Steve’s Wallby Brandon Edmonds / 21.12.2010
The new white racism is just like the old except its aided and abetted by social media. If a non-racial democracy means holding your tongue about differences, looking the other way under a yolk of tolerance: the wall page invites rage. A sort of shared Jungian whatever – a buried oily morass of archetypal fears and loathing – covertly animating (embattled Afrikaner) whiteness – surfaces online and announces itself without guile or restraint.
Online huddles have quickly materialized around the charismatic figure of Steve Hofmeyr – his Facebook statuses regularly command hundreds of het up comments. The comments are uniformly encouraging (dripping with libidinal admiration) and almost always by Afrikaans women (getting on a bit) who treat our Steve with a remarkable intimacy, born of formative years in his company as a pop and TV star. They are drawn to the ‘better days’ he symbolizes, of course, but lately its his raced demagoguery, his ‘truth-telling’, generating (much needed) late-career buzz.
Besides pointedly attending Eugene’s tense ‘funferal’ (as James Joyce put it in Finnegan’s Wake), Hofmeyer’s supercharged utterances include a harsh letter to Malema for singing that gleefully genocidal struggle song (“after you’ve shot the Boere you will still be a pitiful black African living in denial of your own impotence”) and a more recent status update in the wake of a horrendous farm family execution (“I don’t know how the world thinks we should transform, integrate and let go of our prejudices and stay nice, tolerant Christians when BLACKS CAN SHOOT A 3-YEAR-OLD CHILD IN THE HEAD?”).
Hofmeyer’s racial logic is quickly punctured. He shifts agency from pathological individuals (criminals) to the ‘shared fiction’ of Race (blacks) – making them equivalent. This is precisely what an Afrikaaner cultural group pleaded with us not to do after seeing the (2008) video of Free State students forcing cleaning staff to eat piss-laden stew: “We cannot allow that individual students brand the Afrikaans community. These students are not typical of the broader Afrikaner community’s values. This is simply not us.” Putting a bullet in the back of a 3-year-old child’s head probably isn’t typical of the broader black community’s values either.
But the outsized response on Steve’s page suggests he’s articulating broadly held racial beliefs bunkering in reaction to violent lawlessness. The uninhibited heat of his ‘outspokenness’ against “blacks” – code for backwardness and a black-run State unable or unwilling to curb criminal violence and political corruption – makes a lot of sense to an embattled Afrikaner middle class. Hofmeyr cannily linked both of its most abiding fears by associating the criminal slaying of the Potgieter family with affirmative action and BEE: “We MUST generalize. Most black people I know are not violent, but they slurp up the PROPAGANDA OF ENTITLEMENT – exactly what gives young killers what they need to justify their brutality.”
The chutzpah is staggering! Hofmeyr made his name and fortune during Apartheid – a system of exclusion and entitlement tilted overwhelmingly in his favour. Has he forgotten? Apartheid acts as a ‘vanishing mediator’ in the new racism. It’s the master-narrative providing the co-ordinates of the clash and conspicuously downplayed by Afrikaners exhausted by culpability. Apartheid furnished both the divisive language (‘blacks’/ ’bliksems’/ ’barbare’/ ’bobbejane’) smeared all over Steve’s wall and secured the ongoing spatial separation of life-worlds that makes South Africa’s cities (and economy) such global paradigms of inequality – such incubators of crime. As Annelie Botes, poster girl for the new racism, puts it, “In my daily life, there’s no one else that I feel threatened by except black people.”
So to read Steve’s wall is to be confronted with the embattled white Afrikaaner imaginary in all its wounded glory: vengeful, confused, threatened and angry. It’s noxious stuff but bare in mind this is a community increasingly convinced of a government-orchestrated genocide (with its own theme song in “Kill the Boer”). Farm killings are apparently eight times the national murder rate. These posts are a raw and immediate response to the slaying of a 3-year old child. Or as Truda Redelinghuys puts it: “Jy weet as ‘n wit kindjie doodgaan word hy ‘n engeltjie en as ‘n swartetjie doodgaan word hy vrugtevlermuis!” Yup. Okay. Hold your nose and follow me in.
This’ll set the tone. Taken verbatim from Steve’s Wall. “’n kaffer en ‘n bobbejane se dna dieselfde is en dit meenhulle kan ‘n klein kafferjan maak.” The animal imagery is relentless. Sonette Diedricks writes, “Een keer ‘n aap altyd ‘n aap. Al dra ‘n aap klere bly hy nog steeds aap.” Here’s Liza Erasmus: “Mens noem hul BOS BOBBEJANE jy kan hul uit die bos uithaal en in die beskawing probeer sit! Maar jy sal nooit die bos uit hul kan haal.”
And on it goes: “Die wreedheid van die dier is nou maar eenmaal in hul genes.” Susan Pretorious Maree: “Nee hulle kan nie met honde vergelyk word nie. Dis ‘n beledeging vir elke hond. Hulle is barbaarse diere.”
There’s apocalyptic biological racism. Alta Saunders writes: “Jammer mens kan nie ‘n virus ontwikkel wat net op seker goeters werk nie, ‘n vinnige een sodat die stupid dokters nie tyd kan kry om medisyne en teenmiddels teen dit maak nie.” This deftly mixes religion with hate: “Glo in die Here en laat Aids die res doen!” Short and sweet: “Ek hoop Aids doen sy werk.”
There are racist jokes of course. “Integrasie is soos om roomys met kak to meng! Die kak bly dieselfde maar die ice cream is opgevok.” Lol. Not. Here’s Linda Van Zyl: “Die marmite monsters is soos ‘n VW BEATLE – sy breins sit in sy gat.” Thanks Linda.
There are endless demands for the return of the death penalty. Classic racist openings like “Ek is nie ‘n rasis nie, maar…”. Blood River is often invoked. As is a God exclusively devoted to white rights. There’s the deep racism of hyper-sexual ascription: “You never have to rape a black woman – I have been told they never say no having worked with 100s of black men on construction sites.” Utterly sincere (utterly demented) calls for Hofmeyr to start a ‘volksparty’ and become president. “Steve, daar is net een oplossing…sit neer die mikrofoon en tel op die geweer. Dis tyd dat ons opstaan en terug vat wat die swart duiwels van ons gesteel het. Jy kan ons leier wees…Generaal Hofmeyr!”
White unity comes up a lot on Steve’s Wall and it has an insurrectionary ‘race war’ dimension that makes the Freedom of Expression Institute’s ruling that the singer’s utterances ‘might be deemed racist’ (but not hate speech) seem a tad soft-headed. “It only becomes hate speech when it incites violence against a group of people.” What Hofmeyr said has created the impetus and opportunity for not only hate speech to come pouring out but a rallying groundswell urging para-military organisation for racial violence.
“Hoe kom staan ons nie self op en word almal ‘n de la Ray nie? Ons het nodig om op te staan en ‘n groep te vorm.” Marika Pieters writes: “Kry handgrenate, bomme! Rekkies oud Weermag manne en skiet die fokkers dood en brand elke dorp waar hul bly. Parasiete! Aids gemors! Shit in ‘n emmer is beter as hulle!” Wow. “Gewetenlose blikseme barbare. Dis al wat ‘n mens van die kaffers kan se. Hoop dat die tipe ding sal hopelik lei dat ons blankes begin saamstaan om die rubbish op hul plek te sit.”
This is all up on Steve’s Wall. “Hulle beheer Suid Afrika maar wag as die bom bars. WAG maar. Die AWB SLAAP NIE.” Bertha Schoeman chides her volk: “Ons witmense is ‘n spul moffies! Toe Eugene ons wou lei en ons wittes gevra het om by hom te staan het 99% van onse mense agter toe duere gaan wegkruip en wat het dit onse mense gebring?” And this: “Dis miskien tyd dat ons hulle begin vermoor…hulle kinders koelbloedig doodskiet hulle almal sommer aan die brand steek terwyl hulle in hulle shanties le en slaap.” Daleen Booyens: “Bom al die lokasies, onskuldiges gaan sterf maar hoeveel v ons mense het onskuldig gesterf?”
The editor of local techno-culture site Memeburn, Jeremy Daniel, reminds us that Facebook pages are unstable sites, a ‘public platform that anyone can see, read and interact with’ as well as a ‘personal, intimate record’. He suggests “people in the public eye are required to balance the two competing forces every time they engage with their fans using social media.” Balance is hardly what emerges from Steve’s wall.