Saturday, August 30, 2008

old-new white identities and rugby

Nico Botha, in a recent paper to an international conference on Human Identity and Reconciliation suggest that we see in South Africa a frigthening reverse to old-styled Apartheid identities. He refered to a few examples and amongst other the recent Waterkloof 4 trial. I'm concerned about something else, related to this court case, which in my view is the tip of the hippo's ears. It speaks of something deeper. I am concerned about the groundswell of popular support for these convicted racist murderers. The argument is that they don't deserve to be in prison amongst other dangerous criminals and that they should be allowed to follow their promising careers in acting and rugby. Afterall, as the mother of Christoff Becker said, God is standing alongside them.

How am I to understand this ? So is it the same God that support the rich and the powerful in their legal quest to keep these murderers out of prison, that also stand on the side of justice? The issue is furthermore, what are we to do with the fact that young people act out their racism in the 'new South Africa', only for their parents, political leaders and the powerful Afrikaans media to either play it down as isolated irresponsible mistakes, or to put all their resources in defending the indefensible ?

For me, this relates to the fact that the public discourse on race has gone underground and private; we have still not been able to deal with the emotional (?) invisible side of it. In public we don't talk about it anymore, yet racism still maintains it's cold grip upon us. My post here would be seen as raising a non-issue, because, of course, we have closed to book on apartheid. I am however more and more convinced that we are failing ourselves and more importantly our children, if we don't deal with this head-on. We need to develop new language to talk it out and the media blissfully does'nt help us either.

The Beeld of today reports on the Waterkloof-four's pending appeal to the Constitutional Court and sort of explain to the public how the lower courts made a mistake and how, on a technicality, a precedent of Supreme Court of Appeals of 1939, they might be free again. I am not versed in legaleze and the closest I got to studying law, was the TV series, 'Beste Professor' in the 80's. So I would not dare to venture on the question where the Constitutional Court would go. I simply see that they (three of the four) yesterday, for the first time in public, admited that and how they committed this heinious crime. They state,'Ons het opgetree op 'n manier wat nie toegelaat kan word in 'n beskaafde, demokratiese gemeenskap nie en daarvoor vra ons om verskoning (We acted in a a manner that cannot be allowed in a civil, democratic community and for that we apologise'). They describe how, amongst others, they played a dark evil, kind of rugby on this man, standing back for impact, stepping forward and kicking him, with heavy duty boots, in the face, like Naas Botha. Kicking him to death, because he was most probably ivading their space, a criminal (afterall he was black).

I'm not convinced that it will help to deny the racism amongst white young people in South Africa today. Jonathan Jansen, seems to be taking this dead-end street. He argues for more understanding for these victims of the 'new South Africa' and that the new government should take the blame and suspend their discriminatory policies of redress and transformation, because this makes these victims angry and bitter. Crain Soudien, in his book, Youth identity in contemporary South Africa: Race, culture and schooling, makes more sense to me. Here we here a more nuanced conversation on the challenges we face. He argues, on the basis of extensive research the last 15 years in schools in South Africa that there are a few white youth identities emerging, namely 'global whiteness' (South African but not for long), 'supremacism' or 'old-new South African whiteness', where the Afrikaner male image is revived with rugby and heavy handed 'ontgroening'. This relates to kind of 'kampstaaldraad' identity. He also points to other positive identifications of white young people, which he calls, the 'priviledge and socially-sensitive' protrait and lastely young people who are not in the same socio-economic bracket, but who see themselves as 'new white South Africans', where 'the white young people are much more conscious of the challenges of living in the new South Africa and talk about it more openly.... they know that the history of whiteness marks then as priviledged people, but they want to build their own identity which is rooted in the country' (2007:75-76).

The question is whether we have been able to provide space for this kind of re-making of identifications where talking of the challenges of living in the new SA are open, without pretending as if there is no history. It is this kind of conversations that emerging expresions of church should keep themselves busy with, and in such a way that God is heard in the dialogue with silent voice of uncomfortable other, in the unnamed black in the park, seemingly with no family. It is here where we transcend the old and where an evident revulsion against racism give birth to new identifcations, norms and ultimately institutions.
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