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11/05/2018 15:50 SAST | Updated 11/05/2018 15:50 SAST

AfriForum And Farm Murders: Could We Get Past The Single-Story Narrative?

We reduce our humanity if we reduce the issues around rural violence or land reform to single-story narratives.

Gallo Images
Farmers and community members during the "Genoeg is genoeg" protest against a perceived increase in farm murders on October 30 2017 in Cape Town.

In 2009 Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a wonderful TED talk on the danger of a single story. It dealt with the problem wherein complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative. We are complex stories. We are heterogeneous. To reduce people to one narrative is to talk down their humanity.

The past week I questioned AfriForum's use of the statistics it employs to create a narrative of concerted efforts by the (black) government to push white people to the sidelines.

It sees the current talks on expropriation without compensation as adding to this narrative: the sole reason for this is to undermine property rights, to deprive the white man of his property. Racist land theft is AfriForum's single story.

Bellowing outrage followed my criticism.

YouTube
Ernst Roets, AfriForum's deputy CEO, in a 31-minute YouTube video in which he attacked Professor Elmien du Plessis after she criticised AfriForum.

I only started blocking people on Twitter by Thursday — and then only those whose only contribution to the debate was to hurl personal insults — but I made the decision to follow the conversations in silence, because I wanted to make sure that I get exposed to different stories. I wanted to avoid reading a single story.

There are many truths out there. And they all matter. They all matter equally.

But lately, on the South African landscape, I have only seen two stories (which, I suppose, is already better than a single story). We are moving to a binary; we are polarising:"You either condemn the farm murders, or you don't care about them." As if questioning a narrative and a single story means that I cannot see the grief and suffering brought on by farm attacks or farm murders.

To reduce the call for expropriation without compensation to a story of black people wanting to drive white people out of this country reduces the humanity of black people.

We humans are complex beings: we can understand the individual hurt, and we can be there with people in that hurt, but we can also step back to look at the bigger picture that led us to this place of immense sadness. I can condemn farm murders while questioning the single story; the exclusionary narrative.

It is not just about farm murders. It is not just about the violence. It is not just about expropriation.

To reduce the call for expropriation without compensation to a story of black people wanting to drive white people out of this country reduces the humanity of black people.

To paint farmers as only brutal, base land thieves, reduces the humanity of farmers.

To ignore the valid fears of people who stand opposite this immense threat of violence we face every day — some more than others, depending on where you live — to statistical games is to reduce the humanity of all of us.

To ignore the immense fear and anger because of the threat of losing property and power dehumanises people.

Because in the end, we are all intimately connected.

This complexity and the interconnectedness of us as humans makes it impossible to find a solution for the big problem of farm murders and rural crime without stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

And ultimately, what we do when we do science, even soft sciences, is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We compare, we weigh up. Why? Because if we can find a pattern, if we can pinpoint problems, if we can expose fault lines, if we can place it in context, we might be able to say, "This is how this differs," or, "This is where it is connected," or, "You need to address X for Y to change."

But in this bigger picture, we are also careful not to reduce the complexity of stories to a single story.

We propose solutions, based on the bigger picture. The answers can never be definite, because society is not stagnant. And that is the unique place of intellectuals and academics in society.

But in this bigger picture, we are also careful not to reduce the complexity of stories to a single story. How do we recognise each other's humanity; how do we keep space for one another while speaking about the bigger issues on a medium that does not translate emotion well?

Adichie said that the talk about a single story is a talk about power. Stories are defined by how they are told, who tells them, how many stories are told. And that often depends on power — the power to make a story the definitive story of a person or group of persons. To not tell someone's story as the primary story.

Farm murders have a complexity of stories. And they all need to be told.

Because much as stories can be used to oppress or dispossess, stories can also be used to restore dignity, to heal. To humanise. If we can only get past the single story.