terre’blanche, the media, and ‘ironies’.


The media frenzy over Eugene Terre’Blanche’s death has been a great source of interest over the past few weeks. It turned out to be remarkable for this blog, as I wrote a little piece on Mr. TB and the AWB over a month before his death. Sadly, no journalist (to my knowledge) thought it fit to reprint my inkling, that the AWB were on their way to formulating a (very indigenous-esque) land rights-based discourse, based on the historical exposition of property law as it developed in South Africa.

Rather, in the white popular media, emanating strongly from England and America, most journalists were motivated to show off their amazing rhetoric and hyperbole to (re-)prove just how repugnant that old chestnut (the racist white South Africa) still is. Violence in South Africa (read: the ‘poor, angry black’), in these accounts, was the exceptional but natural consequence of post-apartheid reconfigurations (read: the ‘evil whites’). What would have been more refreshing is if the authors contextualised the murder within a number of historical patterns of rural unrest, mistrust, reconciliation and compensation that feature not only in Southern Africa, but all settler sites.

Rather disconcertingly, parts of academic discourse reproduced a classic black/white binary just as good as the media. In the H-net discussion server – which is a brilliant resource, btw – two discussions on Violence in South Africa slowly transformed into a mudslinging debate centred around the ‘race’ of the writers and the meaning of a particular turn of phrase. As the discussion wore on, it became embarrassing to participate and even to read.

A recent article in a Kenyan newspaper has been published, that brings – albeit selectively and a little curiously in places – a number of conjunctures and ironies into focus with an appraisal of Eugene Terre’Blanche’s death and recent violence in South Africa. It is the most refreshing thing I have read on the whole furore. Jenerali Ulimwengu, ‘Terre’blanche the white supremacist is dead, the ironies of oppression live on’, The East African (via AllAfricaNews):

That he should die in a pay dispute is an anticlimax. One other irony is that he should get himself killed at a time when his antics had become so irrelevant to the politics of South Africa that the only interest he was drawing was from those in the business of studying curious insects.

Sadly, the ironies surrounding Terre’blanche and people of his ilk do not end there. His name — meaning ‘white land’ — suggests French ancestry. My guess is his people were among the French Huguenots who fled France to escape persecution at the hands of rabid Catholic inquisitors who were hunting down and burning at the stake all followers of the doctrine taught by a “heretic” named Martin Luther.

Some of those who ran away went to Holland, and some among these later moved again to Southern Africa with the “Boer” influx in the 17th and 18th centuries, which eventually led to the founding of a state based on extreme forms of exclusionism, racism and xenophobia.

Thus those who had run away from repression became master repressors themselves.

The irony of erstwhile victims becoming perpetrators of the injustices they themselves once suffered is one of those realities of life that beggars belief, even though here a crooked argument may be discerned: We were oppressed because we are special; we shall not allow ourselves to go through what we went through again, and to effect this resolve we are prepared for anything, including oppressing others.

It is the pattern that also emerges from the Middle East, where a Jewish state, basing its claims on land titles embedded in arcane scrolls that only the initiated can understand, is lording it over the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs whose only transgression is to want to live in a country that they have always called home. Apparently, the sufferings of the Jews during the Holocaust — which were truly horrific — justify any exactions that the state of Israel feels like imposing on its non-Jewish citizens and neighbours.

Just like the Huguenots who became “Boer” colonisers in South Africa, the Jewish state couches its philosophy in a doctrine of divine selection that bestows powers on Israel that no temporal arrangements can vary, literally dragging God into a land dispute.

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