[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.
The strong reaction from many whites to the claim that the paranoia about crime is at least partly influenced by a deep seated fear of black people, seems to suggest that it hit a raw nerve. Is this perhaps because in their hearts of hearts they realise that their views on crime is enmeshed in a very complicated and uncomfortable way with their deeply ingrained racial assumptions and attitudes?
I sadly recall the time when my partner and I were held up at knife point in our flat by four young men. We were not physically harmed but were quite shaken, having been locked in a toilet and threatened. A few days later as I walked to the shop a few blocks from our flat, I spotted two young black men walking towards me and without even thinking I crossed the road. Just to be safe, see. Why? Well, our attackers were young black men and I had somehow linked them with the two guys (probably UCT law students or Telkom technicians, who knows) walking towards me. My fear was based, surely, on nothing more than ingrained assumptions on race, reinforced by an experience of crime involving black people.
We will not get very far in this country if we as whites do not begin to confront our prejudices and fears – instead of denying them and pretending that we are all fair and just and non-racial. These are the difficult issues we have to grapple with and President Mbeki’s letter attempts to open up a conversation on the topic. The letter was harsh in places but it was not unfair and it did not deny the reality of crime.
It is sad that newspapers like Rapport and even a columnist in the Sunday Times chose to ridicule the letter instead of engaging with it. If we do not talk about race with others but especially with ourselves, if we do not confront the demons that we have within ourselves, then we will help to destroy this country.
There ends my sermon for the day – Die Burger did once hint that I was as preachy as the worst dominee!