Future Genocide in South Africa?

Today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. And so I think today is fitting to examine some of the prejudices and conflicts that continue to bubble under the surface of South African society. Aside from the homophobic and sexist comments I’ve heard around Durban, and within the Youth for Eco-Justice Conference itself, it is the racial tension that has most surprised me, and which is most likely to devolve into large-scale physical violence. (side note: to learn about one combination of homophobia and sexism in South Africa, corrective rape, click here)

When I arrived in Cape Town, I was keen to learn about the history of Apartheid. Both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies have focused on international human rights violations, particularly genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Apartheid is up there as one of the worst systematic violations of human rights, in place from 1948-1992. I actually didn’t realize that it began in 1948; I thought it was sometime in the 1950s. The reason 1948 surprised me so much is because it was only 3 years after the Holocaust. You’d think that after such a horrific example of the ultimate form of racism and prejudice, people would be less inclined to create a similar system. Especially because a lot of Jewish people (albeit white Jewish people) emigrated to South Africa. Although I guess we only need to look at Israel to see that victims often become perpetrators of collective punishment and other forms of human rights violations.

And then I arrived in South Africa, and learned that it is the most unequal society in the world; the gap between the riche and the poor is the largest of any country. This inequality is certainly not conducive to peace.

Soon after arriving in Durban, I heard about a “white” genocide in South Africa. At first, I doubted this. It sounded similar to what white supremacists say about such things as intermarriage or immigration. And I’d also heard about the white South African who got asylum in Canada, and everyone kinda dismissed that as being a pretty wacky decision. But then I looked into it, and while I wouldn’t necessarily label what’s happening in South Africa as “genocide,” it’s definitely disconcerting. And it’s not only against white people.

Some refer to a new kind of apartheid in South Africa – xenophobic violence aimed at African refugees, especially those from Zimbabwe.

And even more alarming, Genocide Watch has placed South Africa at a 6 – “preparation.” 7 is actual genocide.

The update from Genocide Watch

And since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed this fairly extreme racial tension. First, many of the roads around Durban have been renamed, and apparently in some of the mainly white areas, where the street names are now named after Black militants, the names have been scratched off the signs. Second, at the Global Day of Action march on Saturday, things turned a bit political and songs were sung essentially saying “bring me my machine gun” and “kill the Boer.” The important thing to note here is that there are two main white communities in South Africa – the British-origin South African and the Afrikaaner. The British South Africans, generally, were against Apartheid and now refuse to speak Afrikaans, as it is seen as the language of the oppressor. “Boer” is the Afrikaans word for farmer, and now (I think – I’m a bit confused about this part – South Africans please correct me) generally refers to white people or white farmers now. And there have been many cases of Afrikaaner farmers being killed, often in incredibly grotesque, horrible displays of sadistic torture.

But the most alarming example I personally witnessed here in Durban was at a gathering of South Africans and Zimbabweans, demanding land reform, which is something, in theory, of which I am in favour. But not in the way it was expressed here. The Zimbabweans present spoke up and told the South African farm workers that they should learn from the Zimbabwean example (namely – getting rid of White farm owners). Zimbabwean veterans were mentioned as being particularly useful, and from my understanding, they violently threw the white farmers off the land. There were also shouts of support for Mugabe, which was disconcerting. Even Nando’s (a popular South African restaurant) has a commercial depicting Mugabe as the last dictator standing!

And then, I got very uncomfortable. A South African farm worker stood up and yelled out, “Those white farmers don’t want you baboons on their land. So we baboons need to kick them off the land!” Which was met with rapturous applause. Since then, I’ve been told that, after Nelson Mandela dies, there’s a belief that there will be attempts to kill or remove all the white people in South Africa, a concept, I was told, was called uhuru. This is actually a misuse of the word uhuru, which means liberation or independence; it has been twisted, in the way it was explained to me, as a way of ” liberating” the country by killing White people. I’d studied critiques of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Movement in school, and how it didn’t necessarily work as well as some think or hope or believe. But after being in South Africa for 2 weeks, now I get it; now I understand why South Africa might be at a “6.”

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As I said at the beginning of this post, today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Twenty-two years ago today, on December 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine entered the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and shot twenty-eight people before killing himself. Armed with a (legally obtained) semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife, Lépine killed 14 women. His suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life and included a hit list of 19 Quebec women who Lépine viewed to be feminists and wanted to kill.

This was obviously a gender-based crime – an attack on women simply because they were women. When Lépine entered one classroom, he separated the men from the women and then told the men to leave. He asked the remaining women if they knew why they were there; one answered “no” so Lépine said, “I am fighting feminism.” He later said, “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”
In the aftermath of this tragedy, Canadian gun control laws became much more strict. Now, our Conservative government is in the midst of repealing that legislation.
And so today, we remember the 14 women killed. And we pray for peace:
  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
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About kbardswich

Writer. Photographer. Activist. Lesbian. Feminist. Traveller. Voracious learner. Part-time shit-disturber.

Posted on December 6, 2011, in COP17, South Africa. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Mary-Margaret Jones

    Canada has practised its own Apartheid since the institution of the Indian Act since 1876. It was a model for South African Apartheid.

    As a Canadian, are you really able to cast stones at any other nation without working towards the eradication of the disparate system in our own country?

  2. I’m unsure how examining what I’ve heard and seen while being in South Africa means that I don’t care about, or am not working for the eradication, of our own Canadian apartheid system.

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