Race-baiting: The end game becomes clear

James van den Heever writes on where social and digital media is trying to drive us

2016 began with the furore over comments posted on Facebook by an obscure estate agent on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast. The post was borderline racist, but the reaction it provoked was operatic; the seizure of the Union Buildings by right-wingers could hardly have caused more outrage. Other similar incidents followed, one after the other.

The whole sorry mess reached a Wagnerian climax just before Christmas when a black waiter was found to have used a shorthand description—“2 Blacks”—to identify a table in a busy Cape Town restaurant. The outraged black patron took to the Twittersphere to decry the use of racial stereotyping—that it had been done by a fellow black was simply taken to “prove” that racist culture was institutionalised in the restaurant and, indeed, in an article by Verashni Pillay, across the whole of Cape Town.

What has been remarkable is the way in which digital platforms are now used to whip up black outrage and provoke white apology. No debate is attempted, no argument. The levels of vitriol, sanctimoniousness and sheer bloody-mindedness defy description—and that’s before one gets to the response to tweets made by Helen Zille, which vainly attempted to expose double standards and provoke thought.

Even more striking is the disconnect between what is going on in the virtual and real worlds. The Institute of Race Relations published credible field research in February that showed that actually just over half of South Africans (54 percent) felt that race relations had improved since 1994; over the course of the year South Africans of every hue debated ways to solve the governance crises that threaten to bring the country down, and civil society began to flex its muscles.

Personal experience seems to support this slow building of a truly harmonious society. In daily life as opposed to the increasingly foetid digital world, it seems, ordinary citizens are actually making a concerted effort to build a politer, more caring society and to provide their fellow citizens the space they need to flourish.

Don’t mistake me: the Age of Aquarius has not dawned but, South Africans are learning how to rise above the inevitable conflicts of day-to-day life and a history of racial animosity, and to work out how to live in relative harmony. Some are even finding out how to turn tolerance into something positive.

Understanding what it all means

What on earth is going on? How does one reconcile the online world, where it is taken for granted that all whites are racist, entitled and generally a bar to happiness simply by existing—and the real world?

I would like to argue that the key to resolving this conundrum is James Myburgh’s analysis “Who is the real ANC?”, another pre-Christmas offering. Ultimately, Mr Myburgh argues that the stirring speech made by Nelson Mandela from the dock should actually be seen as “one of the greatest feats of political misdirection of the Twentieth Century”. In fact, Mr Mandela was far from being a noble liberal in all but name, and the ANC was and is far from being an organisation that simply wanted to take its place in a democratic order under the rule of law.

A more accurate picture is obtained from the 1962 document put out by the South African Communist Party—of which Mr Mandela was definitely a member—The Road to South African Freedom: The Programme of the South African Communist Party. The SACP document uses Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism to argue that the “white minority in South Africa had acquired all its wealth, and advantages, through the brutal robbery and exploitation of the black majority over the previous 300 years”.

Nevertheless, the need for a liberal and democratic façade was explicitly acknowledged in order to unite anti-apartheid forces and to achieve the immediate goal of power. But the long-term objective was always to reorder South African society along racial and ideological lines: Mr Myburgh concludes:

The “immediate tasks” of the National Democratic Revolution proposed by the Programme envisage the Africanisation of the state and private sector, the nationalisation of much of the economy, and the takeover of white-owned farmland.

The Programme also clearly planned for a fundamental assault on the institutions, principles and rights basic to Western liberal democracy, following the initial seizure of power. The existing state and governmental institutions would be “destroyed”, “disloyal”’ officials would be purged from the state and judiciary, “counterrevolutionary propaganda” would be forbidden, and the “utmost vigilance” exercised against those trying to restore “white colonialism”. It contains the striking statement that in order to preserve and extend the gains of this revolution a “vigorous and vigilant dictatorship must be maintained by the people against the former dominating and exploiting classes.”

Having read this, much of what is going on in public life comes into sharper focus. The SACP’s long domination of the ANC starts to make better sense. As in Russia, the revolution’s undemocratic, freedom-denying imperatives have found hellish support in the insatiable greed of a rentier class that wishes to enlarge the trough at which it is feeding, and to neutralise those who oppose it. As Orwell long ago noted, the Communist revolution is, almost by definition, a vehicle for inequality cynically disguised in the robes of Freedom.

Revolution moves into Phase 2

The attempts to control news media via for instance ANN7 and the Hlaudisation of the SABC, the capture of vital state institutions and the purging of unpliable officials, President Zuma’s attempts to ascribe his travails to the machinations of white monopoly capital—all are indications that we are moving from the initial stage of power seizure into Phase 2. If that is so, then the apparently concerted drive to use digital media to demonise whites as unrepentant racists, and the Constitution as an instrument for preserving an unjust status quo, should be seen as an important tool for preparing the way for revolutionary action, and a way of combatting the unsatisfactory beginnings of racial harmony in the real world.

In the past, Goebbels, Mao, Stalin and the Hutu establishment all used state-owned and other established media channels to create the right climate to germinate the seeds of hatred and conflict. Social media is even more effective because it is hydra-headed and masquerades as the authentic voice of the people, even though it is actually a small group of opinion-makers who are simply concerned simply to promote their own points of view.

The decay of editorial standards and ethics has also meant that a few well-placed journalists can also do sterling work in promoting the unfolding narrative from within what purport to be “proper” media. Verashni Pillay (Mail & Guardian and now Huffington Post), Ra’eesa Pather (Mail & Guardian) and Ranjeni Munusamy (Daily Maverick) are some of the names that spring to mind. All are journalists that promote uncritically the narrative that re-erecting a race-based economy and society, this time favouring the majority, is a cause so noble that any means are justified.

Virtual becomes frighteningly real

Thanks to them and those like them, the rhetoric of race-based revolution is no longer confined to the digital world. The EFF has built a small political base that is nevertheless accorded way more weight that it deserves. Frans Cronje of the SA Institute of Race Relations is surely right to argue that the EFF is a manifestation of the ANC—a sort of attack pod necessitated to bypass a hierarchy corrupted by power and greed. Its Fallist stooges were able to hijack the student movement for free tertiary education, showing just how effectively a relatively small group of monied, unscrupulous faux-nihilists can exploit legitimate grievances and position themselves as (unelected) leaders of a social movement.

Another example of how the capture of the media and social media works is shown by the reaction to Julius Malema’s ominous pronouncement that whites will not be slaughtered—yet. It is not surprising that he should have said these words, but it is both outrageous and worrying that they provoked no outcry either within the conventional and social media.

For whites and constitutionalists—the two do not necessarily overlap, we should remind ourselves—the sheer stridency of the online race-baiting online, and its end game in the real world, must be a wake-up call. It seems alarmist to even think these thoughts on a beautiful, Highveld tweede-nuwejaar, but that is what Germany’s Jews and Rwanda’s Tutsi also thought.

Are we not the proverbial frog in a saucepan, who doesn’t realise until too late that the water has been heating up to boiling point gradually. In 2017, we must fight harder against those who simply accept this racist narrative. We must also get better at showing the successes of constitutionalism and the rule of law, and at putting the blame for any lack of progress in redressing the past where it belongs: with those who have been in power for the past 22 years.