The heinous, brutal rape and subsequent slaughtering of Anene Booysen in South Africa’s Western Cape province has brought into the open, once again, the miry underbelly of our rainbow nation. At the heart of violence that Anene was subjected to, lies a bigger issue that South Africans wilfully shunt and ignore. This issue is our Achilles heel. It is what has our nation wondering at the gruesome nature of the violence committed against Anene with our mouths agape, spit dripping from our lips, trying to figure out what makes South Africa such a violent society.
In our post-apartheid state it is fashionable to reduce apartheid to a simple administrative error that has since been corrected. This flippant attitude to our past has resulted in a perception being pushed that the real problem facing a democratic South Africa is the vicious reverse racism that places white South Africans under a type of oppression and threat not yet seen or experienced anywhere or at any time in history.
This flippant attitude further suggests that white people have done their share for this country by voting ‘yes’ in the 1992 referendum, even allowing blacks on their teams in rugby and cricket, and referring to themselves as Africans–for heaven’s sake, only Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and the Kardashians have done more for humanity. When will the consistent and annoying references and allusions to apartheid and racism end already?
It is unfortunate that the same flippant attitude is a prevailing one, as it leads us to maintain a façade of unity. With the pretensions of a rainbow nation firmly in place, we fail to reflect with honesty on the state of our nation. A nation with a history marked by brutal and persistent violence sustained over centuries.
Cultural writer Bongani Madondo expressed it succinctly when he wagered (on Facebook) that Anene’s hideous rape and murder can be traced to South Africa’s recent excessive violent past, in particular between 1959 to 1992. Over three and a half decades, he argues, excessive violence ripped out the bowels of black families, children dancing over burning bodies of their neighbours, dogs feasting on bodies of black men, parcel bombs ripping matchbox homes apart, rape by the white system, rape by the capitalist system, rape, looting and handcuffing by police and their askaris, black brother against black brother in the Vaal, East Rand, Johannesburg Central, extreme poverty, incest, and three revolutions crushed by merciless state violence: 1960, 1976 and 1985-1990. Plus the excessive violence of the liberation parties in exile; remember Mkatashinga 1984 in Angola.
It is this reality of the violent nature of oppression that we seek to sweep under the carpet.
We don’t want to entertain that an examination of the violence in South Africa can’t be accomplished outside the context of colonisation and apartheid. We can’t discount the context of institutional and structural racism and the brutal subjugation of black people. Yet it is what we continue to do. We have in our country developed a disturbing trend that is in itself a form of violence, namely the suppression of black experiences of apartheid, unless such an experience is an expression of the greatness of the apartheid system. For is it not that without colonialism and apartheid, black people would still be scratching their bottoms trying to figure out if up is down or down is up.
Those who try to place the challenges we face as society in its proper context, are hurled with insults and abuse, and reminded that going back to the past is not helping the country move forward. Only last week, Redi Direko, a radio talk host of a popular Gauteng-based station, Radio 702, spoke of the horrors of apartheid and was showered with a flurry of messages to stop ‘exaggerating’ what happened during those ‘dark days’, as it is called, flippantly. Clearly, in our rainbow nation, violence is the answer, whether physical, verbal or emotional.
If we are to honour the life of Anene and other victims of violence, we will have to confront and be truthful about the many sources of violence plaguing this country. Read here, here and here on violence and power in South Africa. This will mean revisiting our past so that we may understand how the socialisation and normalisation of violence came to characterise the South Africa we live in today. We will not find our answers in the nature and structure of violence in India. We will find those answers in our own backyard.