Whites have to find a new balance - not play victim

A bakkie emblazoned with an anti-farm murder slogan. (James de Villiers/News24)
A bakkie emblazoned with an anti-farm murder slogan. (James de Villiers/News24)

I'm an Afrikaner of Free State farm stock, the descendant of Voortrekkers and Boer warriors (and concentration camp survivors) during the South African War – Du Preezs, Krugers, Van der Walts, Saaymans.

Every time I read of a cruel farm attack, my genes rebel, my memory cells kick in and I feel angry and despondent.

My cellular memory goes back further, to well over three centuries ago when my early ancestors at the Cape lived in constant fear of slave revolts and Khoisan retribution and later of confrontation with the black groups further north.

The mythology of the Afrikaner people as a tiny, noble, God-fearing minority with a special mission, constantly under threat of an overwhelming black majority and the world, was fed to me with my mother's milk.

But we're in 2017 now. I'm an educated, informed human being with the ability to understand history and the society I live in. I am also a democrat and, I would like to think, a moral and ethical person.

I am able to overcome my primal instincts with facts-based reason and figure out where I fit in.

Which is why I didn't wear black on "Black Monday" or took part in the public protests against farm attacks. 

I was afraid that it would turn out to really be "White Monday"; that it would end up being more about identity politics and white fragility than the physical safety of farm dwellers. 

My fears were justified – and I'm not even talking about the lunatic fringe with their apartheid flags singing the apartheid anthem.

The organisers of Black Monday wanted to send a message to the government and the public about rural insecurity, but the message received was of privileged whites playing victim; of people who regard their own lives as of superior value; of arrogance, insensitivity and self-obsession.

Many of my farmer friends and some of my family members took part in the protest. Some leaders of organised agriculture whom I know and respect also did. 

I have no reason to doubt their sincerity: to live on a farm in South Africa has become synonymous with constant fear.

But I want to ask these decent people today to pause and reflect on what was actually hidden in their hearts and minds when they protested in black that day and how their actions were perceived.

Facts are really important here. Every shred of evidence from all quarters says there is no element of a "Boer genocide" here as some insist. 

In fact, it is crime pure and simple with literally a handful of cases over the years where some form of "political" motive was suspected.

Are farm dwellers the group most at risk in South Africa? There is no space here to analyse the different sets of analysis done, I can simply state that an exact statistical picture is hard to establish and much depends on how one defines "farmer" or "farm dweller". 

But it has become almost an act of treason as an Afrikaner to doubt the figures put out by the right wing; figures that say farmers are twice (or three, or four times) as likely to fall victim to violent attacks as the national average.

It's not true. Unisa criminologist Willie Clack, who also happens to be national chairman of the Stock Theft Forum, has shown that convincingly with his published research.

Facts are important. One's life is in much more danger on a daily basis if you live in the gang-ridden greater Cape Flats or in squatter camps and townships like Nyanga, KwaMashu, Tembisa, Umlazi, New Brighton, Kagiso and Diepsloot.

That doesn't make farm attacks less horrible. But to concentrate only on the lives of farmers sends the message that one regards the lives of people in these hotspots as of lesser value.

Black Monday's protesters would have been viewed very differently if photographs of murdered township children and mothers were as prominent on their placards as photographs of dead farmers.

We as the white middle class have the time and the means to also stand up for those among the poor and the working class who live their lives in fear.

As an 8 percent minority, we whites are indeed under pressure in South Africa. Black people's resentments still run very deep.

After our bitter history of colonialism and apartheid, an era of tremendous injustice and dispossession, we could not expect anything else.

We whites are materially still a lot better off as a group than black and brown people as groups. It's a pity that not more whites put themselves in the shoes of a black worker or unemployed person, look at how they live and how they're treated on a daily basis and attempt to imagine how they would have felt if this were their lives.

We whites and Afrikaners are not special. We do not deserve better treatment than other citizens. 

All South Africans are today victims of a predatory regime. The Zuma government is not corrupt, abusive and incompetent because they are black, but simply because they are greedy and selfish, just as is the case with many other governments run by pale-faced people in the Middle East, South America and some of the states of the former Soviet Bloc.

Afrikaners, "the white tribe of Africa", are still here on the southern tip of Africa and are still strong because we have been pragmatic, productive and energetic over many generations.

Our new challenge in democratic South Africa is to be pragmatic and energetic in new ways, in ways that would help undo the great injustices we and our ancestors had inflicted upon the majority of our fellow citizens.

We need new survival strategies, and we need to snap out of our Mandela-era dream that all is forgiven and the Constitution will protect us and our children.

To isolate ourselves, to play victim and to be aggressive is not a good strategy.

The schadenfreude exhibited by so many whites, the chants of "banana republic!" or "another failed African state!" simply reinforce the negative view so many of our fellow citizens have of us and show a poor understanding of history and political dynamics.

We have to find a new, delicate balance between assertiveness as a minority and reaching out to fellow citizens; between being proud of our own, and empathy and understanding.

We have to live ourselves out of our isolation, in our own and in the national interest.

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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