Complex History Drives South African Violence
|October 16, 2012||Posted by Alex Menell under Opinion|
On September 22, a coalition of white supremacist groups, including the Aryan Nations and the South Africa Project, gathered in DC to protest what their website refers to as the “genocide of white South Africans.” Alex Menell, a Jewish, white, South African, has a different take on the issue.
On September 22, a coalition of white supremacist groups, including the Aryan Nations and the South Africa Project, gathered in DC to protest what their website refers to as the “genocide of white South Africans.” Their 13 members were met by a diverse group of several hundred DC residents, who, in a beautiful display of solidarity, rallied together to reject the hateful message that the Aryans represented.
With signs such as “KKK not welcome in DC,” and chanting “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Nazi fascists go away,” the DC coalition reasserted the norms of human equality that these groups fight so hard to ignore. However, both sides ignored the real issue.
As a white Jewish South African I was shocked when I read the Aryan Nation’s claim that a communist, Jewish, black conspiracy was conducting and concealing the genocide of “pure-blood” white Africans. I called my grandmother to make sure she was still alive, and see if she had been participating in any genocidal activities as of late. She assured me that she had not, but brought my attention to a violent epidemic that South Africans have come to call one of the many legacies of apartheid.
Genocide Watch has recently moved South Africa up to a Stage 6 watch, as Boer (Afrikaner) farmers are being tortured and murdered at four times the rate of other South Africans. Ever since our president, Jacob Zuma, was caught on tape singing an old revolution song (kill the boer, take his gun) in January, these murders have increased exponentially on a monthly basis.
The Boer community has been settled in South Africa for over three hundred years, and fought with African troops against British invasion during the infamous Boer Wars. However, under the apartheid government Boers were the favored ethnic group, receiving political and economic protection and making up the majority of the apartheid bureaucratic structure. Moreover, Afrikaner nationalism, and specifically Afrikaner/Aryan supremacy, was the catalyst that lead to the formation of the apartheid state from British colonial rule. Afrikaner supremacy was common political rhetoric and was used to justify the structured socio-political and economic racial inequality that was the defining feature of apartheid South Africa. Moreover, Afrikaner nationalists often supported the hate groups, murders, rapes, and lynchings that were casually and constantly directed towards all non-white South Africans during the era.
Since the fall of apartheid, Boer culture today is deeply ingrained in, and limited to, the farming communities that make up much of South Africa’s rural territory. It has grown more insular and has been more heavily structured around the white supremacy that defined it during apartheid. Although the goal and structure of the new Republic of South Africa has been focused on racial integration and extending racial equality socially and economically, there remains a lot of racial tension between the different ethnic groups throughout the country.
I will make no attempt to understand or even convey the extent to which many Boer farmers brutalized their African workers during apartheid, but rural conditions became a strong rallying point during the rise of the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) movement, now a political party in South Africa. Black and colored tenants reported abuse akin to the Jim Crow South, and there are countless stories of abduction, repeated rape, and countless other abuses.
Boers are being murdered at four times the rate of other South Africans in a country with one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. Since the fall of the apartheid government, crime has decreased steadily in most categories, but Boer murders have continued to increase over the past year. As a group Boers have lost a significant amount of state protection, including many basic rights. Police response to the Boer murders is understandably but inexcusably non-existent. The government chastised Julius Malema, former ANC youth leader, for singing “Kill the Boer” over a year ago, but the song is still sung at official government rallies. Moreover, as Reuters reports, the song has been a strong point of political contention, and is defended by many prominent members of the ANC.
I do not believe that what is happening in my country is a genocide. Although the murders are ethnically based, and represent a widespread attempt to eradicate Boer culture, that is further supported by the eradication of Afrikaans from the education system and a widespread and vicious stereotype of the culture, it is not based on the level of dehumanization that is generally correlated to genocide. It is instead based on an understandable and deep seated anger that still exists towards the representatives of the apartheid legacy, and many perpetrators of apartheid abuse.
The most prominent killing to date has been that of Eugene Terre’Blanche, founder of the infamously violent Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging political group. Formed towards the end of the apartheid era, the main focus of the group was maintaining white rule in South Africa by any means possible. The group notoriously stormed the Kempton Park World Trade Center in Johannesburg during the multi-party talks to end the apartheid government and rammed the building with an armoured car. In April 2010, his farmstead was stormed, and he was tortured and murdered by several of his workers, including one Chris Mahlangu, who was sentenced to life without parole. The AP reports that Mahlangu contended that Terre’blanche had raped him, and infected him with HIV. However, as the Guardian eloquently contextualizes, his self-defense case fell through as Afrikaners rallied around the case.
While these murders are highly individualized and diverse, the real issue at hand is the government support of anti-Afrikaner policies. The ANC has used racial and ethnic divides over the past several years as rallying cries to garner support throughout the country, and specifically in rural areas that were prone to abuse during the apartheid era. It also has been simultaneously using the issue to draw attention from the facts that they have failed to improve the racially defined wealth gap, and have still not provided basic services, such as healthcare, education and labor reforms, to the rural areas of South Africa. During the recent Lonmin strikes, many social figures, such as Julius Malema and President Jacob Zuma, have blamed the workers’ standards on the continued influence of the white/European elite in South Africa. While this is not an unfounded argument, it completely ignores the fact that the Lonmin corporation in South Africa is partially owned by both a grandson of Nelson Mandela and one of Jacob Zuma’s nephews.
It ignores the fact that, in this new “post-racial” world, the corrupting elite, a term lovingly defined and easily delineated during the apartheid revolution, is no longer based on racial lines. Moreover, as the killings illustrate, ethnic violence, and even ethnic intolerance are no longer a one way, racially defined street. Abuse transcends racial lines, and is beginning to transcend ethnic lines. Is this progress?
In the context of the ANC revolution, one of the few peaceful revolutions in Africa, or the world, it is a flagrant abuse of the new rights and racial/ethnic equality guaranteed by the constitution. Moreover, through a basic understanding of the universality of human nature and exploitation, I argue that it is not progress. While in many cases Boer murders have been personal revenge, this level of violence is inexcusable, and goes far deeper than issues of personal justice. The increasing violence has been one of the catalysts for Boer militarism and further cultural isolation.
There remains a serious need for vocal opposition to Nazism in the United States. Anti-fascist protesters must however also recognize the complex reality and tangled roots of violence perpetrated in South Africa today. They cannot turn a blind eye to murder. While the Aryan nation and other white supremacist groups in America seem more than happy to emphasize the racial divide (though how they define this divide is quite confusing and I was personally shocked to see so many ethnically Irish individuals at an Aryan march), the issues of equality and personal autonomy reach far deeper than race, or even ethnicity. It was frustrating to see the dichotomous approach of race applied to the Boer murders by people who had no notion of the intrinsically complicated and deeply convoluted political and ethnic situation in my country.