COMMENT: We need to ditch our flagrant double standards and call a spade a spade

08 October 2020 - 07:26
By nonkululeko njilo AND Nonkululeko Njilo
One man has been arrested in connection with the violent protests in Senekal, police said on Wednesday.
Image: Twitter via Cabonena Alfred One man has been arrested in connection with the violent protests in Senekal, police said on Wednesday.

I have been observing, from a distance, comments around the violent scenes which flared up outside the magistrate's court in Senekal in the Free State on Tuesday.

A  group of people, some identified as “armed farmers”, were calling for justice as two men appeared in court for the brutal murder of 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner.

In an attempt to ventilate their anger over the senseless killing, they demanded that the pair be handed over to them. When this didn't happen — as it was, realistically, never going to — they turned violent. They vandalised court property, and overturned a police van which they then set alight.

Many came out in support of their actions, some suggesting they were justified as it was the only way to make their voices heard. I was flabbergasted by the hypocrisy and arrogance in these sentiments.

One social media post in particular caught my attention.

“This is what happens when people are gatvol and your government do nothing to help the murders that's been going on for so long. No name calling needed. It's high time they stand for themselves ...”  

Of course, we are all entitled to opinions. Mine is that we are a nation with double standards insofar as systemic violence is concerned.

For the longest time, black people in this country have been labelled “barbaric”, or as “hooligans”, when they ventilate their anger through protest action. The general opinion has been that their anger is justified but that they must use the “correct channels” — whatever that means.

This is not playing the race card. We simply need to think deeply about our reactions when different race groups are involved in certain actions, particularly when criminality is involved.

Ask yourself, historically, what has been our response to similar incidents? 

When police killed striking mineworkers at Marikana, many blamed the miners. During the recent protests at Clicks over the racist TRESemmé adverts, those protesting were torn into. What about the Eldorado Park service delivery protests — before the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old? Or when musicians and entertainers blocked freeways in Durban? And what about just this week, when Cosatu-affiliated workers took to the streets? And these are just a few that spring immediately to mind. There are countless more.

Were these protests met with the same reaction as those in Senekal? Largely, no. You have to ask yourself why.

I am reminded of the 2016  Fees Must Fall protests, which I was a part of.

I was tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets on two occasions, at least, when all I wanted was access to higher education, a right enshrined in the constitution. Perhaps I caught rubber-bullet fire because of association — I was part of a group of students, some of whom did indeed vandalise university property.

I accept that. But the “Senekal logic” was definitely not applied to the protests I was involved in, nor to the protests of my kin across the country.  

Images and video footage taken during the protest in Senekal have been making the rounds on social media. The one image that really caught my attention was that of a man standing on top of an overturned police van, seemingly addressing the protesting crowd. This was right in front of those who are meant to uphold law and order — but the police just looked on.

EFF leader Julius Malema rightfully questioned that police inaction when he tweeted: “Whites don't play ... Can you imagine if it was black people?”

If we were to honestly answer that question — given the nature of systemic violence in this country, and the lived experience of so many other protests — we know what would have happened.

Police minister Bheki Cele condemned the criminality in the strongest terms possible. It was something that would not be tolerated. He called on officers to make arrests, and they did, with a 52-year-old man taken into custody on Wednesday. Provincial police said more arrests were imminent.

But there is nothing to applaud here. That's how it should be, crime is crime. The arrests should have happened on Tuesday, when the protest did. Not a day after the fact. We know that would have been the case if just one thing — the skin colour of the protesters — was darker.

We need to stop normalising violence, but we also need to ditch our flagrant double standards and call a spade a spade even when the circumstances are undesirable.

PODCAST | Survivors recount their farm attack

Subscribe for free episodes: | Spotify | | Pocket Casts