Adriaan Basson | Leon Schuster, Helen Zille, farm attacks and the crisis of whiteness

Helen Zille. (Chanté Schatz, News24)
Helen Zille. (Chanté Schatz, News24)
  • Helen Zille has become the voice of disgruntled white people who believe they are being victimised by the ANC.
  • The same group of people reacted defensively to the removal of Leon Schuster's racist films from Showmax.
  • The ANC does not have a strategy to deal with white people, their fears, farm attacks and Afrikaans.

One of the most troubling aspects of Helen Zille's outrageous claim that we now have more racist laws in South Africa than we had under apartheid, was the lack of public condemnation by her white colleagues in the DA.

It was left, again, to her black colleagues in the party to officially complain to the DA's legal council about Zille's offensive tweet.

Even if you broadly agree with Zille's criticism of the country's affirmative action and employment equity laws, you only have to be able to count to know she was tweeting nonsense.

The inability of the DA's (white) leadership to speak out strongly against Zille's patently untrue claim has again brought to the fore the crisis of whiteness, not only in the DA, but in South African society at large.

Why didn't they speak out and why is it very unlikely that the DA will boot Zille, even after her latest very problematic comments?

There can only be one explanation: they are afraid that this will cause them to lose white voters.

Zille has become the most public and outspoken voice for a large section of the white population who feel unwanted and unloved by the ANC government. It would be foolish not to interrogate this phenomenon and dismiss it as Zille and her racists.

A week ago, Showmax removed six of filmmaker Leon Schuster's movies from their catalogue. Growing up in white South Africa, as I did, Schuster was a central part of your cultural DNA.

Every December holiday (until very recently), the SABC would show Schuster's now banned movies to our joy. Black people were often at the centre of his pranks.

Two immediate examples come to mind. In one of his films, an empty suitcase with only a snake inside was placed next to a busy township road.

Schuster and his crew would hide in the bushes as they waited for taxis to stop, pick up the suitcase, drive off just to stop again and for screaming, often hysterical black people, to scatter from the minibus.

In the second example, black and coloured workers in a chicken factory were made to believe that a chicken was talking through its backside while Schuster and his crew played a hidden voice through speakers in the factory.

As a child, I thought both these scenes were funny. There was another scene of a rugby match, only broadcasted by black rugby commentators. It was hilarious.

It was only later in life that I realised the inherent racism of his movies. How they portrayed black people as inferior and viewed black bodies as mere subjects to conduct humorous experiments on.

The surprising thing about Showmax's announcement was not that it happened, but that it took so long. I trust that the SABC has followed suit.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the Afrikaner establishment to the decision was one of defensiveness and denial. One commentator even went so far as to defend Schuster as an anti-apartheid activist.

READ | Leon Schuster: 'I don't want us to laugh at each other, I want us to laugh with each other'

"Censorship" is the battle cry against the global Black Lives Matter movement that urges us to reassess our cultural symbols, statues and beliefs. What a wasted moment to reflect, learn and grow.

This is the same WhatsApp group Zille caters for; a large group of scared, angry white people who believe history is against them.

Sadly, the ANC has not covered itself in glory in the way the party has dealt with white people over the past 20 years. Although a governing party cannot alone take responsibility for introspection and growth, the party has done little to nothing to take white democrats and centrists – the majority of white people, I believe – into the new South Africa.

An obvious example is the lack of a clear, focused rural safety plan to address farm attacks, that lead white groups to believe the ANC is silently supporting the brutal assaults and killings on farms.

The ANC has allowed this issue to be overly politicised by the New Right in the form of AfriForum and its supporters, with the DA recently tagging onto the farm attacks campaign to show its solidarity.

Like all murders and assaults, in cities, townships or farms, attacks in rural areas are devastating to the people who live there and their livelihoods. It should be an easy win for the ANC to empathise with the victims of farm attacks and prioritise a rural safety plan.

Another own goal was the way in which some ANC politicians dealt with Afrikaans as a medium of tuition at schools and universities. Last week's ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal that reinstated Afrikaans as one of the official languages at Unisa dealt with the matter in a nuanced and pragmatic fashion. An easy win for AfriForum.

As long as Zille remains a voice for white people who feel victimised by the ANC, rightly or wrongly, the DA will have difficulty in letting her go.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24

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