Is Black Monday helping South Africa, November 2017

This article first appeared in The Intelligence Bulletin  7/11/2017

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The call for protest against farm murders, as well as the protest actions on so-called Black Monday, 29 October 2017, have led to opposing reactions.

Interviews with participants in this peaceful protest create the impression that it was an emotional catharsis for people who had personally experience of farm murders. It also seems to have released the emotions of a frustrated and concerned public fed up with the high incidence of murders on farms. It generated much energy in the white community, which is, in the main, generally a passive audience of the political arena. Many whites might express their dissatisfaction without ever becoming actively involved in social issues.

The use of the word “black” Monday and the request that people should wear black on the day was very unfortunate. South Africa is hypersensitive with regard to colour, for understandable reasons. The Black Consciousness Movement, and specifically Steve Biko, argued that the use of the word black as a way to describe the negative (in relation, for example, to what is not “white”), is a way to dehumanise black people in a country where white stands for good and black for bad. The organisers effectively showed their insensitivity to this by rallying around the word “black”. This is also demonstrated by the fact that the majority of the participants were “white”, with very few black faces visible on television. Ironically, the turnout made it more of a White Monday.

The statistics regarding farm murders are of great concern and require the urgent attention of the government. In my opinion, however, the way this protest was planned and executed did not succeed in making a serious impact on the perceptions of policymakers and the majority of voters in the country. I have my doubts whether it will move the important issue of farm murders to centre stage. Unfortunately, the image created was that it was mainly a white political issue – although we know that it is more than just a white issue. The wellbeing of farmers and their employees is of great importantance to South Africa’s food security as well as to financial wellbeing and employment.

Violence in South Africa touches nearly everyone, especially those with very limited means to defend themselves. The more resources any of us have, the more security we can buy for ourselves. Having your own vehicle already safeguards you against a certain violent element. It would be of greater value to rally and march against violence by getting all communities in the country to stand together against the scourge of violence everywhere – in families, communities, schools, on public transport, on farms and elsewhere. To a large extent, the violence in our country is a social issue. Political murders and violence against vulnerable groups reflect South Africa’s social structure. But violence as a social issue is larger than violence as a political issue. This does not mean that politicians do not have any responsibility in this regard.

Tackling violence in South Africa as a national issue has the potential to unite divided communities and start a national dialogue for peace. Peace is a dream we can sell to most South Africans of all languages. The long-term effect of such a national dream could take us forward, rather than emphasising the divisions and creating even more divisions in our society.

Frederik B O Nel (Pastoral Therapist; Life Coach and Social Commentator)

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