Mhambi has been redeployed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Apartheid morality, one for Afrikaners and one for the rest

Thank goodness for people like Rhoda Kadalie. As an Afrikaner I was outraged by the abusive Reitz video made at the Free State University. So was many other Afrikaners and Afrikaner organisations.

But simmering all week was a nagging feeling that the way this has been criticised from certain quarters is so disproportionate when compared to other incidents. This hypocrisy in itself reeked to me of prejudice. Some commentators like Michael Trapido have spotted the same.

The reaction of celebrity South African society and the international media is unquestionably disproportionate when compared to other incidents in this country, and now it seems some organisations like Cosatu and the ANC are trying to make political capital from it.

I don't for a moment think lambasting these students for arrogant racist abuse and taking strong disciplinary action against them is unwarranted. Neither don't I think the University management at the UFS should take stock of how they deal with racism and change its structures if it must. But can we have similar for all abuse suffered by different groups in this country, on campuses and off it?

And, yesterday Rhoda Kadalie said exactly that in a hard hitting article Video uproar betrays culture of double standards.

Take violence against women at our Universities says Kadalie.

"...we forget that sexual violence and rape are prevalent and covered up on so many campuses. Ask me, I know about sexual violations at so-called progressive universities, where student leaders were involved in the sexual harassment and rape of fellow students. These campuses were not billed as “campuses of rape”, and whole campuses are not painted with the same brush because of those who routinely perpetrate such acts of violence against female students at only one."

What is Rhoda referring to? To these reports of rape at a Durban campus? Perhaps, who knows, because besides this report very little else was written about this particular incident or any others. It certainly did not reach the Sowetan, The Star, Die Beeld, The Sunday Times etc.

Perhaps because it has a female editor The Mail and Guardian gave a UKZN lecturer Lubna Nadvi the opportunity to write a further article on the rapes at the UKZN campus.

For her trouble the newspaper got a stinging rebuke from the university management including the deputy dean, Professor Nceba Gqaleni accusing Nadvi of racism. Incredibly the report was attacked because there had been none before on other similar incidents:

“A number of African students have died or been mugged in residences.”

And there had been no media coverage he said.

Ferial Haffajee, the Mail and Guardian editor sprang to Lubna Nadvi's defence:

“A number of African students have died or been mugged in residences.” The writers throw in this statement as evidence of Nadvi’s alleged ­racism and charge that she only cared when an American student was raped, not because it is deeply shocking that places of learning have become places of horror.

Shocking yes, but still the story barely registered at home or abroad.

But shocking events ignored is par for he course it seems. Kadalie goes on and lists racism and abuse by black South Africans that go unreported or that spectacularly fails to rack up the column inches:

Equally, at many predominantly black universities, racial segregation at residences is the order of the day, but nobody speaks about that because it is assumed here that freedom of association is a right . Do you remember the coloured man who moved into Khayelitsha and was hounded out by blacks for daring to go and live in a black area?

You probably don't remember it, but there was a report of the coloured man's whose house was stoned by a crowd of 400 people.

But this of course is small fry compared to the xenophobia foreign blacks encounter in this country and often pay for with their lives. Kadalie again:

And how many hundreds of Somalis in Western Cape have been killed by other black people for simply being successful business people? Where are the headlines about this? Where is the Human Rights Commission when it comes to taking up these plights?

Here is one account of the suffering of Somalis at the hands of Xhosa's in Masiphumelele Visoek.

Kadalie is however wrong. The killings of Somalis is a country wide phenomena and not limited to the Cape. Attacks on Somalis have been recorded in Knysna, Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Diepsloot in Gauteng and Khutsong in the Free State, among others.

The first death was in 1997. Jacob van Garderen the new director of Lawyers for Human Rights have been dealing with cases of Somalis killed in Parys in the Free Sate as well. There have been no news reports of these killings in Parys whatsoever.

In October 2006 as many as 40 Somalis were killed in one month, and all we have to show for it is this article by Pearly Joubert. Where is the international media?

I could list more instances of abuse where the international media peculiarly let South Africa off the hook. Compare this to what happens elsewhere. Russia is regularly in the news when racist attacks take place where individuals are hurt or killed. In another article the BBC follows up on a Amnesty International report that as many as 28 people could have been killed in Russian racist attacks during 2005.

When a polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, recently was tazered to death by police in Canada the world was aghast.

When Adonis Musati, a young Zimbabwean asylum seeker died of hunger, a few meters away from the department of home affairs on the glitzy Cape Town foreshore, after he had queued there for days, there was barely a whimper. It did not register internationally.

Very recently The Sunday Times commissioned research from Plus 94 Research on racism in this country. Futhi Ntshingila reported on the front page of the Sunday Times that most black South Africans experience other black South Africans as most racist.

The poll found that Indians were the most likely recipients of racial hostility from Africans, with three out of four Indian respondents claiming first-hand experience of this.

The sentiment was most obvious in Durban and academic and activist Ashwin Desai said this was not surprising. “You tend to compare yourself with somebody across the road from you. Therefore the conflict between Africans and Indians happens ironically in places where they live next to each other,” he said.

A scintillating story and controversial to boot, but well researched and including some excellent commentary and analysis from the likes of Professor Adam Habib, Dan Ncayiyana, activist Ashwin Desai and Professor Charles Villa-Vicencio.

I challenge you to try and saddle up Google and find the original story on the Sunday Times website or any follow ups by any other media organisation. The only reference to the original story is to be found on a sad right wing website, where it has been copied and pasted wholesale.

Why do we suffer from this two faced reporting? Why this hypocritical public gushing and regurgitating on the one hand and conspiracy of silence on the other? The world and we have our South African narrative fixed and we won't let facts get in the way of our emotional reaction.

For lack of a better word I will call it apartheid reporting, because that is exactly what it is. There are two sets or moral codes operating in South Africa.

The consequences of these lopsided reactions is to encourage Afrikaner denialists of racism. Because agreeing is seen as giving carte blance for the rising new wave of prejudice, sweeping all in 'transformative' path.

Should we condemn Reitz less? No. But lets take up the cudgels elsewhere where people are abused and killed. This is after all about human rights and not persecution, right?

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Kyknou said...

Though I agree that it would be ideal if all incidents of violence and human rights abuses received equal coverage in the media and that the Human Rights Commission should most definitely investigate at all human rights violations, I don't think it is surprising at all that the Reitz incident received so much attention. I also don't think it implies that there is a separate, more stringent morality for Afrikaners.

The Reitz incident was just such an essentially South African occurence that due to its very familiarity, touched a very sensitive spot for Afrikaners and black South Africans. As an Afrikaans person, the whole thing reminded me of the some of the worst characteristics of the culture I grew up in and those Reitz students are like so many Afrikaner boys and men that I knew and disliked -- macho, racist, paternalistic, sexist and most certainly homophobic. My reaction to the video was strong and visceral. It reminded me of how glad I am that I am not surrounded by that culture any more and how awful it is that seemingly 'nothing has changed'. I can only imagine that black South Africans also recognised a kind of nauseating familiarity in this behaviour. It reminded us all of the strange and warped relationship between black and white that often existed and obviously still does in some places.

So though the murder of Somali immigrants is terrible and should receive as much if not more media coverage as the Reitz video, the emotional reactions we saw were quite understandable and not necessarily and indication of Afrikaner-bashing.

Wessel said...

Oh no, it did not really surprise me at all.

You say:"The Reitz incident was just such an essentially South African occurence that due to its very familiarity, touched a very sensitive spot for Afrikaners and black South Africans."

Yes thats exactly my point. There's a widely held narrative about South Africa, a narrative created over more than two centuries by mainly English colonialists, because it suited there political and power games, while the South African situation is in reality far more complex. Just as Obama alluded to yesterday - that the US situation is far more complex and nuanced.

Recently there was a program on BBC radio 4 about politicians using narrative to make their point, and how much more powerful it is than fact. They went on to say that Labour politicians are discouraged to mention crime figures by are coming down (which they are), because it does not tally with faulty public narrative.

Afrikaners have a far greater problem, because their racism is so "essentially South African", but other racism in the country is what blacks do in Africa.

"So though the murder of Somali immigrants is terrible and should receive as much if not more media coverage as the Reitz video, the emotional reactions we saw were quite understandable and not necessarily and indication of Afrikaner-bashing."

OK, so what is it then? Why don't these other incidents receive as much coverage? Incompetence? Or perhaps they don't care for lives of Somalis? Or they don't care for black students raped? What do you think it is?

Wessel said...

And here is an excerpt of the BBC Radio 4 program on political narrative I was referring to.

("EASTON: There is a sort of national narrative that crime is going up, that everything’s getting worse, and the newspapers - and broadcasters to a large extent too - really like that and it plays in to what people think is the story about crime. And the reality is that crime’s been falling in this country for over ten years and indeed your chances of being a victim of crime today are lower than they were since the records were started in 1980/81. Now the interesting thing there is that the current government has been rather caught out over the last few years because they’ve wanted to change the story. They’ve wanted to say crime is coming down, but they also recognise that fear of crime is still really high because people believe the traditional narrative. So they know they can’t just say look you’re all wrong. Remember that old story? That’s not right. The new story is crime’s coming down and the world’s getting better. No-one will buy that because they’ve been selling the other story for so many years. So they’ve now got this really difficult position, which is crime’s coming down but we recognise that there are still many, many challenges and in some places there is a serious problem with crime, and the whole thing just kind of gets muddy. Meanwhile the opposition politicians of course are all going with the traditional line, which resonates absolutely with voters who say, yeah, that’s what’s happening down my neck of the woods.
STONOR SAUNDERS: This is bizarre: first we cling tenaciously to implausibly optimistic narratives of redemption, and now we’re all going to hell in a handcart just because that makes for a better story? The data say one thing, and we possess the tools to weigh the evidence, to calculate the costs and benefits. But the attraction to narrative acts like a riptide, dragging us away from the shores of logic and reason. This appears to trouble Gordon Brown, who opened his premiership with a much-heralded commitment to stem the constant nosebleed of Westminster spin and over-narration. That’s not to say that he has discarded narrative altogether. Rather, he just doesn’t seem to be a very good storyteller. Drew Westen is a professor of psychology and author of ‘The Political Brain’, which has quickly established itself as required reading in British political circles.

WESTEN: Gordon Brown has sought the counsel I understand of the American strategist Bob Shrum who is a wonderful speech writer except that he has never understood how narratives work and why you need to use them and in fact just wrote a wonderfully meandering book that is called ‘No Excuses’, but could easily have been called ‘No Narrative’ because it has no structure of a narrative, of what it’s about. And if you’re naturally a policy wonk, you’ve got to have someone in your camp who can help you think about how you turn things that sound like they’re dull and boring into things that are not only emotionally compelling but do have that story structure that make people able to listen and remember what you’ve said because if you want to win elections, you have to appeal to the human mind, not to the mind of a calculator.

MAXWELL: We can’t remember things if they don’t have emotions.)

SO this is my point. The world has collective amnesia about South Africa if it does not fit in with a well worn narrative.

Kyknou said...

I agree that the situation is far more complex. From my perspective in NY, a lot of my information about the incident has come through email from Afrikaners like yourself referring me to articles by other Afrikaners about the issue. So you, like other, have been touched enough by the incident to ask of your viewers if Afrikaners are the worst racists in the world.
We don't want to identify with this incident, because it reminds us of some shameful memories of our upbringing and culture. And so we write and talk and blog. Is this Afrikaner-bashing? I don't think so.
Yes, as more concerned citizens all instances of injustice should be written, spoken and blogged about and hopefully we start giving more thought to the incredibly complex country that SA is.

Wessel said...

Afrikaner criticism of Reitz is more than warranted, and to be welcomed. And bound to be the most effective. I have no problems with that.

I have problems with what the ANC in particular now wants to do about this incident. (Read the link at the top of my story.)