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The Global Grifter

The Global Grifter

by Brandon Edmonds / 08.09.2009

There’s a great scene in Steven Frear’s largely overlooked neo-noir film ‘The Grifters’ (1990) when John Cusack buys a beer and shows the bartender a twenty he then palms handing him a dollar instead (pocketing the change). It’s a classic bait and switch ‘grift’ and its part of the film’s sly moral realism that the bartender soon realizes and viciously beats him up. Cusack nurses his wound until the end of the film (much like Jack Nicholson’s sliced nose in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974) – another film obsessed with what lies behind appearances). Violence has real, lasting consequences in life as it does in great films (a truth Quentin Tarrantino might want to process given the wantonly asocial bloodletting of his work). Actually Polanski has a great tale of artifice and deception from his own personal history. It’s said that as a boy escaping the Nazi’s in Poland, he fashioned a makeshift foreskin out of candle wax in case of a strip search. From such horrors are directors, those epic conductors of make-believe, made.

It’s dangerous to dissemble (ask Carl Niehaus, Milli Vanilli or Bernie Maddoff) and yet danger often forces dissembling. The CIA’s recently disclosed ‘War on Terror’ torture memo’s (grounds enough to have Bush’s entire cabinet indicted and charged for war crimes) are repugnant – not only in the way they routinize immoral acts in the name of national security – but in refusing to grant suspects the human understanding, the empathy required to imagine that physical threat will make most anyone say or do anything to make it stop. Torture reduces suspects to Pavlov’s dog – break an arm get a response (then repeat ad nauseam until the oil flows free).

Danger forces dissembling. This reveals the genius behind Brandon Huntley’s great refugee grift. We know, as South Africans, that he’s lying. That ‘racial assaults’ against whites are seldom chiefly racial. They’re criminal and even inevitable given the staggering wealth divide (a racially encoded inequality of an extreme found nowhere else on earth) generated by settler colonial history and a half century of apartheid (notwithstanding the recent parasitic layer of BEE self-enrichment). But what Huntley has done so well, so smartly is paint a picture of clear and imminent danger to himself purely because of who he is – an unemployed white male. Great strides in diversity recognition and identity politics since the 1980s have set white males back. Not in real terms, white men still earn more and wield more power than anyone else in the West, but by damaging their sense of sovereignty and entitlement. Much like Copernicus rocked the early church by revealing a
universe quite indifferent to the earth. Huntley struck this nerve (quite knowingly) and called these currents strategically into play turning what he’d hoped would get him a few more months in Canada after his visa expired into a symptom of the unsettled, ever deferred complex of race relations not only in this country but as migration proliferates, the world. The man should have his own talk show at the very least.

Huntley has called on the associative demons of affirmative action and ‘reverse racism’ to make himself out to be a victim of wider social forces rather than individual, criminal acts (alleged assaults he tellingly failed to report): he has thereby turned himself into the Anne Frank of white fears. The chairperson of the refugee board, William Davis, who handled Huntley’s case, stated, in what is one of the most ironic and disturbing quotes yet uttered in the name of post-apartheid SA, “I find that the claimant would stand out like a ‘sore thumb’ due to his color in any part of the country”. Huntley must have been on fire in that room. He must have found within himself a vein of rhetoric worthy of King Lear. The refugee board were convinced by the end of the session that Huntley’s, “subjective fear of persecution remained constant and consistent”. Constant and consistent again points to wider social factors at work, the living reality of social life of this nation, rather than an instance of singular paranoia. Being here now, this ruling suggests, literally victimizes whites as whites. Racial profiling sanctioned by the State: the refugee board found “clear and convincing proof of the state’s unwillingness or inability to protect him”. No wonder the ANC are a tad ruffled. Huntley dissembled and they believed him because they wanted to believe him. It’s Huntley’s race-baiting, fear-mongering genius to have gambled that they would. He is the flip side of 2010 and its shiny happy version of the new South Africa. A global grifter muddying the water of a complacent Rainbow nation.

Image courtesy and © Jason Bronkhorst. Check more of his styles here.

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  1. Joerg says:

    Really interesting read. Great line this: “He must have found within himself a vein of rhetoric worthy of King Lear.”

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  2. Andy says:

    this guy is so unlikeable

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  3. Why We Are White Refugees says:

    Mr. Edmonds,

    Hi. RE: your statement: “We know, as South Africans, that he’s lying. That ‘racial assaults’ against whites are seldom chiefly racial.”

    You don’t speak for my reality of South Africa, maybe for yours. No, I do not think Brandon Huntley is lying about how he was targeted for the colour of his skin. I think Huntley said what a lot of people know, but very few are willing to say publicly, about the racial profiling, done on white South Africans, by black criminals, who target whites.

    I would like to make you a bet, that your perception of ‘racial assualts seldom being racial’ is an ILLUSION, a FANTASY; and you can — IF YOU WANT TO — find out, that you are in la-la fantasy land; by getting yourself a dose of reality.

    Prove that you know what you are talking about, when it comes to the honest racial intentions of black criminals, who attack whites; by getting yourself sentenced to any South African prison for a year — incognito; to listen to them discuss their orgiastic pleasure, they get from fucking up whitey, because he is whitey and because he is afraid. Watch them masturbate as they jerk off, on raping whitey’s wife and daughters, because they are white, because they are white and afraid….

    If you come out of your reality inducing investigation, — becuase surely if you want people to take you seriously, about such issues, you need to know what you are talking about, and not be spewing forth criminals lying crap — and you still think as you do. I will give you a Kruger Rand gold coin..

    If you ain’t got the balls to follow in my footsteps, demonstrate your honour and put your money where your mouth is?

    Lara Johnstone
    Letter to Min. Jason Kenney, Min. of Citizenship and Immigration, Canada

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  4. Roger Young says:

    Is this the same Lara Johnstone who didn’t understand my Lee-Anne Liebenberg piece on M&G?


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  5. brandonedmonds says:

    ooh…a krugerrand in exchange for an annum watching criminals masturbate. i feel like jesus in the desert of temptation! but ah…pass. thanks for responding though.

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  6. Previously Advantaged says:

    Whilst I condemn Huntleys cowardice in leaving his land of birth, I can understand his fear and cannot deny that his claims to being targeted are false. The attacks on our farmers are another prime example of this…
    Why We Are White Refugees is generalising but speaks a very scary truth. There are people of all colours keen on reconcilliation and we must try to promote this concept; we must remain positive and do what we can to take the country forward. Above all. We must have Hope.
    That said.
    We cannot ignore the radicals. The ANC government is clinging to power by keeping the revolution alive…ala ZANU-PF-style…and will definitely continue to foster hatred towards the previous oppressors. The apartheid Nationalists weren’t very different in their approach to keeping power, though looking at how the rest of Africa is turning out, their proclaimations regarding the ability of the locals to govern themselves successfully, however misguided, appear to be not far removed from reality.
    It is obvious that this is as a result of how Africa was cut up along very unnatural lines during the greedy days of colonialism; masses of blacks were oppressed and most definitely abused by the mis-guided whites of the day. In the vacuum that was created once the colonising powers fled, chaos has ensued.

    I think the “Haves” (of all colours) are in for a long and bloody battle against the Have-Nots, who have seen very few of the promises made during the revolution met. The fact that their leaders are more concerned with keeping power than promoting their people, through truly sustainable development, will mean that the fires of apartheid and hatred will be kept burning….

    I personally feel that white africans have grown fat and soft in their time of dominance here down south and have forgotten the lessons of their forefathers to quickly. This is Africa.
    You can run or you can stay and face the music, which, if you have ever heard a vuvuzela, will not be pretty.

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  7. Larry Claasen says:

    Is this the same Lara Johnstone who was charged for allegedly sending defamatory SMS’s to Patricia De Lille?

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  8. Carlos says:

    Great piece, Brandon.
    Interesting that Huntley grew up in Cape Town, where being black can make you feel like a very sore thumb indeed. CT is steeped in centuries of racial anxiety, whereas Jo’burg’s equalising spirit of priapic greed has mooshed the contours of racial tension. To a degree. Up here, if you’re rich, you fear. Finish and klaar.

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  9. Andy says:

    Oh man oh man… do you think the wabenzi escape being targeted by criminals because they’re black? The vast majority of criminals are in fact post race. Ironic, huh. It’s about money, not retribution or revenge. Truth is crime is much, much worse in places like Soweto, Alex, Nyanga, Khayelitsha and KwaMashu than it is in Sandton, Umhlanga and Newlands.

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  10. Lize Kay says:

    As OUR people [the ones with the actual numbers in front of them] pointed out; most victims of crime in South Africa are NOT white. I mean, doesn’t that say enough?! Even if you weren’t aware of the crime-related stats in this country, you must be aware of the fact that whites are a minority group? Yes, so … Uhfff, I don’t feel like spelling this out. People don’t steal because they’re black, they steal because they’re poor. Trite expression of a very serious matter, je sais, but it brings me to the next point: people are targeted because they are, well, targets. Now, of course we are excluding vilent crimes with a less clear incentive than robbery. But, for example: Guy in new BMW, alone, counting his money, beats family in a donkey cart, no? Not because he’s white, but because he’s a worthwhile endeavour. And, once again, he statistics are again this douche. His gross exaggerations to his [equally unfortunate-looking] wife about the situation show a hidden agenda and a warped perception of the reality in South Africa.

    I heard he’s looking for a house in Mowbray again though. Douche.

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  11. Previously Advantaged says:

    Lize Kay is correct, though, I do honestly feel that there must be some form of sadistic pleasure obtained by black criminals targeting the previously untouchable white “targets” above their black counterparts. It would seem natural.
    Whilst one understands criminals are criminals no matter their colour, one would be plain stupid to deny that their are factions that do/would target , what they see, as the previous oppressors and that, when needed, the powers that be, will resort to stimulating racial tensions by facillitating certain actions.

    “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”

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  12. G says:

    Perhaps what Huntley says happened to him actually did happen. Perhaps it didn’t. Fact is, no-one but him and his close mates know his perspective on SA. It’s pointless for people to bang on about how wrong he his, how it’s not like that here, etc. Perhaps for him it is because that is the way HE sees it. Not every white was/is advantaged in the old/new SA.

    What’s cowardly in him leaving the land of his birth? People all over the world do it everyday, set out to look for what is for them a better life elsewhere. Speak to many Euros and N.Americans living in SA, they left the country of their birth…it sure as hell wasn’t because they were looking for a kak life. Does that make them cowards because they left to try to make it elsewhere? Why then is any saffer who left a coward…the instant kneejerk of many saffers when hearing a story about someone who has left?

    Saffers are so super-sensitive to anything that drags the good ol’ name of SA through the mud in the eyes of the the rest of the world. Relax, Julias and the ANC do a far better job at that than Mr. Huntley. Besides, from when I wake up to when I go to sleep, if someone in Canada/Europe/Asia thinks badly of SA, nothing in my day changes…

    I would have said that what has happened is a good thing because it’s turned the spotlight onto the policies and lack of action of the ANC with regards to dealing with crime and AA….but then again, a brick to the head would be a more effective way of getting through to those guys…and even then…

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  13. djf says:

    A fine, thought-provoking article that has ignited some interesting debate.

    I can’t help thinking that the people who deserve Canadian refugee status the most are the thousands of black Africans from neighbouring states who were driven from SA by xenophobic violence about a year ago. They too came here in search of a better life and were prepared to work hard and to contriubute towards our economy. White South Africans can count themselves very lucky that the desperate and impoverished masses that drove the “makwerekwere” from our cities and towns did not focus their their rage along more obvious racial lines. To me this this is evidence of a greater degree of acceptance of white South Africans amongst the vast majority of black people here than any provocative remarks that fearmongers like Lara Johnstone could offer. The very same thing could be said of American prisons.

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  14. Previously Advantaged says:


    “A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers.” Aristophanes, Plutus, 388 B.C

    You have a point and I must admit that I do have a fervent sense of old school patriotism (born of reading to many tales of South African history).


    “To me this this is evidence of a greater degree of acceptance of white South Africans amongst the vast majority of black people here…”

    I agree…to a degree…the fact that people were probably wise enough to know that there may/probably would have been a bit more of backlash if they did “focus their their rage along more obvious racial lines”
    The “makwerekwere” are soft targets as are the comfortable rich living in their plushness.
    I just hope and pray that we can still summon the commando if all hell breaks loose one day…it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon with the cops being pretty handy with the rubber bullets…but I was a cub scout and will never forget the motto….

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  15. Emile says:

    When his status as refugee is revoked (it will, I am sure) and, because he’s made such a big name for himself, when he is deported back to S.A……. I am sure he will get a warm reception.

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