I stuck up for the #ImStaying group.
When many of my friends were criticising it, I defended it as a harmless – and positive – way to get people talking across cultural lines.
Sure, it was very middle class and didn’t truly reflect SA’s demographics. Sure, it had banned some people for getting too political – many of which happened to be black, but I argued that it was the wrong platform to try and fight for and social justice. It’s just meant to be a light-hearted, positive space, I said.
It took Fritz Joubert, ranting in his Springboks shirt about how he’s staying, shortly before allegedly bludgeoning a black man to death with so much force that he broke the butt of his rifle, to burst my bubble.
Suddenly, I got it.
Fritz Joubert was not your stereotypical racist, white South African. He was training to become a sangoma. He had the nickname Majeke. His victim, Anele Hoyana, was a friend who was staying at his farm. And Fritz’s Facebook wall shows how he used the #ImStaying hashtag at every opportunity and was a proud member of the #ImStaying Facebook group.
In the end, none of that got in the way of a gruesome act of violence that, as many of those who have watched those awful videos can attest, had undeniably, disturbingly racial undertones.
What happened is in no way #ImStaying’s fault, but the fact that someone like Fritz Joubert could feel comfortable being a member of the group is a problem.
The #ImStaying group allows you to say “I’m staying” – as if that in itself was deserving of some kind of prize – but on my terms.
It’s perfectly possible to call yourself a member of the rainbow nation, to proudly declare that you’re staying, while also thinking black people should stop being obsessed with race and that they should get over apartheid.
And if what Fritz Joubert did was an isolated incident in rural South Africa, maybe that way of thinking would be acceptable. But if you take it in the context of Coligny and the coffin incident, can you really blame black people for being angry? And these are just the more high profile cases. In January 2018, a farm worker was shot dead, allegedly by his employer, for stealing a tractor. In December 2017, a white farmer shot one of his black workers, who was mourning at a funeral. In 2015, a white farmer beat one of his black workers to death with a spade.
Yes, there are white people killed in brutal farm attacks. And yes, racially based crimes are just one of the many forms of toxic violence South Africans face – gender-based violence, xenophobic attacks, hijackings, armed attacks, and so on. But all of these crimes reflect a system which has not dealt with inequality, which has stared down and defeated apartheid only in superficial ways. And while government must not in any way be exonerated for their role in failing to create stability and tackle inequality, white South Africa generally speak as if they themselves bare no personal responsibility.
I’m Staying, boet. Isn’t that lekker? Hand me a beer.
The day after Fritz Joubert did what he did, Afriforum will once again fight for the apartheid flag in court, a symbol of hatred that causes deep pain to the vast majority of South Africans. In this context, how can we possibly judge black rage as if it exists in a vacuum?
Even on a much more mundane level, I look at the area where I live, where mostly white people live behind massive walls with electric fences, paranoid about every black person who walks down our streets, tracking people on cameras and flagging every person who stops by a tree on Whatsapp groups.
I don’t know if I’m Staying anymore.
But if I do leave, it won’t be because of the crime or Eskom or the ANC.
It will be because, for a while, I thought that as white South Africans, we could truly shed the baggage of our past and work together with the majority of South Africa to create real change.
Right now, I’m not so sure.
The Citizen digital news editor Daniel Friedman. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark.
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