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We are now politically empowered and shouldn’t behave like we are still victims

Anti racism signing for the Department of Justice. Picture: Phando Jikelo

Anti racism signing for the Department of Justice. Picture: Phando Jikelo

Published Aug 1, 2022


Letepe Maisela

Johannesburg - The erstwhile Apartheid regime saw a communist behind every bush.

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Much earlier in the United States of America of the early 1940’s and 50’s, their authorities saw a lot of Communists behind a lot of bushes too.

Under a Governor called Joseph McCarthy, who made it his hobby to bounty hunt of so-called Communists, this led to even a lot of non-Communists being caught in the broad fishing nets and suffering the consequences.

It is stated that McCarthyism focused on people of power including Entertainers and Government workers. Even in the absence of any material evidence, the allegation was enough to ruin the accused’s reputation.

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People lost jobs, their societal status giving rise to some suffering serious psychological effects such as alcoholism, often leading to suicides. All this without any tangible evidence. It was the Witch Hunt of the worst kind then.

Enter South Africa 2022 in the new millennium and we the former victims of Apartheid are now on a mission to ferret out racists in our midst and deal with them accordingly.

This is taking place in a South Africa where politically speaking, the African majority are now in power and some take this as an opportunity to get even, and give our former oppressors their comeuppance. Some cynic psychopath once remarked that revenge is sweeter than life, but I digress.

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What is happening in the not so new democratic South Africa, is that most of us just like the Apartheid regime, have now developed a hobby to look for and ferret racists behind each fynbos bush – pun intended. Fynbos or not. These thoughts ran through my mind when I read how a certain White student had publicly or was it privately, urinated on the belongings of a Black University of Stellenbosch student, who stood aside and calmly recorded the entire crime in motion on his smartphone.

All he muttered was ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ The man simply earned my trophy as the calmest man. My kids would have probably described him as the coolest under the circumstances.

Try doing that on my precious personal possessions and see the wrath that might provoke in me, whilst naturally I am perceived as the friendly and non-violent type. The urinator also reciprocated calmly, responding: ‘ that is what we White guys do.’

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It was not until the incident was posted on Social Media that the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Let me state a disclaimer. I am not trying to trivialise the ugly incident of peeing on somebody’s possessions and try to reduce it to an innocent youthful prank.

All I am saying is that it was only when adults like the parents of both boys invited themselves into the debacle that all rationality was lost. Had the incident been left for the two youths to resolve, I am sure that they could have settled it themselves over a glass of Coca Cola or whatever youth of twenty years drink whenever settling such matters these days.

All I know is that the aggrieved youth initially, despite posting it online, never reported the incident to either parents or University authorities. According to what I read he said that all he wished was for the whole embarrassing incident to be forgotten.

What I describe as the victim lynch mob mentality could not accept that. They were not prepared to let such an opportunity of exposing the racist culprit and lead him to the guillotine, be lost.

Like the witch that was caught in the middle of the act, it has to be accordingly burnt on the stake. It was only when external influencers like SASCO and other student and community based activist organisations entered the fray, that the decision to seek redress was no longer in the hands of the victim who suffered the actual incident. That was when due to the recurring public outcry, the Central Disciplinary Committee of Stellenbosch University finally stirred awake and belatedly bore its stained teeth.

Now this is how the events unfolded leading to the expulsion of the urinator from Stellenbosch University, that former bastion of Afrikaner Calvinistic morality.

Initially the victim resisted both his family, friends and colleagues to be a man and do something to recover his dignity. He argued that he would not like to report the incident to our lawmakers as he put himself in the position of the perpetrator and did not want him to be punished.

As he put it to his father, he was also a young man and somebody’s son. A display of such humane compassion however elicited a deluge of condemnation and mockery from those that felt he was being too forgiving, and that the perpetrator and his like would take that as an invite to continue with their racist abusive ways.

It was just a matter of time and he surrendered and agreed with the general public lynch mob sentiment, that to forgive and forget under the circumstances was tantamount to selling his soul.

Even though the perpetrator rather belatedly apologised for partaking in the sordid incident at a Huiz Marais Residence meeting and the apology was captured live on television, the horse had long bolted. Now everybody who was somebody in the activist community took over.

The Student Representative Council at Stellenbosch wanted the perpetrator who was already suspended to be expelled outright. The family of the victim concurred. In the meantime, the victim was urged to open a criminal case with its bells and whistles.

After all he had personally recorded the incident himself, so he won’t need any form of eye witnesses to attest to what he experienced. SASCO was not to be left out in the cold on this one, especially during our cold Winter of load shedding discontent. Our Minister of Higher Education lived up to his moniker ‘Blade’.

Like Brutus in Julius Caesar he struck the final stab. Condemning what he described as a racist urination at Stellenbosch, he concluded that ‘there is no place for such behaviour or people at our universities’. Et tu Blade!

Then when television joined the fray, it was a foregone conclusion that the alleged perpetrator of the said crime shall be hung to dry. Even before a Thursday that was promised to hold a mass movement of demonstration by the ANC Youth League could take place, the university administration capitulated and caved in like a baked cake that did not have enough yeast.

Theuns du Toit became the first student to be expelled from Stellenbosch University after being accused and found guilty of racism. The decision was arrived at even in the absence of his accuser, who did not attend the disciplinary hearing.

Having watched the unfolding debacle over days, I had a feeling that all that mobilization amounted to one using a ten-pound hammer to smash an annoying mosquito. One ends up with a smashed wall as well.

I don’t for once suggest that racism is not a scourge in our South African society and needs to be eliminated but are we not making a big deal of an isolated incident while caught in the midst of worse socio-political events since the birth of our democracy?

In recent weeks we have read of mass shootings, 21 teenagers dying in a Shebeen in East London, while almost daily we have to endure load shedding and intermittent water shortages. Our protests are usually rather muted, only for our national ire to be awakened in an isolated incident of racism by a 19 year -old.

My conclusion is that for South Africa and the World for that matter, to get rid of racism, the White parents and communities need to teach their children that they are equal to everybody else, including Blacks. Racism is not an inherited trait but one instilled into children by parents and society. Punishing White children for being racist is like dealing with the effect while the cause is left untouched.

That is why to me the manner in which the whole debacle was resolved, represents nothing but a pyrrhic victory. As for my South African folk of a Black kind, we must not forget that we are now politically empowered and we should not behave like we are still victims as we were during Apartheid years. With power comes responsibility and authority.

Both Stellenbosch and Country are in a worse position than before the incident. That was yet another deadly blow to the envisaged promotion of Social Cohesion in South Africa

Maisela is an author and a management consultant.