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Senekal Protests: A race war is not an option

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Senekal Protests: A race war is not an option

16th October 2020

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We have a responsibility as society, hurt as we are, to salvage a shared future for the children

MR President, I am in pain. Our nascent democracy is under severe strain. Last week, a young man, a farming manager in his prime, Brendin Horner, was murdered. His senseless killing came on the heels of the Clicks racist advert debacle that laid bare the fault lines in our society. The two events are not related, except that the brains behind the racist advert were white companies and their underlings. Moreover, the suspects in the murder case of the young farmer are black men, the proverbial two black men. The response to these two seemingly unrelated race-tainted episodes resulted in some sections of our society being willing to sacrifice the values of our Constitution in the service of political expediency.

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In the wake of the Clicks scandal, the Red Berets (EFF) went on the rampage and trashed shops. While still reeling from the side effects of the EFF’s race obsessed posture, some hothead in the Free State trashed public property in the name of justice for Horner.

At the same time, some among us ask why no EFF member was arrested in the aftermath of the shop trashing. Some question the wisdom of the police for not using maximum force to deal with the Senekal protesters. These questions show that the rupture goes deep. We want to see blood on the floor. We are at war with ourselves. We demand retribution, not justice. If we accelerate the process of othering, there is no turning back, it is a race to the bottom. We have a responsibility as society, as hurt as we are, to salvage a shared future for our children out of the ruins of the present day suffering.

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In both these race-tainted events, our Constitution was tested to its limits. Our humanity as a people is on trial.  However, we cannot give up on constitutionalism. Our Constitution as the supreme law of the land occupies an important space in the life of this nascent democracy. It abhors self-help but promotes the values of equality before the law. It enjoins us to build a new South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. It correctly instructs us thus: heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. This is the promise we made to ourselves in the 1990s when we opted to coexist and stop the bloodshed in our homeland. Let us not seek retribution for the hurt we experience as a result of the perceived or real government failure to treat protesters indiscriminately, or as the wheels of justice turn too slowly. We must remember the undying spirit of the late president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela and his generation of freedom fighters who promoted healing despite the allure of revenge. Madiba and his peers were hurt. They felt unloved and alienated in the land of their birth. They were tortured, imprisoned and humiliated. They witnessed the tears of mothers who lost sons, daughters and husbands in the proxy race wars of apartheid.

Nevertheless, when Mandela assumed the presidency and had access to the levers of state power, he opted for peace and planted seeds of goodwill and not hate. He laid down the building blocks of a new society as an oasis of peace, freedom and liberty.

In 1996, when he signed the Constitution into law, Mandela, on behalf of all South Africans, entered us into a sacred covenant: though shall not promote hate, but healing. We must promote coexistence and a shared humanity. Justice over retribution. Equality, not race superiority. We do not have an opt-out clause in this constitutional injunction. It is a generational mission that can only succeed if we plant seeds of hope amid anger, elevate healing, and not act out our basic instincts.

We must remember the words of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng when he defined constitutionalism as something that constitutes the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck. In essence, the police owe the nation an explanation about both these race-charged incidents, the Clicks trashing episode and the Senekal violence. We must hold the police accountable if we are to salvage some shared future for the children. Till next week, my man, in the meantime, let us mourn the dead and in their honour, build a society at peace with itself. A race war is not an option. “Send me.”

This Letter to Mahlamba Ndlopfu is written by Bhekisisa Mncube, a Zulu ambassador based in Pretoria. He is also an author of the Love Diary of a Zulu Boy (memoir) and former senior Witness (Media24) political journalist.

This opinion piece was first published in the Witness.

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