It looked like a race war. Parents, most but not all white, stoned and beat up black EFF protesters at Brackenfell High School in Cape Town. One woman brandished her firearm while News24 images showed weapons in cars. “Not in this fucking suburb,” shouted a woman bearing down on the handful of EFF supporters, one of whom had his red beret smacked off his head.
Brackenfell High’s 254 matriculants, like all young people, had their final year festivities felled by Covid-19. So, some parents arranged a private farewell function at a wine estate, according to reports. It happened at many schools, but Brackenfell’s celebration attended by 42 matriculants was reportedly an all-white affair.
Once wind of this got out, the EFF in the Western Cape smelt blood; it posted plans to picket outside the school on the morning of Monday 9 November.
All hell broke loose. The parents were waiting. A man has been arrested and charges laid. The racial divisions about the clashes are clear: on the one side, applause (“the EFF mustn’t fuck with Brackenfell”) and on the other, seething black anger at 2020’s umpteenth showing of #blacklivesdon’tmatter.
The EFF got big-ups and offers of reinforcements from many on social media. Brackenfell’s strongmen, who laid into the protesters, were high-fived as heroes by others.
A month ago, Senekal
The stories are different, but the temperature and the theme are the same in Brackenfell and Senekal. On 7 October, farmers in Senekal stormed the local police station and courthouse after 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner was murdered.
The eastern Free State is incendiary after years of stock theft, deepening rural poverty and a moribund land reform programme. While not all the farmers are white, the fire still catches on race; if there were a hashtag in Senekal, it would have been #whitelivesdon’tmatter. Farm murders are a regular and tragic occurrence in the eastern Free State as they are in most farming communities.
A week later, Senekal was a cauldron of race clashes. EFF leader Julius Malema marshalled an army in the town, instructing them to march. His fire and brimstone speech added fuel to the fire.
And pulling up to the bumper was Malema’s opposite – a new coalition of white political organisations, marshalled by AfriForum, the efficient and well-heeled white rights civil society organisation.
A thin blue line kept them apart, but it was only a matter of time before there was another Senekal, and Brackenfell is it. South Africa’s politics are changing: the centre is being narrowed while the extremes are growing. The EFF did not win the election in 2019 as it repeatedly said it would, but the party is one of the fastest-growing and is making gains in local politics, which is why it is first to the scene at any current race case, be it Senekal, Clicks or Brackenfell.
The Freedom Front Plus is also growing. It is a party of the far-right, focused unapologetically on white rights which eschew the non-racialism at the heart of the South African compact.
South Africa’s annual Reconciliation Barometer, published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, has for many years shown that the reconciliation experiment enshrined in the Constitution has stalled. Covid-19 has deepened all four big South African inequalities: race, gender, class and geography, but all four have been furrowed deeper, not shallower, in the past decade, as the NIDS-CRAM study has shown. History and corruption, which saps resources for development, are colliding to horrific effect.
And this is affecting South African politics, where a centre represented by the ANC and the DA is giving way to the nascent politics of the extreme. The DA’s recent leadership contest has pulled the party toward the Freedom Front Plus which it must chase to reclaim the votes it lost in the 2019 election. As the centre gets smaller, so do its ideas of non-racialism, race harmony and peaceful transitions or transfer of wealth and other resources. There is no recent data, but the popular narrative suggests broad support for radical and enclave politics.
Brackenfell and the ‘Boerewors Curtain’
Brackenfell will deny it (because the area and the school at the centre of the latest race fight are mixed), but it reverberates with this enclave politics.
Brackenfell High, started in 1976 as black youths in Soweto were eschewing the state system, is a Model C school. Its record of results, its school newspaper (called Re Vera or Led by Truth) and its smorgasbord of activities like music, dance, drama and sport make it a coveted school. It costs R22,000 a year and the admission lines are long.
The school does not classify by race, but if you extrapolate from the student councils, it looks like the ratio of black and brown to white is about 40:60. Break it down further and about 15% of the pupils are black African. Obvious efforts are being made: the school newspaper features articles by a good mix of pupils; Lilitha Dyosi is clearly one of the most popular learners there. The latest issue features articles on school support staff like Thobela Tyetshani and Edna Brandt.
But the leadership of the school is all white and it has the same race issues that boiled over in the southern suburbs schools of Cape Town earlier this year, according to some reports.
These are not issues of access, but of being made to feel like outsiders and often like inferiors; of feeling excluded and the odd person out. The EFF claimed black pupils were excluded from the private matric soirée. The school says not. In a statement, it said: “Only 42 out of a group of 254 matrics were present. Brackenfell will [not]…condone or accommodate any events that are exclusively reserved for certain groups, and especially racial groups. Brackenfell is an inclusive, integrated school that promotes non-racialism and reconciliation.”
That may well be, but Brackenfell sets the rules and sets them hard: it is a “dual-medium” language school and those languages are English and Afrikaans only and strictly in a country in Africa which has 11 official languages.
The entire teaching staff appears to be white, according to the most recent prospectus downloaded by Daily Maverick.
Brackenfell (and Kuilsrivier) still have their own car registration plates (CFR, not CA) and Brackenfell is colloquially known as being behind the “Boerewors Curtain” – Afrikaans braai territory with its own culture and possibly its own sets of exclusions. The boerewors hit the fan this week in violent ways that splattered across the country.
It will die down, as South Africa’s regular race conflagrations tend to do, but the longtail story is of how the centre of the political spectrum is giving way to its harder extremes. DM