The showdown in Senekal is a collision of two myths, neither of which hold the seeds for a hopeful future for South Africa.
On the one side is the myth believed among some white Afrikaners that there exists a cynical plot to systematically eradicate their race. While I am certain that there are individuals in South Africa who harbour genocidal attitudes toward the Boers, the lived experience of four million whites daily indicates that there is room for them in South Africa.
On the other side is the myth held by black populists that their greatest enemy is the presence of the whites in South Africa, who they wrongly believe want to see a return of the apartheid system.
Both of these groups are misguided and do not represent the rump of views held by black and white South Africans. However, by their actions these extremists damage our nation’s social cohesion. They do so by living out their respective self-fulfilling prophecies.
Some white men go to Senekal believing the “black man wants to kill them”, and the young black foot soldier goes to Senekal believing the aggressive “white men are spoiling for a fight”.
When they arrive, they both see the other from their respective sides of the line of riot police and imagine that the mere presence of the other is proof of their mythology. As temperatures rise, insults and counter-insults are hurled and both go home with evidence of their worst fears.
What they miss is that neither of these myths are accurate.
Dignity, opportunity, safety and peace
The “black man”, in my estimation, wants to be treated with dignity in the land of his birth. He, or she, wants to enjoy the benefits of the natural wealth of the land of their forefathers. They want to enjoy the benefits of modernity and see their children live better lives than they themselves inherited.
The “white man” for his part, wants to live in safety and peace. He, or she, wants to practice their faith, plan for their future and live to see the joy of their grandchildren.
At the heart of the matter, their respective hopes and dreams are not that different, but from time to time there are setbacks.
Every time a black man or woman is assaulted or insulted by a white person, the signal is sent that their hopes for being treated with dignity will never be realised. Each time a young white man or woman is brutally murdered, or a member of their community tortured on a farm, the signal is sent that the Afrikaner is not safe in the land of their birth.
The tragedy of the Senekal showdown is that hateful individuals are portrayed as being representative of entire race groups, calling attention to the worst outliers of the South African reality and obscuring the fact that the vast majority of us live together in peace.
Don’t get sucked into the hate and fear
Watching the photos and footage of the scenes of confrontation in Senekal and reading the comments on social media of people on both sides taking sides, breaks my heart. They are disheartening because they destroy the goodwill that most South Africans developed in 1994 and still hold. These images replace hope and trust with fear and distrust.
We cannot allow ourselves to get sucked into the hate and the fear.
We must empathise with the victims in our society
It breaks my heart to see hundreds of farmers, many of whom have lost brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to murder in the most brutal way, kneel down to pray for peace and security. It pains me to see thousands of young black South Africans, many of whom will never enjoy the pleasure of a decent life due to unemployment, low education levels and poverty, follow mindlessly the idea that confronting the Boers will somehow better their lives.
The showdown in Senekal is a serious matter and a test for whether our democracy can outlive our history.
The rule of law and freedom of speech
Can white farmers destroy public property out of anger and frustration, without consequences? Clearly not. The rule of law applies to them. Can EFF foot soldiers take the law into their own hands and occupy the public space to threaten and intimidate the farmers? Clearly not. They too are subject to the law and the police.
Our democracy has passed an important test.
The presence of the police, of the farmers and of the EFF, proves that South Africa enjoys freedom of speech. It proves that even misguided ideologues, such as the idiotic Afrikaner fossil in old brown SADF fatigues, can have their say. Even as the EFF sang “kill the Boer” and threw stones at the Afrikaners, in the end they backed away because they know they are not above the law and that the use of force is preserved for the state, not their demagogue.
Freedom requires maintenance
Most South Africans know that in the end, the only thing to be gained from violence, is more violence. What South Africa needs is more effective law enforcement, not conflict between civilians. What we need is to work on the freedom we have by standing up for what is right.
The showdown in Senekal is a test for our democracy for another reason.
The kind of confrontation it enabled, if left unchecked, is the food with which irresponsible leaders nurture the dogs of war. When a leader of a political party goes on national television or social media and uses references to civil war, or when a misguided Afrikaner says, “if it is war they want, they will get it”, it rips apart what remains of the fabric of our society.
We cannot leave these acts unchecked.
Let me say today, as a white, male, Afrikaner South African, the violence meted out by farmers at the previous court appearance was unacceptable and irresponsible. Let me say that there is no place in a democracy for lawlessness and vigilantism. That taking matters into one’s own hands will not heal the pain of having lost loved ones and will not improve the security of the Afrikaner community, especially not those who live on farms.
Let me also say, for the EFF to arrive in Senekal in their thousands to confront the Afrikaners with shouts of “shoot, shoot… kill the Boer” is completely unacceptable and amounts to incitement to violence and hate speech.
Where are the leadership voices of reason?
Every faith leader should condemn this behaviour. Every political party should distance itself from it and condemn it for the hatred that it is. Every academic and intellectual, every civil leader and every prominent South African should take a principled stand and say: “No, there is no place in our democracy for hate.”
South Africa has many flaws, but we have shown again that we are a free society and that we are not defined by our margins or the extremists in our midst.
What we need to do next is to pull together and ask, what kind of society do we dream of being? How do we secure the farmers and secure the future of the poor and marginalised?
Of course this will not be easy and there will be other towns like Senekal along the way, but we are better than this. We are a nation stronger when we are united in our diversity. Let us not allow the few to blind us to our unique beauty as a people. DM