Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Price of Black Life: Part 2

Jewell Crossberg (52), a white farmer in Musina (South Africa), shot and killed a Black Zimbabwean national, Jealous Dube (29), on his Limpopo farm in 2004. Crossberg does not deny shooting Dube. Instead, he argues that he mistook Dube for a baboon when he fired.

Crossberg's defense argument is similar to that of another white farmer, Marchel Nel, who shot and killed 11-year-old Sello Pete after ‘mistaking him for a dog'. See my earlier post, The Price of Black Life.

You may scoff at Crossberg's defense strategy but remember that it worked very well for Nel. He was only found guilty of culpable homicide early this year. His very lenient sentence was made up of a R20 000 fine and five years in jail.

The court in Thabazimbi, where Nel was tried, halved his fine to R10 000 (about $1385) and suspended his jail sentence for five years. This means that Nel literally walked away from killing Sello Pete for a mere $1385.

I was left dumfounded by the circumstances and outcome of the Nel case. How in the world could a post-apartheid court essentially dismiss the slaying of Sello Pete? How could a judge (there are no jury trials in South Africa) be convinced that Nel believed he was shooting a dog and not a human being?

In my estimation the court gave credence to the racism that the Nel case represents. It also raised a host of questions about the mentality of whiteness.

With the Crossberg case we are again in the same murky waters. Crossberg wants the Polokwane High Court, where his case is being heard, to believe that he killed a grown Black man on the mistaken belief that he looked like a baboon.

Though it is too early to know how this case will end, there does seem to be more of a will to test the defense of Crossberg more rigorously. The judge has already dismissed an attempt to have the case dismissed on the grounds that witness statements are contradictory and improperly recorded by police.

What is telling about the statements is that they claim Crossberg shot Dube because he was absent from work the previous day.

The judge has said that he wants Crossberg to appear and tell the court why he fired shots at a pack of baboons. In so doing the judge won't just set aside Dube's death as an "unexplained death".

I intend to watch this case as closely as possible. I also want to watch the media coverage of the case. As I pointed out in my earlier post, I was appalled by the manner in which Pete was made invisible by the media.

I don't expect that the Crossberg case will be dealt with very differently in the media. Moreover, I really don't expect that white South Africans will even raise an eyelid to this case. It is more likely that the slaying of Dube will be swept under the carpet of denial like so many others that have the same racialized dynamics.

The Crossberg case, like the Nel case, will be seen as an act of an individual. At most an aberration with no bearing on whiteness.

See some of the denial discussion of the Crossberg case at this Mail & Guardian online forum.

What will stand, however, is the imposition that Blacks can be ‘mistaken' for dogs and baboons.

The mentality that uses and disposes Black life will not be questioned. Few, if any, whites will call the chat lines of white-dominated talk radio in Joburg or Cape Town to condemn the actions of Crossberg. There will be no op-ed pieces in the white press to raise awareness of the inability of white farmers to distinguish between Black people and animals.

More tellingly, no white voices will be heard asking questions about Dube and his life. Who was this man? What about his family? Did he love and marry someone? Did he leave behind children? How are they coping?

Dube's life will be left irrelevant to whiteness. Irrelevant because all Black life is mostly irrelevant to whiteness.

This is not an exaggeration. There are many other instances where whites have rendered Black life worthless. Remember when Mark Scott-Crossley, the white farmer pictured above, threw his former Black employee, Nelson Chisale, into a lion's enclosure in 2004. The half-eaten body of Chisale was found and Scott-Crossley was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2005.

Nontheless, I am likely to be castigated here. Some whites, and their colorpean agents, will accuse me of sensationalism. And/or blowing the facts out of proportion to harp on a topic that demonstrates my hatred of things white and white people.

The more convincing argument lies in the pages of history. A history where Black people in the white imagination are treated like Pawns in a chess game. Some are used to guard the King and defend the Queen, others are sacrificed in the advance. What is consistent is that the Pawn is never more valuable than any other piece on the board at any time.

It is in this racialized climate that BMWs and cell phones hardly disguise our flimsy post-apartheid reality. A reality that still strains under the overbearing excess of whiteness. It is in this era when Sobukwe calls louder. A calling that cannot simply be ignored.

See these two recent, and notable, columns on Sobukwe:
Jon Qwelane & Baldwin Ndaba.

It is in this era that Biko would also direct us again.

If there is to be meaningful change, whiteness will have to be discarded in its entirety. It cannot simply be reformed or redesigned to be more fair, more just, or more equal. The whole system of values, its structure, and its immutable drive to occupy and dominate all spaces must be set aside by its adherents.

To begin, whites will have to take responsibility for whiteness in a collective sense. Apologies are not enough. Memorials are not enough. And carrying banners at rallies are not enough.

But restorative justice is obviously a complex conversation. And it may not even be necessary in terms of the teachings that Malcolm X left behind. But for purposes of this post, it suffices to say that we have not even arrived at the beginning, anywhere.

For this reason I expect that the likes of Crossberg and Nel will continue to murder Blacks on farms, and elsewhere. This they will do while the majority of whites sit quietly in arrogant denial.

May God rest Sello Pete and Jealous Dube in peace!

*****UPDATE*****(Thursday: 05/04/07) Judge Ronnie Boshielo convicted Jewell Crossberg earlier today of murdering Jealous Dube. The judge sentenced Crossberg to 20 years for Dube's murder.

Crossberg was also found guilty of attempting to murder four other farm workers. For this he was given four five-year sentences (20 years).

The sentence for Dube's murder and the attempted murder sentences will run concurrently. This means that Crossberg will spend 20 years in prison.

Judge Boshielo said his judgement was based "on the fact that Crossberg did not show any remorse." Crossberg's claim that he shot Dube because he thought he was a baboon was dismissed by Judge Boshielo.



The Thinking Black Man said...

Excellent post!

With all of the war and British hostages, and war and election fund raising and war and George Clooney buying lemonade and war being covered in the media here in the states, I sadly haven't heard about this case.

I'm glad he was found guilty! Is the jail system in Africa like the one here in the states? Meaning - if he is sentenced to 20 years, he can be paroled in <10 with good behavior, or does 20 years mean 2027 before he sees the light of freedom again?

Take care, Brother!

Fight the Power!

Ridwan Laher said...

TBM thanks so much for your comment on this case brother.

The sentencing system here in South Africa is very similar to that in the US. Crossberg will serve about 12 years of the 20 year sentence. Some say even less with really good behaviour.

This is the sad aspect of the case. It is, however, so much more than the Nel case.

Nel was not found guilty of murder but manslaughter (he walked out with a fine). The court found he had no "intent" to kill the 11 year old boy (Sello Pete).

I have thought about the judges in both cases. In the Crossberg case the judge was Black. In the Nel case the judge was white.

I think that this can account for some of the difference in outcomes.

There are many more cases like these in post-apartheid South Africa. And so many many more where white farmers seriously assault but do not kill their farmworkers.

For the most part, this aspect of racism is not covered. The media seems more focused on cases where white farmers have been killed, or robbed, on their farms.

Zimbabwe (our neighbor) is the prime example of this kind of myopia. The US even passed a piece of legislation to register, in part, their disgust at killings of white farmers ... it is called the "Zimbabwe Democracy Act" (this is one of the first things Bush did before 9/11).

Be well my brother.

Peace and struggle,

Mojalefa Murphy said...

My Brother, I couldn't agree with you more - the color of the skin of the judges has to do with the logical differences in the sentencing of the racist murderers. The cases of the murdered Sello Pete, Jealous Dube and many others that are not covered for obvious reasons, are a sad reminder that the nature of the 1994 change in South Africa could not possibly be for the good of everyone on the average. It is no use to bury heads in the sand any longer, the chickens are coming home to roost because the benefits of the miracle cannot possibly be stretched beyond the following few and very greedy economic groups:

1. The whites whose burdensome load of guilt for many generations of exclusive material benefit from the blood, sweat and resources of the dispossed Africans was taken off by the new constitutional dispensation that among other goodies, guaranteed the security of their loot;

2. Instant wealth of a few of those who let the opressors off the hook by agreeing to a flawed dispensation without due regard for the logical interest, opinion and priority needs of the oppressed majority; This group includes the clever ones in close proximity of the ruling elite, often ready to be bankrolled and corrupted without shame!

3. The transnational corporations that were running out of profits owing to the imminent demise of apartheid and those that oppotunistically awaited corruptable replacement of their old slave drivers. These include the arms dealers and their middlemen like Georgiadis who were inherited from the corrupt racist government of the National Party, and continue to be used for shady deals to this day! [de Klerk even made a double take by eloping with Georgiadis' wife, who must have ran off to the bank smiling to cash the divorce loot!]

The rest of the ordinary black folk such as Sello Pete and Jealous Dube, continue to face the perculiar realities of racism and economic injustice on a daily basis.

Ridwan, you must be one of a few black intellectuals left who attempt any reasonable analysis of the chaos that is prevailing in South Africa. Other than a few Euro-centric critical analysis of the current state of affairs, people must be fed-up with the propaganda of hero-this, hero-that, reactionary this and that.

Unfortunately the Euro-centric bit is not consistent with the fact that chattel slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism on the continent are responsible for the current picture. This is because they have been the brutal force for white profit makers abroad.

As you know, these evil forces were not exorcised through appropriate reparations from those who continue to derive the benefits of the economy that was built on generations of a bloody exploitation. The ghosts of our ancestors whose life was terminated in their hunting from their villages, their holding dungeons at the seaports, in the middle passage and at work in foreign lands, will always haunt us. In this battle with their souls, there is no room for neo-apartheid solutions. They would like us to be free from selling the ordinary folk out!

It is refreshing to visit your blogspot and learn of the events that affect black people from the perspective that is not corrupted by neo-liberalism and apparent tendency to take care of foreign interests of profit chasers in South Africa.

Power and Peace of the Struggle to you, Ridwan.


Ridwan Laher said...

Brother Mojalefa I am always happy to read a comment from you. You add very important and incisive details to discussions here.

Thank you for making me think brother!

Just this week I read that the PAC wanted to invigorate discussions about our neo-reality.

Your comment about the "chickens coming home" captures what is becoming a greater reality for those who would rule and those who want to rule.

Those groups you outline above are hardly 'invested' in revolutionary social advance. The outcomes are becoming unbearable for the masses.

And the PAC is right to look deeper for durable and just solutions. Where, and how, to begin is the challenge now.

Sobukwe and others said we would get here. He used to say 'you will know them by their actions.'

What can be more true of this era? An era where the rulers care more what the West thinks than what the impoverished masses think.

The current leaders may be fractured inside their party but they are united in the chase for white capital.

All the while they posture about development while the social ills of yesterday are even bigger ills today.

The present historical moment is one in which Pan Africanists can surely make great in-roads.

I am hopeful and draw strength from your injunction that we "not bury of heads."

Thank you again for bringing greater meaning here. I looked in on your blog yesterday and was impressed with the developments.

Onward brother. Please keep weighing in here.

We are not alone brother Mojalefa ... not by far!!!

Peace and struggle my brother,