On Saturday night Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of Afrikaner rights group AfriForum, published a dark and dramatic 31-minute monologue on YouTube.
The subject of his ire was Professor Elmien du Plessis, a property-law and land-reform specialist at North-West University, after she criticised AfriForum in a thread on Twitter and attempted to contextualise rural crime and violence in South Africa.
Roets concluded his statement by directing a quote at Du Plessis from German-Jewish academic Victor Klemperer, writing about the rise of fascism in 1936: "If one day the situation was reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go, and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions, and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene."
Roets then paused for a second, before saying: "Of course, we have no intention to harm... anyone. We have no intention to harm you for making these statements. We don't even have any intention to debate you."
This isn't the first time Roets has resorted to Klemperer: in 2016 he used the same quote to disparage another unknown academic, whose opinions he branded 'nonsense'.
Since the video was published, Du Plessis has received a number of anonymous threats, including one seemingly referencing her children and a phone call warning her that she's "next". Roets has condemned "any threat of violence against any person" — but not specifically those made to Du Plessis in the wake of his video.
Du Plessis has said she found Roets' video and the Klemperer quote "disturbing".
This isn't the first time Roets has resorted to Klemperer: in 2016 he used the same quote to disparage another unknown academic (whom he calls "Mr Bright Spark"), whose opinions he branded "nonsense". He added: "The reality is unfortunately that people with high IQs who are out of touch with reality and struggle to maintain themselves in the harsh real world are often prone to end up in academics [sic]."
BREAKING: @afriforum was just interviewed on @FoxNews (USA's most watched cable news network) regarding #ExpropriationWithoutCompensation & #FarmMurders in South Africa. @ErnstRoets spoke to @TuckerCarlson on the very popular prime time show Tucker Carlson Tonight. This is huge! pic.twitter.com/vDw3s0DPYw— Kallie Kriel (@kalliekriel) May 8, 2018
WHO WAS VICTOR KLEMPERER?
Klemperer was a university professor who became famous for three sets of books containing the diaries he kept before and during the Second World War. The value of these books lie in his description of the rise of Nazism and everyday life under a fascist regime — and they remain one of the most important source documents about life in 1930s and 1940s Germany.
According to Martin Chalmers, a British translator who prepared the 1998 version of "I Shall Bear Witness", Klemperer had by 1936 become disillusioned with his Nazi-supporting colleagues in academia and was angry at their support for its ideology.
His 1936 diary entry — about stringing up academics — was a "furious outburst" against a friend who had broken off contact with him and started writing propaganda articles.
Klemperer, Chalmers writes, held a "particular animosity" towards this man.
THE CONTEXT TO ROETS' DELIVERY OF THE QUOTE
Roets' monologue traverses many issues, sometimes repeatedly, before the dramatic delivery of the Klemperer quote.
He responds to every tweet by Du Plessis individually and prefaces the stringing-up quote by considering Du Plessis' tweet in which she says people's fears should not be ranked or compared, that emotions are real and that those spaces should be respected.
Roets reacts by saying it seems those spaces are only reserved for some people and that skin colour determines how the mainstream (presumably the media and society at large) responds to crime. "Farm murders are at the bottom of the hierarchy of recognition," he says, before pausing and moving on to Klemperer. This he does without providing context or reason.
The quote seems to ignite his antagonism, because after he somewhat reluctantly says they have "no intention to harm... anyone" he launches into claiming "we" are being "attacked, killed and tortured" and accusing Du Plessis of "ridiculing" them while having philosophical debates "with Max du Preez and your friends".
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
In 2011 AfriForum reacted with joy at the judgment by judge Colin Lamont in which Julius Malema's singing of "Dubula ibhunu" ("Shoot the boer") was declared hate speech. The organisation argued that it was irresponsible for Malema to sing a song that could incite violence, and that its singing could have direct consequences. It dismissed Malema's contention that the song was metaphorical and not in fact directed at actual farmers.
The court agreed, and Lamont found that the intention of words uttered by an individual is irrelevant. Malema's words were found to be directed at an identifiable group in society, and the judge also found that the song undermined their dignity, was discriminatory and harmful.
This doesn't seem to have crossed Roets' mind, however, when invoking Klemperer saying academics should be hanged — which is strange, because in the same video he makes the claim that farm attacks increased after Malema sang the song.
"In the month that followed after Malema's singing of 'Dubula ibhunu'... there was an 88 percent increase in farm attacks and a 51 percent increase in farm murders," he says.
It seems he hasn't considered the possible impact of his Klemperer quote in the current overheated environment.
AfriForum does seem to support the principle of freedom of speech though — in court papers lodged at the Equality Court (opposing an application brought by the Nelson Mandela Foundation regarding the apartheid national flag), it says: "Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a functioning democratic state. It gives people the opportunity to be exposed to differing viewpoints..."
THE NET EFFECT
It is unclear what Roets' intention was in quoting Klemperer, and he has declined to offer an explanation.
The Klemperer diary entry was made in anger and directed at academics who collaborated with the detested Nazi regime. He refers to "professors" and "academics" who should be strung up.
Roets, more than once in his YouTube post, identified Du Plessis as an "intellectual" and "academic" and located her in that space. He then, without contextualising the quote, directed Klemperer at her.
Du Plessis then received threats in the days that followed.
Does Roets regard himself as a Klemperer-like figure, and Du Plessis as the stray academic supporting the reigning rogue ideology who needs to be "strung up"? Is Roets the oppressed activist struggling against a fascist regime?
From the video, that seems to be the logical and reasonable conclusion — and Roets conveys the message in a threatening and menacing manner.
In 2011 AfriForum condemned "Shoot The Boer" and dismissed claims that it wasn't meant to be taken literally. In 2018 the organisation's second-most senior official quotes an author saying professors must be strung up, while addressing a professor.
How does Roets square Klemperer with his condemnation of Malema and AfriForum's position on free speech? He can't.
AfriForum's U.S. tour continues.