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17 December 2017 16:10 (South Africa)
Opinionista Sisonke Msimang

When will crime stop being a white thing?

  • Sisonke Msimang
    sisonke-new-photo-02.jpg
    Sisonke Msimang

    Sisonke Msimang is currently working on a book about belonging and identity. She tweets @sisonkemsimang.

Contrary to the perception created in the mainstream media, the real story is not that white people want to leave South Africa because of crime. Research shows we all want to leave. Surely that is a bigger, far more important story to tell.

The UK Telegraph is reporting that Henke Pistorius “singled out crime against white South Africans,” and “blamed the violent crime rates, which are among the highest in the world, with 15,000 people murdered last year, on the ANC government.” 

The rest of the family has distanced itself from his statement, and it is important to note that Oscar and his father had been estranged for some time before the events of Valentine’s Day. 

Despite this, the comments feed into the argument that Oscar himself seemed to be making in the affidavit he submitted to the court last week; that he was so petrified of crime (and the failure of the state to protect him from it) that he decided to shoot first and ask questions later. 

While Henke may not have had the permission of his family to make the statement, it would be silly to suggest that his views do not represent those of at least a portion of the South African community. A Google search of the phrase “crime in South Africa,” pulls up a number of websites and blogs that are clearly run by white supremacist crazies. Once you get past these and look at what should be more reasonable news sources, it is clear that the incendiary racist posts are not such extreme outliers. The language in mainstream news outlets may be more moderate, but the subtext is nauseatingly familiar. 

A Newsweek article from a few years ago suggests that a “largely unnoticed problem is the growing number of attacks on South Africa’s white farmers. As in neighboring Zimbabwe, some of the attacks appear to be racially motivated.”

In a 2008 article, The Economist – that lighthearted publication – wrote of author André Brink’s decision to stay in the country despite the murder of his nephew. The article ends by suggesting that while Brink may be staying, “Many other whites are making plans to leave, and will be taking their precious skills with them.”

A FutureFact poll done in 2007 indicated that 42% of coloureds, 38% of blacks and 30% of those of Indian descent were thinking of leaving, compared with 41% of whites. The differences are negligible. If everyone wants to leave, then why are we so hung up on this narrative of whites either being targeted for crime, or deserving of better protection because of “their precious skills”? 

Henke’s statement, that the ANC government has failed to protect whites, asks us to agree that a white life is more deserving of protection than a black one. The statement suggests that black people have been protected by the government, at the expense of whites, and the choice of the phrase “ANC government” invokes the idea that the government is not the legitimate government of all South Africans.  In this instance, “ANC” is code for “black”.  Henke Pistorius is using language that we all understand, to say that the black government is not protecting white people.

The sad reality is that very few of us feel safe, and even fewer of us believe that the government of the day is doing much to solve our collective problems. The research is clear:  almost half of all South Africans – regardless of our colour – have had serious thoughts of leaving.  Now there’s something to talk about. DM

  • Sisonke Msimang
    sisonke-new-photo-02.jpg
    Sisonke Msimang

    Sisonke Msimang is currently working on a book about belonging and identity. She tweets @sisonkemsimang.

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