Let's Think

Do whites have to start fearing for their safety?

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 Fed by an inflammatory and irrational national racial narrative, student protest in Cape Town took an extremely nasty turn last week.

What is especially worrying, is that developments around the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) movement are fed by a race-obsessed narrative emanating from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – even from the office of the president of the country during last week’s parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

And what is happening displays the classical historical symptoms identified in the build-up to racial conflict and even genocide, especially the general stigmatisation of a group within the population.

For once the leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), Dr Pieter Mulder, was spot-on when he said in the SONA debate: “When the ANC Lekgotla says in a statement ‘the black majority … believes that their attempts at nation building are rejected by the white minority’, it is a dangerous generalisation that incites and divides people into camps.”

What happened at UCT

What happened at the University of Cape Town last week was a clear indication of how dangerously close to the cliff of racial conflict South Africa has drifted and how irrational the general stigmatisation of whites as a group has become.

The protesters not only embarked on a campaign of wanton, violent destruction of facilities and infrastructure, but also the burning of works of art because they are “symbols of the colonisers” (whites).

How irrational these actions have become is illustrated by the fact that some of the works destroyed were anti-apartheid paintings by black artist Richard Baholo.

When does this irrationality lead to rationalisation for the killing of a real life ‘symbol’ that just could tip the country into a full-blown race conflict.

Leaders of the RMF rampage said they were protesting against the lack of residence accommodation, claiming black students were being disadvantaged in the allocation of abodes.

The facts, however, are that while there is indeed, for a variety of reasons, a shortage of on-campus accommodation, of the 6 000 students accommodated on campus in 2015, 75% were black and “the indications are that the percentage is expected to be higher this year”, according to a UCT Special Executive Task Team on the matter.

Indicative that a wider, racially driven agenda is at play, is the fact that while RMF claims affordability and disadvantaged students from poorer backgrounds are part of their motivation, one of its leaders arrested last week is a black student from a privileged background.

Besides the fact that among the eight RMF leaders arrested, one is not even a student, another one, Itumeleng Nkululeko Molefe, is the son of Eskom’s CEO, Brian Molefe. This means that young Molefe comes from a family who is probably in a better position to afford a university education that 90% of the students, black or white, enrolled at UCT.

Dad, who earns just short of R3 million in annual salary alone as Eskom CEO, could immediately post bail for his son, and some friends, after his arrest.

ANC reaction

The extent to which the ANC is politically playing up the racial undertones of the RMF protests is revealed by the reaction of the party’s Western Cape spokesperson, Yonelo Diko, to what happened at UCT.

While he condemned the violence that broke out, he went on to say he sympathised with their complaints about all the portraits of white people around the campus, saying it looked as though only white history was being shared and celebrated.

More worrying and telling however, of how ingrained the generalised stigmatisation of the white community within the body politic of ANC has become, is the contribution in the SONA debate by the deputy minister in the presidency, Buti Manamela.

He claimed that the role of the official opposition in parliament is to represent white privilege.

About socio-economic challenges in the country he said: “Racism in our country has taken the form of economic exploitation, social exclusion and continues to divide millions of South Africans”, and:

  • “… at the heart of the problem, is the preservation of resources, power and privilege, which are predominantly in the hands of white monopolistic capital. Many of them, especially the localised monopolies, have amassed their capital under apartheid and are scared of the bold declaration by the ANC for a radical economic transformation”; and
  • “We have heard here, in this house, how the problem of unemployment, poverty and inequality is manifested by corruption in government. But we have never heard any of the opposition political parties exposing the fact that white and monopolistic capital is hoarding billions of rands and are actively on an investment strike.”

Coming a long way

The ANC’s drift away from its legacy of true non-racialism created by one of its founding fathers and erstwhile leader in its Youth League, Robert Sobukwe, who died in 1978, has started soon after the end of the Mandela presidency.

Sobukwe, who has done so much to develop a philosophy and intellectual content for an inclusive Pan-Africanism on the basis that “there is only one race, the human race”, dedicated his life selflessly to this cause.

Ironically it was under the presidency of a fellow passionate Pan-Africanist, Thabo Mbeki, with a legacy of race-based legislation and policies, that the rot really started setting in.

Despite his statement in a keynote address to the National Conference on Racism in August 2000 that he is “convinced that precisely because we can rely on the same factors that made our peaceful transition possible, we can say, with confidence, that we will, indeed, defeat the demon of racism”, his legacy in the end fitted one of the criteria for being racist.

An article in 2007 on the website of South Africa The Good News, argued that broadly speaking “racism can be defined as a belief that race is primarily a determinant of human capacities, that a certain race is inherently superior or inferior to others, and/or that individuals should be treated differently according to their racial designation.

“In examining the views that Mbeki has expressed in the past, there is despairingly little evidence that he subscribes to the first two definitions of racism. It is the third issue –whether different races should be treated differently (as is evident from a litany of legislation during his tenure) – that probably gives rise to the accusations of him having a racist agenda.”

The article also points out that there “can be no doubt that under President Mbeki's stewardship ‘growth before redistribution’ has underpinned ANC economic strategy”.

Dangerous time

An article in 2013 on the website The Blaze points out that cycles of racial hate leading to “race war or race conflict” are usually triggered by some sort of ‘event’.

“In America, Beck argued that the ‘event’ was slavery, and … there are many people who will never let [the] wound heal, picking, dividing, blaming every problem on someone else.”

“In Germany, [the ‘event’] was an economic crisis,” that gave us Hitler and the persecution of Jews.

With signs mounting that the South African economy is heading for a perfect storm, which is likely to trigger wide socio-economic hardships, the white community might have good reason to become fearful about its safety when they are blamed for being responsible for every conceivable problem in the country – from a messy educational system to loss of investor confidence.

by Piet Coetzer

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