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It’s ugly when racists start chasing racists

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Having the racially diverse demographic profile that we do have in South Africa and having the history that we do have, we will probably never escape some elements of racism. The biggest danger, however, is our level of tolerance towards it.

And, let me put it out there right up front: To try to ascribe racisms to a particular race is one of the purist forms or racism around, and in South Africa probably the most common form of racism – among all races.

Nothing during the recent week or two or three illustrates this better than some criminal person-to-person assaults in Cape Town, the controversy around singer Steve Hofmeyr and the shockingly dangerous statement by unionist/politician Tony Ehrenreich on some of the Cape Town incidents.

To me these two gentlemen are, in more ways than one, birds of a feather or two sides of the same coin. For one, both hate nothing more than not being in the news, apart from their shared inability to move beyond racial stereotyping.

For now the statement by Herr Ehrenreich is the more dangerous one and probably close to the forbidden promotion of racial hatred and intolerance and to inciting what will amount to illegal vigilantism.

“Cherry-picking” two of the Cape Town incidents he states: “COSATU will hunt down and deal with the perpetrators in their own way as this racist behaviour appears to be condoned by the Premier who does nothing to condemn these attacks.”

To this he adds: “COSATU will be fighting this racism in kind, with an eye for an eye ...”

He ignores a third incident in which a white man was knocked down and kicked in the face at an OTM in an up market shopping centre. Of what is known of this incident neither of the two parties were innocent, but it illustrates a wider, more serious problem that deserves and needs a more considered reaction than the cheap political points Ehrenreich tries to score.

Apart of the third incident he also, in his eagerness to use the situation for political purposes, he also ignores the fact that the day before he issued his statement the Democratic Alliance in a statement of their own on the latest incident involving a sjambok attack on a gardener stated: “"There is no space for such brutality in a democratic South Africa."

The statement also called for the perpetrator to hand himself over to the police, the police to find him and bring him to book and called on the public to come forward with any information on the incident.

Dangerous logic

There are some dangerous implications in the logic that Ehrenreich applies in his statement. It invites the question: What will happen if farmers, every time one of them is attacked, robbed or murdered, apply the barbaric “an eye for an eye” rule and “…hunt down and deal with the perpetrators in their own way …”?

By the same kind of logic with which Hofmeyr argues that blacks were responsible for the invention of the system of apartheid, Ehrenreich would probably – judged on his constant campaigning against farmers – argue that the farmers themselves are to blame.

The clear lack of understanding or appreciation of the broader socio-economic and historical contexts or of other complexities of the South African society is frightfully dangerous.

What is even more frightful is the silence from Ehrenreich’s political seniors and peers in the ANC, while some have been quick to condemn Hofmeyr. This suggests a wider presence in those circles of that core type of racism that holds it as belonging to just one race group.

All of us should realise, as we argued before, that crime is not a racial problem, but a social one and that the blood of all victims is red, irrespective of the colour of their skin.

There should be zero tolerance of any form or manifestation of racism; we should treat and teach our children from the word go to respect and treat all other people with respect; and we should in all ways possible, big and small, illustrate that racism is unacceptable.

As for me and my house, there is not much more that we can do about Ehrenreich than air our opinion when the opportunity arises, but as far as Hofmeyr is concerned we have taken to switching channels or switching off the radio and television whenever he comes on air.

And, again, we would like to remind Ehrenreich and his kind, whatever their colour, of the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world (read South Africa) blind.”

by Piet Coetzer

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