Let’s begin in August 2016, in South Africa, when two white farmers, Theo Martins Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen, were convicted of attempted murder and kidnapping after forcing Victor Mlotshwa, a black man, into a coffin while threatening to burn him alive. They accused Mlotshwa of trespassing on their farmland and stealing cables, but Mlotshwa said he was taking a shorter route to the shops. Let’s fast forward to 24 October 2017, when a white wine farmer, Joubert Conradie, was shot by unknown assailants on his farm. Proceed further to the 27th of October 2017 when Jackson and Oosthuzien are sentenced to more than ten years behind bars for the ‘coffin case’.
White farmers in South Africa were enraged by only two of these seemingly unrelated events: the death of Conradie and the sentencing of Jackson and Oosthuzien. In fact, they were so enraged they took to the streets and social media on Monday the 30th of October, dressed in black. They called it #BlackMonday. Their claim: the South African justice system is not addressing numerous murders of white farmers, while giving harsh sentences to a considerably minor offence by two white farmers against a black man and, therefore, the justice system is racially biased. The question is what is #BlackMonday really about?
Crime disproportionately affects black and coloured communities more than white communities in South Africa, and certainly more than it does white farmers. So without clearly contextualized statistics to back this claim up, #BlackMonday becomes more political and emotional than it is factual. Gareth Newham, head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the Institute for Security Studies, recently noted that young black males in South Africa are the most likely to be murdered segment of the population. Which makes the political stance of white farmers in South Africa questionable. Their concerns about crime and the faulty justice system rise every now and then only when a white farmer is killed. There is an evident racial hierarchy of bodies present in which white deaths are deemed more important than the statistically backed reality of black deaths.
Here is where the seemingly unrelated sentencing of the ‘coffin case’ that ignited the tensions before Conradie’s murder becomes pertinent. These #BlackMonday protests were incited by disappointment towards the sentencing of two guilty white farmers by a black judge and a murder that occurred on a farm for which no one can demonstrate tangible racial motives. This shows the reason why white farmers feel threatened. White farmers, and consequently the white community in South Africa, are fighting to hold on to their privilege. Their privilege is twofold: economic privilege in the form of land, and social privilege to treat black bodies as less important when compared to white bodies. Jackson and Oosthuzien inhumanely forced a black man into a coffin, threatened to burn him alive, and were still outraged by the sentence. The presence of apartheid era flags during the #BlackMonday protest, social media pictures, and road blocks points to this fight to preserve privilege. Apartheid was a time during which whiteness was not only held as the norm, but its power over the politics of life and death was never questioned.
During apartheid white power was not limited to the economic sector, as it may appear to be now. It extended to the power over death and life, saying what bodies could be disposed of and how. Now that that power has been taken, as seen in the ‘coffin case’, it threatens those that held that privilege. It is as if to say, “What do you mean I cannot get away with treating black bodies as less than human?” Now that white farmers are victims of an issue that affects everyone, crime, and answer to a system that limits their control over the politics of life and death – they feel ‘threatened’. It is a phenomenon in many communities of privilege – to cry foul only when your privilege to oppress becomes questioned.
#BlackMonday protests have just revealed how much South Africa is a divided nation.
Many white South Africans, particularly white farmers, claim that they are the targets of a white genocide, that they are targeted by racially charged violent crimes. Africa Check, an organization that promotes statistically accurate reporting in media, concluded that it was difficult to accurately calculate farm murder rates. The term farm murders in itself is one that is complex. However, beyond the term’s technical complexity, “Farm murders” does more than locate the crime scene. It serves to create a narrative that these murders are different from any other criminal activities. That they happen on white owned farms because white farmers are the target. Never mind the fact that the historical acquisition of that land was one that was steeped in the murders and brutal exclusion of black people and eventually coloured people too as in the case of Die Vlakte, a coloured community of about 3700 that was disrupted by forced removals during apartheid, on which Stellenbosch University is built.
So by using term ‘farm murders’, white farmers are claiming that they are entitled to ownership of this property without questioning the historical significance, and present political economic repercussions of this ownership. Some protestors (or allies depending on whom you asked) during #BlackMonday threatened “No Farmers No Pap”. And here we have the problem: white farmers are aware that they own most of the agricultural land, and as such a large proportion of economic production. A recent land audit by Agri SA showed that white farmers in South Africa - who make up only 8.9 percent of the population - own 73% of agricultural land. The mere existence of the phrase ‘farm murders’ in a country in which whites hold most of the land points to their privilege and how, even in death, their status is singular and preeminent
So what really are they protesting in #BlackMonday with regards to the Conradie murder? The “right” to not be questioned about the racial inequality in land possession. The right to dehistoricise the present. The right to put more value on white lives, over black and coloured lives that face more crime on a daily basis. #BlackMonday proclaimed that white deaths are more important than black lives.
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