Is South Africa the next Liberia?

by Dan Roodt

I ended off my last column with a reference to “the dark eye of Africa”, a term used by Laurens van der Post in his eponymous lecture in 1954. Following in the footsteps of Van der Post, how are we supposed to make sense of the sadistic violence, murders and rapes taking place in South Africa every day?

Just yesterday on this website I read of a case where a 38-year old black man raped and murdered his own 92-year old grandmother. Over the last two weeks we have had at least three very high-profile murders, on 13-year old Alyssa Botha, 50-year old André Jordaan and only a few days ago, on the world-famous boxer Corrie Sanders.

According to at least one expert who has analysed our crime statistics released last week, every white person in this country will be exposed to a so-called “contact crime” – an armed robbery or violent attack on his person – over the next three and a half years. More than fifty people are murdered every day, as many as are murdered in some European countries in a whole year!

The worst is, much of the “xenophobic killings” of foreign Africans do not even get reported by the police. Some of them are in the country illegally and the local black policemen turn a blind eye when they are murdered, except where it gets video-ed. Then you might get an account published in the New York Times as happened last year when Barry Bearak described such a murder in Watching the Murder of an Innocent Man.

Many people still pretend that South Africa is a normal society, even a liberal democracy. But they are simply dishonest or blind to the reality that we have become a kind of Barbary Coast, albeit inland, where the rules of pirates prevail. Also the events and controversies surrounding Julius Malema are to be seen in this light, as manifestations of pirates quarrelling over stolen loot.

Malema is rumoured to have ties with organised gangs and black mercenaries from Zimbabwe. Against the backdrop of a sadistic society with atrocities being committed almost as part of a daily ritual like shaving or brushing one’s teeth, the internecine power struggle between Malema and the establishment ANC portend still more conflict ahead.

Both the American Stephen Ellis and the French journalist Stephen Smith characterised the civil war or anarchy in Liberia as a defining moment in Africa after the Cold War. The “paradise of cruelty” created by Charles Taylor in Liberia and Sierra Leone with child soldiers committing atrocities, resonates profoundly with present-day South Africa.

Ironically, South Africa has attained barbarism at the very moment when many international observers – let’s call them naïve do-gooders – saw the country elevating itself to Wesern-style democracy. Even the mayor of Ekurhuleni, the sprawling conglomeration of municipalities cobbled together by the ANC on the East Rand, described the murderers of Corrie Sanders as “barbarians”. And he is both black and an ANC politician, therefore an incumbent of “democracy”; which makes his use of the word so much more significant, even poignant.

Those same “angels of virtue”, the international do-gooders – but who naturally have their own interests at heart too – are fond of explaining our problems by way of institutional failure, socio-economic conditions, “inequality”, or even the ubiquitous scapegoat, “apartheid”. Yet the barbarian urge at the heart of the New South Africa goes far deeper than that. It is more a problem of consciousness. A society can only sustain so much violence. After that it becomes self-perpetuating, a conditioned reflex, a way of life.

Zuma’s little war chant, “Bring me my machine gun”, acquires a whole new meaning, as the motto not only of ANC rule, but of a whole epoch.

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The mine workers at Marikana seem to have opted for violence and intimidation as a far better way of negotiating with mine owners than our byzantine labour laws and regulations. Given the success of their strategy so far, they appear to have been vindicated.

South Africa has become so phantasmagorical, so far removed from any semblance of normality that one has to look to fiction, especially science fiction or a futuristic horror world to gain any understanding of what is going on here. Mad Max comes to mind. But at least Max was driven by rage at the killing of his wife, baby and best friend. Our killers are actuated by pure sadism, by the mystical pleasure of killing, raping and hurting.

 South Africa seems to be doomed to a kind of reverse narcissism. The more it stares into the mirror, especially that mirror held up to it by the mass media, the more it sees an image that is the opposite of itself. During the previous dispensation, which was mostly orderly and without the gratuitous viciousness of the present order, many people saw us as a profoundly evil society. Nowadays, with things falling apart completely and anarchy upon us, those same people and newspaper pundits discern in this utterly sick society a pristine exemplar of liberal democracy and human rights.

 Malema is already the Big Man of South African politics. He just needs a militia to take us, as they say, to the next level.