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Talk of genocide dangerous

There is a lot of catastrophism among political groups on the periphery of South African political economy.

One could attribute it to the hustings, given that we are about a year from the next general election, but it is probably much worse than simple electioneering.

Of particular concern is all the talk about genocide.

There are two main sources of the genocide talk.

There is the EFF, that may insist there is a genocide against black people under way.

And on the far right there are (white) ethno-nationalists led mainly by Afriforum and by PRAAG.

It should be said that Afriforum and PRAAG do not represent all white people, and the EFF does not represent all black people.

One likelihood is that the EFF, much more than Afriforum or PRAAG, will increase its representation in parliament and its leader, Julius Malema, may some day be South Africa’s president.

In the meantime, he has threatened to remove all white leaders in cities and provinces around the country – starting with the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

His blood-curdling threat, of throatcutting, that was met with rapturous and rather vacuous encomia, is dangerous and can set in motion an emulative effect that we may not be able to control.

It may satisfy only the most vengeful among us.

We should try to see through his rhetoric.

What is clear, anyway, is that there is no genocide against whites, or Afrikaners, in particular.

In fact, when he appeared on the Justice Factor early in February, Malema (speaking in the specific context of Zimbabwe) said white farmers should be “invited back” to lease land, after the state had nationalised everything in the country.

This does not suggest that there is a genocide against white people under way.

Malema has, however, suggested there was a genocide under way against black people in South Africa.

In a moment of silliness (which is part of those terrible logical fallacies, tangential matters and non-sequiturs which the EFF leaders enjoy spinning into elaborate conspiracies) Malema accused state officials and cabinet ministers of being part of a “Whatsapp group” that is presiding over “the genocide of black people”.

When he referred to this on the Justice Factor in early February, the host, Justice Malala, did not ask Malema what he meant by genocide.

This was probably an oversight, seeing that Malema was on a roll and Malala had run out of time.

Charges of genocide have to be examined seriously for their social and legal veracity.

Whereas Afriforum and PRAAG point to farm murders in which white people are killed, and Malema suggests that “the Ruperts” and the “Oppenheimers” and “their friends” (and an obscure Whatsapp group) are all part of “a black genocide”, their charges need to be approached carefully.

There are about as many definitions of genocide as there are scholars working on the subject.

In one study I counted at least 25 definitions.

A most elementary definition, by historical sociologist Helen Fein, is that genocide is “an act that puts the very existence of a group in jeopardy”.

Let’s be honest, the existence of black people, as a group, is not about to be placed in jeopardy, and the Afrikaners and white people, in general, are not being killed off to the point where they will no longer exist.

Frankly, without traducing the horrors of murder, the attacks on farmers around South Africa has to be seen in the context of the horrendous levels of crime across the country.

Only recently an attempt was made to saw off the legs of a black athlete.

It was a simple mugging that included a chainsaw . . .

The brutality of crimes in South Africa cannot be under-played, but nor should it be exaggerated.

Arguing over who is or has been most persecuted is rather tedious, not to mention expedient and disingenuous.

The most reliable studies done by the most independent groups have found it almost impossible to identify generalised racial motives behind all farm murders – to the extent that it amounts to a genocide.

The more conservative group, Genocide Watch, that is often associated with the claim of a white genocide, has publicly declared that there was “no white genocide under way” in South Africa.

No other reputable organisation – from the United Nations to the Atrocity Forecasting Project, an Australian group, no less – has warned of a genocide or impending genocide in South Africa.

In sum, all this talk about genocide exploits the fear, need, want, hunger and dispossession (among black people) and the senses of loss of power, the reality and perception of targeted crime, murder and probably fear of a black planet.

Even in the worst-case scenario, the total existential destruction of black people (as Malema suggested), or of white people (as Afriforum and PRAAG have told us), may happen only in our worst nightmares.

It does not help that we get into bed every night and have to sleep through these nightmares.

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