The scrawl of fools;iti-at-wits

[Interjection in red type by Benjamin Vandorgyules (BV)]

The recent defacing of buildings on the University of the Witwatersrand says something about the fault lines of our society. [Does it indeed? It may be mindless and destructive, but I hardly think it warrants the extreme spin you put on it. But perhaps you are right: fault lines which have been papered over since 1994 (BV).] The Mail & Guardian article explores this recent spate of hate-inspired graffiti scrawled on university buildings: Fuck Jews. kill a Jew. Fuck white people. Castrate white men. There is an interesting conflation of racial hatred here, and there are those who, like Tokelo Nhlapo, believe that such slogans – at least the ones about the irredeemable whites – are “…an appropriate expression of black pain”. (

See also a letter of riposte:

“‘Fuck white people’ is an appropriate expression of black pain”.

Is it “appropriate”? I can easily imagine dull-headed fascists justifying their resentment: “‘Fuck Jews’ is an appropriate expression of Aryan pain,” they might say. [But can we, should we, see parallels in Nazi ideology here, or is this simply hyperbole on your part? “He jests at scars that never felt a wound”, wrote Shakespeare. At least allow this man’s wounds speak. (BV)] Nhlapo doesn’t leave it there of course, and while one should perhaps answer a fool according to his folly – why not let his own words speak for him? He continues,“Racism is the violent process of black people’s subjugation”. Well yes: insofar as racism was and still is a violent process of subjugation – and a systemic violence too. But Nhlapo subverts the word racism here, locating it exclusively in relation to black people. He wants to ‘own’ the word racism;  confineing it to the narrative of white oppression of black people. [The point Nhlapo makes is that there is a long and shameful history of the oppression of black people by white people, and that a T-shirt with an anti-white slur is insignificant compared to the history of oppression of blacks by whites. Why should one not be allowed to express such outrage? There is no folly in the assertion. Think of the Atlantic Slave trade; the nightmare plantations of the paradisal New World;  the genocide of the native Americans, the atrocities of King Leopold’s Congo; the institutionalised racialism of Apartheid; the American Deep South with its lynchings, the terror of the KKK and pervasive hatred of blacks by whites; the universal prejudices about black people which long informed the white European and American world view (and continue to do so). Just do a Google search for “racist ads” to see just how offensive even recent representation of black people has been in the media. It is beyond shameful. See this online article about human zoos: We white folk need to take a sober look at the darker side of our own colonial history just to begin to understand black pain, and black anger. Not in order to feel miserable about themselves (which is completely valueless), but to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.(BV)]. What name other than racism would Nhlapo give to the persecution of Asians by Uganda’s Idi Amin? Or the Nazi persecution of The Jews? The  “plaasmoorde“(would the torture and battering to death of a white farming family fall under the ambit of “appropriate”?) [May I draw your attention to a useful insight here? “Whites are 8.9 times less likely to be murdered than black people in this country” according to a myth-debunking article on News24. See we must unequivocally condemn every single murder, but equally be aware how right-wing conspiracy theorists disseminate false statistics to advance racist agendas.] What about the devastation wrought among African societies by fourteen centuries of the Arab slave trade in which an estimated 20 million people were enslaved by Arab slave traders between A.D. 650 and 1900 ( [I don’t see how the Arab slave trade in any way absolves the white race of its history of cruelty towards black people or diminishes their accountability. If anything, it further illustrates the terrible injustice perpetrated against black peoples who have had the misfortune of living under the white man’s yoke. No one is justifying murder and genocide here! (BV)] 

But Nhlapo’s argument becomes clearer still:

“I honestly don’t like white people; I have every reason not to.”

[I don’t condone his view, because it shuts down all possibility of encounter, of reconciliation. He wants neither. I do however respect his right to his view. There are women who, victims of brutality, choose to have nothing further to do with men. An experience of religious intolerance can damage one’s confidence in religious community. Of course two wrongs don’t make a right, but frankly I am surprised there remains so much good will towards whites in South Africa or elsewhere in what once were Europe’s colonies, given the injustices, deep wounding and pathologies of the past and persistent pathologies of the present. Such pathologies are ever ready to prevent mutual love and respect taking hold. (BV)]

I imagine Hitler would have opined (as indeed he did in Mein Kampf) “I honestly don’t like Jews – I have every reason not to.” [Perhaps there is a tenuous parallel here, but I think you exaggerate the point for rhetorical effect. If you read the article carefully it is clear the author is not here advocating violence but defending t-shirt wearers and graffiti-artists right to articulate their anger. Anger and hatred are not identical.(BV)]

And there it is: the uninspiring logic of the racist: after the spitting rant and arcane cant, it always boils down to a sort of -nastiness: I hate because I hate so there you are. [Are you not also guilty of rant and cant?(BV)]

“Tokelo Nhlapo, a member of the incoming student representative council and the youth league… burst into the banned “shoot the boer” with Wits students on their feet singing along. He repeatedly added the words “dubula lekgoa” (shoot the white).”–

“Shoot the Boer, shoot the white”? This isn’t racist? This is justifiable? And this is the “student representative council”? Really? How “representative” could it be of all students when he calls for the shooting of its white members (if there are any). It would afterall be perverse for a white afrikaner to sing along with Nhlapo. This sort of polarizing language plays in the space of equally contemptible white racists. He might mischievously play with hate speech, but what if a more concrete-thinking dullard were to take his words literally?

“The white minority is increasingly defined as the “other”, as “them”, as the common enemy – as if they are not also proper citizens of the land. We have seen in other societies what this process of demonising one ethnic group can lead to if left undisturbed. It is dangerous, and can get more dangerous as the contestation for political power heats up.” – Max du Preez

One can get into the murky debate of moral equivalence of course – whether black hatred for whites is morally less reprehensible than white hatred for blacks. A little like debating whether the British bombing of Dresden was morally less offensive than say the German bombing of Coventry.

But I digress: it is that old whipping stone of the fascist, antisemitism, that I want to draw our attention to. It was only a matter of time before everything became the fault of the Jews.

Thus, a mere few weeks after my neighbour, a Jewish academic at Wits, expressed her real concern at the racist and antisemitic tone of the latest wave of militant student protests, we began to see Jews targeted by the fearless and virtuous heroes of the New Struggle in their brave ambition to achieve “Decolonised, decomodified education”. Should we add to that, de-judaized?

The windows of the architecture department were smashed recently, and “Castrate white males” was scrawled across the boarded-up windows. A friend of mine, an architecture professor who initially supported the students FMF cause, is now deeply cynical about what has become a militant, Sturmabteilung-esque thuggery. How quickly a sort of fascism has infected the student protest movement, an intolerance hardly conceivable at an institute of liberal education. But this is South Africa, where sanity, in the words of the Jewish American writer Susan Sontag, is “a cosy lie”.

Given the prominent role South African Jews played in the struggle against Apartheid, this antisemitic griffonage is beyond sickening. That Jews make up a mere 0.14 percent of the South African populace makes such racism against a minority group all the more heinous.

One cannot expect the bigoted ‘spray-can desperados’ to open even an introductory history reader about the South African Liberation struggle, but I would like to list just a few of the Jews who resisted the Apartheid regime:

Harry Schwarz: co-founder of the ‘Torch Commando’ fighting against the‘disenfranchisement of the colored people’.

Ronald Kasrils: Chief of Intelligence for ‘Umkontho We Sizwe’.

Arthur Chaskalson: A jewish defense attorney who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial.

Helen Suzman, anti-apartheid activist

Nadine Gordimer: anti-apartheid activist and writer

Ruth First, anti-apartheid activist, martyr.

And so many others: joe Slovo, Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, Raymond Suttner, Rowley Arenstein, Lazar Sidelsky, Nat Bregman, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe, Franz Auerbach…


2) Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa by Gideon Shimoni

“That people of Jewish descent should be so prominent in the liberation movement says something fundamental about the compassion of Judaism. Many Jewish immigrants who arrived in our shores in abject poverty, laying claim to little but their rich commitment to humanitarian and egalitarian ideals. These commitments were sometimes rooted in traditional Jewish teaching. They sometimes emerged from traditions of socialism. Whatever the case, Jewish compassion is the fruit of empathy, rather than sympathy. It is the fruit of struggle over many millennia, against racism and persecution”.

– secretary general of the African National Congress Kgalema Motlanthe, October 19, 2002

In this context, how can racist sloganeering be defended and legitimized as” a legitimate expression of black pain”? And in a complex context of shifting powers, vulnerabilities and identities (a black majority government has ruled for twenty years: even if we haven’t achieved utopia, polical and economic paradigms have substantially shifted; is it legitimate to excoriate a poor, apparently white person with a mixed genetic heredity? Where do we place mixed race people in this paradigm of self-justifying hatred?, Is it legitimate to hate post-1994 white immigrants from, say, Britain or Holland? what of a mixed race American with one quarter black blood but whom appears to be “white”? I pose the question to illustrate the offensivenss of the contention. Racialsm takes no account of the complexity and increasing mobility of human identities).

And yet, confronted with the “Fuck white people” or “Fuck the Jews” narrative and it’s principled defendants, I confess there is another kind of disquiet I experience which arises from my own sense of illegitimacy and guilt. As a privileged white person, is any contestation of Nhlapo’s view by me even vaguely relevant? By Nhlapo’s measure I am guilty as charged, no trial is necessary; the only acceptable stance for me is the silence required of a condemned man. Is he justified in assuming the position of both my accuser and judge? His position is circumscribed and unassailable, and I am wary of his certainty even as I am disquieted by my uncertainty.

For me, one of the most distressing things about images of Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass – is that there is a smug self-satisfaction evident in the Nazis inspecting the smashed synagogues and shops of Jewish citizens. In photographs of that event, the swagger of the perpetrators as they sadistically force Jews into submissive acts is grotesque. The pogrom was carried out by the “Sturmabteilung” as well as by the man-in-the-street who, to paraphrase Nhlapo, honestly didn’t like these people. For the fascists, the violence – the graffiti, the vandalism, was justified, necessary even. It was payback for Versailles, for past humiliations, to quote David Cesarini of

“The Nazis believed that the Jews had acquired vast power, and that they had used this power in a malign way. It was the power of the Jews that had led to the Bolshevik revolution, it was the power of the Jews that had led to revolution in Germany, had stabbed the German Army in the back and had brought down Imperial Germany. In the Nazis’ world vision not only were the Jews a force for evil, a Manichean, demonic force for evil, but they had vast power, they had their hands on the levers of power. They had to be eliminated, they had to be deprived of that power, they had to be broken and then destroyed. To the Nazis the entire course of world history vindicated that interpretation of Jewish power.” 

This is one reason to be deeply worried about scapegoating:

By placing the blame for all the hatred and distress on one individual or group of individuals, the community’s violence becomes polarized toward the ones being blamed.  These responsible individuals become the scapegoats for all the bad feeling in the community. By expelling or killing the scapegoat, order is restored and the community becomes peaceful again. The single act of sanctioned violence, becomes like a vaccination against the disease of chaotic, out of control violence.

It is critical that the members of the community be completely convinced that the scapegoat is guilty for this mechanism to restore order.  That is why the scapegoat must be accused and slandered before he is killed, but after the killing, everyone attributes the restored order to the scapegoat’s sacrifice. “

Source: Examining psychopathy through the lens of Girardian Theory,

The scrawl of fools: how is my blog post any different? Apart from the insights of theorists and Benjámin Vándorgyűlés’ red interjections, I think my blog post is largely the circumlocutory rambling of a fool, but at least not a fool who hates.

Further reading:

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