Tense situation: Picketers outside the Senekal court on Friday October 16. Picture: Alon Skuy
Tense situation: Picketers outside the Senekal court on Friday October 16. Picture: Alon Skuy

With the Senekal gatherings against farm murders dominating the domestic news cycle, a major talking point is the search for the moderate position, which is what Chris Roper, in "EFF and AfriForum: Two Sides of a Coin" (Features, October 15-21), sets out to do.

Unfortunately, in his search for the "moderate centre", Roper makes a bizarre false equivalence in identifying the extreme fringes. His fallacy illustrates a broader issue in SA’s current political zeitgeist.

The roots of Roper’s misinterpretation are perfectly captured by this headline from satirical news site Babylon Bee: "People On Boat Drifting Left Wondering Why Shore Is Drifting Right".

A political environment in which abolishing private property has become part of mainstream discourse — and in which a classic liberal and anti-apartheid activist such as Helen Zille is labelled "right wing" — demonstrates how far left SA’s zeitgeist has drifted. In the process, what is considered the moderate centre has moved much further leftward too.

Roper appeals repeatedly for nuance — ironically echoing AfriForum’s sentiments.

But by inaccurately equating two radically different organisations, he demonstrates a blatant lack thereof.

AfriForum is a civil rights organisation that advocates mutual recognition and respect, property rights, the rule of law, co-operation between communities and open dialogue. If these values qualify it as a right-wing extremist organisation, I struggle to wrap my head around where organisations such as the AWB would fall on this spectrum.

AfriForum organised a peaceful and orderly protest against farm murders in Senekal on October 16. The EFF also decided to protest in Senekal, where its members sang "Kill the farmer", raising questions about the true message of the party’s "counterprotest".

In 2018 President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that "there are no killings of farmers or white farmers in SA". If any president on an international stage denied the existence of gender-based violence in his country, he would be rightly ridiculed and grilled by the media, but the SA commentariat chose to defend Ramaphosa’s blatant denial.

This is a demonstration of a political zeitgeist that coddles and tolerates radical, fringe ideas when they conform to a particular narrative.

Another sign of the boat drifting further left while the crew decries the "far-right" coast is a political environment in which attackers douse a farmer in petrol and set him alight, and the knee-jerk reaction is to refer to this act of terrorism as normal crime.

The Senekal protests are a symptom of a community that has grown tired of a government that ignores its plight, and a commentariat and political class that nonchalantly label the hanging on a pole of a beaten-to-a-pulp 21-year-old not just another normal crime, but an understandable consequence of rural inequality.

The level of victim-blaming and excuse-making around farm murders on social media, in the media and in political speeches and letters is, frankly, astounding. It is akin to hearing about a brutal case of domestic abuse and immediately raising the point that people need to take into account that the victim burnt the perpetrator’s food.

With a national discourse filled with toxic, indifferent rhetoric regarding farm murders, it is not surprising to see the farming community grow increasingly distraught and frustrated.

When AfriForum calls for calm and attempts to rally moderate voices, and is then equated to the EFF, it sends a clear message that the meaning of "moderate" has been mangled beyond recognition.

When AfriForum asks that farmers receive the protection and safety they deserve, we are not asking for special treatment. The government’s careless attitude and a broken police system have become painful sources of frustration and anger.

Why does it take a burning police vehicle for the plight of farmers to make headlines? Why is a 2018 photo of Ernst Roets at a gun range presented out of context and without the date, to equate a moderate organisation like AfriForum with the EFF?

Those occupying the middle ground are still around, but their cries for help fall on deaf ears. If they do not conform to a particular conception of what being moderate means, their concerns can be written off as radical.

AfriForum’s message has always been one of nuance and perspective. Those on the boat drifting further left, while condemning the ever rightward-floating shoreline, need to realise the peril of their situation before the shoreline disappears and they are lost in a stormy sea.

Ernst van Zyl
Strategy and campaign officer, AfriForum

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