Black shirts on the march again as Andile Mngxitama and his BLF supporters occupy the racist, undemocratic ground from which the AWB was evicted
There’s no use sticking our heads in the sand any longer. In a column that ran on BusinessLive on Monday, Tim Cohen indirectly pointed out the dangerous reality that has been staring us in the face for a while now: SA has a fascism problem.
In his column, Cohen made the obvious yet incisive observation that the vile behaviour of the thugs from Black First Land First (BLF) is nothing new. The world has seen its type many times before, and SA’s most recent incarnation of such a putrid brand of fascism was displayed by the khaki-clad clan of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) in the 1990s.
During a recent interview on the programme, KykNet Verslag in Gesprek, BLF führer Andile Mngxitama apparently compared himself to former AWB leader Eugène Terre blanche. It is indeed an apt comparison, as there is nothing less violent and undemocratic about Mngxitama’s public racism against whites than there was about Terre blanche’s open hatred for blacks. Both men and their supporters wore their racism and rejection of our inclusive constitutional settlement as a fetid badge of honour.
BLF’s most heinous action thus far occurred when Mngxitama’s black shirts vandalised the home of respected editor Peter Bruce. As Cohen recounts, after he went to check on his colleague, he was slapped in the face by a BLF hooligan. The mob swore at both men and sprayed “Land or Death” on Bruce’s garage door. Their supposed crime? Practising journalism while being white.
If there was still any lingering doubt about the blatantly racist and unconstitutional motives of the group, they subsequently released a statement entitled “BLF warns white journalists”. The tirade identified individual journalists “who deserve to be treated in the same manner which Bruce was treated. They are racists, not journalists, and they will be treated as such.”
The statement went on to warn individual black journalists to “repent” for their “askari” tendencies. Then came the coup de grace: “BLF believes in ‘peace amongst blacks, war to the enemy’, so these [black] journalists still have a door open to them. We will not treat black people the way we treat white people.”
The statement — and the entire premise that black people working with “white monopoly capital journalists” are “sell-outs” — is eerily reminiscent of one of the Hutu 10 Commandments, published shortly before Rwandan Hutus systematically slaughtered up to a million minority Tutsis in 1994. It read, “Every Hutu should know that every Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is the supremacy of his ethnic group. As a result, any Hutu who [works with a Tutsi] is a traitor.”
On Twitter, BLF Stellvertreter des Führers Lindsay Maasdorp also made it plain that critics of the group just don’t see the truth: “We are constitutional delinquents; we are coming! #LandOrDeath” (the hashtag apparently threatens death to whites if they don’t “return the land”.)
It is time to take these fascists at their word. They have proved themselves to be constitutional delinquents, and in any constitutional democracy, such delinquents belong in jail. Yet the response from the ANC has so far been underwhelming.
No one from BLF has been arrested yet, and no government minister has firmly rejected the use of such overtly racist and threatening language.
IT IS TIME TO TAKE THESE FASCISTS AT THEIR WORD. THEY HAVE PROVED TO BE CONSTITUTIONAL DELINQUENTS.
The natural question to ask is: how did we get here? Looking back, it’s easy to see how the pieces fell in place for anti-minority hatred to become normalised in a country where the supreme law supposedly guarantees that SA belongs to all who live in it. The false prophet who was ahead of his time in publicly arguing that the white minority is a group of second-class citizens is Julius Malema.
After a decade of halting yet real progress, Malema publicly shattered the emerging norm of inclusivity in South African public discourse. In the mid-2000s, Malema went on hateful tirades against whites and recently warned that “we aren’t calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now”.
But Malema was certainly not alone. Over the past two decades, universities have scandalously become one of the biggest hotbeds for fomenting fascist thought in SA. Lecturers and professors determined to outdo each other in the progressiveness sweepstakes simply copied and pasted “critical race theory” from the US, where it was originally designed as a conceptual framework to describe racial inequality and oppression in that white-majority country.
Egged on by zealous teachers who blamed “whiteness” for every imaginable problem in South African society, many students quite literally took up the torch and used it to set fire to anything they associated with “whiteness”. In addition to destroying public infrastructure, Fallist students at the University of Cape Town in 2016 ripped paintings created by white artists from the walls of university dormitories and burned them in a public display of neo-Nazism.
At campuses across the country, Fallists spraypainted slogans such as “Kill all whites” and “F**k the Jews” on buildings. Whenever someone dared criticise their actions, the Fallists simply used one of the conceptual tools that had been sharpened for them by their teachers: “blacks can’t be racist!” And as has now become standard practice, no single person was ever successfully prosecuted for more than R600m in damages caused during the rampages.
With Malema and the Fallists having set the stage, the BLF and its funders, the Gupta family, astutely identified a gap in the political market. By early 2017, the Guptas had come under increasing public pressure due to a torrent of corruption allegations levelled against them. They needed a scapegoat.
The recently leaked Gupta e-mails show how the family and BLF worked together with UK-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger, to concoct a narrative of “white monopoly capital” as the source of all evil in SA. It is no coincidence that BLF lieutenant Maasdorp was himself a leading member of UCT’s Fallist group, standing accused of having assaulted university vice-chancellor Max Price.
Having seen how students normalised — and got away with — antiwhite hate speech on campuses, the BLF quickly upped the ante. It tweaked the argument originally proffered by Malema, the Fallists and their teachers: “White people are indeed the true source of all evil in SA, black people can’t be racist and therefore the Guptas must be innocent victims. Instead of blaming the Guptas, erase ‘whiteness.’”
Zuma and his coterie of corrupters quickly got on board, deflecting every concern about Gupta state capture by screaming “white monopoly capital”.
So, here we are. Powerful members of the South African government publicly scapegoat an ethnic minority for their own failings and crimes. These attempts are buffeted by an overtly fascist group of black shirts, who have begun a campaign of instigating violence and physically attacking people on the basis of their skin colour. Like all genocidal maniacs, their logic is simple and impossible: erase those unnatural “others” — those people with the white skins — from the tip of Africa and nirvana will immediately arrive for the “real people”.
The only remaining question is how the vast majority of peace-loving South Africans will react. For society to quell the rising tide of darkness, we must accomplish a feat that most Fallists (both students and teachers) have so far proved intellectually incapable of: we must entertain two thoughts in our minds at the same time.
On the one hand, we must be able to acknowledge that white people continue to disproportionately benefit from the injustices of apartheid. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that whites are being used as scapegoats by the ANC and have now become the targets of the deeply racist and potentially murderous BLF.
We’ve done it before. During the 1990s, political leaders and ordinary members of the white community ultimately isolated and suffocated the AWB.
It’s a rapid fall: one minute you’re screaming Marxism; the next you’re siding with foreign criminals
Most whites ridiculed Terre’blanche and 69% of whites rejected the AWB’s arguments during the referendum to end apartheid in 1992.
Yet one key difference between the AWB and BLF is that the latter is being directly funded by a family of billionaires that are in de facto control of the country. What happens when the Guptas order the BLF to take up their machetes?
Just as whites rejected the AWB, it is now the turn of the majority of black South Africans to similarly suffocate the BLF and their handlers into oblivion. Otherwise, SA could eventually join the likes of Rwanda, Germany, Cambodia and Turkey in devouring its own soul.
• Schreiber is a political scientist at Princeton University.