Senekal last week had nothing to do with solutions. It was all about politicians’ testosterone. It was all about politicians’ egos. What useful idea came out of all that heat and noise generated by all those politicians in Senekal last week? There is nothing. Nothing that makes SA a better place. Nothing that leads us to a better understanding of race relations in SA after 1994. Nothing that is a solution to farm murders – many of whose victims are poorly paid, desperate black people – or a solution to the incredibly horrendous murder and crime problem in this country.
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!