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What Black Monday Taught Us: 'Swart Gevaar' Is Alive And Well

Central to the protest, the narrative around farm attacks continues to be framed as being a consequence of either black brutality or as "white genocide".

31/10/2017 16:15 SAST | Updated 31/10/2017 16:20 SAST
David Harrison/AFP/Getty Images
#BlackMonday demonstrations in Cape Town on October 30, 2017.

On October 30, convoys of pick-up trucks brought certain sections of South Africa to a standstill. South Africans were urged to wear black in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in farm attacks and as a public display condemning violence. Social media was ablaze, with comments and photographs of the protest dominating timelines. The protest was sparked by the murder of a white farm owner on a Klapmuts farm near Stellenbosch. The event was organised to raise awareness of farm murders and, ostensibly, to condemn crime in its totality in South Africa.

South Africans are familiar with the crime statistics and high levels of violence in our communities. We are bombarded with accounts of violent crimes on a daily basis, and collectively we reel from the demoralising effects thereof. One would then assume that any call against crime would serve to unite rather than divide. Yet the #BlackMonday protest has elicited polarised opinion.

As with similar campaigns, such as #RedOctober a couple of years ago, #BlackMonday has not found broad national appeal beyond a predominantly white constituency and nominal black support. This could be ascribed to the fact that central to the protest, the narrative around farm attacks and murders continues to be framed as being a consequence of either black brutality or as "white genocide", with the spectre of the swart gevaar (black threat) looming. This continues to feed into the fear many white people feel, which often drives them to participate in actions such as protesting against what has been framed as black crime.

This narrative is informed by the complicated ways in which land, race, gender and identity politics intersect in South Africa. Given the history of colonisation, slavery, land dispossession and apartheid, and despite 23 years of government efforts to redistribute land, land ownership is still skewed along racial lines. In other words, farm owners in South Africa continue to be overwhelmingly white and farm workers black. It is for these reasons, then, that the narrative on farm murders largely refers to white farm owners and not black farm workers. This is an important distinction, as it sheds light on why these protests are decidedly racialised.

It is little wonder, then, that at the protests on Monday, many protesters brandished the old apartheid flag. This raises questions as to why we have not yet outlawed the apartheid flag in the same way the Nazi swastika flag was outlawed in Germany, seeing how both apartheid and the Holocaust fall under the category of crimes against humanity.

This further raises questions on why the loss of white lives is outrageous enough to become a mass rallying point whereas the daily killing and loss of black lives in Langa, Bonteheuwel, Nyanga and Manenberg, to name but a few, are rendered invisible and as such elicits very little response. This selective outrage at violence speaks to how some lives are valued more than others.

Given how complex these issues are, it is imperative that South Africans are reflective in their thinking, informed in their opinion and take a stance on this issue based on what they deem is moral and just for all.

It is important, however, to take into account the complex nature of the problem of farm murders. This can only be done by recognising the ways in which our particular history has informed the relationships between farmer and farm worker, and how farms have historically been sites of violence. It's a history that is characterised by a legacy of the inhumane treatment of slaves on farms, to more recent accounts of deplorable working conditions, abuse and even killing of farm workers.

This has created skewed power relations between farm owners and farm workers. This protest highlights how a demonstration against the murder of white farm owners garners more sympathy than actions that seek to correct the deplorable working condition of farm workers.

This black brutality and 'white genocide' narrative conceals the spatial dynamic inherent in the farm-killing phenomenon. It constructs the notion that farmers are attacked and killed because they are white. What this reasoning does not take into account is that many of the targeted farmhouses are isolated, with a possible delayed emergency response, which make them an easy (and high-value) target for any and all criminals.

Farm murders, as with all other forms of violent criminality against black and white bodies, must be condemned in the strongest terms and need urgent attention and decisive action.

At the same time, lazy and binary thinking about complex issues -- including historical dispossession, loss of dignity, culture and pride, of white power and privilege, and the ongoing search for reconciliation -- must be rejected. Given how complex these issues are, it is imperative that South Africans are reflective in their thinking, informed in their opinion and take a stance on this issue based on what they deem is moral and just for all.