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South Africa, Why Are You Scared of White People?

The incident that took place at the Bloemfontein Maselspoort resort complex on the afternoon of Christmas 2022 reminded me of Julian Kunnie’s inquiry on democratic South Africa when he quizzed, “Is apartheid dead?” At the resort, two teenage boys of African descent were involved in a racist scuffle with several seemingly Dutch descendants [Afrikaners/ white people] about the use of a swimming pool that was ‘exclusively segregated for whites only’. Social media was abuzz about the incident and the New York Times strangely got hold of the story and video footage of the incident. Most members of the society condemned this a “racism-influenced” action while some praised the teenagers as ‘heroes of the year’. The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa was reported to have said two days after the incident, “racism has no place in South Africa and racists must expect harsh consequences in terms of the law”. In his statement, he further commended the police for “opening a docket and launching an investigation into the case of a suspected racism”. Upon hearing racism and police in the same speech, I was instantly prompted to a farm murder ‘stakeholders’ meeting held on 22 September 2020 in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal province where a question was posed to Bheki Cele the Minister of Police, “Nibasabani abelungu, Ndosi” [why are you scared of white people?]. This interrogation was made by Somnandi Hadebe upon submitting that “iinkinga zethu ziqhamuka kubelungu”. Hadebe, a Zulu-speaking African farm dweller, was arguing that Africans’ problems are because of white people or European settlers. 

Hadebe’s inquiry brought back memories of musician Mfiliseni Magubane’s trembling voice in Mbongeni Ngema’s 1993 song, “African Solution”. On the eve of this release, violence had plagued Black South African communities. Magubane depicted South Africa rhythmically as “a promised land invaded by white settlers, where the African ancestors had fought relentlessly against that invasion”. In a quest to have Africans refocused on real liberatory politics instead of fighting one another, Magubane chanted, “Nibasabani abelungu”; a question that reverberated in South Africa’s mass and social media alike on 22 September 2020. Ramaphosa places the responsibility of policing racism primarily on the South African Police Service (SAPS) and judiciary. I wondered whether he understands the history of police and policing attitudes in this country concerning white people and racism. Perhaps he understood however is suffering from ‘hypnotic’ amnesia. In these following passages, I will attempt to help the President and all who seemingly have conveniently ‘forgotten’ the attitude of police and racism in this country.

On various platforms, the police, through its Minister have always denied that they fear white people but our interrogation of the police’s actions regarding this denial provides a different detail. In August 2012, thirty-two African miners were killed by the South African police in Marikana after a protracted strike that demanded an R12 500.00 minimum wage. The claim against the miners was that they were operating outside the ‘rule of law’, meaning they were violent. The uncommunicated pressure to resort to the massacre was the pressure from white investors who were ‘losing’ substantial amounts due to the strike.   Another incident occurred on 19 October 2015; police shot and arrested University of Cape Town (UCT) Black students’ protesters during a #feesmustfall protest. Again, on 27 August 2020 police fired rubber bullets injuring Eldorado Park Black protestors who were demonstrating against the killing of a Black boy, Nathaniel Julius by a police official. Through precise evaluation, UCT Black #feesmustfall protesters use a ‘white human shield’ as protection on the next day’s protest. The ‘white human shield’ was a wall of white students who created a barrier between Black protestors and police. ‘Magically’ on this day, no shots were discharged, and no arrests were made by the police. In October 2020, white protestors in the Free State town of Senekal burnt a police van, stormed the Senekal court, and threatened to destroy a police inyala, and again ‘magically’ no bullets were discharged with no arrests being made by the police. In contrast to the police’s performance towards Black protesters, the ministers of Police and that of State Security at the time opted to have a ‘conversation” with white protesters in Senekal, an attitude that is scarcely engaged towards Africans. On reminiscing about these differing policing approaches, Hadebe’s question lingered in my head; “Nibasabani abelungu; Ndosi”? 

To answer this unsettling inquiry which seems to collide with Kunnie’s question, I draw the reader to the colonial apartheid development of policing in South Africa.  The systemic policing of this country has been institutionalized from the very origins of colonialism and apartheid-era policing. It was founded and developed within the context of racially exclusive power and racial discrimination of the colonial period after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. During the later years of National Party rule, the role of the police concerning the Black community was demarcated in terms of discriminatory legislation which was designed to control and regulate the lives and activities of South Africa’s Black population. That system is what seals itself in policy formulation, governance, politics, policing, and social arrangement, including the judiciary of post-apartheid South Africa. Post-1994, the ANC adopted a developmentalism creed that was expressed in its “national democratic revolution” (NDR) and it has influenced Black and white people’s interactions to this day. The developmentalism schema continues to entrench the modern colonial matrix of power where the life, body, and voice of a Black person are cast in what Franz Fanon terms ‘a zone of non-being, as seen in the Maselspoort resort incident. 

The usurpation of indigenous people’s land and the forced capitalist economic system is now disguised with the clever talk of ‘democracy’, respect for the ‘rule of law’, human rights, and ‘private properties’; the latter being the private volkstaat. The liberatory creed of Mayibuye i_Afrika has since been replaced by “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”, as depicted in Ramaphosa’s speech on 27 December 2022. In this ‘new tactic’, the oppressor’s colonial logic of white supremacy is dominant since the ‘human’ in the human rights discourse has proven constantly that it refers to white people.  At present, through Hadebe’s question, we see that South Africa’s democratization did not rise to the decolonization challenge as understood in the African liberatory creed. Rather, the slave-master relations of whites being a representation of a civilized master while Blacks are barbaric slaves endures. Hadebe illuminates this reality in his query. How will the opening of the docket and an investigation help in policing racism?  

In the stakeholders meeting of Newcastle, Minister Cele did not resolve Hadebe’s question. Many believe that ‘Ndosi’ managed to politically evade the direct question posed to him, however, history has provided an answer to the question. When the police did not engage the ‘white human shield’ at UCT, and when they did not sprout with rubber bullets the white protestors at Senekal but rather opted to have a ‘cordial’ conversation, that was confirmatory that indeed are afraid of white people because white people are ‘human beings’ and Black people are ‘non-beings’. A political, economic, and social situation of modern South Africa.  The congress movement [ANC] has refined Africans to accept the status quo of white supremacy and Black inferiority, Mangaliso Sobukwe imparted that “it is the task of Africans to exorcize this slave mentality, where they must choose to starve in freedom than to have plenty in bondage”. He added, “there must be no begging of the foreign minority to treating our people courteously, but rather the Africans/Blacks must assert their African personality”. Unfortunately, the ANC and its policing schema, either on racism or other domains have accepted indignity, insults, humiliation, and inferiority because they see ‘abelungu’ as more human than other people. Thank you to Hadebe Ngelengele for exposing yet the need for the decolonization of South Africa. Mayibuye i_Afrika.

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Thand’Olwethu Dlanga is a public commentator and a host of Pont De Politique YouTube channel. He is a student of History and Political Sciences with specific interest in Political History.

Dlanga is a Master degree candidate at the University of a Pretoria in South Africa; his academic research is focused on the curation of public memory in a post-apartheid South Africa. He holds National Diplomas in Public Sector Management, Public Relations and a BA degree triple major.

He organizes for the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and is the Chairperson of #Walk4Access- a non profit organization that raises funds for the financially needy university students.

He writes in his personal capacity.

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