The killing of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’Blanche has added to the list of things that continue to divide South Africa along racial lines.
Added to this is the extent to which Julius Malema, the controversial leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, has become both a uniting and divisive force. Besides other things, Malema has become a source of racial convergence, given how his statements seem capable of inviting opposition across racial lines while succeeding, at the same time, in causing racial cleavages. In my mind, three things have become indubitable. First, Malema is a demagogue with a healthy appetite for things outrageous and outlandish. Second, he and some of his detractors are two sides of the same irrational coin. Third, South Africans are afflicted by a predilection for swinging between hysterical optimism and hysterical pessimism.
These tendencies, coupled with the debilitating effect they have on the collective IQ of the country, are the things that have resulted in a serious assault on reason. Even South Africans who belong to professions which should rely on cold analysis and rational thought are at times susceptible to hype and waves of unthinking hysteria which have seized the country in response to the Malema phenomenon and the murder of Terre’Blanche. While one expects that there will be times when lapses in logic occur because of ‘domain specificity’ and, therefore, the inconsistent application of logic to the same issue as a result of a change in con- text, I find it disappointing that lapses in logic have occurred in the professional domain.
These lapses are, in part, caused by ‘confirmation bias’, an intellectual condition which makes us want to look only for information that confirms our beliefs or prejudices. It is this confirmation bias that has made some among us desperate to find evidence linking Malema to the murder of Terre’Blanche. This is why some of us are not prepared to wait for evidence which proves or disproves the link between the murder and the singing of a particular struggle song by Malema. But what takes the cake are what may be deliberate or unconscious attempts by some sections of the South African media to export their hysteria to an international audience. This hysteria, combined with confirmation bias, distorts the race discourse and, therefore, poses a threat to the reconciliation project.
The worst thing we can do is to allow setbacks to make us lose focus. Setbacks such as the killing of Terre’Blanche should not make us lose sight of the imperative of recon- ciliation. We must be sensitive to the fact that reconciliation still exists much more in the realm of aspiration than it does in reality. The gap between aspiration and reality does not represent failure, nor should it be used as an excuse for us to engage in orgies of racist outpourings. We should see the gap as a challenge and an indication of how far we still have to travel to reach the goal of a rainbow nation. Black and white people have a common destiny. The complexities of our history and race relations in postapartheid South Africa must be seen as nothing but a challenge that is not insurmountable.
This does not mean that attempts at racial toenadering will stop catfights between the races. We must see some of the conflict as a crucible that will purify our thoughts and ideas about creating a nonracial society. This, however, does not mean we must avoid telling painful truths to one another. I am not talking about the virulent racism that opponents and supporters of Malema have been parading as the truth on Face(less)book.
These racists are hiding behind the dema- goguery of Malema. He has become the medium through which their racist tendencies are transmitted. In this respect, he performs the function of distortion. He and his opponents and supporters are trying to make what is false true, and what is true false. They must not be allowed to divert us from what is good and noble about our country. We must not allow unthinking hysteria to create opportunities for those who act in pursuit of ends that have nothing to do with achieving the goal of living in a nonracial rainbow nation. Further, we must not forget that the majority of South Africans remain committed to the ideal of a rainbow nation. This is why the racist and fascist ideas of the AWB lack credibility among Afikaners. This is why the raving and ranting of Malema is not embraced by all supporters of the ANC.