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The Huntley story and re-racialisation of SA

South Africa continues to be one of the most polarised nations on earth with race still being one of the most contentious issues. Brandon Huntley’s story merely points this out once again. The ruling party and indeed many people in the country still use apartheid-era categorisations. Instead of fighting for a non-racial South Africa far too many people seek to reaffirm old splits and old categories. I hate using and writing the categories out: white, black, coloured, Indian and so on as if they are meaningful beyond crude politics and social norms. Yet I am forced to do so by the very discourse of the country; so I do so begrudgingly.

I find it indicative of the stupidity of some of the commentators on the issue that accuse Canada of racism in their refugee policies. Canada has a wonderful refugee programme that accepts people from all over the world and of all hues. I have known Vietnamese, Colombian, Chilean, Somali, American (draft dodgers from Vietnam), Rwandan, Palestinian, Russians and know of numerous other nationals living as refugees in Canada. All were accepted on a case-by-case basis and never on the basis of their race. Some of these may have been false claims, some of these drains on the social system, but most settle in and work and live as Canadians. We are an immigrant nation and I know few people without recent historic memory of another place and identity.

Huntley’s claim that he was attacked seven times without police intervention and that race was a factor is not really surprising. I know a number of people who were assaulted at Umbilo police station for complaining to the police about the prostitution in the Glenwood area. They were told to go back to Europe and even beaten. I personally witnessed one such assault on a small white woman. I know that many people in Glenwood of Durban no longer bother to report crimes unless they are claiming insurance as the police do not investigate or appear to even care.

And of course crime is not always race based. The police do not seem to care about anybody regardless of race and black South Africans are subject to all sorts of violent crime and the same violent indifference by the police. What changes the factors in Huntley’s story is that he felt he was targeted because he was white. This is probably true as many people keep pointing out that whites are still the largely in economically dominant positions. The perception that Huntley would be a worthwhile target is probably based on his race even as it was probably incorrect.

Now to add to the global perception that race is all determining in the “New” South Africa think of the hateful comments being made by certain political leaders, high court judges and the fact that there are double standards in South African race politics. If a high court judge makes a racist utterance there is no appropriate response. If Malema makes wild accusations and threatens violence against whites there is no response. Couple such high profile racist remarks with the high crime and violence in South Africa is surely going to trigger race based fears among whites.

It has been pointed out that unemployment among whites is at a low of 4,6% compared to 29,7% for black South Africans. Shocking disparity, but it does not take into account the million or so white South Africans who have left South Africa often citing better job opportunities elsewhere, lack of crime and all around better standard of living. Had these million or more stayed what would be the white unemployment rate?

To deny that many whites feel persecuted in South Africa is a violent act. It affirms their fears that they do not belong in South Africa and are unwelcome here. Even if their perception is incorrect and criminals are merely opportunists (no doubt this is true in many regards) their fears and perception should be acknowledged and dealt with. Instead they are accused of racism, told to leave South Africa and have their worst fears confirmed.

Another “fact” that is often cited is that black male South Africans are most likely to be a murder victim and black women are most likely to be sexually assaulted or raped. While these are not disputed statistics one should question the rate of murder among whites when you consider the number that live behind large electric fences, gated communities and have private security. Clearly all is not well in South Africa. The government’s lacklustre response to crime besetting everyone is appalling and, perhaps ironically, affects poor blacks the most.

I should not have to mention the violence experienced by African forieners in South Africa recently. If you look at the Canadian immigration website, they, too would be probably be accepted into Canada.

Here is the Canadian criteria straight from the Canadian Immigration website

Convention Refugee
Convention refugees are people who are outside their home country or the country where they normally live, and who are unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on:

• race
• religion
• political opinion
• nationality or
• membership in a particular social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation.

Person in need of protection

A person in need of protection is a person in Canada whose removal to their home country or country where they normally live would subject them personally to:

• a danger of torture;
• a risk to their life; or
• a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

And perhaps it will come to naught as Huntley’s claim may yet be rejected. However, it would be wrong to dismiss the claims as without any merit. As long as South African are defined by race the exist the very real threat of racial injustice and discrimination against those deemed unacceptable exists, be they whites, Mozambicans or Zimbabweans. South Africa has enough problems without re-creating the apartheid past in a new fashion that once again benefits an elite minority.


  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.