Sunday, April 8, 2012

Does labelling the attacks against farmers in SA as genocide create a pseudo-issue?

Earlier this evening I was reading a blog post by Helen Zille describing what she calls pseudo-issues. I will quote her directly to give you a quick over view of the concept.
 ...should we do penance for the things that people claim, believe, allege or assume we said or did, irrespective of the facts?  
Politics is full of people who create “pseudo issues” to provoke “pseudo outrage”.   They then demand a “genuine apology”, in order to legitimise the outrage they provoked.   
Should we play along with this cynical game? 
The obvious answer is no. But nothing is obvious in politics. Perversions of the truth soon become perceptions of the truth which then become indistinguishable from the truth. When this happens, there is no point in drawing attention to the truth itself.  This simply provides an opportunity for a new round of pseudo outrage
It reminded me about (what I believed) was the misuse of the word, "genocide" by a right wing minority to describe violent crime on rural farms. I honestly feel that calling violent crime our farms are experiencing an organized racially motivated genocide campaign to be a pseudo-issue obstructing many of us from understanding and dealing with the real cause of rural homicides.

So I decided to tweet Helen Zille to get her opinion on the issue. Twitter is a terrible medium to try get across complex ideas and thoughts and I think that I did not communicate clearly enough to Helen about what I was thinking.
@ Read your post about pseudo issues. I feel that calling farm attacks, "genocide" is also a pseudo issue. What do you think?

Helen shortly responded with:

safrikaan Murder takes the debate into another realm. Not even one single murder can ever be described as a "pseudo issue".
I think due to the limitations of Twitter I was unable to convery my point clearly enough. I was not saying that murder is a pseudo-issue, every murder is a serious issue. I was saying that trying to label farm homocides as genocide is a pseudo issue.

To get my points and view across I have written this extended blog post to better understand my perspective.

I think I need to clarify that the farm attacks in South Africa are at seriously dangerous levels. As with most countries around the world, working on a farm is up there as one of the most dangerous occupations with high fatality rates. The remote nature of farms make farmers particularly vulnerable. Farm attacks are a serious issue South Africa has to resolve, and calling them "genocide" is not the way do it.

Calling the farm attacks "genocide" is a misuse of the word. I believe the use of the word is politically motivated to promote polarization and keeps us distracted from focusing on the real root causes of the attacks.

Let's first look if the farm attacks fit the requirements to be considered genocide.

Oxford Dictionary defines genocide as, "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group". That is a pretty wide definition and even by that broad definition the farm attacks do not accurately fit the definition of genocide.

When you hear the farm attacks called genocide, the perception that is created is that there are systematic attacks focused on  taking out white Afrikaans farmers. This is a false perception on a serious issue.

According to some farmer organizations the number of people killed in farm attacks since the ANC took control is around 3000 people. The South African Police Service (SAPS) puts the amount killed at around 2500. I trust the credibility of farmers organizations on keeping track of the numbers killed in farm attacks more than I trust SAPS. So I give the benefit of the doubt here to the farmers.

So now you have the perception that 3000 white Afrikaans farmers have been killed over 18 years. Well, it's a false perception. Of the 3000 farm attacks victims, 61% of those that were killed were white farmers. The list includes the deaths of both farmers and farm workers from farm attacks.

If the attacks are focused on white Afrikaans farmers why is there such a high percentage of non-white deaths? Why do those that give the figures of over 3000 people killed forget to mention the high number of black farm workers killed in those same attacks.

Data complied by AgriSA (AgriSA is South Africa`s largest agricultural trade association in South Africa and represents most South African farmers) and the police and published by the Institute in 2003 found that 89% of farm attacks were motivated by robbery for financial reasons, while only 2% were motivated by race hate crime.  Unfortunately, the statistics are a little dated (perhaps because the SAPS classifies these cases under regular
homicide and does not specify them as farm attacks).  However, there is no data to suggest that the trend has changed.

So only 2% of farm attacks are race crimes against farmers. While that is still a horrific number of people, it is not the main cause of these attacks. Those people incorrectly calling the farm attacks a genocide are ignoring the real main causes of farm attacks. South Africa is one of the global leaders in social and financial inequality within its population and every political scientist knows that the bigger the gap between the rich and the poor, the more unstable, desperate and violent a society becomes. If we look at countries with the highest levels of income inequality, we see South Africa near the top of the list.

Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa has become a welfare state. While many right wing fiscal conservatives (and libertarians) like to misrepresent South Africa`s transition into a welfare state as communist agenda  designed to lead us on the road to ruin, the reality of the issue is that well-managed welfare countries are the best (best as in happiest, most educated, most equal, safest, most economically free,  etc) countries in the world.

There is a small but constant incorrect perception that only wealthy countries can afford to become welfare countries. This is not the truth.Countries become welfare states to grow their middle class. A large majority of the the most successful welfare states in existence today went welfare in their economically darkest hours. Welfare countries like France and Germany went welfare after World War 2. Both Germany and France had their industrial economies decimated by two world wars and France had record an unemployment of over 36% (much higher than South Africa's unemployment figures) pre-welfare. Today Germany is one of the strongest economies in the world and France`s unemployment rate has dropped to 9.8%. When Sweden went welfare, it did so because of food riots and the failure of state- and church-organized charities to sufficiently deal with poverty and unemployment. Many countries like Finland went welfare after their economies were decimated by Soviet occupation.

Well-run welfare states have a proven track record of reducing poverty and unemployment.This comparison chart on Wikipedia shows clearly shows the impact of welfare on unemployment and poverty.

So if South Africa is a welfare state, why are the crime and poverty rates dropping more quickly?  One aspect we need to consider is that change takes time. France, Germany and Sweden did not drop their poverty and unemployment levels overnight. However, the single-most important reason why we have not had better results is the single biggest relevant criticism against a welfare state: Welfare states are complex and difficult to manage, and if they are managed badly, mistakes can cost us a lot (as the PIGS welfare countries recently found

South Africa is listed by CitiBank as the most mineral-rich country in the world. We have the resources and ability to manage constructive welfare programs to develop South Africa at a higher rate. Unfortunately, the culture of corruption in the ruling ANC party has created a hostile environment for the essential ingredients for a successful welfare state -- competency, transparency and accountability.

So why are some right wing white South Africans incorrectly saying that the farm attacks are organized genocide? They are creating and blowing out of context the real reasons for the farm attacks in an attempt to polarize population groups into supporting their ideology. The easiest way to control people is through fear. By creating an artificial perception of genocide they are polarizing people into being more receptive to their extremist ideologies and wacky racial beliefs.

It is the same fear that the Apartheid government used to polarize white communities during Apartheid. Swaart Gevaar (Afrikaans for "black danger"). The manipulation of fear is not just exploited by white people on the far right. Fear is just as easily exploited by ANC representatives on the far left for their own corrupt political agenda
as we saw with Julius Malema and his singing of the, "Kill the Boer" song.

Both the far left and far right represent tiny but very vocal minorities in South Africa. Most South Africans of all color want to live and work together and build a better South Africa.

If we want to reduce the farm attacks we need to reduce South Africa`s level of financial and social inequality. We do this by replacing the current corrupt ANC with a more competent, transparent and accountable government. We build more and increase the quality of our public schools and universities and we make sure there is a strong social healthcare service to protect the weakest in our community. A strong focus on education and health and creating the opportunities for business to grow will result in positive future prospects for our

We need to focus on the real causes of violent crime in South Africa. High levels of corruption, poverty and unemployment and low levels of quality education, health and other essential services.

Lastly. If you did not get bored of my rambling and want to look at more information and empirical evidence about why becoming becoming a welfare country is the best solution we have come up with so far. Please read this article on American Scientist :

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