The lingering, inexcusable violence of post-apartheid SA

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola were in attendance at the court proceedings. Picture: Mujahid Safodien/File

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola were in attendance at the court proceedings. Picture: Mujahid Safodien/File

Published Feb 4, 2024


By Tswelopele Makoe

ON Wednesday tensions ran high at the Groblersdal Magistrate’s Court as the bail hearing of farmers Piet Groenewald and his son, Stephan Greef got under way.

The 63 and 27-year-old each face charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in a case that’s believed to be racially motivated.

The accused are charged with violently brutalising, injecting with an unknown substance, and setting violent dogs on their 30-year-old employee Veneruru Kavari.

Police Minister Bheki Cele and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola were in attendance at the court proceedings, warning anyone of the grave consequences that are imposed on anyone who breaks the law.

This case has fostered extreme contentions across the nation, with the Kavari receiving various death threats from an unknown person.

During the court hearing itself, police were strenuously trying to keep the crowds at bay while cordoning off the court precinct. At one end were supporters of the accused, waving the old apartheid Transvaal government flags.

ANC Sekhukhune region spokesperson Sam Owane, who was also in court, reiterated that the flag of the brutish apartheid government was essentially “a middle finger to the democratic government”.

We are a mere two months away from the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, a (milestone) that is revered across the world due to the peaceful and successful transition from a ruthless, highly prejudicious, inhumane white supremacist government, to a democratic one without a vindictive civil war.

Today, South Africa is hailed as having the best Constitution in the world, premised on equality and humaneness. This, however, is not reflected in the lived reality of post-apartheid society. In fact, racial tensions and confrontations are still rife in our society.

Over half of the population of modern-day South Africans are ravaged by poverty. Approximately a third battles unemployment, which particularly affects tertiary education graduates.

According to a report by the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, “with race playing a determining factor in a society where 10% of the population owns more than 80% of the wealth”.

The inequalities in South Africa are deeply entrenched in the social, political, economic, institutional, cultural, and infrastructural dynamics of the nation.

Although South Africa is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual context, the consolidation of the masses has been greatly sidelined in light of the advancement of the present democracy.

As such, we continue to contend with racism, hostility, iniquity and cruelty in the current context.

Prime examples of this have been through occurrences of racist behaviours at institutions such as Stellenbosch University, the firing of Nokuthokoza Sibisi, Zolile Jali, Sizakele Matjomane and countless other black employees due to their cultural expression.

Brutality by racists is not only experienced by adults, but also countless children inside and outside educational institutions.

Institutional racism and discrimination is still tethered to our democratic nation. This can be seen by the staggering rate of black students across the nation that face arbitrary exclusions, are driven to mental breakdowns, and are sickeningly assaulted with no repercussions.

Although it has been decades since the end of apartheid, the essence of the unjust regime is seemingly still alive and kicking.

We are wholly dependent on our democratic structures to address much of the violence and injustice in our society, however, this is an insufficient strategy.

The government should be making intentional and effective strides to mitigate the array of injustices in our society. It needs to acknowledge the major role played by race in the race relations of post-apartheid South Africa.

Our government has failed to end the poor economic conditions that black people endured since the apartheid days. This is not an aspect of our society that can be overlooked.

This case particularly draws attention to the role of race in the labour-class dynamics. In fact, many would argue that economic power is integral to the access of the freedoms availed in our Constitution.

If you are a poor, working-class citizen, you are exceedingly vulnerable to prosecution and mistreatment by the State, by employers, and by institutions.

You need economic power to defend yourself effectively and successfully in the court of law.

You need economic power to access and remain in educational institutions. You also need economic power to access the resources that result in one’s development.

Ultimately, there are countless cases that are similar to this, that go unreported and unpunished, due to the lack of protections that are offered to those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy.

It is shameful that one could commit unspeakable violence against another, with no repercussions, simply due to the colour of their skin.

Racism is still entrenched in the lived realities of many South Africans.

This current case is not only reminiscent of the apartheid era, but also slavery, where the slightest infringement was returned with brutality and barbarity, and dogs were weaponised against black people.

It is pitiful that such would be an occurrence in our present-day context. It is more so abhorrent that so many cases similar to this go unpunished due to the lack of protections that are experienced by the black majority of this country.

Social institutions directly shape our social norms and social roles. Economic institutions do not take account of the grievous realities of the plethora of this nation who live below the poverty line.

These need to be at the forefront of the consolidation of our society. It is not only the responsibility of the government, but every sector of our society, to actualise this.

If not, we will remain divided, with some waving flags that represent the violent brutality of our past, with no consideration of the future that we are advancing towards.

The reality is that the leadership of South Africa must make a stealth effort towards tackling the brutish legacy of pre-1994.

Cases such as these are not only a ghastly reminder of the ugly days of apartheid, but they are also a disheartening representation of the countless unresolved racial tensions we still contend with.

It is our duty – entrenched by the Constitution – to rid our society of anyone who seeks to revert back to the brutality and savagery that once was. It is our responsibility to uphold the humanity that is enshrined in our Constitution.

As beautifully spoken by the prolific black poet Maya Angelou: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a gender activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent and IOL. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.