Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's a minefield out there

Read this on the train home last night -

Racial tensions surged in South Africa, where blacks and whites faced off at a courthouse as two farmworkers were charged with killing a white supremacist leader.

The workers, aged 15 and 28, confessed to killing Eugene Terreblanche over a wage dispute in the town of Ventersdorp.

As the older of the two suspects walked out of the courthouse hundereds of blacks screamed their support. "We are celebrating the death of the man who has abused us so much," one woman in the crowd shouted.

The murder of Terreblanche, once convicted of eating a black farm worker so badly he was left brain damaged, has focused attention on simmering racial tensions less than 10 weeks before South Africa hosts the World Cup.

Earlier yesterday, police rushed to separate nearly 2000 people split into white and black groups after a middle-aged white woman sprayed an energy drink on blacks singing the Zulu chorus of the country's national anthem. Whites earlier had been singing the parts of the national anthem that are Afrikaans and date to the apartheid era.*

I get this hideous feeling that everything is about to implode. I always thought Eugene Terreblanche was a bit of a dick and he probably had this coming, and when I first heard about it, this was exactly what I said. But of course, it is never that simple, and even people I distinctly recall mocking said nutter are now all twitchy about it. The problem, I feel, is that it's one of those catalyst events as it came so soon after the Julius Malema drama and has automatically been placed within that context - so now it's a case of 'They're going to kill us all, this is what happened in Zimbabwe!' as opposed to 'Terreblanche was a bit of a dick and probably had it coming.' (Okay that sounded a bit callous so I feel I should clarify that I simply mean I don't think he was killed simply because he was white, and more because, well, he was a dick. The official reason is that he hadn't paid his workers since December, but I bet he was a tyrannical boss at best and was probably dismissive and/or insulting when they tried to talk to him about it. Not that it justifies murder, but I just mean he wasn't exactly an 'innocent.'Also it absolutely terrifies me that on the back of this incident people will somehow think the man had been right all along and thus join his cause thereby making him some sort of martyr. He really was an idiot, and I have always blamed his entire party for perpetuating a stereotypical image of white South Africans in the same way the KKK did of the South.) Things are so volatile over there, I fear if it keeps up, it could descend into Zimbabwe 2.0 as a direct result of people's inability to stop blaming each other.

I actually composed a different blog on the country the other day that I never got round to posting and now it just seems mistimed in the wake of the murder, but essentially I feel my argument remains apt. People in South Africa live in denial, and the international world does not see anything beyond the word 'apartheid'. They'll say 'Oh, it's apartheid's fault that things are like that there', and that is, in my opinion, a big part of the problem. People in power hear it and go "You see, it's apartheid's fault, you fix it!" and people from the old regime (for lack of a better term) go "The hell it is! You wouldn't listen to us, you fix it!" and in the end no one fixes anything.

There is no doubt that 'apartheid' left a huge scar on the country, but there's only so far you can push something before accountability has to be taken - accountability for the now. It's easy to blame everything on the past, but it's not necessarily the right thing to do. The whole supposed reconciliation process was atrociously handled and, well, I don't actually want to get into it. I hate politics. I hate it, because I grew up in this climate. It's such a layered field to dive into. Besides I don't really like getting involved because the minute you voice any sort of opinion you, as a white (ex-pat) South African, are automatically labelled as racist. This makes me so angry, you have no idea. I loathe labels and boxes of any kind, so saying that I am judgemental in any way or form is a huge slap in the face. Plus, there seems to be a general idea in society that racism is some sort of one-way street, something only white people are capable of. This bugs me. Surely any minority can be discriminated against, I think it pays to remember that. There might be a case for saying that without an oppressed colonial dialogue, perhaps white people don't take to it as harshly (or perhaps it should be argued that attributing racism to something as broad as simple skin colour drastically oversimplifies something when you have clan disputes, religious genocide, and um, the Irish.) I think it applies to everyone, and if you are the minority in any situation, chances are you will experience it.

I wouldn't care about any of this - I have no investment in the country itself and if it wasn't for the wildlife and my family, I'd happily never set foot there again. As it stands though, I do have family there. Not only that, I have family in rural areas - and they are quite painfully racist even if they don't think they are - but they're still my family, regardless of how much they irk me. So of course situations such as this causes some concern for them. Mostly I worry about the effect this has on my parents. I like to say that it's not our problem anymore (What does it say on my passport, hmm?) but as long as you have blood there, I guess it's always sort of your problem. On our February trip, I could see how much it was hurting my mother, and that killed me. She loves the stupid country, she has all these idyllic memories and always thought it beautiful and unique, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to see it decline so spectacularly with every trip. But there's nothing I can do. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do because it doesn't look like they want to do anything. There's only resignation, which in itself is quite sad.

Of course, on the back of all the social issues, there is the upcoming World Cup! Call me pessimistic, but I don't have high hopes. Hm.

Anyway, enough! I hate this topic.

As a side note:
* I resent that statement. 'Die Stem' or 'Call of South Africa' was originally a poem written in 1918 and set to music in 1921, it was widely used alongside 'God Save The King', the official anthem until the late 50s. It thus predates apartheid by twenty seven years and just because it was used as the national anthem during that time is no reason to sort of lump it in there as an 'apartheid' song. I think people don't realise that historically, white people in SA feel just as victimised and taken advantage of as many black people. There is a long history of colonial resistance and anti-British sentiment, and they probably viewed apartheid as just another fight that they had to have in order to maintain the land others sought to usurp (The cream on top of this dysfunctional sundae to me has always been that the old government had mandatory military service and sent young men to fight in the border conflict. Those young men are now middle-aged and find themselves in a country run, for all intents and purposes, by the very enemy they were trained to hate. Friends died in that war, it's not unbelievable to find that they harbour extreme resentment now, and feel betrayed and abandoned by their country - they were brainwashed, they lost the war, and they're resisting from within.) It's unfortunate, even more unfortunate that they originally drew on colonial policy making left over from British rule, and no doubt it could and should have been handled better back then, and in the same breath, it should be handled better now. Can't people stop fussing over what was and instead pay attention to what is actually happening around them? Because to me, as an intermittent and reluctant visitor, it seems very much like everything is going to hell.

Music: Seven minutes in heaven - Fall Out Boy
Mood: Contemplative

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