‘Kill the Boer’: musings from a layman

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / Amid the ranting and raving on the back of Julius Malema’s singing of ‘Kill the Boer’, a certain article got a lot of people whipped up into a frenzy. Penned by Andrew Kenny for the The Daily Friend, the online publication of the Institute for Race Relations, the piece — titled
‘”Kill the Boer” and the complexities of free speech’ — clearly hit the right notes in certain political and socioeconomic quarters.

Thus it was hardly surprising that Kenny would start by referring to a tweet by Elon Musk. ‘They,’ Musk had tweeted, ‘are openly pushing for genocide of white people in SA. Cyril Ramaphosa, why do you say nothing?’ Much to Kenny’s dismay, the New York Times didn’t buy it, and simply dismissed any allusions to genocide as right-wing mischief. It also didn’t help that Daily Maverick’s editor-at-large, Richard Poplak, as well as a contributor, Professor Pierre de Vos, came up with tasteless tweets of their own: ‘What wine pairs best with white genocide?’ Poplak weeted. De Vos’s response: ‘Allesverloren blanc de  blanc …’

Needless to say, Kenny didn’t find this at all humorous, invoking instead a deceased Penny Sparrow (who was found guilty of hate speech in 2016 after posting racist comments about blacks on social media) in a bid to draw polarising racial comparisons and to offer the only ‘explanation that fits the facts,’ to de Vos and Poplak’s ignorance: ‘they believe that whites are fully developed adult human beings who can take a joke whereas blacks are helpless little children who can’t.’

That naked swipe out the way, Kenny presents the core premise of his article; a book on farm murders by Afriforum’s Ernst Roets, highlighting savage incidents of farm murders and also how callous political rhetoric can easily culminate in twisted bodies out on the street. Among Roets’s many claims to fame, you’d recall, was an online video of himself firing a juiced-up Glock back in 2018 in support of gun ownership; a soiree in the US preaching ‘white genocide’ to every alt-right skinhead who was willing to listen, and tweeting a picture of the old South African flag just moments after the Equality Court had ruled that the gratuitous display of the flag constituted hate speech.

Following a particularly gruesome ‘farm murder’ of the Brand family in 2020, I published this article on City Press. Though the murder itself was particularly heinous, the subsequent reaction was rather yawningly South African. Polarised. Laager versus kraals; black versus white and the savage act of murder was even pimped-up with a prefix ‘farm’. Forgive my struggling with the term, especially because all across the townships where thousands of black or brown people are culled every year, I’ve yet to come across a packaged term for their misery. They perish mostly unknown, only recalled as inscrutable numbers in the procedurally insipid reports of the police ministry’s crime statistics.

If this is a sick claim to white exceptionalism — you know, that white lives deserve special attention — Kenny’s piece offers little in the form of dissuasion. Though he may well be South African, his lived experiences and certainly his take on things merely mimics those who, like him, appear snugly cocooned in a privilege they struggle to fess up to, and are so out of touch with reality that they might as well be boarding a first-class seat to Sydney. For instance, here’s his imagined reasoning as to why he thinks Poplak and De Vos did not hasten to leap into the wagon of condemnation: ‘Look, they are black, rather like children. They don’t really mean it. They’re just having a bit of harmless fun in asking for white farmers to be killed.’

Whether Kenny would utter something so crass inside a shebeen and live to write about it, we can’t say. What we can be sure of is that, unlike the British doctor — Kar Hao Teoh — who was murdered on the ‘wrong’ side of Cape Town, Kenny enjoys the privilege of not living in Nyanga. From his neck of the woods, that place is just another grim, beleaguered ‘wrong turn’, and Kenny is no doubt thankful that three decades after the death of apartheid, he can still have his cake and eat it. So when he pontificates that ‘We live in fear, especially in the poor black townships’, it’s merely for literary effect; the man knows nothing of the place.

Poplak, a journalist, doesn’t always have the privilege to ‘nearly’ make ‘wrong turn[s].’‘ Wrong turns are often the route to be taken when you want to get to the coalface. To Nyanga, Gugulethu or Eldorado Park; where the real, merciless slaying usually happens. Where guns pop off in broad daylight as gangs tussle it out, and sometimes the situation gets so bad that even the police have to rely on private security companies for their own protection.

In the ensuing abnormality, children as young as the slain Wilmien Potgieter (bless her innocent heart) are not only murdered, but are often the helpless victims of barbaric sexual violence. Entire families are assassinated, a pregnant woman hangs from a tree, another is burned alive – and that’s just those you read about. Now, hand people lik Poplak and De Vos the latest crime statistics while trying to convince them that the same is happening out on the farms, and they might be forgiven for not buying it.

What the subsequent furore in the wake of Malema’s sold-out gig achieved, was only to play right into the EFF leader’s hands. Look, I’m no fan of the man. In fact, even the choice of the song in question is much like a blundering kindergarten ditty in the enduringly rich oeuvre of struggle-era compositions.

But its deliberate selection achieves precisely the outcome unfolding before us, ditto Malema’s signature soundbytes – a lore. The barefoot kid from a gusty village, raised on his grandmother’s social welfare, lived in a hovel, did badly at school … and yet. At every turn, when he speaks, even a president not reputed to say much about the nation’s troubles issues a press statement. When the enfant terrible calls for a national shutdown, big business shrieks in pandemonium. Alas, just by singing, he is hauled before court, yet unflinchingly tells those long-haired white lawyers that someday they will suffer ‘chest pains’ because he is destined for the presidency. It feeds into the Juju myth; the ultimate township rags to riches story.

All that Kenny and the large numbers of hostile comments following his article achieve, is that they affirm a widely held black belief: that these okes just don’t get it. They live in a parallel universe of privilege; a privilege where they can arm themselves, hold dual citizenships, have enough money saved up to get away should the pogroms ever get under way, and sip fine wine in areas where the servant’s hand remains black. They can even look away from the grim history of this land and blame nobody but an incompetent black government for the state in which the country finds itself in.

Their black counterparts aren’t so lucky. To the 100 000 of them who were singing along to a song most of them probably didn’t even mean, it was likely a matter of getting on the bus to FNB Stadium because there would be a plate of food waiting when you got there. In those spaces, poverty is not just sociological nomenclature.

It is real youths who will stab and kill you for a cellphone. It’s a woman who murders her four children because she can no longer feed them. Sounds way too simplified, I know, but for the most part, it is just a matter of everybody wanting a better quality of life and understanding that those who have nothing will likely turn on those who have when the tummies begin to grumble. Now should not be the time for insults and drawing comparisons, certainly not for stirring unnecessary panic. Instead it’s precisely the time for Mr Kenny & Co to consider taking a wrong turn once in a while. But, if that should prove too daunting for an elderly white man, to at least consider putting himself in his fellow man’s shoes.

In so doing, he may well realise that not every darkie in a red t-shirt wants to slit his throat or occupy his house. Like most people anywhere, they too would like to die with a clean sheet – never having spilled any blood except that of the bovines they sometimes sacrifice to their ancestors. And by grasping this simple truth, he might be that much closer to ‘getting it’. Until then, we can all still agree that the song is in bad taste.

This is an edited version of an article by Phakamisa Mayaba that first appeared on his website, eParkeni.

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