Gordimer, misquoted: Red October columnist caught red-handed
- GEORGINA GUEDES
- South Africa
- 01 Nov 2013 01:18 (South Africa)
The Red October movement, which claims an Afrikaner genocide is happening right now in South Africa, support their claims with misinformation and statistics that have been proven to be false. By GEORGINA GUEDES.
“Afrikaner women are lower than rats, closer related to plants, just fit enough to be raped in an act of genus preservation.”
That’s pretty denigrating stuff. It strays dangerously close to hate speech. The person who wrote those words must have a deep and abiding hate of Afrikaners.
So who wrote them?
A search for the quotation turns up around 4 500 results on Google. The first two pages at least attribute them directly to Nobel Literature Prize winner, Nadine Gordimer. Many of the pages express outrage that they spring from the very works for which she has been globally recognised as an intellectual leader.
One of the sites uses the quotation as a justification for rampant anti-Semitism.
And the quote has made its most recent appearance in a column published on Praag.co.za, a self-styled pro-Afrikaans online newspaper that claims, “breaking news, bold views”.
The piece was written by “conservative columnist” Albert Brenner, in response to columns written by Chris McEvoy, Nicky Falkoff, Georgina Guedes (that’s me) and most notably Sarah Britten, that were critical of the claims of Afrikaner genocide that prompted the Red October march on October 10 this year.
The four columnists had all written pieces that acknowledged that crime is a serious problem in South Africa, but that it is a problem that affects all of us, and is certainly not symptomatic of a targeted eradication of the Afrikaner race.
Brenner’s response was that all our commentary - and Britten’s in particular - was the result of being “part and parcel of the upper-class British establishment in Mandelatopia.” He then proceeds to layer straw man upon straw man, by quoting Cecil John Rhodes and then Gordimer as examples of indifference to the plight of the Afrikaner, as evidence of how Britten must think.
Here is Gordimer’s full quote in context. Pay attention to how it is presented, because this becomes important later:
“And this indifference is still very much present in modern South Africa. Just listen to Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer - a representative of the British elite in this country: Afrikaner women are lower than rats, closer related to plants, just fit enough to be raped in an act of genus preservation.”
(As an aside, it is very convenient that Gordimer’s mixed British-Jewish and Latvian-Jewish ancestry makes her a target for both the anti-British and the anti-Semitic movements in South Africa.)
While we needn’t spend too much time picking apart the fallacy that because English-Latvian-Jewish Gordimer said it, Cornish-Scottish-English-French-Afrikaans Britten must think it, it’s the appearance of this hateful quote, yet again, that must be examined.
When I first read it, I found it unlikely to be something that Gordimer would have said, so I did a Google search. The 4 500 results I’ve already mentioned came up, confirming time and again that this writer and activist was indeed the originator of the quote.
However, in all the cases that I uncovered, the quote was being used by angry Afrikaners as evidence against Jews, the English or Gordimer in particular, and provided no context or background.
I asked Brenner himself on Twitter for the source of his quotation, and was provided only with a clue: “48”. I did some further digging, and with the help of various members of the South African Freelancers Association (Safrea), I uncovered an open letter from Dan Roodt, Afrikaner activist and writer, to Gordimer, which contained the quote.
And here’s where the story gets interesting. The quote is not by Gordimer. It is in fact by Roodt himself, paraphrasing something that he believes Gordimer meant - but certainly never said – in her book, ‘The Conservationist.
Here is an excerpt from Roodt’s letter:
“In your novel, the De Beers have come to visit the city man, the Engelsman Mehring, on his farm to borrow his bakkie and what follows is a description of the whole family: father, son, daughter-in-law, teenage girl and child, all very backward, diffident, crude, unused to furniture or civilised conversation, for ‘they are people who won’t dispose themselves about a room until you tell them to’ and they ‘look ... round at the chair seats before placing their backsides, as if they’re afraid of sitting on something or doing some damage.’
“For ‘they’ here we can probably read not only the De Beer family, but Afrikanerdom tout court, the ‘Effwikaanuhs’ as our state television currently calls them. We are here in the realm of the STEREOTYPE on the scale of a Nazi gathering with all those Engelse shouting Sieg Heil! or Kill the rocks! or whatever they shout in their moments of inner concord on who exactly happens to be the master race. It gets worse.
“The Nazis only compared Jews to rats that are after all mammals and some sympathy between creatures of the same genus may be assumed.
“In Gordimer’s view, Afrikaner women are a lot lower down the evolutionary scale than rats; they are more like plants fit only to be raped in an act of genus domination.”
There’s the quote, right there. It is Dan Roodt’s paraphrase, based on his assumption that because Gordimer describes one Afrikaner family in negative terms, she must think similarly about the entire race.
Brenner’s hint, “48” is verified by the open letter, because the part of Gordimer’s The Conversationalist in which the De Beers appear is on page 48.
Brenner, when challenged on Twitter, acknowledged that the words were written by Roodt, but that, “Artistic interpretation of texts is a common practice.”
When confronted with the accusation that the quote was deliberately misleading, Brenner responded that as no quotation marks nor the verb “quote”, had been used, it was not a direct quote. He further stated that because he had not instructed the reader to listen to her actual words, he only meant for us to listen to her thoughts, as paraphrased by Roodt.
In reality, no reader in their right mind would believe that the entreaty, “listen to”, followed by a colon, did anything other than suggest that a direct quote was to follow, quotation marks notwithstanding.
In addition, Brenner stated that he used Roodt’s words with his permission and that he edited his article. “I used his words with his permission. Big difference. Besides, he edits all my pieces before publication. This one included:)”
This allows it to be fairly assumed that Roodt, who must be aware of the provenance of that quote, is very happy to have it circulated in a way that implies (if not outright states) that it is made by Gordimer.
While I was trying to get to the bottom of Brenner’s use of the quote in our Twitter conversation, he twice responded with tweets like this one:
“Hmm..I wonder if some poor farmer is being tortured right now? Oops, sorry Georgina... you were saying?”
His point being, as I understand it, that while I was waffling on about insignificant matters, I was keeping him from his very important work of tallying the Afrikaner genocide. But this actually brings us to the very crux of the matter. The very genocide that he’s publicising and speaking out against is based on the propagation of incorrect facts, wild assumptions and the deliberate spreading of misinformation.
If you haven’t already seen it, Nechama Brodie has done an excellent job on Africa Check of debunking the statistics circulated by Afrikaner musician and activist Steve Hofmeyr, ultimately building the argument upon which the Red October movement was founded. In a concluding note, the Africa Check editors wrote: “The sooner we all understand the reality of crime as it affects all individuals, the better that those living in South Africa will be able to engage with, participate or lobby for initiatives aimed at addressing the very real problems that do exist, and that affect individuals from every community. Crime touches all of us, irrespective of race.”
Dan Roodt, when asked about the misuse of his own quotation, had the following to say: “I think Albert Brenner should have mentioned that I was the author of those words, being an interpretation of the narrator's view of Afrikaners in the Gordimer novel, The Conservationist. The quotation comes from a piece I wrote on LitNet in 1999 or thereabouts.
“The lack of clarification may have been a problem, but then so is the bad faith with which Afrikaners are usually described in South African and British English, and which goes right back to the British missionaries of the early nineteenth century. There was also Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's The Transvaal from within and many other works of the same kind.
“I have read many of Gordimer's early novels and sometimes she just breaks off in tirades against the National Party government, hardly respecting literary conventions.
“So one must see Brenner's remarks within the context of an ongoing semantic war between indigenous whites and what I would call the comprador intelligentsia like Gordimer, the Slovos, but also many academics from Wits, UCT and other campuses. Lately, these people have also colonised the Afrikaans campuses so it has really intensified.”
Brenner responded only, “You can kiss my sexy Boere butt.”
While Brenner may be dismissive of and Roodt may justify the misuse of a quotation that any reasonable reader would believe to have been made by Nadine Gordimer, it is the misrepresentations of the Red October movement – the deliberate circulation of a single quote attributed to the wrong person, or the publication of false statistics – that fatally dilute their claims and lose them any residual sympathy. DM