Adriaan Basson

Would you transport your pregnant sister in a cage?

2017-01-20 13:27
Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter (Twitter)

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This is really the only question one has to ask to make a judgement call on whether it was right or wrong for farmer Goliat Erasmus from Cradock to transport farmworker Linda Stenekamp on the back of his bakkie, if you were still in doubt.

Defenders of Erasmus who are trying to make a rainbow moment out of this are either completely naive about power relationships in a country where black people were subjected to oppressive rule for over 300 years, or unwilling to confront the problematic image of a black woman inside a cage on the back of a white man’s bakkie.

If you are buying into the narrative that Erasmus is actually a victim of his kindness and that it was Stenekamp’s choice to sit in the cage because black people "like the wind and stuff" (according to the highly problematic narrator of this interview), ask yourself only this one question: would you transport your pregnant sister or mother or friend in a cage on the back of a bakkie?

If your answer is no, ask yourself why not? Why would you be uncomfortable with that? What would you have told your sister if she said she wanted to sit in the cage?

I guess that by far the majority of people, particularly white farmers, would without a doubt have not allowed their pregnant sisters to be transported in a cage on the back of their bakkies. They would have told them to sit in the front or they wouldn’t leave, and then blast the aircon on full speed to cool down (most bakkies nowadays have the ability to produce wind from inside the vehicle).

So why did Stenekamp allegedly insist on sitting in the cage, and why was Erasmus okay with that?

A clue lies in the problematic video interview conducted by a local Cradock resident with Stenekamp, where the resident says: "Julle is mos gewoond aan agterop ry, julle like die wind en goeters" (because you are used to driving on the back, you like the wind and stuff).

In this community, it is the norm for farmworkers to be transported on the back of a bakkie or truck. It would have been unusual for Stenekamp to get in the front of the vehicle.

And even after Erasmus allegedly offered her a lift in the front, he would not have thought it strange that Stenekamp declined his offer and got into the sheep cage on the back – because this is the norm.

These were not two equal adults involved in an everyday transaction, where each had agency and free will to choose what they really wanted.

The truth is that the power balance was massively skewed in Erasmus's favour. He is the "baas": educated, wealthy (in this context), in charge. And yes, he may very well have a kind heart and be nicer than some of the other farmers in Cradock (like Stenekamp’s employer, who didn’t offer to transport a pregnant woman to town), but it doesn’t make what transpired less problematic.

Of course, this picture doesn’t prove that all white farmers are racists or that no transformation of power has happened on the platteland. The number of black farmers has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, and numerous white farmers I know and respect are empowering their employees on a daily basis and treating them with the respect they deserve.

These stories should also be published and shared on platforms like News24.

What the picture – and the subsequent reaction to it – does however show, is that black lives and bodies are still worth less than white lives and bodies for a substantial part of our population. It is probably unrealistic to expect this deep-seated racial prejudice to have been eradicated in 23 years, but we should try harder.

Continued racism and inequality will destroy the goodwill and ubuntu that was forged over the past 23 years. This is our struggle.

- Adriaan Basson is Editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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