix of admiration and terror, at people going to extraordinary ends to deny the most basic aspects of reality; refusing to believe what was in front of their eyeballs because it did not agree with the ideological niche in which they felt safe.

It was their tone that I was hearing now, that mad, self-pitying hubbub that gets more insistent the further it drifts from reality; but instead of shouting at astronomers they were shouting at Mmusi Maimane.

When the Sunday press reported that Mmusi Maimane was facing a backlash from his party for claiming on Freedom Day that white people remain privileged in South Africa, I smelled spin. After all, Freedom Day was also the day on which Maimane claimed that some refer to him as a “mini-Mandela”, a statement that prompted the whole country to picture a homunculus version of Maimane frantically humping the leg of greatness. The DA, I thought, would be anxious to delete that image from the public consciousness, and a hastily arranged fight against shadowy racists within the party – a small minority the DA doesn’t want anyway – would be the perfect distraction.I duly went in search of evidence to back up my suspicion. I read reports in which Maimane doubled down on his position, hammering home the fact that South Africa remains grossly unequal and that white privilege is undeniable. I read denials by senior colleagues saying that the alleged backlash was really just a debate. I read posts o...

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