The march against farm murders last Monday brought a few issues to the fore. I will reduce them to three: crime, racism and our past.
From the outset, let me state that people have the right to march in protest against the murder of members of their community. Indeed, we have seen township communities take to the streets against the murder of children, for example. I once joined the community of Diepsloot in a march of this nature.
Week in and week out, we see South Africans marching against this or that. Citizens have the right to take to the streets to march or picket. Section 17 of the constitution refers to everyone’s right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions. Holding a gathering and airing grievances in public is one way to get the attention of people in power.
And if last week’s protesters felt a march was one way in which they could get the attention of the authorities to murders which occur on farms, they were within their right to protest. But I would contend that what they were marching about could have been framed somewhat differently. Murder - any murder - is horrible, and all lives matter.
As seen from the recently released crime statistics, South Africa has a notoriously high number and rate of murder. In 2016/17, the police recorded a total of 19 016 murders - up from 18673 murders in 2015/16. The murder rate increased marginally from 34 to 34.1 per 100 000 people. This is, by any stretch of imagination, a national crisis. Blacks, whites, farmers, children and women are the victims of these murders. We all united in our victimhood.
A better cause would have been served if the organisers had reached out to all racial groups to join them in a march against murder and/or crime. Even if the highlighted category were farm murders, an attempt should have been made to mobilise across the colour line.
Unfortunately, in the end the perception was created that murder affects a particular race group, or section within that race group, more than it does other race groups or sections of society.
Crime affects us all, and instead of dividing us, it should unite us. When we racialise crime, criminals will win against us all.
It did not help that there was a minority within the marchers who chose to display the old apartheid flag. That flag represents racism and white supremacy. Its hoisting demonstrated how deep the poison of racism has seeped into the psyche of some among my own kind. Even what was supposed to be an “innocent” march could not escape the pollution of a seemingly ineradicable stain of white supremacy.
But we must thank the bigots who displayed the apartheid flag. They have, in a way, reminded us of our unfinished business as a country. South Africa has yet to have a candid discussion on racism. We must, from our churches to our workplaces and schools, embrace the discussion of racism by directly engaging the issue of white supremacy and the damage it has caused, not only to black people but within white society itself.
The other issue of the display of the flag is reminding us of is how as a nation we want to reconcile and memorialise that dark period of our history. We haven’t resolved this question. Do we want to be like America that protects the right of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to hold public rallies and express their views openly?
Or do we want to emulate Germany, which has strict laws banning Nazi symbols and what is called Volksverhetzung - incitement of the people, or hate speech. We have made progress on hate speech (we have laws against it), but unlike Germany and more than a dozen European countries which have laws criminalising Holocaust denial, in South Africa people are allowed to make light of apartheid and to tell its victims to “get over it”.
There are no statues of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels gracing public squares in Berlin, let alone Nazi flags or other Nazi art. Public Nazi imagery was long ago destroyed, and swastikas were long since knocked off the walls of Nazi-era buildings. The only Nazi imagery you will find is in exhibits in museums devoted to understanding the horror of the period.
There is something to be learnt from Germany’s decisiveness and commitment to facing its own dark past. It believed a mix of education - and limiting free speech by banning Nazi symbols - was the only way to ensure the past would remain past.
And so, my message to both the governing party and the EFF, who were highly offended - and correctly so - by the display of the apartheid flag, here’s your task for 2018: pass a law banning the apartheid flag and its display in public. The apartheid flag is hurtful and opens old wounds for the black majority. It must go.
* Pastor Ray McCauley is the president of Rhema Family Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.