Monday, September 07, 2009

The Brandon Huntley story and the re-racialisation of South Africa

Probably the best written, well thought out point of view yet on the whole sorry Huntley refugee saga. Nicely done Michael Francis.

South Africa continues to be one of the most polarised nations on earth with race still being one of the most contentious issues. Brandon Huntley’s story merely points this out once again. The ruling party and indeed many people in the country still use apartheid-era categorisations. Instead of fighting for a non-racial South Africa far too many people seek to reaffirm old splits and old categories. I hate using and writing the categories out: white, black, coloured, Indian and so on as if they are meaningful beyond crude politics and social norms. Yet I am forced to do so by the very discourse of the country; so I do so begrudgingly.

I find it indicative of the stupidity of some of the commentators on the issue that accuse Canada of racism in their refugee policies. Canada has a wonderful refugee programme that accepts people from all over the world and of all hues. I have known Vietnamese, Colombian, Chilean, Somali, American (draft dodgers from Vietnam), Rwandan, Palestinian, Russians and know of numerous other nationals living as refugees in Canada. All were accepted on a case-by-case basis and never on the basis of their race. Some of these may have been false claims, some of these drains on the social system, but most settle in and work and live as Canadians. We are an immigrant nation and I know few people without recent historic memory of another place and identity.

Huntley’s claim that he was attacked seven times without police intervention and that race was a factor is not really surprising. I know a number of people who were assaulted at Umbilo police station for complaining to the police about the prostitution in the Glenwood area. They were told to go back to Europe and even beaten. I personally witnessed one such assault on a small white woman. I know that many people in Glenwood of Durban no longer bother to report crimes unless they are claiming insurance as the police do not investigate or appear to even care.

And of course crime is not always race based. The police do not seem to care about anybody regardless of race and black South Africans are subject to all sorts of violent crime and the same violent indifference by the police. What changes the factors in Huntley’s story is that he felt he was targeted because he was white. This is probably true as many people keep pointing out that whites are still the largely in economically dominant positions. The perception that Huntley would be a worthwhile target is probably based on his race even as it was probably incorrect.

Now to add to the global perception that race is all determining in the “New” South Africa think of the hateful comments being made by certain political leaders, high court judges and the fact that there are double standards in South African race politics. If a high court judge makes a racist utterance there is no appropriate response. If Malema makes wild accusations and threatens violence against whites there is no response. Couple such high profile racist remarks with the high crime and violence in South Africa is surely going to trigger race based fears among whites.

It has been pointed out that unemployment among whites is at a low of 4,6% compared to 29,7% for black South Africans. Shocking disparity, but it does not take into account the million or so white South Africans who have left South Africa often citing better job opportunities elsewhere, lack of crime and all around better standard of living. Had these million or more stayed what would be the white unemployment rate?

To deny that many whites feel persecuted in South Africa is a violent act. It affirms their fears that they do not belong in South Africa and are unwelcome here. Even if their perception is incorrect and criminals are merely opportunists (no doubt this is true in many regards) their fears and perception should be acknowledged and dealt with. Instead they are accused of racism, told to leave South Africa and have their worst fears confirmed.

Another “fact” that is often cited is that black male South Africans are most likely to be a murder victim and black women are most likely to be sexually assaulted or raped. While these are not disputed statistics one should question the rate of murder among whites when you consider the number that live behind large electric fences, gated communities and have private security. Clearly all is not well in South Africa. The government’s lacklustre response to crime besetting everyone is appalling and, perhaps ironically, affects poor blacks the most.

I should not have to mention the violence experienced by African forieners in South Africa recently. If you look at the Canadian immigration website, they, too would be probably be accepted into Canada.

Here is the Canadian criteria straight from the Canadian Immigration website

Convention Refugee
Convention refugees are people who are outside their home country or the country where they normally live, and who are unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on:

• race
• religion
• political opinion
• nationality or
• membership in a particular social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation.

Person in need of protection

A person in need of protection is a person in Canada whose removal to their home country or country where they normally live would subject them personally to:

• a danger of torture;
• a risk to their life; or
• a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

And perhaps it will come to naught as Huntley’s claim may yet be rejected. However, it would be wrong to dismiss the claims as without any merit. As long as South African are defined by race the exist the very real threat of racial injustice and discrimination against those deemed unacceptable exists, be they whites, Mozambicans or Zimbabweans. South Africa has enough problems without re-creating the apartheid past in a new fashion that once again benefits an elite minority.

15 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

This article is so true. I remember growing up during apartheid and hardly ever thinking about race, now it's all I do.
Multi-racial societies just NEVER work!

Viking said...

"It has been pointed out that unemployment among whites is at a low of 4,6% compared to 29,7% for black South Africans"

This has been touted as evidence that whites are not oppressed in quite a few sources now. What exactly is it supposed to prove??
It means NOTHING - it doesn't take into account that nobody knows what the black unemployment rate is because they most work informally and don't pay tax - not to mention those of their number who live off crime.
Also, it ignores cultural factors. I knew at least one black guy who gave up his job because his wife got one. Blacks have a high propensity to live off each other and not seek work.
Are the figures based on those claiming unemployment benefits from the state? Does anyone believe these recipients are not working as well? Would they give up their benefits if they found "work" in the informal sector? I think not.
And finally, white people have a greater tendency to start their own businesses when they can't find work. I couldn't even count the number of white suburban South Africans I know who are self-employed. Half of my suburb, according to my estate-agent neighbour, are in that category. Which is one reason house prices have gone down here. FICA has hit the self-employed worst of all, making me even wonder if it was intended for that purpose.
When I had my own business, ALL the neighbouring businesses were run by whites (mostly Afrikaners) pushed out of high-profile jobs in large companies like SAA by black empowerment.
Those figures prove nothing, and are counterproductive.

Vanilla Ice said...

@Viking. Indeed. I read recently that most white South African males are self-employed. The suggestion that somehow corporate SA continues to hire whites, regardless, is nonesense. I also read recently that as many as 1 in 3 Afrikaners lives in poverty. So I don't know who started that statistic or where it comes from.

Islandshark said...

Isn't it amazing how these meaningless statistics are recorded to the letter of the law, but the ones that matter can't be bothered with?

Censorbugbear said...

OPEN letter to Canadian journalist about Brandon Huntley. Feel free to copy and post anywhere you care to:

Censorbugbear said...

South African unemployment rates are based solely on the applications for unemployment benefits, which moreover only last for 6 months.

However, most 'whites', being from the 'previously-advantaged race group', often are only employed under temporary employment contracts - and thus do not even qualify for unemployment benefits after their 'temporary contracts' are ended. This includes the large number of white teachers who are now being fired by the Department of Education. Hence, they are also NOT RECORDED as "unemployed' in the official South African statistics. That 4.6% touted by the SA authorities thus is just another huge ANC-propaganda lie, like so many others.

These facts can be ascertained readily from Solidarity Trade Union at

Viking said...

Thanks CB.
the figures just didn't seem right!
The message from government is that - the public purse is only for blacks. Others make their own way.
What white person would even bother queue up for government services.
One in three Afrikaners in poverty sounds like a lot. When in Nelspruit I was told there were poor whites living in shacks. I never saw them but (unlike BC!) I never doubted the veracity of the reports; I was engaged to a boeremeisie at the time!
It would be terrible to be poor and white in the new SA, when the government doesn't give a toss even about their OWN people...

Anonymous said...

I'm a non-white citizen,also part of a minority group in this country.I attended a majority white high school and attend a majority black tertiary education institute.I have been mugged twice by people of my own race.The only time I (and probably many of you reading this) experience/d race related agendas is when I read or watch the news.Many lives lived in SA are(I've experienced)not race impacted.I live in Cape Town where there is an abundance of culture living hand in hand.Inter-mixing and inter-breeding is as common place as table mountain is.The NEWS excites race issues and all of a sudden its perceived to be common place,and we make it a huge part of our lives.Every race, creed, gender is losing work and money, and are becoming victims of crime these days.BEE is supposed to be an exercise to empower previously disadv societies.The act of oppression in education during appartheid is one of the reasons the black community is at such a disadvantage in almost every way.I lecture at a university and the majority of cases, when a white student enrolls, s/he is computer literate.A black student enrolls and has never seen a computer before.The white student passes with high marks but gave the bare minimum. The black student passes with the bare minimum but worked twice as hard as for what is required.This,I feel,is grounds for affirmative action.Cime in this country is a problem rooted deep in poverty and previously disadvantaged societies.It is indeed a product of apartheid, directly and indirectly,and can only be rectified if those issues are seen to.Proper education,empowerment,and opportunities need to be put in place by a CAPABLE government.

Viking said...

Anonymous 3:37
Thankyou for your input.
You point out that, at university, "when a white student enrolls, s/he is computer literate.A black student enrolls and has never seen a computer before"
Someone who has never seen a computer before should NOT be in a university. The solution to the problem you mention is better secondary education. Now, the ANC has been in charge for 15 years, and that is longer than the time it takes for the education of one child. Where are these educated children?
Affirmative Action does NOT solve this problem - it merely insists that you, the lecturer, spend your time (and the university's money) showing the students how to plug in the computer. It does NOT provide adequate secondary education to provide the third level with qualified candidates. Affirmative action means giving every athlete a medal without bothering to have a race, because training them would be too much trouble.

"The white student passes with high marks but gave the bare minimum. The black student passes with the bare minimum but worked twice as hard as for what is required."

This has nothing to do with black and white- this happens at all universities. Your black student works twice as hard - great. Good on him, he should be commended for his effort.
Affirmative Action would give him the same marks as the white candidate even thought he DIDN'T score as well.

"Cime in this country is a problem rooted deep in poverty and previously disadvantaged societies.It is indeed a product of apartheid"

Crime is NOT caused by poverty. Even if it was, the accompanying violence isn't.

The only solution to the problems you describe is government investment in education - not giving a free ride to people because of their skin colour. It might surprise you to know that using our taxes to achieve proper education is something most white South Africans do NOT begrudge the ANC.

Vanilla Ice said...

@Anon 3:37. Thanks for the contribution. I too have been a lecturer, and I can attest to your remarks regarding students. Frankly, across the board I was not impressed with our student body; and you are right; the glaring differences between the students is horrific.

There is no denying that Apartheid could have done a better job at educating the masses, but retrospective reflection does not answer whether better education would have made a difference; that is assumed. It can be argued that current levels of education are so poor, that we have reduced an entire nation to the lowest common denominator. That isn't going to help anybody either.

Whether Apartheid can be blamed for the continued poor performance of blacks is debatable. Time will tell, however, whether adjustments to education policy, empowerment and the like, will create a nation that is able to sustain itself.

My personal feeling is that the blind pursuit of egalitarianism, to the extent that everything must reflect our national demographics in all areas, is doomed to fail. Merit needs to be recognised, and in the areas where some races/individuals/ethnicities excel we should not view others as continuing to be oppressed.

Anonymous said...

I am a white South African now living in Canada. My husband and I made our own way just after he finished trade school and became a qualified electrician. He was from a poor white Afrikaner family travelling around from family member to family member with his aged mother trying to survive. When I met him he was 19 completing his grade 12 and his apprenticeship at the same time. He completed his electrical apprenticeship in 2 years instead of 3 and passed his trade test with distinction. He never owned a computer, the first he ever used was mine. He knew nothing about them, had never used the internet. Never had cable tv. His clothes had holes and he only had hand me downs, one pair of shoes and took minibus taxis to work because he couldn't afford transport.
He is now a Canadian (re)qualified Journeyman electrician with the biggest oil company in the world. His field is the highest paid in North America. We live a good life now, have everything we want. Don't tell me coming from a disadvantaged background and being underpriviledged qualifies you for being a lout and criminal. He had nothing but determination, drive and wanted to be a respectable member of society. He has achieved everything he dreamed of and more and I am so proud to have been with him from the start to witness his triumphant climb from having nothing to having everything.

I am currently a university student studying Anthropology and I would love to do some research and conduct fieldwork in South Africa. I want to see what people really think, how some delude themselves into think it'll all get better, when exactly is that? It's been 15 years. How much longer?

I applaude Brandon Huntley you have done what so many want to do but are afraid to. You bring the real condition of South Africa into the spotlight. You should be an activist.

Vanilla Ice said...

@Anon 1:27. Thanks for your inspirational feedback. It makes me proud to read such stories. I too am a Canadian, living in Calgary. Many of us are already activists. We give what little time we have to keep the world informed. A very small percentage of our people have the means to secure a better life elsewhere (regardless of race); we have a responsibility to help those left behind. The Brandon Huntleys' need our support.

Doberman said...

Indeed VI. We are all doing our little bit but together we form a large movement.

Vanilla Ice said...

I suspect once this is all "done and dusted", the ANC and others will be staggered by the voluminous anecdotes, evidence and graphic descriptions of horrific torture, and personal loss, attributed to black perpetrators. There are going to be loud screams of racism.

Doberman said...

I think the ANC making a big stink about Huntley will prove to be a big mistake. If what they want is thousands of people revealing their horror stories to the world, this case will do it. I want then to see people like Trapido & co. continue to dismiss these stories as those of mere "chancers".