Waving the Vierkleur to protest farm killings is a red flag in itself

02 November 2017 - 14:00
By Nompumelelo Runji
Most South Africans would support the call for improved security, so farmers who made this a protest against the post-apartheid regime ruined a good opportunity, says the writer.
Most South Africans would support the call for improved security, so farmers who made this a protest against the post-apartheid regime ruined a good opportunity, says the writer.

This week, farmers took to the streets to voice their discontent over the spate of farm killings across the country. This is a serious issue that the police need to address urgently, like all other violent crime.

But the allegation of a campaign of genocide targeting white farmers and the audacity of some farmers to raise the old apartheid flag betrays the underlying motive for the protest.

The scourge of violent crime on farms is not anomalous as violent crime has become a feature of South African society. Far from being the victims of an orchestrated campaign, white - and black - farmers are the victims of an unbridled wave of crime.

Protesting to show dissatisfaction with something or to demonstrate support for a cause is permitted in a democracy. And so farmers were within their right to protest - where they abided by the law.

Doing so is a mark of active citizenry. It is evidence of conscientiousness on the part of communities who are willing to call their leaders and government to account for their failure to deliver on their mandates.

South Africans, most of whom have been victims of crime, could sympathise with farmers. It is likely that most South Africans would support the call for improved security.

But it is one thing to protest to hold government to account, recognising and acknowledging the legitimacy of the regime, it is another altogether to protest not against government but to demonstrate discontent with the regime.

What else can be made of farmers using apartheid symbols in a protest about crime?

It is comparable to the waving of the swastika and the waving of the confederate flag in the context of the US. It cannot be separated or be taken apart from a statement about white supremacy and the desire for it.

Raising the apartheid flag and marching shoulder to shoulder with those that do is a statement that one agrees with everything that flag represents.

And it is not merely a statement about nationalism but about a nostalgia for that unjust system with its discriminatory laws and institutions that gave whites privilege.

White farmers are using farm murders as a guise to demonstrate not just their frustration at the failure of law enforcement but their discontent with the toppling of the former regime.

The waving of the old apartheid flag this week was an outward expression of the sentiments that are often shared between whites and within white communities about how this country "was better under apartheid".

The counter argument may be that those who were sighted sporting the flag this week do not represent all white farmers. But whites who failed to call out these harbingers of extreme views are as guilty as them.

It is another slap in the face of all those who were victims of the injustices perpetrated by the apartheid state.

It goes beyond the free expression provided for and guaranteed by the constitution and is worthy of condemnation. These kinds of acts do nothing to further the reconciliation and nation building project this country has been trying to undertake over the last 23 years.

We should always be ready as citizens to hold government to account and call on public officials to be responsive. But this ought to be distinguished from a desire to discredit our democracy.

There is no scarcity of apartheid apologists in this country. The resurfacing of apartheid symbols this week gives greater credence to the calls for the decolonisation of not just institutions of higher learning, but of all public spaces and institutions.