ANALYSIS

Brackenfell, Senekal and the disappearing centre of SA politics

By Ferial Haffajee 9 November 2020
Caption
Police line up as Economic Freedom Fighters members protesting outside Brackenfell High School in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

Parents beat up and stoned EFF protesters who marched on Brackenfell High in Cape Town to protest against a satellite and private matric farewell function. Is this the new politics?

Ferial Haffajee

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.

Economic Freedom Fighters members protest outside Brackenfell High School on 9 November 2020 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

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.

(Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

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.

(Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

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. 

Brackenfell High School parents were waiting for the EFF protesters. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

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.

(Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

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.

Economic Freedom Fighters members protest outside Senekal Magistrates’ Court during the appearance of two suspects in the murder of Brendin Horner on 16 October 2020 in Senekal Free State. The EFF was protesting against a group of farmers who attacked the police and threatened the judiciary. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

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

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All Comments 15

  • Ferial, there is a subjective tone to your article which I did not expect to see from a journalist of your stature. And yes, you are right, there is no political centre anymore. The ANC government and their EFF lackeys have destroyed that.

  • Dear Ferial,
    I agree, the centre is disappearing. It is true that in South Africa, most communities still reflect apartheid-era planning and demographics. That is something the government hopefully will address over time. So my guess is you will find at most schools and neighbourhoods in the country that the demographics will still be skewed. Schools where the area demographic is still mostly black will have mostly black pupils, and schools where the area demographic is still mostly white, will have mostly white pupils. I am sure in these communities you will find private events taking place where those participating will often represent only one race. So there is still work to do, I agree.
    Forward to Brackenfell and Senekal.
    The Brackenfell school has a 40:60 representation. It shows that the school has gone a long way towards reflecting the wider area. If you look at the surrounding suburbs, within quite a distance, you will see it reflects similar to that split. Go visit the local mall, and look at the shopping demographic.
    So your approach to now demonise the school is disingenuous t say the least. Your use of the term “boerewors curtain” I find offensive and smacking of racism in itself.
    In Senekal, the issue was brutal, pre-meditated slaughter.
    In both incidents, there were people from the community of all races opposing the so-called demonstrations.
    And there’s the rub. On what reasonable basis does the EFF protest in favour of cold-blooded murders. On what basis do they “protest” at a school where a function was held which was not endorsed by the school. And most scary of all, why do you, and the ruling politicians, not expose the EFF for their provocative politics.
    For that is the issue. The EFF is NOT this humanitarian society. They sing “Kill the Boer” at a murder trial. What did Ferial Haffajee have to say about that? What did the government say about that.
    Yes, there are those spewing hatred, like the EFF. There are terrible things being said by racist groups (of which the EFF is one). But the truly worrying thing is about what is NOT being said, by those in power and positions of influence.
    By coming out and condemning only one side, and ignoring the provocative racist actions of the other party, you are adding to the flames. In this way, you are right, the centre is disappearing, and articles like these assist in a big way.

  • Great analysis. Thanks, Ferial. One more notch in the Umshini Wámi rifle stock, for sure, where callous government met blatant greed, for a decade. Then again, one can always count on the DA to pour petrol onto a socio-political fire, (its unfortunate “brown-shirts” statement) and that in itself leads to social polarisation.

    If that is not enough, we also have a gathering wildfire edging through our eastern neighbour and barnstorming towards us, in the form of IS. This one is likely to complicate SADC regional politics and our internal temperature. We’ll need to watch it closely.

    Don’t send me new year’s eve messages celebrating the end of 2020 and welcoming in 2021. Not yet. The next year is likely to be somewhat bumpy.

  • It certainly seems like the centre is disappearing everywhere. The DA has taken a huge step to the right (or perhaps to the white). Mashaba will stoke xenophobic tensions on the right as well. We see similar patterns all over the world right now. The days of people like Blair in the UK cleaning up by occupying the centre ground seem a long time ago now.

  • Thanks Ferial. It is very worrying that politics is moving to the extremes.

    One point I didn’t see in your analysis is that, as I understand it, students had to pay R500 to attend the function. Could this be a case of economic rather than racial exclusion??

  • Although the ‘matric function’ was a private affair, the fact that it was supposedly all white is not a good sign, considering that according to demographics, at least 17 of the guests should have been of different colours. Clearly, the school is not teaching its pupils about the need for true non-racialism properly.
    That said, the school had nothing to do with the function, the teachers that attended were invited by the organisers and so protests against the school are aimed at the wrong target.
    Moreover, for the EFF to use a situation like this for political gain is one thing, but to do so by holding protests in a manner designed to encourage violence (one only has to look at their approach to the Clicks saga to understand this is their raison d’etre) at the school, while the Matric pupils – of all races – are trying to write their final exams in what has already been a thoroughly chaotic year, shows they are more concerned with scoring political points than actually CARING about the welfare of non-white pupils.
    It’s straight out of the NSDAP playbook, and indicates that the DA were correct in pointing out the similarities between the EFF and that other minor party (that ultimately caused major headaches for the world).
    Of course, considering their own sudden lurch to the right (to the white?), for the DA to be casting stones about another party’s right-wing tendencies is very much a pot-kettle-black situation….

  • Dear Ferial
    I personally don’t have any close black friends, not by choice or prejudice but simply because I haven’t personally met any that share my personal interests or circle of friends. Will I now also have the EFF dancing in my street the next time I only invite close friends and family to my birthday. Do you suggest that I maybe just invite a few random black people to my house so as to get the quotas right? Maybe invite my kid’s black friends to my party just to satisfy the obvious lack of demographic inclusion?
    Why don’t you call out the behavior of the EFF out as fascist and stop trying to make out as if every white South African is trying to revive Apartheid?

  • The Democratic Alliance IS the CENTRE! The missing centre is missing because writers like Ferial Haffajee have trashed them for BEING THE CENTRE! Wake up all you “opinionitas”! For a democracy to function it needs a strong democratic opposition. The PRESS has eaten away at the DA at every turn for TINY things that MAKE these opinionated writers ANGRY, like a silly tweet by Zille. No real bad stuff is ever mentioned by Ferial Haffajee that comes close to the bad stuff that the ANC and EFF do! Haffajee please name one thing that will really put one off voting for the DA as an opposition to the ANC. Before you say “liberal” look up the general definition of l”liberal” as well as the IRR definition. “Liberal” IS THE CENTRE! No political party can be 100% what your ideal party will be to enough people to vote it into power. So all parties have a small variance. The DA IS the best we have from a policy and a proven record point of view.

  • Your article, and watching news channels, are disturbing. And many others commenting to your article, are more politically aware than I am. However, what concerns me here, is: “When is private not private anymore”. In the last 20 years or so, I have never been invited to a Brown, or Black, get-together. Watching TV, I do not see any Whites at an EFF song-and-dance political rally. Simply because Malema (and his party members) keep on insulting Whites. When my daughter has her 12-year old birthday party, is she now being obliged to invite Black kids, simply because they Black? This whole thing stinks, and the EFF is the cause, once again just to get publicity. I have great admiration for you as a fair journalist, but this article goes against my grain

  • once again biased and once again against whites.
    so if it happened to be all white event (perhaps not even intentionally simply the composition of friends is such) then are they supposed to invite other familias of colour to be left in peace during a private function. This is racism at its best but it is a discrimination against whites and NOT the other way around. enough is enough. whites may run more businesses and may own more properties but consequently whites are paying the MAJORITY of SA taxes which get stolen by ANC and EFF.

  • One cannot be more provocative than threatening children at their school. Imagine for a moment a mob arrives at your children’s school! This is the EFF creating chaos to escape the consequences of VBS corruption.

  • Can anyone please explain to me why all the newsmedia and reporters continuously refer to things like this as the struggle between the “Far Right” (meaning predominantly white parties or groups) vs other parties like the EFF or BLM etc.

    I have always understood it that right wing denotes conservatism, and left wing is liberalism, with far right or left denoting the loonies on the fringes, the fascists, the nationalists etc.

    In my opinion, if there is a fight between Afriforum or an offshoot of it and the EFF as an example, those are 2 Far Right parties tackling each other…….it is not ultraconservatives against ultraliberalists. That ship has sailed a long time ago for the EFF, they are NOT liberal. Lets not put skin colour to it……. look at what different groups stand for and you’ll see that there really are no liberals left in South African politics.

    Personally I just put all of the loonies black or white in the same basket because using the term left or right wing by looking at skin colour doesnt quite fulfill the defenition of those terms

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