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White farmer, black Monday

One South African shares his thoughts on “Black Monday” – the protest action that took place around the country in light of farm murder.

I got stuck on Klapmuts road towards Stellenbosch during the Black Monday march. I knew the march was happening there. There are alternative routes I could have used; the truth is I was curious. I even deliberately wore the black shirt I knew the white farmers had asked people to wear in solidarity with what they called Black Monday. Without making any clear decision, I had decided that I would stop over and pay my respects, uncomfortable as I was with the notion.

Most black people I probe as to why they were not supporting the march tell me the majority of white farmers are still racist, and treat their black workers like animals. Black South Africans know that ten times the number of black people die without white farmers showing concern. The also know that the dire plight of a black people in South Africa has foundations in Afrikaner nationalism. No one can fault that argument. Of course, not all farmers are Afrikaners, but there’s no denying the fact that this was an Afrikaner-dominated occasion. The killing of white farmers is real enough, even if stupidly exaggerated by the Afrikaner apologetic propaganda of organisations like AfriForum – who organised the march –  and fanatics like Steve Hofymer.

My first objection is against those who, to counteract the narrative of white farmers being murdered, claim that many more black people die from the brutality of the capitalist system in this country. This is true. But I loathe it when people raise the attention to the extant brutality of police against black people in the US, through the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, others retort by saying #AllLivesMatter. This betrays the essence of an unrepentant gestalt towards the racist structure of the so-called liberal democracy. With the same breath I despise it when people counteract the concern about white farmer killings with an argument that far more black people die everyday from the violence of the system, yet white farmers never feel the need to raise concern about this. This is true but is misplaced.

Confronting historical perceptions

I respect the argument that the majority of white farmers are not interested in the process of self-examination, a call to move out of their comfort zones. For some white farmers, justice is tantamount to the domination of their hegemony and protection of their assets and profits. The only reconciliation they’re interested in is that of the white master race being served by black people as their God-given right. I even bet some saw my presence among them as an affront, since I was not serving the notion of Afrikaner exceptionalism – borne by the fact that people kept asking me to carry stuff, not in a bad way I hasten to add.

These were the thoughts going through my mind as I listened to a rather moving opening ceremony to the march, which I caught just as it was beginning. Faltering as my Afrikaans may be, I understood enough to follow what was being said. The service was suffused with an atmosphere of necromacy. It felt like something I had read about in the history of our frontier wars, where the Afrikaners, within their laagers, invoked God to deliver them as they watched the black-coloured hills, ready to descend on them with an assegai. Absent in the service was the usual Afrikaner bravado and chauvinism, replaced by earnestness and a vague foreboding about the future of our country.

The Afrikaners are a society of cliques, forming clans into tribes that make up their nation. They’re a nation founded on Proust’s ‘inner disposition’ of exceptionalism that was perverted, by racial prejudice, into a national crime, historical referred to as apartheid. They’re an extremely exclusive people who regard outsiders as enemies to be subdued (blacks) or avoided (English) in the historical context. Contrast that to their kindness to visitors, especially those depending on their mercies and you discover a mixture of an insecure people whose wandering ways implanted deep scars on their psyche. Their gestalt is best studied on the quintessential founding fathers, like Coenraad De Buys, who although cruel and harsh, had a restless, wild and kind heart. Though he founded the Afrikaner nation through assimilating and marrying black people, Khoena and Xhosas (he was once married to Ngqika’s mother), he established a code of racial mastery even within his own house. As such those among his kids with a fairer skin were treated as masters of their brethren, thus ingraining the notion of white supremacy even on his children’s psychology. As such the rod of racial discrimination has never left his house.

Out of the Afrikaner beliefs, a mixture of Christianity and mythology, grew the delusions that they’re chosen, more intelligent, better suited for survival in this promised land. Mostly these were just a necessary means to tame their Protestant consciences which accused them of the crimes they were committing against black people. With time they managed to transform and assimilate their crimes into a religious calling in a manner similar to the Israelites of the Old Testament. Hence, to date, they refuse to see anything wrong with their historical crimes, but seem ever-ready to play the victim card. They see Afrikaner socio-economic privilege as their divine right, and the heritage promised and earned by the sweat of their forefathers. Hence the deliberate ignorance about their national crimes is only matched by their pride for having pulled themselves by the straps of their own boots, similar to the biblical Israelites they love to invoke.

An interpretation

With this short historical background in my head I understood why Klapmuts had become their wailing spot by the rivers of Babylon. Although they are not the political masters, they certainly are the socio-economic ones. They own much of the arable land and means of production. And they know exactly that not all of it was acquired by honest means of due diligence. But, of course, they refuse to take the next honest step of self-examination. Instead, they choose to self victimise themselves so as to divert attention from the real issues at hand.

I suspect, in the greater scheme of things, the lasting impression of this Black Monday will be known as the day when Afrikaners reminded us that the greater means of production in this country is still in their hands. So, the logic is, when they are murdered, you kill the productive arm and the hand that feeds the nation. Whatever happens in history, happens despite our plans. Where they’re right is that this country, if it does not choose to go full hilt socialist, needs the Afrikaners. Perhaps it even needs them to lead the kibbutz projects of production that might benefit all – were we serious about egalitarianism. Industrialisation requires a nexus of socio-economic and political power to produce its transformative magic. South Africa, despite its reasonable economic planning, is not bearing the fruits of economic growth because of this disjuncture. The disjuncture between the purse holders and government, is able to bring government to its knees – unless government goes for full hilt nationalisation. That is the lesson the ANC government is learning the hard way.

Lastly, I stopped to throw my stone on the Afrikaner cairn, because as a human being I am moved by all human pain. Indeed I would have been readier to believe AfriForum’s bona fides had they included in their memorandum the names of the black farm workers who died under the hands of their employers, to demand justice and an end to it also.  But, of course, we all know that their concern is only for the white race in our country. That said, the Afrikaner individuals I am privileged to know – mostly my age group I admit – are nothing of the stereotypical boer type. Neither are they part of the seditious lot who proceeded to burn our national flags at the Cape Town city centre while hoisting in impotent nostalgia their Oranje, Blanje and Blou flag. Since it looks like their anger is more about loss of baas privilege and racial superiority complex the only thing I can say to and about them is: Howl on dull world!

The Afrikaners I know are just like the rest of us, trying their level best to get by without causing too much pain to others, per chance lending a hand where they can. Some are even greater advocates for, and practitioners of, social justice and human rights than myself. It would be great to see those born with the farmer’s silver spoon doing their level best to redistribute the ownership and arable land to their workers when the family farms fall under their administration. That would be the best way of promoting reconciliation and social cohesion in our country rather than these ill-fated marches. I am reminded of how, during the eighteenth century, the sons of rich Jewish families, who had acquired their wealth as court Jews, squires and national bankers, turn their backs on them – to the chagrin of their parents – to become left wing intellectuals and leaders of worker’s rights in the factories their parents owned. As the result, today we have books like The Worker’s Conditions and The Communist Manifesto, that not only inspired but changed the world forever. SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.