Guest Column

White lies

2016-06-21 13:00

Fiona Zerbst

I never thought I would see my face on a white supremacist website that claims to be "the global voice of the Ayran race", but hey, life is full of unpleasant surprises.

It all started in January this year when a friend and I were hiking in Groenkloof Nature Reserve in Pretoria. Two men came out of the bushes and attacked us – one hit my friend on the head with a rock while the other tried to throttle me. That didn’t go too well because I’m a martial artist, so both men focused instead on taking my bag off me, which took some doing, and I injured one of them with a good kick. They ran off with our cellphones, keys, etc.

This in itself isn't a story – crime is a daily occurrence in South Africa and Groenkloof is renowned for attacks on hikers.

Having been a victim of crime before, I knew the drill: talk to someone, work through it, move on. I had all but forgotten about the attack until last week, when I went online to check if any of my latest journalism articles had been posted online. I caught my name under the headline "Survived: Two women attacked, beaten at Groenkloof nature reserve, Pretoria" (I wasn't beaten, but the fact that this particular news report was incorrect is unimportant).

When I investigated further, I noticed that the website was an archive of hate crimes in South Africa – it flagged the attack as an example of an "attack on whites" and "dehumanisation". I immediately wrote to the website's administrator. How, I asked, did she know this was an "attack on whites" and not an instance of criminality – two men preying on soft targets in a quiet location? In fact, the last Groenkloof victims I read about were Indian women. She wrote back and told me denial is common in attacks of this nature and sent me screeds about white women being raped. Huh?

I pointed out to her that, having no knowledge of the attackers' motives, she couldn't say we were attacked because we were white. Without facts or evidence, all one is left with is bias. In fact, the attackers have repeatedly preyed on small groups of women, children and the elderly, which suggests they are cowards rather than the anti-white vigilantes the website paints them as.

A few days later, the same (incorrect) news report was up on two other websites, White Nation Network and Black on White Genocide in South Africa. These are sites that spout about "misdirected rainbow monkeys" and sing the praises of Janusz Walus, Eugene De Kock and "other innocent white prisoners", but they thrive on anonymity, or they don’t provide contact details, so it is impossible to hold anyone accountable for what’s posted there.  

This drives me crazy on two counts.

One: I've already been victimised, so don't victimise me still further by using information about me without my permission to further your twisted political agenda.

Two: crime is an incredibly sensitive topic in this country and it affects absolutely everyone. Fishing and asking me if my attackers made comments about my race is not likely to win me over to your cause, dear website administrator – on the contrary, it’s likely to show me definitively that all you care about is juicy stories for your extremely prejudicial archive, which ignores the vast majority of crime victims in this country.

I originally took my story to the newspapers to warn other hikers at Groenkloof (some got the facts right, some didn't); I certainly didn't go public so I could be aligned with websites whose values I abhor. White people, are you aware that news items about you are likely to end up as grist for the mills of these poisonous propaganda sites? I think a ‘not in my name’ approach is called for.  Who's with me?

- Fiona Zerbst is a freelance writer.

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