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Tue Feb 19, 2013, 05:26 PM

South Africa, Sport, Crime, Gun Culture, and Domestic Violence

Discuss: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/16/reeva-steenkamp-shooting

I know South Africa. I lived there as an expatriate between 1984 and 1994, during some of the most repressive apartheid years, through severe unrest, and on to the dismantling of the apartheid regime and introduction of free elections. I have been back, and I still maintain close ties with former in-laws and friends.

Please permit me to explain a few observations I have made over the years concerning the white minority, of which I was a member. These points may seem unrelated, but they aren’t. When you look at the fabric of (especially) white society, they are all of a piece. While things have changed in the past two decades, there is still much that remains of the earlier, shameful epoch in terms of attitudes and beliefs. Change comes slowly.

For the reasons I am about to list, the murder of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of her famous athlete boyfriend, comes as no surprise. Any South African who claims otherwise is being at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, dishonest.

I apologize to readers in advance for the length of this post, and for the sharp divides along racial lines that are unfortunately necessary when discussing anything South African.

• Think Americans are sports mad? It may seem that way because there are more of us. What they lack in numbers, South Africans make up for in fervor. During the apartheid years when South Africans were banned from competing in world events like the Olympics, a monumental mythos of the South African athlete emerged. They held up their questionable (by the rest of the world’s standards) heroes like Zola Budd as beyond reproach. The hero would be made to fit the legend that was being created out of whole cloth by a sports-starved media and its consumers. Note: before 1994, this was mostly true of white athletes. It’s become more diverse recently, but high-profile athletes are still idolized by most. They expect to be excused for all manner of bad behavior, and, for the most part, they are.
• South African whites are among the most paranoid people on earth. You can argue that they come by it honestly, and that’s somewhat true. A minority cannot forcibly repress a majority for centuries (apartheid became “law” during the twentieth century, but it was de facto law since the 1700s) without going to sleep every night wondering when the knife would be inserted between their ribs. Not “if,” mind you, but “when.” Fact. In my fairly unremarkable life in the exurban farmlands surrounding Johannesburg, our home had the standard-issue iron bars over every window, and the creatively named “rape cage”—a grille door with deadbolt lock sealing off the sleeping area of the home. None of this prevented frequent petty thefts of ANY object left out of doors after dark, or the theft of my car one terrible night. Friends and relatives have suffered similarly, or worse. Two friends were murdered by intruders—one as recently as a couple of years ago. When you have a 1% with most of the wealth, and a 99% who live in squalor and poverty (sound familiar?), you have crime. Add to this the overt racism that is still very much a fact of South African life..and you can see why white people still sleep with one eye open. So they should, even if they had nothing personally to do with the abomination of apartheid. They continue to benefit from its legacy. I am oversimplifying by a large measure, but I think you get the idea.
• Based on the assumption that my then-husband and I were eventually going to become the victims of a (violent) break-in, we bowed to the urgings of friends and relatives and purchased firearms. I won’t go into the details of my weapons training, which affected me profoundly; I have detailed these in other threads. What was also apparent was that white people were expected to carry firearms. No questions were asked—we were white people. Recreational shooting was as casual as golf.
• It was understood that if a white person shot a black person on the white person’s property, this would not be aggressively prosecuted. If you shot someone, they deserved shooting. This may have changed in the ensuing years, but, based on the amount of razor wire, private security firms, gated communities, and white paranoia that has persisted and proliferated (and the crime we are discussing today), I kind of doubt it.
• South African society is fiercely patriarchal, despite pockets of matriarchy within tribal subcultures. There’s different reasons for this across the racial spectrum, and they’re not germane to this discussion. White society is almost exclusively patriarchal and deeply repressed, thanks to a legacy of heavy Dutch-style (the seventeenth-century fire-breathing Calvinist kind) puritanical Christianity. Until recently, “blasphemy” was a serious crime punishable by prison time. It still may be. Aside, but marginally relevant and funny: this led to absurd prohibitions and bannings, like the music of Chris de Burgh because his song “Spanish Train” featured a narrative of Jesus and Satan gambling. When women applied for passports, the marital status choices were: “married,” and “spinster.” I hope this is no longer the case.
• Far from being prosecuted, domestic violence is not even talked about. Historically, nonwhites were left to their own devices without any legal recourse whatsoever. Whites took the “high road” of complete denial. When a girlfriend finally opened up about the horrific abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her husband (in 1993), she had to leave the country. She was blamed, she was excoriated, she was a pariah.
• Knowing what we know about how much more likely a woman is to be murdered if there is a firearm present in the home, does it surprise anyone that, in his gated fortress, a self-proclaimed, paranoid, gun enthusiast and nearly-mythic (by the standards of his country) athlete shot and killed his girlfriend? Granted, the facts are not yet in regarding domestic violence: how much, how long, if any…but I feel confident in asserting that this would fit, and hardly be a stretch. The specter has already been raised.

South Africa is a pressure cooker. It’s an artificial society whose parts don’t mesh together well. A perfect storm of exceptionalism, privilege, desperation, and hubris brought about the death of a young woman.

As unpleasant as it is to consider, how much of the above can be said about ourselves? I offer for your comments, opinions, and spirited discussion. Thank you for participating.


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Reply South Africa, Sport, Crime, Gun Culture, and Domestic Violence (Original post)
lapislzi Feb 2013 OP
smirkymonkey Feb 2013 #1
PennsylvaniaMatt Feb 2013 #2
lapislzi Feb 2013 #4
lumberjack_jeff Feb 2013 #5
kenny blankenship Feb 2013 #3
Paladin Feb 2013 #6
CharlieVicker Feb 2013 #7
lapislzi Feb 2013 #8
CharlieVicker Feb 2013 #11
bullwinkle428 Feb 2013 #9
lapislzi Feb 2013 #10

Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Tue Feb 19, 2013, 09:09 PM

1. Very Interesting. Thank you for your thoughtful, interesting post.

I always love to hear about the experiences of people who have actually lived in a culture about that culture, rather than other people just speculating about about what goes on in a particular culture. Thanks for your informative post!

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Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Tue Feb 19, 2013, 09:29 PM

2. Thank you! I really enjoyed your insight into life in South Africa...

I have done some extensive research on South Africa, mostly during the tumultuous era during PW Botha's presidency, all the way through to the present day. To me, South African history is extremely interesting, especially interpreting the viewpoints and mindsets of South African whites. If you wouldn't mind, I have a few questions for you, primarily about South African politics, being that you lived there for several years.

1.) How is PW Botha viewed among South African whites to this day?

2.) Was there a considerable number of whites that voted for Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election, being that they new what the inevitable outcome of the election would be and the fact that the time had come to end apartheid?

3.) What are your thoughts on the current South African government, particularly President Zuma. I'd be curious to know how South African whites view him, also.

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Response to PennsylvaniaMatt (Reply #2)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 11:56 AM

4. I'll do my best to help!

I’ll do my best to answer 

In order to understand the splintered society that is the South Africa of eleven official languages, you have to dig a little deeper. There is no universal “white” mindset. There are at least three kinds of white people. Roughly, they can be grouped by language, which also roughly correlates to religious affiliation. I don’t think these distinctions have blurred much in the two decades since I left. If anything, the divide seems even sharper, as factions have isolated themselves, believing themselves under siege and with nowhere to go.

I’m going to generalize out of necessity, but understand that there are liberal Afrikaaners, crazily racist Englishmen, and everything in between.

1. Afrikaans speaking whites
Mainly descended from Dutch settlers. These people were the main architects of the apartheid system and comprised the ruling elite in all branches of government pre-1994. They are deeply conservative, religious (super duper hellfire Calvinism on steroids), and mostly rural/agricultural. To illustrate, in 2008, I spent time in two very divergent rural areas. English was not spoken at all, by anyone. You wouldn’t know that apartheid was a thing of the past. Afrikaans speakers have nothing but contempt for English speakers, believing (like a Scooby Doo cartoon) that their liberal “outsider” beliefs ruined things for everyone. Afrikaans speakers range from the ridiculously rich to dirt poor. Because many of them can trace their heritage back to settlers from centuries past, they believe they have as much “right” to the country as their nonwhite neighbors.
2. English speaking whites
A mixed bag. Many ex-colonials from elsewhere in Africa (“Rhodesia,” Kenya, etc.). Having deeper roots in Africa, this bunch tends to be quite conservative and mixes with the Afrikaans speakers pretty freely. As I understand it, Ms Steenkamp’s family hails from Port Elizabeth. This area of the (former) eastern Cape province is historically fairly progressive and culturally aware. This group, and most recent immigrants from other English-speaking countries, are considered troublesome outsiders. There is special disdain reserved for Americans, for many reasons. During the 1980s, people would stop me on the street (how they could tell by looking that I am American, I don’t know) to ask why America was giving South Africa such a hard time, especially (especially!) regarding participation in world sport. They took it quite personally. English speaking whites tend to be more affluent. Most affiliated with various mainstream Protestant denomination of English provenance (C of E, Methodist, etc.).
3. Others
These include a large enclave of people of Portuguese heritage (from Mozambique), Germans (Namibia), Dutch, Jewish people, and other Europeans. These aren’t so easily classifiable. Again, many have lived in Africa for generations, yet retained much of their ethnic identity.

Much of the above story can also be told in South African surnames, but that’s a whole ’nother story for another thread. Now, onto your questions.

PW Botha (die groot krokodil) is not especially beloved. During his tenure, he was endorsed by conservatives, but the reality-based community recognized how his hard-line stance would set him on the wrong side of history. And that is pretty much as he is seen today. The best that the conservatives can come up with is that he was a man of his times who acted on his beliefs. Too bad his beliefs were wrong. He is only missed by seriously reactionary Afrikaners.

I know of no whites who voted ANC/Mandela in 1994. I’m sure it happened, but I don’t know of any. I myself did not, although I voted. In ’94, the ANC had NOT yet renounced violence and the armed struggle, and I had a problem with this. Many English speaking whites said the same thing, although I know for sure some merely used it as and excuse to not vote for a black man. Most, if not all, Afrikaans speakers voted National Party (white rule, conservative party of Botha). Many English speakers did likewise, as they could not countenance the idea of being ruled by a black man. Aside from the ANC’s armed struggle platform, there were many stated reasons. Most were excuses for unapologetic racism. I knew the outcome as well as anyone, but voted my conscience (Liberal Party: progressive-ish English speaking white men and women). Understand, too, that the dismantling of apartheid had already occurred, in stages, in years prior. De Klerk did a halfway decent job of this. I know because he was hated by everyone when he left office.

I don’t know much about Zuma. What I do know is that tribal affiliations do matter in South Africa. A Zulu is not a Xhosa, is not a…fill in the blank. The civil war in the former Natal province (a false flag operation promulgated by the NP) during the early 1990s is still a fresh memory. Nobody’s too much impressed with the progression of Mandela’s successors; the general feeling is that things aren’t getting fixed to anyone’s satisfaction. It’s a mighty struggle reducing the crime rate, especially when poverty and AIDS continue to explode. And when I read stories about the white (landowners’) response to striking agricultural workers, I wonder if anything has changed.

All this being said, I am really interested to know more of the political dynamic between Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp. He makes his home in Pretoria. It’s heavily Afrikaans, being the historical home of the apartheid government. There are many more desirable places to live for someone of his means, so I guess he lives there by choice. That alone says something.

Thank you for your intelligent questions. Please feel free to post or PM me with anything else you want to know. If I know, I'll tell ya. If I don't know, I'll tell ya that, too!

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Response to lapislzi (Reply #4)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:07 PM

5. Thank you for the cultural lesson. n/t


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Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Tue Feb 19, 2013, 09:45 PM

3. Check UN homicide data country by country

S. Africa is a surprising leader in the exciting field of Intentional Homicide. Behind Honduras/El Salvador and Colombia, true; but certainly in contention for a podium finish.
Oh hey look! There's Jamaica pulling up along the outside!

Of course there are also clusters of failed states that don't even report statistics. You'd be a damn fool to wander in there for any reason. You might want to make your visit to S. Africa short as well.

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Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:08 PM

6. Very Well Stated. Thank You. (nt)

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Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Response to CharlieVicker (Reply #7)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:29 PM

8. Lucky you.

Kruger is still the gem of South Africa (along with Cape Town). It's impeccably maintained and secure. You may have a bit of a wild ride to get there, but it's never dull.

I took my own dad on safari in '92, when he was 68. He loved every second. August is a great time to go because the bush is down at the end of the dry season, and some baby animals are already being born.

Be sure to check out the excellent and reasonably priced gift shop in Skukuza camp.

Good luck! And PM me when you return.

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Response to lapislzi (Reply #8)

Response to lapislzi (Original post)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:40 PM

9. Great post. My first boss was from South Africa, and spent much of his life

there before moving his family to the U.S. sometime back in the 1980s. He was always extremely warm and nurturing toward me (a white man), but his bigoted views of non-whites was never very far below the surface. I totally get where you're coming from regarding the general attitude of paranoia on the part of South Africans! I never discussed politics openly with him, but from what I understand, he's incredibly anti-Obama.

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Response to bullwinkle428 (Reply #9)

Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:52 PM

10. Sigh. They still don't get it.

Some South African friends, older, moved to Australia several years ago. Their racism hasn't evaporated one bit. In fact, one of the things they love about Australia is the racial homogeneity. And they ask me, without a trace of irony, "what do Americans think of that (insert offensive word here) for President? You didn't vote for him, did you?"

They had a stroke when I told them that I read the Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald. "My god! We knew all along there was something not right about her!"

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