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This video’s doing the rounds showing a Commander in the South African Navy apparently explaining that the purpose of South Africa operating submarines is as a deterrent for sharks. As you can imagine, this video has caused hysterics and feeds the ever-popular “unqualified and ignorant people-of-colour” narrative that people who want to believe this will naturally first assume. This assumption irritates me so much, and certainly doesn’t help our already racially tense country. So I thought I’d shed some light on what the Commander was trying to say, before this misrepresentation of him goes viral…

His words were “the advantage of having submarines, when we communicate to the people on the ground to make them understand… for example; can we take a risk of people going to swim where the river or the sea is full of sharks? You can’t do that. The submarines provide a deterrent…”

In other words, just as the presence of sharks makes people think twice about going for a swim, the presence of submarines makes potential aggressors think twice about sailing into our waters. This is a metaphor the Commander was using to explain the role of submarines in our navy. And it’s actually quite a good metaphor at that.

Sure, he wasn’t as clear in explaining this as he should’ve been. He should’ve prepared better before standing in front of the press. But perhaps he was ordered by his C.O. on the fly, and didn’t have time to prepare. And besides, I’d like to see most people I know explaining what he was trying to say in Xhosa or Zulu, or any language not their own mother-tongue, and see how they do.

The point is, we are very quick to jump to conclusions, and especially so when those conclusions feed ideas we already believe. The popularity of this video, and the fact that very few people stopped to consider what the Commander actually meant, exposes an unhealthy and growing idea that previously-disadvantaged people in important positions are unqualified. The truth is, many of the people accusing their fellows citizens as ignorant and unqualified are in fact only displaying their own ignorance and lack of qualification to comment in the first place.

The real lesson we learn from this is the importance of context. Words without their context can be made to say whatever we want them to say. This in fact is the number one cause of people misreading the bible, and accusing it of saying ridiculous things, merely because they’re taken out of their given context. More often than not, people will take biblical words out of context to feed narratives to which they already subscribe. Just like they have done with this video.

Let’s be careful then, not to jump to false conclusions that we want to believe, but help no-one. And let’s look out for plucking words out of their context to mean something they don’t, or not to mean something they originally did.

Categories: Blog

About Nick

Nick is the Pastor of St Mark's church in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town.


  1. Marcus says:

    Hi Nick, interesting read and well written, question: How do we know he meant what you are saying as opposed to just botching the entire thing?

    Re reading your quoted version of his speak I do think you are right but has there been any further confirmation?


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