Racial tensions: A man walks past a burning house  in the northwestern farming community of Coligny allegedly torched by protesters during clashes on Monday that erupted after a court gave bail to two white men accused of killing a black boy on May 8. Picture:  AFP PHOTO
Racial tensions: A man walks past a burning house in the northwestern farming community of Coligny allegedly torched by protesters during clashes on Monday that erupted after a court gave bail to two white men accused of killing a black boy on May 8. Picture: AFP PHOTO

With all the foreboding of its earlier name of Treurfontein (the "well of sadness"), the decaying North West town of Coligny has become ground zero for an outbreak of toxic racial tension which has thrust SA’s reconciliation pact of 1994 back into the spotlight. The catalyst was the death of a 16-year-old black youth, Matlhomola Mosweu, who died either because he was thrown off a moving bakkie by two white farmers who say he stole sunflower seeds, or because he jumped from the vehicle. Tellingly, the version people tend to believe depends on their own race and income levels. But even if what the farmers say is true, you have to wonder if this would have happened if he’d been white.

The grisly inhumanity of the case reinforces the stark racial contrast in income levels which haven’t yet fundamentally changed since 1994. Whites in Coligny are still the rich farm owners; blacks scrape by as farm workers, nannies or domestic workers. It’s a microcosm of hundreds of similar towns across SA.

Coligny should be an opportunity for introspection about why the economy has remained stubbornly racialised. It’s easy to blame government bungling, of course, but that’s a cop-out. Forget government — it isn’t going to fix this. Rather, everyone must ask what role they can play in altering a brutal reality that has led to positions of privilege and poverty calcifying.

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