John Steenhuisen, the DA Leader, was three months old when the apartheid police massacred Hector Pieterson and other youths on June 16, 1976. His fellow DA leader, Federal Council Chairperson Helen Zille, was 25 and working as a journalist at the Rand Daily Mail. Their fellow traveller Kallie Kriel, the Afriforum CEO and face of white Afrikaner nationalism in South Africa, was six years and three months old.
The trio are the faces of white South Africans who accuse EFF president Julius Malema and his party of using violence and racial hatred to further their political objectives. At the centre of the furore is a struggle song, “Kill the Boer, the Farmer”, chanted by Malema at his party’s 10-year anniversary in Johannesburg on July 27, as a rallying cry against the oppressive system, which guarantees white privilege to the likes of Steenhuisen, Zille and Kriel.
Popularised by former ANC youth leader Peter Mokaba in the early 90s, “Kill the Boer” was used to rally the oppressed black people against the apartheid regime. The difference is not difficult to miss in considering white and black life chances or privileges.
On June 16, 1976, Pietersen was 13 years of age. Activist Seth Mazibuko was two years older (15), Tsietsi Mashinini was 19, and Khotso Seatlholo was 18. Mashinini and Seatlholo, the leader and successor of the June 16 student revolt, are dead.
Steenhuisen is alive, kicking and mouthing his wishes for democracy and advocating for banning struggle songs, wilfully oblivious of being born into privilege. On his 47th birthday, the beneficiary of whiteness is cruising at the crest of the wave of an anti-black society, and even commanding political and economic power, at the expense of a highly educated black leader like Mmusi Maimane, despite having no post-matric qualifications. Mazibuko, who 47 years ago, in 1976, was 15, is 62 today. Look at the life chances of Mazibuko compared to Steenhuisen’s. Were Hector alive today, he would be 60.
At 47, and 13 years younger than the martyred Pietersen, were he still alive, Steenhuisen is a leading factor at the helm of the democratic content with a choice to go to Ukraine for a fact-finding mission to see the misery of war on fleeing people. However, he does not see the same suffering of blacks in Ukraine or South Africa that he supposedly wants to protect them from the EFF.
Zille was a young reporter when Steve Biko, one of the gifted black thinkers, died in police custody in 1977. Were he still alive, Biko would be 76 today. It is not out of luck that Zille is alive and leading the DA. It’s white privilege.
The difference between a South Africa in which Biko died and a South Africa in which Zille became Western Cape premier is that blacks did not have a vote. Now they do, but their life 46 years after Biko’s death exhibits no qualitative difference.
It is not out of misfortune that Biko is martyred and gone; his movement continues to be painted as racist, while former white apartheid leaders have reinvented themselves as leading democrats. It is a system of white supremacy.
For this piece, I would focus mainly on Steenhuisen because he is the youngest and leading embodiment of the irrationality of white fears, which is most fervent at election time. Alongside Afriforum and Freedom Front Plus, he accuses Malema of inciting hatred and violence against white people.
“South Africa must reject Malema for the bloodthirsty tyrant and demagogue he really is! The DA won’t allow Malema’s hatred and racism to be normalised. This is why the DA is taking action to stop him and the EFF’s violence,” Steenhuisen said.
Speaking during a debate on SABC Channel 404, Kriel added that Afriforum would not “sit down and be threatened by thugs that don’t want a future for everybody in this country”. Admitting that he had no evidence, he nonetheless linked the deaths of three white people to Malema’s chanting of the liberation song.
Despite repeated explanations by many black people that the song is metaphorical, not literal, and aimed at dismantling a system that gives white disproportionate economic privileges, Steenhuisen and his fellow travellers continue to exhibit willful ignorance. Even though the EFF and Malema said in different forums that they have no policy and intentions to kill whites, most whites continue to deliberately misunderstand them.
In the 1960s, it could have been argued that old white folks, such as the Freedom Front leader Pieter Groenewald could not easily adjust to new ways of thinking. But for younger Steenhuisen to be just as adamant in his unconscious exhibitionism of white supremacist streak shows that white fears know no other reality of power in society rather than its own.
For starters, the Equality Court ruled that the “Kill the Boer” song “does not constitute hate speech, but rather deserves protection under the rubric of freedom of speech”. Even though Afriforum is appealing the ruling, the existing status quo is that it’s not illegal to chant the song. But that’s not my point.
My point is that Steenshuisen, Zille and Kriel feign ignorance of the self-evident reality that the song is metaphorical and has not translated to any deaths of white people. This is simply because their political and Afrikaner nationalist interests thrive on irrational white fears, a determining factor in South African politics before and after 1994.
Year after year, police statistics show that thousands of black people die of violent crimes like murder, robbery and police brutality. By contrast, there is no record of a single white person dying as a result of the action of state power before and after 1994.
From the Marikana massacre and the murder of unarmed Ficksburg activist Andries Tatane, who was mauled in broad daylight by the police, to Collins Khoza dying in the hands of SANDF authority figures enforcing Covid-19 regulations in Alexandra; and unclean drinking water In Hammanskraal; and the intermittent shack fires across the country, the victims have been black people.
On the few occasions, whites openly challenged state power, they were treated with kid gloves. When a group of white farmers blocked the freeway in Gauteng in protest against farm murders, another overturned a police van outside a court in the Free State protesting against the same issue; for instance, police did not fire a single bullet. But when black people protest against poor services, they are largely sprayed with bullets.
Put differently, this current SA democracy, in terms of the action of state power, has killed black people. This current SA democracy, in terms of the action of state power, has not killed a single white person. So, what’s the basis for this irrational white fear?
The answer to this pertinent question lies in what prominent US civil rights leader, the late Malcolm X Shabazz, called “propaganda tactics” and “psychological warfare” against black people. Like Malema now, Malcolm X and his organisation, the Nation of Islam, were accused of using violence to further their political ends in the early 1960s. Their sin was to preach black nationalism, which advocated black dignity, self-determination, self-help and re-orientation.
Malcolm X, the Islamic minister and founder of the Organisation of Afro-American Unity, spearheaded the struggle for civil liberties, including universal franchise, and was then US President John F. Kennedy’s chief critic.
The white power structures in America, including the media and NGOs, saw him as a threat and relentlessly accused him of preaching violence and hatred against white people. This was despite facts proving that black people were at the receiving end of police killings and random raids.
“The charge of violence against us actually stems from the guilt conscious that exists in the conscious and subconscious minds of most white people in this country. They know that they have been violent in their brutality against Negros (Black), and they feel that someday the Negro is going to wake up and try and do unto the whites as the whites have done to us,” Malcolm X said in response.
“So to accuse of being violent is like accusing a man who is being lynched, who is being hung on a tree, simply because he struggles vigorously against his lyncher; the victim is accused of violence, but the lyncher is never accused of violence. And I am only pointing this out because the various racist groups that are set up in this country by whites and who have actually practised violence against blacks for 400 years are never associated, identified or made synonymous with the term violence. But whites speak of Muslims almost synonymously with violence.
“Whenever Muslims are mentioned by them, violence is brought up. This is some sort of propaganda tactic or what I would call psychological warfare in some way to make the image of Muslims synonymous with violence.”
This is what exactly Steenhuisen, Zille, and Kriel are trying to do with Malema and the EFF. Haunted by the legacy of its guilt, white fears epitomized by the trio still want to dictate the terms of black response to the cruelty apartheid initially created. This white superiority was firstly responsible for the architecture of black dehumanization. It now presents itself as a paragon best qualified to offer solutions to the problems of its own making, and then expects nothing short of sheepish compliance of blacks to follow suit.
From an election perspective, these white fears for the loss of continuity to call the shots may appear to be aimed at Malema and the EFF, but essentially the target is black people in whatever organizational form they manifest or present. This includes political parties, religious formations, traditional leadership, trade unions, civil society and the taxi industry.
Until recently, one of the targets has been Black First Land First Party President Andile Mngxitama and his party. In a war of attrition, Afriforum repeatedly took Mngxitama and his party to court over a litany of political articulations and subjected them to lawfare.
Malema is the hateful target because his insistence on this liberation chant registers two important factors. One is that it highlights that the primary contradiction being tackled is the system of white supremacy from which Steenhuisen’s party has difficulty extracting itself.
Moreover, the authors and beneficiaries of the problems the oppressor camp created have no moral claim to lead in providing solutions to the problems of their own creation. The liberation of black people is the sole responsibility of the oppressed to champion.
The isolation of the EFF and the criminalisation of this liberation chant is to divert attention from the fact that at the heart of South Africa’s problem is the fear of the oppressor camp’s loss of white supremacy as a determining factor to a truly liberated society, which draws inspiration from the oppressed camp, of which the EFF is part.
In other words, the bone of contention for Steenhuisen, Zille and Kriel is the self-serving white fear that a thing said or mentioned many times is likely to happen in real life. This reveals that the logic of South African politics is not only centred on white fears contemplating what might happen, translating into the actual occurrence and yet continuing to be oblivious of the actual death of blacks. Sadly, blacks have also been accustomed to believing their lives do not matter, even in a democratic era.
Not only are blacks expected to stomach how they should respond to their oppression, but also how to remember it, and how to name dates of remembrance of their black experiences. In commemorative activities, like June 16, the irritable way how white power works never fails to insinuate itself.
It even tries to dictate the relationship between the memory of the suffering people and their centrality in epochal days like March 21 (Sharpeville Massacre), September 12 (Steve Biko’s death), and October 19 (Black Wednesday).
Again, encountering unsolicited paternalistic advice from white power prescribing how the victims or the oppressed should remember these days is not hard to see. Many either reduce the significance of these holidays or mock the days’ black blood was shed as “braai-day”.
Besides the fact that the “Kill the Boer” chant has not translated into the actual killing of whites, the continued fashion in which most whites conduct themselves as inseparable from an undying and unchanging system suggests that they embody the hated system infinitely.
This infinite embodiment of the hated system implies that Steenhuisen, Kriel, Zille and like-minded white people are openly inviting the inevitability of their own danger since they continue billing themselves and the hated system as the same. The same goes for their own irrationality of making a case that their lives and the system – that decreed them as the chosen and privileged to be ordained as superior – are inseparable twins.
Mahasha Rampedi is the Editor-In-Chief of African Times.