Let's Think

‘Coffin case’ just the tip of deeper problems/challenges

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Is the two white South Africans found guilty in the ‘coffin case’ an isolated incident or symptomatic of a society digging its own grave?

This is the question that came to my mind while reading about the case, the verdict, related events surrounding it, and reports about other signs of racial tensions, domestically, and elsewhere in the world, just one or two clicks away on the computer screen.

Let’s share a few thoughts that came to mind.

Personally, having been on the receiving end of white right-wing extremists in the final days of apartheid – to the extent of being on a list to be killed and having family members assaulted for being my family, one of the first reactions was: “hope they get the maximum sentence possible and rot in jail.”

That was a totally wrong to allow my thoughts drift in that direction; firstly, because to be morally on the right side, we should seek justice and not revenge; and secondly, it is the sort of mindset, which could just trigger a cycle of victims upon victims from revenge for revenge.

One detects the same mindset from groups on the other side of the race divide, like those outside the courthouse claiming to be ANC supporters – threatening that “life behind bars for white racist will not be easy,” and that “they may be now wishing it was them in the coffin."

In this respect, they are also making themselves guilty of one of the very same transgressions of the accused; that of wanting to take the law into their own hands.

It is a mindset that can, and probably to some extent already did, pull our society into a vicious thought cycle that makes true reconciliation impossible, creating stereotype thought constructs. It might be such a process that seems to be destroying the “rainbow nation” dream already.

Almost simultaneous to the first reaction, was one that the two accused were traitors of their own people, perpetuating and reinforcing the perception that all white people are inherently racist and suffering from a superiority complex.

But then, just one click away from my original news search, I found an article informing me that the organisation Black First Land First (BLF), is again casting Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema as the Democratic Alliance’s “noisy poodle” and “garden boy.”

And, the EFF’s ‘transgression’? Their willingness to form local government coalitions with a party the DA, in their perception dominated by white people. For the sake of brevity let me just say that, in essence, this the reverse side of the “white superiority complex’ coin.


Which brings us to a good number of other factors that have been, and still is, complicating the turbulent scene of race-, and ethic, relations in the land.

These include the colonial- and apartheid legacies, tribal divides, and its history and remaining formal- and informal structures, the own agendas, and ambitions of political leaders, commercial- and other special interest, attempts at state capture (historical, and present), old scores to settle, and many more.

Some of these factors are identifiable in the, at best reckless and distasteful, tweets by BLF leader, Andile Mngxitama, about the Jewish holocaust in Nazi Germany, which in turn, was facilitated by DA Western Cape premier, Helen Zille’s earlier, thoughtless, similar tweet exercise about apartheid.

There are laudable efforts by many civic organisations and others, to get the hope and dream of building a truly “rainbow nation” back on track, two and a half decades after it was launched at the end of aparthied.

However, considering what is presently happening on the front of race relations in countries like the USA and even Austria, which is presently going through its own #MonumentsMustFall moment, don’t expect miracles overnight.

In fact, in a country as diverse as South Africa, and with a history as volatile as ours, it will indeed be a miracle if there ever comes a time without some level of racial tensions.

If the vast majority of South Africans of goodwill, from all shades and colours, at an individual level, concentrate on solid interpersonal relationship, we will not only keep the tensions, that do exist, at tolerable and manageable levels, but the ‘rainbow nation” dream could still thrive.

by Piet Coetzer

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