Rightwing Afrikaner interest group AfriForum is conducting a foolish experiment. Its decision to badmouth South Africa abroad is no different to a person who commits suicide to get the feel of dying.
AfriForum’s message to its allies in conservative circles in the United States (US) is that Afrikaners in South Africa are under siege. They are victims of all kinds of crimes which the government allows to be perpetuated. The group provides fake statistics to legitimise the fake story.
What if, in the developed countries, including in the US, people start believing AfriForum’s fake news and decide to act on it? Say, for illustrative purposes, they decide to impose sanctions on democratic South Africa for failing to protect this group of people that AfriForum portrays as special and vulnerable.
Alternatively, what if Western companies, on their own accord, decide to pull out of South Africa in protest against the alleged persecution of white South Africans? You don’t need to be an economist to figure out what could happen. South Africa’s economy could collapse. The wealthy farmers and other Afrikaners AfriForum claims to speak on behalf of will become paupers. The value of their wealth will significantly diminish.
Many white South Africans built their wealth through hard work. The added advantage was, of course, colonial and apartheid privileges. But the kind of suffering that would result from divestment would be indiscriminate. Regardless of how they acquired their wealth, they would be hit hard.
If this hypothetical scenario were to become reality, will AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel and company pop champagne bottles, raise the apartheid flag and celebrate a mission accomplished? Fortunately, no rational investor would be fooled by AfriForum.
South Africa is a beautiful country and its values are admired all over the world. Neither the conservatives in Australia nor their cousins in US can change that. But there is a risk that within South Africa itself race relations could deteriorate as a result of AfriForum’s self-hate diplomacy.
You could have the emergence of a black rightwing that would mobilise specifically against whites to counter AfriForum. Kriel probably sees the EFF in that light. It’s true that the EFF is vocal about white wealth and black poverty. But the EFF is a parliamentary party constrained to what it can do by the prevailing constitutional order and its values.
Notwithstanding its occasional anti-white outbursts, the EFF does not have a policy of mobilising African nations to take anti-South Africa positions on international platforms. Moeletsi Mbeki’s statement at the Nampo Harvest Day that EFF and ANC policies on expropriation of land are aimed at scapegoating the white population for government's failures is not entirely true.
On different occasions Mbeki had said that the ANC and white businesses people struck a deal during the transition from apartheid to democracy for the party elites to secure BEE benefits. This suggests that it’s in the interests of those ANC elites that whites prosper. It should, therefore, follow that as white businesses succeed, BEE deals will continue to flow to the elites.
By scaring off investors with fake news about crime statistics, AfriForum has positioned itself directly against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commercial diplomatic initiatives to attract investments. If Ramaphosa succeeds, the economy will grow.
A fast-growing economy where everyone has an opportunity to earn a living has the potential to reduce not only inequality but also tensions in society. AfriForum should encourage its members to participate in community initiatives to prevent crime instead of mourning about it. No one is immune to crime.
If AfriForum wants to be taken seriously, it must spend resources and lead practical initiatives to help the government deal with crime. The victims of crime are largely black, not white. They were black during apartheid. They are black in a democratic country.
The colonial and apartheid states were licensed to kill black people. At no point in our short history as a democracy was it ever made law that a certain racial grouping will be made victims of crime. In fact, the Constitution makes it clear that everyone is equal before the law and has equal protection from it.
The state has an obligation to ensure that the equality provisions are implemented. If the state fails to fulfil its obligations, citizens including AfriForum's members, have two key options: take the government to the Constitutional Court or contest elections.
Currently, younger black women are increasingly the target of the most vicious types of crimes. If AfriForum has ideas to solve such crimes, including crime on farms (affecting both workers and farmers), it should work with government and partner with other civil society groups in a non-racial fashion to find solutions. Police Minister Bheki Cele is very desperate right now to find solutions to serious crimes including political killings in KwaZulu-Natal which affect black politicians.
Even merely criticising the government for failing to do its work in combating crime is good. That we need an overhaul of the criminal justice system cannot be gainsaid.
But it’s one thing to criticise the government as we should in a normal democratic system where we enjoy freedom of speech; it’s another to besmirch the whole democratic country where all citizens, regardless of race, have equal rights.
The country is not the government. There is a difference.
- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.
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