Christi van der Westhuizen
Christi van der Westhuizen

The white angst of Red October

Singer and aspirant politician Steve Hofmeyr delivered a heart-wrenching ode to the splendours and disappointments of Afrikaner white masculinity at the Red October march in Pretoria. But to get an even better sense of the thinking behind the campaign, just look at the two sponsors of its website: Comfizone and the Pistols Saloon. It’s so perfect one can’t even make it up.

Clicking through to Comfizone reveals that it is a product used to insulate homes – must be white homes, in this case. The Pistols Saloon, according to the video on its site, is a “museum” in KwaZulu-Natal devoted to the Wild West period in US history, a time when “laws didn’t apply”.

White entitlement loves insulation and to shoot a gun without consequences. It wants to indulge in nostalgic flights of fantasy about the time when it was boss (or baas in this case). It certainly does not want its comfort zone (or is that “comfizone”) to be disturbed by something as lively and unpredictable as democracy. That’s where the guns come in.

So how does one make sense of the name Red October, which ordinarily refers to a period in the Communist revolutionary takeover of Russia in 1917? And then there are the two well-known quotations used on the Red October website: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” and “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!” (The added exclamation mark is their flourish.)

Astonishingly, the first quotation is by Martin Luther King Jr, the great Civil Rights leader who was killed for agitating against the oppression of black people in the US. The second of these quotes, by Edmund Burke, is in frequent circulation among people who would describe themselves as liberals, progressives or even radicals.

First the good news about the unlikely use of these terms and phrases. It’s a sign of how the racist rhetoric on which white supremacists used to rely has become stigmatised in the South African context. They may still recite the usual racist rhymes around the braai but to gain public leverage even they realise that they won’t get anywhere trotting out the usual racist muck. Some even feel ashamed about being thought of as racists, even as they cling to racism, as my research shows.

The bad news is that these white supremacists are trying to appropriate the discourses of struggles for equality and freedom to legitimise the privileging of some people on the basis of skin colour. Not just that: they are claiming that they are being victimised by the policies designed to overturn the very damage of the white supremacist systems of the past.

White men are still at the top of the pile – just look at figures for wealth and private sector ownership and management, or who’s the least likely to be unemployed. The thing is: some of them just don’t feel on top anymore. They don’t only want to be on top – they want everybody else to be happy with them on top.

One should remember that the end of apartheid uprooted people who found their identities in apartheid ways of being. This is not only because it was the end of institutionalised racism. With the affirmation of human dignity and rights for all, our democracy challenges the supremacy of the male in the household and society at large. Women are not chattel anymore, and children won’t just be seen and not heard. Lesbians and gays are claiming social space.

Some white women are also confused by the end of apartheid. They feel they’ll get a sense of purpose again if “the white man” can be returned to his former glory, starting with the family. That is why the Red October campaign targets “your family and mine” as the basis of their public claims of white entitlement.

Intermingled with claims of “the oppression of the White South African Ethnic Minority” and rejection of “racist Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action” (their capitalisation), the Red October petition cites a range of other problems, such as corruption and violent crime. The petition proclaims that “we will no longer tolerate the destruction of our infrastructure, our filthy government hospitals, our pathetic educational system, dirty dams and rivers, uninhabitable parks and public areas, dangerous neighbo[u]rhoods and filthy streets and a disintegrating road network!”

They’re claiming these things as though black people don’t suffer under these exact ills and don’t want solutions to them. This is apartheid thinking: we deserve good things, not black people. This framework advances the dehumanisation of black people. The petitioners go as far as to say that they don’t want to contribute to the democratic state; they only want to spend their money on white squatters and white orphans. They are chasing the phantasm of “Blank Suid-Afrika” (white South Africa), where the lion share of resources went to white people because, uhm, they were white.

While the organisers are Afrikaans-speaking white people, the website is only in English. This is probably firstly about recruiting the many English-speaking white people that share these views. While Afrikaans-speaking white people can by and large speak English, the same cannot be said about Afrikaans fluency among English-speaking white people.

More ominously, the English-only website and the reaching out to white South African emigrants in other countries is about connecting into worldwide networks of racist white people, probably with a view of generating some funds for their nefarious activities.

It is important that white people actively distance themselves from the Red October campaign to show that white people are not homogeneous and that they reject warmed-up apartheid thinking. But the campaign does throw up a question: in acknowledgement of continuing white (male) privilege, what kind of concerted citizen action can white people undertake to make South Africa a just place?

This column first appeared on www.ewn.co.za.

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    • Brandy Balls

      People’s responses to Red October seems to have said more about our own mentalities than anything else.
      Granted, the Red October organisers really are not bringing their messages across in the right/white way. But the backlash has been interesting to watch.
      For example, you say that white people feel they are entitled to nicer things in terms of clean hospitals and roads that do not have pot-holes large enough to start a spit-braai in, while black people are not entitled to that and how black people are being dehumanized.
      No. What the petition is trying to bring across is that infrastructures which should serve THE WHOLE COUNTRY must be improved for ALL its people, not just the whiteys.
      It is no secret that many of our infrastructures have not held up well: electricity supply, roadworks, education, etc. Anyone can tell you that. Pointing this out doesn’t mean: “As a WHITE person I want this-and-this-and-this”. It’s saying, “Hey, government, we voted you in. Please don’t let us down.”
      Not every argument raised by a white person comes from a place of racial entitlement. So stop spinning it that way.

    • Ohm

      I attended the local gathering in my town – stood to one side (more out of curiosity than anything else), though I have been a victim of crime myself (violent and racially motivated). As an English speaking white South African, I felt ashamed to be there. The endless bla blah blah about white supremacy, Afrikaners being God’s people (like no one else can lay claim to this) etc etc etc, just reminded me about the rise and the fall of the Klu Klux Klan. Reminded me of endless garbage spewed forth from the mouths of the AWB. I walked away. And distance myself from these people. For not every white person in South Africa is a racist. We don’t all walk around with such hatred. This kind of hatred is what was wrong with SA and this kind of hatred will ensure that it stays wrong…. And I do not, under any circumstance, want to live in a Volksstaat with the rest of these people.

    • Alan

      Very nicely summed up, and very informative about some of the things we didn’t know.

      The obliviousness is what’s so staggering. Not only do they have zero chance of gaining sympathy and government coddling of their views with this rhetoric, but they also work to create the threat they imagine – eroding the tenuous sympathy that we as white people still enjoy in South Africa. If we are one day targeted as a minority by an unscrupulous populist politicion, it will only have been possible because of unrepentant racists like these.

    • Tofolux

      @Christi, I am really getting a bit g..vol of white racism and I am left wondering the w.t..h. any attention is paid to them anyway. The singer can go and sing his songs to whomever wants to listen to it. In fact, it brings back this memory of anties and uncles getting dronk-verdriet listening to a sad washed out singer who is long past his sell by date this only because there is nothing else to listen to. The campaign is as opportunistic as you can get it. The biggest irony though is that the only ones who has shown interest are sell by date ideologues and the media! This while the real stories of real suffering is ignored carte blanche.

    • http://www.henrileriche.com Henri Le Riche

      If it was “white supremacists” Christi, then explain why these people are black? Oops, must a conspiracy theory….right? .they are whites, dressed as blacks right?

      PICTURES:

      pic.twitter.com/UEj1rJKsc3

      pic.twitter.com/zQwWvtlDQj

      Or maybe they are intelligent, and open minded individuals, unlike people in the media like you, with tunnel vision, bias, and extreme personal prejudices, gross generalizations and assumptions trying to further ideologies that have no benefit to society at large (And probably personal issues too by the looks of it)

      When you have no comeback you shout racism, equal rights, tolerance, supremacy….you’re running out of clichés to say dear. Old tactic when you have no substance to add. You all are so predictable with the buzz words…

      Marxists are not liberals. They are tolerant hypocrites as long as people agree with their views, and their views only! If not, they are the world biggest cry babies and hypocrites.

      Here’s a message for you and your role model.

      I celebrate the uniqueness of a true 100% full blooded woman any time, and treat them with the greatest respect they deserve. Feminists on the other hand I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole and find personally repulsive….

      Letter Response: Gilian Schutte and white privilege – http://wp.me/p2f2Kv-1Dk

    • Mondo the magnifient

      Yes the infrastructure of this country has regressed since democracy was implemented in 1994, that is undeniable
      I worked at Baragwanath Hospital in the 1980’s, that hospital is a mere shadow of what it used to be and the services rendered (to mainly black) South Africans

      The fundamental difference is that some people give a damn about the way this country is being run, the lacklustre attitude of the SAPS towards crime, the unpainted road markings on highways, the incompetence of the civil service and the autocracy under the ruling ANC are issues worth highlighting

      Sadly liberals bury their heads in the sand, use the well worn excuse of “Apartheid” and disguise institutional racism as BEE.
      When these liberals are confronted with the fact, there are a few words they use to belittle those who take a stance.
      These words are “white supremacy” and “racists”

      Needless to say, almost any article focussing on “Red October” in the press or published in Blogs tend to use these words to water down the event and mislead the uninformed that those who give a damn are nothing more than racists

      Lastly, I do commend you on your “patriotic reporting” Jacob Zuma and Karl Marx would be proud

    • Marcelle

      I am deeply saddened by both the Red October march and the way in which this has been reported on and dealt with. It is terrible, that we have to exist with such hatred, in order to express our views.

      So its wrong that people are upset about the murders that are taking place in our country, particularly farmers, and they are a bunch of racists because they would like more awareness about this, and justice for those that have been murdered. How is this any different from anyone else, black, white, colored, green, pink ? And this is the reaction that you give them?

      You disgust me, you fake, complaining bunch, brave at a braai after a glass of wine, not afraid to voice your opinion then, but will not support people that actually take their fears and concerns to the streets. I am proud of every South African that was at that rally, you are standing up for what you believe in, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      The writer of this article leaves much to be desired. Your words impress very few, and your writing promotes further hate in South Africa.

      As long as we continue to fight among ourselves we will never be happy, and we will fail at becoming a nation state (emphasis on nation).

      Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
      – Martin Luther King Jr

    • Pingback: Don’t you just love the smell of fear from female-men? | - Site of Henri Le Riche()

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/levikabwato Levi

      “Formerly they [the oppressors] could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel and hear Beethoven; while millions did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied or travelled, much less listened to Beethoven.

      “Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of the rights of community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights – although they had no respect for the millions who suffered and died of hunger, pain, sorrow, and despair.” – Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

    • http://play-electric-guitar.net Andrew

      Anyone for a game of chess? I think perhaps all this talk about racism is only feeding racism.
      When it comes to a person or their family members being senselessly murdered, or threatened by the greater possibility of such a thing happening, whether you consider it to be a real or imagined threat, perhaps a little compassion would be more appropriate.
      As far as wanting things to be better, I think it’s wonderful that some people have standards.
      Wealth creation is another matter entirely as we need to restructure our entire education system to teach entreprenuership as well, but of course we need a decent one first.
      As a last note: Wanting better for yourself doesn’t mean wanting worse for others.
      Some wisdom is required and the greatest wisdom is love.

    • James

      Christi Shows a remarkable lack of maturity and genuine insight. Perhaps these qualities only come with age, or perhaps they are innate in only some those with a deep well of fairness and compassion to draw upon when analysing a situation such as this. It’s just too easy, way too eas,y to lampoon this group as latter-day rednecks and supremacist dolts. She talks about gun culture but not one breath about the reality of the guns used by killers and rapists to harm people. No balance. It’s not unlike the undergraduate ranting I used to hear in the humanities departments in the old days by resentful bearded lefties and their cohorts of feminists. Some kinds of hate are cooler than others, but only for a time.

      I looked through the pictures and sure there were the tell tale signs of Afrikaans roots culture with the flags and the mililtarist khaki stuff and so on but so was there many an open, moderate face expressing concern and righteous anger at the situation. We are talking here about murder and rape should we remind the haughty moralist Christi? Although our histories are different, we know if say Asians in South Africa had to march in exactly the same way complaining of crime in their community, Christi would not even summon the energy to lift her pen. Someone so lacking in basic fairness is just not to be taken very seriously.

    • JAMES BLOND

      The main point of Red October was the fact that people OF ALL RACES are killed, brutally murdered and tortured bt criminals who do not give a damn about others people life and how what they are doing are effecting people’s life.

      I dare all of you to come and make a comment when one of your loved ones was tortured and brutally murdered, will you still say the same things
      you live in your secure estates and all you can do is judge other people
      Do you want photos of white, black green people that was tortured before they were murdered?
      i do not think you can face it?
      remember judge and you will be judged!.

    • Cassie Kruger

      The fact is we stated that we are GATVOL if all that we asked for are fixed who will benefit ONLY the whites please grow up and get a live if the Hospitals are managed all SA citizens will benefit, if Eskom wake up all SA citizens will benefit. If the schools are better all will benefit yes we asked for murders on whites to stop 30 % of the murders in the country are against 6-8 % of the population BUT if that decrease the people be caught brought to justice and yes for once be kept in jail crime might just go down as it’s most likely the same people that murders other people in the country to. The news are full of Papenfus with her lies against a farmer yet just in this week 7 people was murdered Yes white that I know of and nothing in the press. so the changes are good that about 14 Blacks was murdered by blacks yes and listen nice NOTHING IN THE PRESS. so tell the people what realy happen in the country catch a wake up and mabe then you will earn respect

    • Andre Roothman

      It probably says something about my political myopia that this is the first I hear about the Red October campaign, though I have never been one of the ‘I didn’t know’ brigade.

    • The Praetor

      Afrikaners firstly have to identify who they really are before they can make any claims.

      And I’m not talking of the school, textbook, propaganda, which they have been brainwashed with, but who they really are and their true origins. Their language is not their own, neither their name, as they were named after Jonker Afrikaner, who was mixed between Dutch and Khoi.

      The Praetor

    • http://www.xen.co.za Hugh Robinson

      Well Christi, When I attend ANC and other government sponsored meetings, try as I might I cannot be imparcial. I see and hear all sorts of anti white and what I think is Anti South African or anti business blab.

      I see you have the same problem. The answer is really simple. Open your mind just a little and the message changes.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I was a bit embarrassed by the whole march but I’m starting to feel quite impressed by them. Such a small number of people who have made such a HUGE impact on everyone. The Afrikaner nation must be much more powerful than I imagined. Now the micro psycho analysing is beginning.

      We have marches, strikes, political foolishness and various protests but a handful of Afrikaans speaking people with red balloons makes the whole country sit up and pay attention. I wonder why they think they are ‘special’?

    • Martin Kotze

      Christi, I took part in Pretoria. For the vast majority of campaigners, it is not about asking for, or missing the privileges of 20 years ago. Yes, Apartheid WAS a way of keeping ALL South Africans much safer than they are now. But we are mature enough to know it didn’t work before and certainly won’t work again. I know too little about BEE and AA. If that is still necessary to correct the imbalances of the past, then so be it.
      But surely we have a right, as whatever grouping we might represent, to protest peacefully against the fact that people are being attacked and brutally tortured to death in their bedrooms, by gangs of total strangers? Yes we do know that crime affects everyone in the country, and most of us do care for all of us. But something needs to be done about this particular type of murderers, and honestly, almost all black on white murders are of the nature I mentioned, while a much smaller portion of black on black murders are of that nature.

    • http://none HvdB

      Christi, for a journalist you show a remarkable lack of insight. It is the equivalent of reporting on a Springbok / Allblack rugby game and in your report you say the spectators drank too much. You may be right in what you are saying but lady YOU MISSED THE ENTIRE GAME!!!
      Red October is about hate crimes – people being tortured to death, murders etc with some fringe issues. Did you miss that part?
      In the quest for being oh-so-politically-correct (or did you do it under instruction) you are drawing attention to everything but the real issue.

    • Mbonisi

      These white supremacists are wasting their time in this world. Theirs is really a lost cause – this is why Barack Obama is President of the United States today. White supremacy is long gone, dead and buried.

      The numbers of race populations acoss the globe are clearly going against these theories of white supremacy.

      China is now the world’s second biggest economy and they are not white, thus throwing the white supremacists theories out of the window. The Auto industry has shifted to Asia, its no longer a white thing.

      At the end of the day, I still have to meet that whiteman, who is at death’s door, but still refuses a heart, liver, or kidney transplant just because the organ is from a Black person!!

    • Andrew

      Has somone bothered to take the organisers of the ‘Red October’ campaign to task about the release of many baloons into the environment? It has been shown that many baloons released in this way end up in the ocean and terrestrial enviroments, injested by various animal forms and causing fatalities.

    • GARETH PIKE

      Yesterday, story of Underberg farmer bludgeoned in face, wife forced to watch.
      Today, 92 year old Pretoria gran raped.

      I grew up in a liberal house. Now I’m just a bitter, scared, very angry white. This country is cursed and red october DO have a point.

    • Jo Ku

      Twelve Ways to Deny Genocide
      Israel Charny outlines the tactics of denial in “Templates for Gross Denial of a Known Genocide: A Manual,” …in The Encyclopaedia of Genocide, volume 1, page 168.

      1. Question and minimize the statistics.
      2. Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers.
      3. Claim that the deaths were inadvertent,
      4. Emphasize the strangeness of the victims.
      5. Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict,
      6. Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings,
      7. Avoid antagonizing the genocidists, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
      8. Justify denial in favour of current economic interests.
      9. Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment,
      10. Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
      11. Blame the victims.
      12. Say that peace and reconciliation are more important than blaming people for genocide,

    • Jo Ku