Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Price of Black Life

In a South African town called Thabazimbi a 39 year old white farmer, Marchel Nel, testified in court that he shot and killed 11-year-old Sello Pete after mistaking him for a dog. "I didn't do it on purpose," was his defense and the court agreed.

Nel has just been found guilty of culpable homicide and fined R20 000 or five years in prison.

According to Senior prosecutor Renier van Rooyen, half of the fine and the jail term are suspended for five years. This means that Nel won't spend a day in jail as long as he can come up with R10 000 (about $1385).

This is South Africa in 2007.

During the trial Nel claimed that he immediately applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after realizing that Sello Pete was not a dog. He then rushed his victim to a hospital.

Nel's words were obviously offered to demonstrate to the court that he was not above trying to revive the Black child with his mouth.

The case has drawn hostile anger from the Black community where Sello Pete came from. The prosecution asked Nel if he realized that folks were furious with him. He replied that "I believe in my heart the Lord will look after me."

His reply illustrates the fanatical belief that white Afrikaner identity is fused to manifest destiny. God in Nel's mind would be more likely to see that he is cared for while the victim is just left dead.

I am sickened by this case. On the one hand it demonstrates the worthlessness of Black life in the white imagination. So worthless too is the pain and suffering in this case that the parents of the victim are not even mentioned in any of the news reports I have read.

This case also stirs up memories of many other instances where white farmers have killed Black people on their farms.

About the same time that Nel appeared in court another white farmer, Theunis Steyn, was accused of killing a young male, Teshepiso Moremi. The 18 year old victim in this case died when Steyn drove his car over his body.

What exactly is the value of Black life in the post-apartheid era? Would this story be so 'invisible' if a Black man had perpetrated the same crime on a white child? Will President Mbeki address the nation tonight and decry the racism that propels people like Nel? And what about the white apologists who would crucify me for having the audacity to question whiteness in an 'obvious' case of mistaken identity?

I am reminded that Robert Sobukwe once remarked that many white people care more about their dogs than they do about Black life. Some protestors who gathered outside of Nel's earlier bail hearing seemed to agree with Sobukwe. It was reported that protesters held placards that read: "Whites are friends of dogs, they can't kill dogs, they kill Africans" and another read "We are Africans, not dogs."

Many white South Africans would loathe any insinuation that they care more about dogs than Black children like Sello Pete. They would also be quick to point out how they are victimized for being white in South Africa. "All the jobs are for Blacks" or "Blacks are killing whites daily in robberies" and of course "this country has been ruined by Black corruption" are often repeated laments.

Few, if any, will spend time honestly interrogating apartheid and taking responsibility for their role in its horrors. In fact, it is hard to find a white person honest enough to admit that they supported apartheid. Curiously, the electorate that kept apartheid in power for five decades mysteriously disappeared.

While living in Saldanha I used to listed to a call-in radio show on Cape Talk/702. Each night there would be mostly white callers complaining about their lot in South Africa. Not too many of these callers would even pay a second thought to the brutality that apartheid caused. Rather, the refrain that "we must move on and not dwell on the past" was offered as sage advise for liberal progress.

If Sello Pete's demise is even discussed around white dinner tables tonight it will be pointed out that Nel was justly tried in a court of law. Not a word will be wasted on the fact that the judicial system is a living and breathing apartheid relic.

Nothing will be said about the manner in which the verdict supports the assumption that Black life is worth way less than white life. Instead, the farmer will be seen as a foolhardy individual who acted out of the mistaken belief that an 11 year old Black child looked like a dog.

For some English speaking whites he may even be described as a "dumb Afrikaner" but certainly not a racist. To describe Nel as a racist would mean that the collective in-bred superiority complex of whiteness would be under scrutiny.

But don't be misled. White South Africa is accustomed to trodding on Black lives even though you are unlikely to meet any guilty perpetrators. Instead, the modus operandi in white post-apartheid South Africa is to live in absolute denial.

The kind of denial that proclaims: "Ag shame man but let bygones be bygones hey ... what is the use to dwell on the past when we need investment and jobs to pull this country right?" As twisted as this logic may sound, it is exactly the kind of thinking that the ruling ANC has enabled with its market-driven, trickle-down, policies.

As for Nel, his white skin and privilege brought him a R20 000 suspended fine for killing an innocent child. Whether he meant to kill Sello Pete or not is not the most salient issue to be considered now. Racism is about power. Power delivers verdicts that save white people from having to bear the responsibility of their inhumane discrimination.

That Nel could equate the life of a Black child and a dog is only the beginning.

And we are far from free ....

... even though he is rotting in his grave.


Channel said...

black life is worth the same to white supremacy around the globe, no? thanks brotha for sharing this with all of us, and reminding us that just because a few dark faces are put up from, that does not change the fundamental system under which we operate.

Ridwan Laher said...

Channel thank you for comment ... you got it right without doubt.



Mojalefa said...

I have just discovered your blog and read this story that left me trembling with anger and numb with sadness. This is news to many of us and I think it is so because we are away from home, not in any "...comfort of the first world..." as some highly placed black people would cop out.


This story that reveals much about the plight of black people that has been shelved to give way for an orgy of self-enrichment and power mongering. It is not a coincidence that it was overshadowed by the excessive coverage of the post-1994 government corruption and armsgate that are being unearthed by the media in South Africa. It was deliberate because this story, like many others in which whites uhave some black lackeys to victimise innocent black people at every social level, would only drive the point home that there is nothing like post-apartheid era or a blimpse thereof!

If the white owned media aims to carry out the journalistic duty of a moral watchdog in pursuing the graphic details of the known post- cum neo-apartheid government and public sector, then the demise of Sello Pete and Tshepiso Moremi and the at the hands of racists and the ordeal of their parents who love them would have been given adequate coverage and commentary. It appears that the plan of the white money mongerers is to put the ruling party on the defensive for as long as possible. Thus subjecting the
"...sole and authentic representatives of the oppressed people..." to severe paralysis that would make any attempt to execute the electoral mandate impossible to contemplate, as they manage the capitalis interests of a tiny minority. This way, it will be business as usual, black life would continue to cost a penny; racists that should have been punished severely for war "..crimes against humanity..." would continue to be honoured and upon their death, the rainbow flag would be flown half-mast; racists will sodomise and murder young black boys with impunity and if caught in the act, will get away with R10 000 fine; match box dwellings will even be reduced to smarties closets; the list goes on.

Thank you for raising these issues and keeping the dream of the uncorrupted and true freedom fighters like Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe alive. Power to your elbow.

Ridwan Laher said...

Mojalefa thank you kindly for your insightful comments. You have cut through to lay bare the issues at play.

As the days tick by here in SA I wonder about the dreams we shared ... dreams about a life of equity and justice.

What I see saddens me. Daily. And you know deeply of what I reference.

Sello Pete and Tshepiso Moremi are forgotten to whiteness and its agents.

Their bodies have already been replaced by other Black bodies on farms across SA.

It is a war no doubt. One that is enabled by the fat-cats who sold our soil for German autos and a chance to sit at the table of Western capital.

I can go on ... and on.

But as you know, and as Sobukwe and Biko would tell us now, the revolution is far from over.

The "soil" still commands our politics.

Be well and please look in again.

Peace and struggle,

Anonymous said...

I think the dream is still very much alive, Ridwan. It is the pursuit of this dream that has been geen constantly undermined by among other factors, 1) the untimely death of both Sobukwe and Biko; 2) the apparent commitment of the ruling black elite to preserve the legacy of apartheid governments instead of condemning it to the recycle bin of history.

The apartheid induced death of Sobukwe and Biko and the apparent dearth of new blood to sustain the struggle for liberation from white supremacy are self-explanatory. The only reason for the murder of these black leaders was the danger they posed to white domination due to the connectedness of their political ideas with the ordinary oppressed persons in th etownships, in the rural villages and on the farms. They made it clear that the struggle is about reclaiming our wealth embodied in our stolen land and labour, and taking full ownership of that struggle through a clear understanding of our concrete conditions under white domination. This means that through the growing consciousness of self within our immediate social and economic environment, and the commitment to the struggle that binds the oppressed people together, the divisive tactics of our oppressors would not succeed and our victory over white supremacy would be a must.

The alternative resistance to apartheid lacked the originality and boldness of Sobukwe and Biko and the rest of their colleagues, and has been vulnerable to white domination at the outset. It may have attracted huge material support from the whole world primarily because apartheid was grown by the international capital to such levels that even the humanity of many of the beneficiaries of its economic injustice was outraged by its bare immorality. It is this paradoxical duality of humanity and economic benefit from injustice that made our struggle for economic sanctions agaisnt apartheid South Africa partially successful.

The vulnerability of the non-Biko and non-Sobukwe struggle is best illustrated by the emerging evidence that points to the apparent commitment of the post-1994 governments to uphold the lagacy of apartheid in many respects. First the dealings of the arms procurement by the government appear not only to be as corrupt as the appartheid's, but also continues to use the same shady moneymongers who brokered the deals with unscrupulous foreign suppliers. The Mail and Guardin reported on the apartheid era and present instrumental involvement of sanction busters such as Georgiadis.

We also know that South Africa's new nuclear energy technology will be supplied by the French who defied the international energy embargo of the 1980's by providing much of the nuclear fuel cycle expertise and technology that is currently housed at Pelindaba and Koeberg. It is disconcerting to note that the feelings of the majority of the population of this land who were humiliated by apartheid and its foreign supporters appear to have not counted in when the decisions were made to continue to deal with the sanction busters who have yet to atone for their evil deeds.

There is no doubt that in 1994, WE WAS ROBBED and a greta deal was invested in creating the illusion of the demise of apartheid. The media, the international acclaim of the miracle including artificial Nobel Peace award to apartheid party leader, Mr. de Klerk , the branding of some of our veteran leaders of the resistance and sacred places for commercial purposes, all were a calculated measure of manipulation to usher in this neo-apartheid order. With the alternative media galore, the stolen voice of the majority will be restored and the pursuit of the dream resumed. It cannot be possibly over; the people may have lost a few battles but the war is still on!

What the struggle lacks at the moment, is the bold analysis of the current confusion using the tools that the Sobukwes and Bikos and Tiros and many others in their camp bequeathed us.

May the Peace of the Struggle be with you


Ridwan Laher said...

It is good to read you Mojalefa. Thanks for bringing more depth to my efforts here.

I agree with you about our "dream".
At times it takes some reminding that we have to push further and harder.

Just last Sunday I was shocked by a commentary in the Sunday Times. The author is Fred Khumalo and the topic he broached concerned the issue of guilt and status in the 'township'.

He argued that there was no reason to feel guilty about driving an expensive car in the midst of poor folk Black folk. Instead, we should show off as an example of what Blacks can achieve.

Elite Black wealth in his world is inspirational and not an extension of the oppression that was negotiated at CODESA.

Khumalo is no different than Wolfie who wrote in to my most recent post on racism in Britain.

Both find the issue of labelling guilt and responsibility inconvenient and not cost effective.

What is, however, convenient is the manner in which the old system structured the upcomance of the elites like Khumalo.

What is, however, cost effective is the emphasis on accessing the capital and structures that apartheid created.

Both conveniences are delusory panderings to the oppression this era was supposed to scrap.

And, the proximity that Black elites have to those corridors of old are blurred on purpose.

We are supposed to assume that this era came with the kind of power that can rearrange oppression if only the market of old is repositioned ...

I am disgusted at the attitude of the Fred Khumalo's of this era. The boots they kick with are leased to the capital drawn from our collective oppression.

For these reasons you are absolutely right to point to the cover-up(s) that define the negotiations for renewed subjugation at CODESA.

And you are also right to speak to issues of Black consciousness and its power to unsettle the kind of restructured oppression that Khumalo and company don't want to (or can't)address.

Fanon was right. He knowingly fingered Black compradores for a reason.

They sell out for profit and selfish personal advancement.

I remember that Sobukwe always used to say that we should never trust liberals or their theories. Biko believed much the same.

Sobukwe was right then and he is right now.

It is a truth that stretches back to Lembede's uncomfort with the liberal tendencies in the ANC.

Now, it is exactly those tendencies that manifest more concretely in the ANC leadership.
(And the grass roots are growing weary).

It liberalism's interest in creating Black Anglos who see merit in marrying political power to markets that describes the framework of our current rot.

Those who sold us are very visible ... they sit fragile and disempowered waiting for the promised deliverance that whiteness and its construction, liberalism, will not deliver.

So, the warning of Sobukwe and Biko (and Fanon) stands.

And we are not free ...

Thanks for this discussion Mojalefa.

Peace and struggle always,


Terell Avery said...


Its me Terell Avery. One of your former students at PSU. Remember me? I caught wind of you blog while I was checking out the Racial Realist's site.

How are yeah? Why don't you drop me a line (use the contact me link on my blog).

Ridwan Laher said...

My brother Terrell ... it has been a minute since we last talked!

How are you man? What is up?

OK, I am gonna get on your blog and Holla from there.

Great to bump into you ... and in the blogosphere ....

Peace and struggle,