Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Dear Dan: about Red October

Dear Dan

You know what? I get it. I really do. The anger, the fear, the frustration. Murder and torture, the traces of unimaginable anguish left in photographs that have left me gasping for breath with the sheer horror of them. I will not post links to them. That is suffering that is real and terrible, and no matter our differences, we should never forget that.

So I understand why you are protesting. There is an endemic savagery that stalks our beautiful land, that mutilates girls like Anene Booysen before they are given a chance to be women, that rapes little babies and old grannies, that bludgeons and stabs and shoots and tortures. We can argue over statistics, we can debate which race group is most affected but the truth is that violent crime is everywhere and it is overwhelming.

Why then when I look through the Red October website do I feel not sympathy for the cause but an intense, almost visceral antipathy? That surely cannot be your objective.

Instead, by approaching your cause in this way, you are marginalising it. You are making it easy for most South Africans to position you as hardcore racists who deserve nothing but contempt. When radio announcers are able to turn murder and torture into a joke, when reporters tweet slyly about how you trigger their gaydar, it means that you are doing something wrong.

It wouldn’t matter except for this: that as long as farm murders are perceived to be the pet cause of the hard right, then the chances of ever solving the problem are further reduced, and more people will die.

I do think your protest has been useful, however. It has reminded us, again, of the massive empathy gap in South Africa. It is a phenomenon deeply rooted in history – not merely our own, but in almost all human societies. We are keenly attuned to our own suffering, and that of others like ourselves but we tend to be blind and deaf to the anguish of others who are a different race, or sexual orientation, or religion.

Apartheid was many things but it was also a demonstration of our remarkable ability to be indifferent to suffering – provided it was experienced by people who were not like ourselves.

It is because of the empathy gap that we are able to drive past shacks and not even see them. It is because of the empathy gap that some of us care more about middle class victims of crime than poor ones. It is because of the empathy gap that we are able to dismiss murder, torture and sadism as the necessary consequences of privilege and past wrongs.

And yes, those who are indifferent to suffering because the victims are white Afrikaans farmers and their families are as guilty of a lack of humanity as the right wingers who despise people who are not white. So while I stand by my view that the notion of a white genocide is ridiculous and wrong and therefore worthy of mockery, I do not believe that actual pain and suffering can ever be reduced to a punchline in a joke.

The fact that it is a joke, the fact that so many are able to draw mocking connections between the Red October protest and the fact that October 10 is also World Mental Health Day, is squarely down to your failure to embrace anything except your own narrow self-interest.

By focusing on race, you have helped to create this empathy gap. It’s time that you acknowledged that. As long as you create the impression that you care only about the suffering experienced by people who happen to be white, you cannot expect anyone to sympathise with the victims on whose behalf you campaign.

Dan, it is as simple and as complicated as this. You can’t expect others to care about you if you don’t care about them. Your ideological tradition has a long history of treating others as subhuman and worse, so you have more pain and hurt and anger to undo than if you had shown kindness and compassion.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you’re serious about addressing the issue, then you’ll change the way you talk about it. You’ll start listening to others instead of firing rhetorical grenades from the safety of Dainfern. If all you want to do is continue to grandstand for the benefit of your fellow ideological travelers, that’s also fine. You won’t achieve anything because the taint of racism is the kiss of death in those sections of society that tweet about events like #redoctober, and nobody with any real influence or power will ever give your cause the time of day.

I know that if you read this, you will probably write a dismissive response to the “wayward white girl” on Praag. Your friend Steve will probably call me a laxative, again. But you are doing a grave disservice to the children, the women and the men in those photographs, and it’s time you tried something different.

Please.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah

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    • http://www.twitter.com/TheLimburger Mandrake

      Well said.

    • Lise

      Thank you Sarah for eloquently voicing something that I also feel. I posted yesterday that I, as a survivor of a violent crime (which was racially motivated), will stand with my red balloon, but I stand for EVERY victim (and survivor) of violent crime. Of crime against race. Of crime against sexuality. Gender. Religion. I do NOT stand only for victims who are white. I stand for them all.

      I was slated by my fellow white Afrikaners. I was pulled apart and called a moron, an illiterate (though I’m not quite sure how they came to that deduction). Oh, I was also called a libtard.

      I attended nevertheless, sided with a coloured family (who left when the very bad singing started) and proceeded to actually be embarrassed that I was standing there. This wasn’t open to all who were affected by crime, this was pure racist blubber, taking me back to my Voortrekker days and I almost felt like donning my kappie and singing Afrikaners is Plesierig. Insteading of making a point, I think we made a spectacle. Blubbering rhetoric about a Volksstaat (where I do NOT want to live), all in Afrikaans and very reminiscent of an AWB speech from 1985. I’m sorry I attended. I feel embarrassed to have been part of this little road show. It dod not make a point, it created some entertainment of the comical sort for onlookers.

      I stand for ALL victims, not a select few. Tonight I will sip my red wine, while I listen to Abel Kraamsaal – Racheltjie de Beer was a bit too much…

    • Scipio

      I agree with you. Crime is not a racial thing, and it should not be a political thing. Crime affects all people in SA, and in many cases affects the poor and the marginal people the worst. It should not be racialised.

    • Another Sarah

      Steve Hofmeyer called you a “laxative” I would have the full quote printed onto my business cards post haste – clearly you are doing something right.

    • Sello Molefe

      I am black person who every night locks his doors and windows puts on an alarm because of the knowledge that I can be a victim of crime. I don’t think that because I’m black I’m safe. There are black people I know who have been tortured, hijacked, killed and raped and they happen to be black just like me. I was hijacked in 2007 by some black guys they didn’t say oh dude you are black sorry. They carried out their evil deed without remorse.

      It saddens me today that there Dan’s out there who are still backwards and stupid in this day and age.

    • Suzi

      Crime affects us all equally. However I am very pleased that these views came onto the public forum. I understand the psychology of dialogue and communication and hiding your views in the ‘closet’ does not auger well for a future of South Africa. Even if I do not agree with the political affiliations and the ‘exclusiveness’ of their stance I am very pleased that it is out in the open and can be interrogated, assessed, discussed and eventually maybe we can all get onto the same page and stand together against crime. The Steve’s of the world are but fleeting ‘stars’ but the rest of us ordinary mortals will hang in there and overcome if we recognise the real issue. Crime.

    • Tebe

      When blacks in this country should have rightly demanded restorative justice they opted for national reconciliation. Protests like red October are an insult to the magnanimity of black South Africans.

    • PM

      When i looked at their web site I was rather amazed at the groups who were sponsoring some of the “protests” in the US–Neo Nazi, white supremacist groups going on about the Jewish problem, etc.

      How can you be taken seriously when you associate yourself with such organizations?

    • Francois

      Thank you Sarah. I am so sick of characters like Roodt, Bridges and Hofmeyr and their following of a few hundred, that just don’t get that what they are doing is damaging! They really need to be publicly taken to task now, by every newspaper and writer, until they come to their sense (which will probably never happen).

    • GotterdammerungSA

      I find it truly amazing how ignorant the socialist left – masquerading as “liberals” – are about the Red October movement. And it is the usual rhetoric – “crime knows no race”, “crime affects us all”, “raaaayyyysiiiiissss”. The fact that WHITE AFRIKAANS speaking people decided to march about something that is the bugbear of all minorities is somehow a cry for hysteria from the lefties. If a black group did the same there would be no problem but just don’t let whitey shake up the Mandelatopia for the white liberal quasi-intellectual. As Albert Brenner recently remarked – fact and logic has no place in a “discussion” with a socialist aka liberal. They ignore it. Liberal Bible verse 1 – You shall allow other points of view as long as they are 100% in line with your own. Call us racists – we just don’t care anymore. A certain level of Stoicism has set in making us ignore the hysteria and verbal diarrhoea of the Sarah Brittens, Nechama Brodies and Gillian Schuttes of the world. We do not need your permission – in fact we never have and with that realisation we also realised that Political Correctness has no place in discussions about the future of this country. So be as PC and “liberal”as you want to – we don’t care any more

    • Momma Cyndi

      My first instinct was to laugh, my second was to cry. When I saw that some loonie new political joke had hijacked the vierkleur, I wanted to smack someone.

      When did my people turn into some laughable version of the American redneck?

    • Katies

      So where is your march against crime?
      Why are you sitting behind your computer complaining about the alleged racist campaign to stop crime instead of spending that energy fighting this horrible crime against humanity?
      Does the fact that some white farmers that want to cling to the dying ghost of their culture make you blind to the crimes committed against them?
      They pay their taxes. Same as most of you. They want services rendered for money and blood paid. Does this make them deserve their fate?

    • The Praetor

      Sarah Britten…You surprised me today!

      The Praetor

    • http://brettfish.wordpress.com brett fish anderson

      thank you for this response – have been trying to get my head around it and particularly how everyone has been completely dismissing it [after all we are talking about the reality of a lot of people who have been savagely murdered] but i think you have hit it on the head andelequently so, so thank you.

      Good luck with response from trolls who will no doubt be around [every time someone seeks to build a bridge]
      all the best
      brett fish

    • Shannon

      Dear Sarah,

      Can I ask one question, since I am not going to contest your take that crime affects everyone equally.

      My question is :
      “Is crime committed by everyone equally ? Regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation ?”

      I get the feeling that it is racist to even ask the question.

    • Karien Jordaan

      Amen

    • http://www.bolobolo.co.za Aragorn Eloff

      @Shannon: The question you should be asking is: “is crime committed by everyone equally, regardless of *class*?”

    • marius swart

      what I do know is that no hyena will have compassion for any wounded animal

    • Thomas Anderson

      I think we should have a march in November – something like “Stop Violence” November. Everyone is invited to attend – and the march will be against ALL violence in South Africa and not against specific groups :)

    • John

      My last comment wasn’t published, so I’ll tone it down.

      This article confirms the need for Red October. The attacks on white people are clearly racist, yet the media won’t admit it. It’s good that Sarah has written a piece like this, it is filled (surprisingly to me) with what, at least at face value, is heartfelt compassion.

      But what Sarah misses, is why this article still enrages. It sends out a very clear message: racist murders against whites must be hidden behind the orgy of death perpetrated by black people against their own. The plight of white farmers in particular must be hidden from the world, until black people decide to stop killing each other. As if that alone would end the attacks on farmers and other white people.

      The families of past victims, and those whites who represent the target demographic, cannot afford to measure the value of their lives against the benchmark set by the rampant violence perpetrated by black people on each other.

      The price of peace has exceeded the cost of war, and no one is prepared to sacrifice their loved ones on the alter of political correctness. And that renders Sarah’s otherwise great article – worthless.

    • http://mailandgaurdian perplexed

      This weekend, I went up to Bloemfontein to do a course I needed to do. I needed assistance while there and was graciously and completely unselfishly helped by an Afrikaner gentleman. I hardly knew. His nephew (a farmer) , I learnt had been murdered by four drunk teenage farm laborers one evening. His wife had been set alight and leaving their four year old daughter to face the world alone. I couldn’t help thinking how far removed and I was sitting here in Cape Town – and I felt an overwhelming sadness and then anger with people like you Sarah Britton. Damn you for your aloof sanctimonious pc BS

    • Nguni

      @ GötterdämmerungSA, John and perplexed: I hear you. The Afrikaners have simply had enough, and their rage cannot be diminished by the high numbers of black on black violence. They don’t care what others think about the demo. There are not so many farmers (or whites) so their violent deaths make waves. I missed the live broadcast and the website but if american neo-nazis are supporting them they should stop it as it lessens their cause. The afrikaners were always politically naive, see Apartheid and the AWB flag..

    • Wes Will

      Oh gosh… Now what should I say… I’m colored! No one is standing up for us! In every colored community, violance is evident. rape, murder, robbery.

      I say we have a … Urh, Colourfull November.

      Red October is racist.

    • Jan-Hendrik Swanepoel

      Thank you for taking the time to write this, Sarah. Your tone is truly indicative of someone not trying to make some kind of statement, but rather of someone commenting on South Africa’s challenges and the reality that these do not merely affect certain groups. It is obviously easy to stand on the outside and keep a cool head about these things, but the truth is that, however you look at this, “genocide” is clearly the wrong word – to mention but one of the incorrect views by Dan. Furthermore, I get particularly annoyed by people like “Gotterdammerung SA” who hide behind some pseudonym when making politically-loaded statements.

      John, no one is hiding farm murders. As sad as it is, they are just not that newsworthy and media outlets cannot afford to alienate any of their readers. No one will buy newspapers filled with articles just on murders. The reality is that we would be able to fill various daylies with articles on crime, including murder and rape occurring across race demographics. Despite your one-sided, uninformed view, no one is silencing you.

      Another question you might ask, is whether the majority of farm murders were elicited by racist behaviour by farmers towards their workers, whether farmers treated their workers or non-white people fairly. Also, do you have the stats on how many black farmers have been murdered in South Africa after 1994? If you don’t, I suggest you find out. Violence is not tied to race.

      Thanks again, Sarah :)

    • Braam

      I do not think 1 person at the march are not aware of the fact that the whole population is suffering. The issue is government not acknowledging the fact that there are specific reasons for these crimes, and that the these crimes should be categorized and treated differently. If they do not acknowledge the problem they can’t treat it effectively.

      Crime is a problem for all but you get different types, not more or less significant but there are different factors at play. In the case of animal poaching , you get different factors. Rhino poaching for instance involves Asian syndicates and cattle poaching involves completely different motivations and aggressors. Thats why we HAD different units in the police force dealing with different types of crimes. Why have the government dismantled the specialist units like SANAB and the Diamond and gold units? Is it because they are protecting people or ringmasters? Why is the government so protective of our president and the ANC members singing ”Kill the farmer” and not outraged as they are with people displaying the ”vierkleur”?

      If farmers are supposedly murdered by their ill treated workers, why are the workers themselves victims in many of these farm attack cases? Why do we count the deaths on the motorways and not people killed in a ”special manner” for clearly different reasons on farms?

      There is a need for redoctober just as there is a need for awareness for xenophobia and corrective rape , rhino…

    • Barb Eh

      This weekend is “Thanksgiving” In Canada – another difference with the U.S. – and it is easy for me to see how much I have to be thankful for. Not that we are perfect, not that there haven’t been some horrific things that happened and still happen here and that still need to be addressed. From the easy seat of one far away, however, Sarah’s article sent the message:

      “If you’re serious about addressing the issue, then you’ll change the way you talk about it. You’ll start listening to others instead of firing rhetorical grenades … and it’s time you tried something different.”

      To combine ideas of two commenters, it seems like a promising direction to consider a ‘Colourful “Stop Violence” November’, with “everyone invited to attend the march against ALL violence in South Africa and not against specific groups”. And perhaps people in other countries can be asked to consider how this could be matched in their worlds and how they might help.

    • John

      I find it bizarre that Lise (second comment above) had such a negative experience at the march. CNN (even more bizarrely) carry a completely different account by a British woman living in SA (Claire Smith):

      http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1047747

    • John

      A gracious comment, Nguni, and to your credit.

    • Dean Hirst

      Eloquently said Sarah, a share your sentiments, and am glad I’m not the only one.

    • The Creator

      Nice comment, but Dan Roodt knows exactly what he’s doing, just as he did when he was spying for the apartheid government.

    • TQ

      In Nyanga township close to Cape Town Aiport it has been ranked the highest murder surbub in SA for the past couple of years 300 murders every year.

    • Mbonisi

      The very idea of protesting against murders in racial terms is in itself very, very racist. In fact it could actually lead to racially motivated killings. People need to think over what the say and do.

      What is black on black violence? What nonsense is that? This is typical apartheid thinking; typical apartheid mentalities indeed.

      Violence is violence, there is no such a thing as black on black violence. This only exists in the minds of those who always see race, and NOT human beings. It is this mentality that leads to a lack of empathy between people of different races whenever people of a racial group that one doesnt belong to find themselves in trouble.

      If the world was dominated with people of such thinking, surely we would not be having philantrophic people such as the wonderful GIFT OF THE GIVERS. The world will indeed be a disaster, if we all minded for our own.

      THINK HUMANITY/UBUNTU FIRST AND FORGET RACE!!

    • Dan

      People who talk about a black person murdering another black person as somehow intrinsically different to a black person murdering a white person are merely showing their own racism.

      I’ll disagree that crime affects everyone equally. It doesn’t. Cape Town for example has a very high murder rate, but as a white person living in a formerly whites only suburb I’m actually relatively safe from murder. Indeed comparable in a number of countries considered safe.

    • patricia

      Whilst crime affects EVERYBODY, it is sad to say that the crime is predominantly committed by a certain group more than any other, hence the so-called ‘lop-sided’ view of many. One cannot help but be scared of certain people here, unless proven otherwise. Unfortunately its starts right at the top, so called ‘class’ as someone mentioned, (always thought class was breeding and not money) and filters down to the so-called common criminal.
      If it is ignored, and you have the power to make the difference , you are party to it.

      We should have “sick of it” Colourful November and get the whole country behind us.
      If they could control crime with the last WC, then surely they can do it for the voters.

    • Maria

      To amplify the degree of understanding and sympathy that Sarah has shown here – albeit combined with stern advice to people whose strategy seems to be misguided (I agree) – take a look at this eloquent piece written by someone who shows great insight, from the inside, as it were (sent to me by a friend):

      http://whatishappeninginsouthafrica.blogspot.com.au/

    • Jo Ku

      Maybe Red October is all about this and maybe seeing that you are all for social justice, maybe you should start at the top

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=6fzRSE_p1Ys

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