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.