No lift is better than a lift in a cage - academic

2017-01-20 15:55
Linda Stenekamp next to the cage. (Wilna de Klerk, Netwerk24)

Linda Stenekamp next to the cage. (Wilna de Klerk, Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - Johan Erasmus had a serious lapse of ethical judgement in allowing a pregnant woman to get into the cage on the back of his bakkie for a lift, an academic said on Friday.

His act of kindness was undermined by his failure to understand the context of a woman of colour sitting in a space reserved for animals, explained Professor Siphamandla Zondi, acting head of the political sciences department at the University of Pretoria.

"To let a woman stay in a place where you normally keep animals sends the same signals as calling her an animal," he said.

"My view is that Johan would have been better leaving her on the side of the street than allowing himself to keep her in the cage, in the age of cellphones and social media."

South Africans were outraged when a photo emerged on social media of Linda Stenekamp, 27, sitting in the cage on the back of the farmer’s bakkie.

News24 earlier reported that Erasmus had just dropped livestock off on a farm outside Cradock when Stenekamp asked him for a lift.

He said there was no space for her in the cab, and that Stenekamp got into the cage herself.

READ: We are used to sitting at the back - woman in cage

'Emotive issue'

By Friday afternoon, he had not yet responded to an invitation by News24 to speak about, and reflect on, the incident.

The SA Human Rights Commission on Friday confirmed that individuals and organisations had lodged complaints at its Eastern Cape office and that an investigation was underway.

"With this issue, we ask the public to understand that the investigation should continue so we can get to the bottom of the truth," commission spokesperson Gushwell Brooks said.

"It is a very emotive issue and many people have said a lot. We can’t speculate at this stage."

A video emerged on Thursday in which a woman, identified as Erasmus’s wife, asked Stenekamp to give her version of events.

Stenekamp said the man asked her if she wanted to sit in the front, but that she declined as it was hot and "We are used to sitting at the back."

She said it was her decision to sit in the cage.

Zondi said the woman was willing to be dehumanised to get transport. When Erasmus allowed her to go ahead, ideas about supremacy and inferiority were confirmed.

READ: Would you transport your pregnant sister in a cage?

'People need to stand up'

He said racism was linked to the structure of society.

"Racism cannot simply die. It is embedded in the spaces like the farm, the factory and all the places of racial encounter."

It was every citizen’s duty to be conscious of this and learn from these incidents.

"Even when we have done wrong, to commit a crime can be excused on the basis that you did it innocently. To then justify it is to now make it intentional," he said.

SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) spokesperson Minke Stadler said she would have liked to see Erasmus apologise. She believed he should have pulled over and asked her to sit on the side of the bakkie, or in the cab.

She acknowledged there was space for things to be misunderstood.

Some had jumped to Erasmus’s defence, saying the public’s reaction lessened the chance that he or others would offer lifts again.

However, Stadler said people needed to think twice about how their actions could affect someone else, just as they would for a family member, child or friend.

"We need more people to stand up and say this is how it could have been handled."

READ: Farmer not showing remorse for psychological trauma of woman in cage – ANCWL

'Racism is not human'

She believed many citizens still lived in a bubble, often out of fear. They closed themselves off because they were unwilling or unable to confront their ignorance.

Zondi encouraged people not to withdraw from society.

"Pick up black women, black people, but do it in a matter that sends another signal. Use this to challenge your own attitudes and ethical judgements."

Taking a positive stance, he said he had absolute faith in humans when they discovered their humanity.

"To be racist is not to be a human. It is to be a monster."

He said skin was just a body cover which said nothing about character, intelligence or ethics.

"I truly believe we are able to transcend that [racism] as it is taught or learnt, not natural."

WATCH this Facebook video interview:

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