Max du Preez

Witch hunts and selective condemnation

2016-01-19 08:52

Max du Preez

The ANC should really award Penny Sparrow the Order of the Companions of Des Van Rooyen. Following the storm unleashed by her gross racist utterances, it is now even racist to proclaim that #ZumaMustFall.

Luthuli House is following the dictum “don’t waste a good crisis” and is extracting every drop of blood from the national outrage around racism to cover up government incompetence and corruption in the run-up to the local elections.

The rest of us should also use this crisis, I would argue, but to the greater good of the country as a whole. It gave us a window of straight, uninhibited conversations with each other as citizens, with all the scabs scratched off and the wounds exposed.

I’m happy to report that I have escaped the digital lynch mobs and witch hunts on social media of the last few weeks. My recipe? I shut the hell up and stayed off Twitter.

When I stated in my column last week that we whites have reneged on the pact of 1994 and only use the Constitution when it suits white interests, I was confronted with a full-on assault on Facebook. I simply removed the post and peace returned to my life. I have since posted only pictures of puppies and kittens and I still have to be condemned to hell for that.

But that’s the easy way out. Public commentators like me should not afford themselves this luxury. We should remain engaged, even if the kitchen overheats.

So now that things have calmed down just a little bit, perhaps a few things should be said that have been left unsaid during the worst part of the storm.

Let me first address the foundation of the last apartheid president, FW de Klerk. I listened to his apologies about apartheid to the Truth Commission. I would have thought De Klerk, as the last white leader, would consider it his special responsibility to help combat racism and prejudice among white South Africans – beyond condemning blatant racism such as that of Sparrow, that is.

Now the FW de Klerk Foundation has laid complaints with the Human Rights Commission over 45 posts on social media expressing "the most virulent and dangerous racism... from disaffected black South Africans".

Those social media posts are deeply disturbing and indeed dangerous, yes, but they are reactions to white racism. If the foundation had bothered to do just an hour of research, it would have found 45 or more white right wing posts on the internet that were just as dangerous and repulsive. I have seen many of these the last weeks – in fact, some of them call for my assassination as a traitor to the volk.

De Klerk can’t blame people if they think he now sees his role as a champion of white and minority rights. If that is indeed the case, he would be well advised to spend more time and energy educating his perceived constituency on racism and intolerance if he wants any kind of legitimacy.

On to EFF leader Julius Malema and his piece “Why do white people despise blacks?”

It was a strong and relevant analysis of racism and structural inequalities in South Africa. But it was also utterly oversimplified and seriously insulting to most white citizens to declare that they all simply see blacks’ only usefulness as servants to whites.

There are many, many white citizens that spend a lot of their energy on helping to improve the lives of all South Africans through job creation, training, health and education initiatives. Many more just live their lives as decent citizens with respect and tolerance and in appreciation of our new democracy.

Malema’s sentiments and worse were echoed over and over on social media: white South Africans are unwelcome foreigners, all of them white supremacists, that are merely tolerated here.

Completely ahistorical and reckless. White South Africans cannot be wished or cursed away.

Land ownership was another popular theme - there will only be peace once all the land had been returned to blacks.

This is 2016, people. More than six out of 10 South Africans are urbanised and most have no desire to make a living on a piece of land waiting for the rain or facing floods, disease and volatile markets. It can be a very hard life.

The uncomfortable truth is that in our modern economy land has become little more than a tool to produce food and other products and to create job opportunities. All agricultural land outside the communal areas are being worked by about 35 000 commercial farmers or companies. South African farmers are famous for being innovative, resourceful and resilient and take care of food stability while contributing significantly to our economic growth.

This does of course not mean that significantly more land reform isn’t needed and needed urgently.  Truth is that farmers and organised agriculture are now doing more than the government itself to establish new black farmers on the land and empower workers through ownership schemes.

Radical land activists and populists should seriously consider the byproducts of Zimbabwe’s violent land grabs and their contribution to economic collapse, famine, instability and mass emigration. The debates around land should be more nuanced and honest.

I have written in this space that a renewed campaign against white racism should be welcomed.

But what we have seen the last few weeks often deteriorated into witch hunts and very selective condemnation. It cannot be acceptable in anybody’s book that a professional person’s career is destroyed for a marginally insensitive remark while those who ask for racial extermination are tolerated, even defended. Another is called a Penny Sparrow clone and fired for arguing (rightly or wrongly) for free speech, while an ANC MP that demanded that a building with its inhabitants be burned because of an anti Zuma billboard they had no complicity in, gets away with a weak apology.
I agree that white people should never “police black pain” or censure black anger. Whites should really learn to listen more and they should try much harder to understand.

But they also have to assert their right to point out reckless intolerance and naked hatred, and to highlight other realities of contemporary South Africa.

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