The past month has seen another round of vitriolic and unsubstantiated attacks against white South African men, especially those of the Afrikaans speaking persuasion. I blame the Oscar Pistorius trial for igniting what seems like a very one sided conversation. Damned if you raise your voice for a more balanced conversation, damned if you don’t. You’re either a silent conspirator against the truth or an overt supporter of misogyny and bigotry. During the past few weeks various sections of the local media carried commentary that blanket labelled white Afrikaans speaking men as the descendants of illiterate European scum, mass rapists and worse.
Par for the course in a country all too familiar with ignorant pejoratives, much of which can be attributed to those same white Afrikaner men who are now the targets. It should never be forgotten that a white patriarchal hierarchy, mostly run by Afrikaner men, was in charge of one of the twentieth century’s most ruinous systems of entrenched discrimination.
The wheel turns and cowboys don’t cry, but let South African society at least learn from the fuck ups of the past. By relegating black people to subservient positions without a brightness of future, apartheid leaders shot everyone, including white people, in the foot. In Africa in general, and South Africa in particular, the much touted demographic dividend of a burgeoning working age population has been largely tempered by the atrocious standards of education that make most of the labour force unemployable in the modern global economy. Subpar education and lack of access to information channels also foment ignorance and make those affected malleable to manipulation by power hungry populists.
The biggest danger for South African society is that by demonising a small section of the population (white Afrikaans men make up less than 3% of the population) we divert attention away from the real culprits: corrupt politicians, incompetent civil servants and cynical oligarchs. By not challenging the spread of unsubstantiated rumours and outright lies we promote a culture of dishonesty and mediocrity. By all means, don’t sweep the crimes, past or present, under the carpet, but do so with due recognition of the facts. It may useful to South African students of all races to study the history of the Huguenots. How they fled horrific persecution in their native France, and despite arriving in South Africa with very little, managed to make massive contributions to South African society in almost every single sphere. Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first successful heart transplant; Max du Preez, founding editor of the progressive anti-apartheid Afrikaans newspaper, Vrye Weekblad; celebrated anti-apartheid activist, Beyers Naude, to name just a few. All of them Huguenot descendants, and all of them Afrikaans speaking white men.
The objective of mentioning their achievements is not to obfuscate the damage that some of their descendants have wreaked on the country. The odious leader of the AWB, Eugene Terre’Blanche, was a Huguenot descendant after all. It is rather used as substantiation for my argument that knowledge sets you free from fear, ignorance and blind judgment. Or should I, as a descendant of Huguenots, launch a vengeful crusade against all French Catholics for the atrocities their ancestors committed against mine? 500,000 Huguenots had to flee France during the 17th and 18th centuries, dispossessed of all their belongings. Almost 25,000 were murdered in Paris during the St Bartholomew Day massacre alone. How does that compare to the 69 people killed in the Sharpeville massacre, or the 44 killed by police during the Marikana miners’ strike? Callous as the comparison of widely divergent atrocities may seem. What is important is that I reserve judgement on any person I come across until I know enough about that individual’s character. Holding a negative opinion of someone based on their religious affiliation would be unthinkable and nonsensical.
Only closeted minds need to pigeon hole society into neat little segments so as to assuage their irrational fears and give a falsely constructed foundation to their hidden agendas. A mature intellect realises that to fully understand society and its historical precursors you need a nuanced perspective. The truth is the embodiment of many strands of fabric in a broader tapestry. One may stand back and look at such a tapestry and say: “Oh it’s blue and depicts the ocean.” But on closer examination you would discover that there are millions of fibres that combine to form the tapestry. Small groupings bind together to form the foam on a crested wave, or the tips of a seagull’s wing. They all play a part in telling the story of the bigger picture.
A classic example in South Africa’s racially informed public debate is the collective amnesia and selective memory when it comes to support for apartheid and white on black violence. Two of the most infamous instances of white men perpetrating violence against a black person during the past twenty years involved English speaking men. Clive Derby-Lewis was found guilty of planning the assassination of South African Communist Part leader, Chris Hani, in 1993. In 2005 Mark Scott-Crossley was convicted of murder after the court found that he had fed a black former employee to a pride of lions. The constant lie being peddled, often by omission, that white English speaking South Africans were not directly complicit in and and did not benefit massively from apartheid is also wearing very thin. You only have to look at the outcome of the 1984 elections to see that the great majority of English speaking whites supported the policies of the National Party during apartheid’s heyday.
It is this lack of perspective and historical insight among many South African commentators that is severely stunting our public discourse. Frankly we need less opinion and more facts within the South African national debate. There are too many so-called journalists vomiting forth on anything from social media to click bait articles in newspapers and online publications. Most of them without the intellectual ability to write comprehensively and informatively about intractable issues such as race perceptions. Popular publications like Daily Maverick are increasingly giving space to sophomoric diatribes by useful idiots, in a very transparent attempt to widen their demographic. What is galling is that these articles often have no other value than exposing the author’s low self-esteem issues and lack of writing talent, as well as a healthy disregard for the facts. Space that could have been utilised for more enlightening content if the rag’s editors weren’t so desperately greedy.
Apartheid was a knee jerk reaction by a white minority in trepidation of a black majority. Demonising Afrikaner men willy-nilly is a repetition of that obtuse attitude. At the same time it would of course aid the public perception of white Afrikaans speaking men tremendously, if the highly visible minority of Afrikaner men who beat vagrants to death, like the Waterkloof Four scumbags, as well as those who regularly behave in an obnoxiously bigoted fashion, slithered back to the primordial ooze whence they came.