Defend Truth


Out of sight, out of mind – it’s not just about farm killings


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Spreading racist rhetoric and fascist drivel will ultimately lead to tension between white and black South Africans and find expression through physical violence, with devastating consequences.

A recent visit to my mother in Delft on the Cape Flats evoked images of what it must have been like in the Wild Wild West, in the heyday of the “cowboys and Red Indians” conflict – two rival groups that fought and killed each other in the pursuit of territory and dominance.

Modern-day Cape Town, and in particular the Cape flats, have become a death theatre. The killings between rival gangs for territory and ever increasing drug slaves/addicts and control over the drug trade are commonplace.

Social media abounds with senseless drive-by shootings, constant gang fights and so many killings. The children have become so used to it that they think this is the norm, that this is what life in South Africa must be like. They no longer fall to the ground when gunshots are exchanged and bullets fly around. Instead, they run towards the action. They have conversations about how the action went down today. Did you see Ghamat, and how he rolled across the grass, that was cool man, if he didn’t do it like that, he would have been a goner. But Moegsien was far cooler, man, the way he handled the gun, did you see? Yo! One day I will also do it like that.

To the government’s credit to date, 11 pieces of legislation have been enacted to attempt to fully address this crisis, starting from the National Crime Prevention Strategy (1996) all the way to the National Gang Prevention Strategy (2016). Yet we have nothing to show for it. Nothing tangible at all and in the meantime, farm and Cape Flats killings continue unabated.

Funerals are a daily occurrence and those gatherings themselves are also being targeted by rival gangs. It’s no surprise that the number of small arms at such funerals on the gang members persons could constitute a small army, with nearby cars parked at strategic locations, filled with a much larger arsenal in case reinforcements are required. This is the stuff of movies.

And yet, my visit to the Waterfront evoked a very different sense. Capetonians, tourists and just about everyone else there were oblivious to the mayhem and killing fields of the Cape Flats. In fact, they drive past the affected areas en route to the Winelands. They go as far as Hermanus, Paarl and Elgin, unaware of these violent occurrences all around them. The tour operators and service providers are complicit in hiding the truth. In the name of good business and an unblemished record for tourists, these realities cannot be exposed, let alone spoken about.

After all, out of sight, out of mind.

With such relentless killings, mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers having to deal with the grief and anger of losing their loved ones. Why then do some in our country think it’s more important to highlight the plight of farm killings? Surely all killings must be stopped. Needless to say that the comparative numbers of killings over any period in South Africa will indicate the minuscule number of farm killings vis-a-vis the overall murders in our communities.

Those that support Black Monday must be told that murder in this beautiful country is not race specific. White and Black South Africans are being murdered at the hands of criminals. What we need is a concerted effort to stem this unacceptable tide.

A racist outcry and the burning of the SA flag might give you short-term satisfaction but by the time you arrive home after that day of protest, your loved one is still away, and no amount of racist anger will bring them back.

Community policing forums, neighbourhood watches, and a plethora of other initiatives must be maintained, whether in our rural areas (farmlands) or our urban settings. The SAPS with all its flaws must be assisted, because it’s not as if they do not have the commitment to protect us, it’s just that they don’t always have the competence or capacity.

In addition to the above, other matters that require attention if we are to successfully tackle this scourge are:

  • Improved relations between our Metro Police and SAPS;
  • An awareness that gangs grow when the State is weak;
  • A campaign is needed to address the huge trust deficit between our communities and SAPS;
  • Corruption from within SAPS must be rooted out asap and finally;
  • Acceptance that a military solution to this crisis is not a solution at all.

The military are trained to fight in a conflict situation and they are trained to kill, not to police. The police on the other hand are supposed to be the scalpel who can perform more intricate surgical operations, such as crime fighting, crime intelligence gathering and strategic arrests. For this reason we do not want the National Defence Force in our communities, they don’t fire warning shots, they simple illuminate the threat. As appealing as that might sound to some, the killing of so-called undesirables in our communities is not what will solve this complex and delicate challenge. Let alone such actions finding expression within our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. It is not gonna happen.

As for the longing for a South Africa of old, just forget it. It’s gone for good. Yes, the system of apartheid was such that a small minority (whites) were protected from criminals. They were sufficiently guarded from any and every possible harm. Now that the allocated budget of the police has been made available for the entire citizenry of Mzansi, it is understandable that the white minority would feel aggrieved. But the current situation we have where all must live in security and comfort is eminently better than the dark days of apartheid. If you don’t agree with me on this one, I suggest you re-evaluate whether you still want to be here with all of us.

Spreading hate speech, racist rhetoric and fascist drivel will ultimately lead to tension between white and black South Africans and unfortunately will find expression through physical violence, with devastating consequences. Maybe that’s what some of you would want but the majority in this country, I think, do not.

No one wants this outcome, for it will end in reversing the very miracle our reconciliation was built upon.

South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. United in our diversity. Let’s fight a just cause, not a racist one. DM