The power of an apology

Well done, Irvin Khoza.

Well done, Irvin Khoza.

The soccer supremo made an unreserved apology yesterday for telling a journalist that he thought like a kaffir.

The word is used informally in townships throughout South Africa, he said. But it is rightfully shunned in polite and formal company.

And Khoza had the guts and humility to concede he should not have used the hurtful word when he did and apologised for doing so.

Apologists point out that the word is derived from the Arabic term for a non-believer in Islam, or an infidel. Arab traders and settlers on the east coast of Africa used it derisively for the local black inhabitants.

English colonialists picked up the practice and in time the word "kaffir" came to denote the contempt they felt for blacks.

By the end of the 20th century even apartheid's most dubious servants hesitated using it in polite company.

Let's not equivocate: that's the way it should stay.

Ethnic groupings around the world use expressions among themselves that could lead to mayhem and even war on the lips of an outsider.

Khoza had no right to resort to the word at a press conference and has been man enough to say so.

Emotionally charged racist terms can never be glibly explained away. His outburst can now set no precedent for the use of this word in public by anyone at any time.