RED ALERT: I HAVE A DREAM.

Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Civil Rights Activist.
Martin Luther King Jr.
African-American Civil Rights Activist.

14 October 2013. This morning I tuned in to SAfm’s morning news and current affairs radio talk show program and  listened with interest as the  presenter of Morning Talk,  Rowena Baird interviewed the organizer of the Red October Campaign, Soenet Bridges – on their recent protest marches across the country, against  what they called  widespread genocide targeting white Afrikaner farmers.

My primary curiosity in this case was to hear how the interviewer would handle this particular interview, due to  its highly emotive content.  The Interview started on a curious note with Rowena the interviewer asking her guest to explain why they chose to invoke or use a quote by African-American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, which she admitted on air that she didn’t know ( the quote in question: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”) – inferring that the organizers had no right to inversely use his message to further their cause, which by the tone of her voice she believed was an illegitimate one.  Ms Bridges defensively responded that they also believed in the universal message of non-racialism and their use of Martin Luther’s messaging was vital to attract a wider audience.

Incidentally, Martin Luther King is not the only black leader quoted on the RedOctober website, South African President Jacob Zuma is also quoted saying:

“You can’t have a union of half a thousand people because you have declared it as the union then expects to have the same rights. Sorry, we have more rights here because we are in a majority. You have fewer rights because you are a minority. Absolutely, that’s how democracy works. So, it is a question of accepting the rules within democracy and you must operate in them”

Which the interviewer didn’t know about either, and under the circumstances, the RedOctober are well within their democratic rights to raise awareness and demand answers to concerns that affect them, the South African constitution guarantees the protection of minority rights. There’s another quote on their website which the group used to highlight their plight:

 “Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats, discrimination and racism, and are frequently excluded from taking part fully in the economic, political, social and cultural life available to the majorities in the countries or societies where they live” Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Now, before I entangle myself in the complex web of race politics in South Africa, let me say that yes one might argue (facts aside) that the Red October campaign is disingenuous in its use of the selected quotes, using them to a larger or lesser extent out of context to serve their interests.

But these arguments are old. Not new. And more importantly are not solution orientated, in that they continue to entrench, reinforce and enslave all South Africans within the limitations of the colour bar.

So what happened? As black South Africans (black in this case includes all shades; coloured people, Indian People and all other races that are not ‘white” by definition) we are still hurting from the past, our wounds are still gaping, open, aching and still dripping with blood from gashes experienced over generations and generations and that is precisely why we cannot hear, we cannot listen, we cannot understand anyone else’s pain, let alone the pain of our  “former”oppressors in this case. The exchange between Ms Baird and Ms Bridges was a good demonstration of this. Rowena was not ready, to hear the plight of Ms Bridges, she couldn’t understand where she was coming from.  Ms Bridges in turn could not hear Rowena, or understand why she (and dare I say a great majority of black South Africans) would find the position of the Red Campaign problematic.

It was a hard interview to listen to as it did not offer any new insight into the plight of Afrikaner farmers in the country, and how their campaign relates to the very real and widespread problem of violent crime in the country which is not only directed against white Afrikaners but one which equally affects  South Africans as a whole – especially with regard to the liberal use of the word “genocide”. The Interviewer was  very antagonistic, highly emotional and her questions were peppered with sardonic passive aggression. She routinely cornered; “shouted” ignored, and cut off her guest.

Protesters against white genocide " Red October" campaign. South Africa
Protesters against white genocide ” Red October” campaign. South Africa

At the core of the Red October campaign is a “belief” that white (Afrikaner farmers) South Africans are targets of hate crime, which is so grave it amounts to an effective genocide. “17 white people are being brutally killed every month in South Africa” Bridges responded to questions of why the “red campaign” was necessarily.   She added that they wanted answers to pertinent questions affecting the Afrikaner community. “The South African Constitution is failing Afrikaners, It’s not right to carry on with policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and Affirmative action! How long will it continue?” She asked. “But how do you expect the government to equal the playing field for the majority of  marginalized South Africans?” Rowena asked angrily. “18 percent of the white population is now living in squatter camps.  You don’t solve the problem of unemployment by firing one person to replace them with another, there will still be a person without a job! I don’t have a problem with government improving the lot of black people. I’m just saying that they must not do that at the expense of white people” She concluded.  There are 4 million white people in South Africa. If they were the only ones living here, 17 deaths a month, give or take, could amount to genocide. Who knows we can all do the math?

To that, callers, encouraged by the interviewers’ air of righteous indignation, asserted that in fact – the ANC should have been more aggressive in their approach an in negotiations with the Apartheid regime. The interview quickly nosed dived into an argument similar to those you would hear at a bar.  “They are inciting violence with the song Dubula Ibhunu” – they want to kills us she said. The interviewer interjected saying the song did not really say what she was saying and the discussion became about the semantics of what the words in the song actually mean.  In fact there is no mystery in the song (which has been banned by court order in South Africa) as the Zulu words are translated into English from one verse to another – Dubula Ibhunu simply means “Shoot the boer,” The interviewer then asked what about all the black people killed by white people in the past, recounting some incidents in the recent past, to which Bridges responded “Is it right that our elderly, should be tortured, mutilated, with Pangas and all manner of instruments?” she added equally righteously “ these are racist attacks, we would like to speak outside of race, but unfortunately it is a racial issue” to which the interviewer cut her off and went on a break.

It is “racial” in as far as  it is black people killing white people.“It is not us killing these people, it’s black people, doing the killing”.  By this point it was clear that there was no more room for discussion, the interview had reached a point of no return. The Interviewer could only respond by saying, “black people also kill other black people”, which ironically only served to add fuel to Bridges’  argument “black people can kill each other fine, but not us”. Dead air.

The interviewer  ended the interview saying: “Thank you for indulging us with an interview” effectively dismissing her concerns, as non-entities within a broader framework of the larger problems facing the country, especially a large majority of black South Africans who share similar stories of torment but which (for whatever reason) do not garner such  widespread public debate – black people  are in the majority so crime and violence in a way has been normalized within the black community. White people are “new” “victims” to violent crime and murder. But regardless of who is doing it, it  still does not make it okay – right?

This type of interview – by its very nature, required a higher level of “maturity” and I use the word “maturity” with lot of hesitation ( and with respect to the Interviewer-Rowena here). I use the word   “maturity” to demonstrate a general lack of  “emotional growth” in  our collective understanding our “human” condition. Our ability as citizens of this country (world) to “step” of our own insular perspectives, and at the very least attempt to view our experiences in the context of wider inclusive view.  The subject of “genocide” against white (Afrikaner farmers) people by its very nature raises deep-seated emotional scars, and  for many (black) people is  down right  insulting.

The interviewer in this case needed to interact with her guest much like a psychologist or therapist would to a patient. She needed to be the “bigger” person and allow the guest to speak. She needed to listen.  Not in a “patronizing” way but in with an “open” and non-judgmental attitude, even as she “personally” disagrees with what the guest was saying. And gently bring her to the “other” daily and very similar realities faced by black people.

We live in  a  country divided along racial lines. Black = Victim. White = Oppressor/perpetrator. And we seem to be eternally stuck in that narrative that never, ever ventures to see/hear the other side. There is so much that happens between the lines. Pain is Pain. Black or White.

I was disappointed to observe that we had not moved  an inch from that narrative. And the Interview clearly demonstrated that. But more than that  I was even more disappointed that this was displayed on a public forum like the national broadcaster:  we vilified the experience of white farmers, made it sound like, 17 white farmers being killed every month is okay, in fact it’s nothing compared to the number of black people being raped, killed, mutilated every month. Welcome to the club. So in effect white farmers should be grateful that only 17 of them are being killed. This is the impression I got from the tone of the interview. And I am a black South African. The interview left me with no solution,  no way forward – it left me at a dead-end, with bad taste in my mouth. What now? it was as if it was  it said  – an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth.

I truly hope we never go back there, and this type of discussion on this platform concerns  me as a citizen of this country. I don’t want to be a part of it.

The problem is huge, but is it really genocide? hard facts do little to ameliorate  the hurt in this issue. There was no empathy; from both sides – which is “fine” when you’re sitting around a dinner table, with friends, and not so fine if you are in a powerful position of a national broadcaster informing public opinion.  We cannot always get it right, but we can at least try – especially on an issue as sensitive as this one to “listen” and “hear” the others perspectives and engage them with respect.  If we can’t we need to find a mediator, someone  who can listen to both sides with understanding which is what was supposed to have been the role of the Presenter in this case.

In fact I think this interview was a missed opportunity, to talk about how we as a society should begin to address the rampant problem of  violent crime in the country, and  remove it from the insular – linear perspectives of just black against white or black against black crime, just women, just  queers etc. We need to find ways to respect human life – regardless of the shades in comes in.

Can we have a sober discussion? White people historically have a “louder” voice, resources, capital and know how to mobilize action as they did in this case for their narrow interests,  we cannot ignore them. We cannot dismiss their pain. We need only look at the example of Apartheid to see the result of what happened when they dismissed our pain.

How do we “combine” our voices, resources, know how to tackle the problem of violent crime against all citizens and non-citizens of this country?

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