Editorial: White nostalgia, not civil rights

Gerrie Nel. (Sizwe Ndingane/Gallo)

Gerrie Nel. (Sizwe Ndingane/Gallo)

It is not some kind of counterweight to the ANC, Black First Land First, the Economic Freedom Fighters, or any other movement campaigning for redress for hundreds of years of injustice against black people. And despite what you may have read in response to former state prosecutor Gerrie Nel teaming up with them this week, AfriForum is most certainly not a civil rights organisation.

In the bowels of the internet – that great bastion of clarity and legal insight, yes – civil rights are described as a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments, social organisations and private individuals. Wikipedia says civil rights are meant to ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.

Now, we know Wikipedia, or the greater internet, is not exactly reliable – trust us, we’ve been trying to turn a profit from digitally distributed news for years – but the internet as the epitome of an open society shows us exactly how AfriForum exists quite unopposed by society or the state. Instead, they continue to harness a sentiment of loss by white, Afrikaans-speaking people to fuel an ever-widening conglomerate of businesses and charities that distances them from the rest of South Africa.

Theirs is not so much a movement for civil rights as it is a movement for the historical hegemony of the rights of white people to be restored.

Last year, AfriForum’s argument in the Constitutional Court to halt street name changes was revealing. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng lambasted the grouping for being “divisive, somewhat selfish and without much regard for centuries of deprivation black people had to endure.”

He was not alone in singling out AfriForum’s creative interpretation of historical fact. Other judges also tore into AfriForum for referring to colonialism and apartheid as “so-called historical injustices”.

Apartheid was evil. But it is especially jarring when it is being described by AfriForum as some kind of misunderstanding.

Yet responses this week to the launch of AfriForum’s private prosecutions unit, headed by Nel, have revealed the extent to which the grouping has been normalised. The National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) is in a mess, yes. If the saga involving Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was anything to go by, then yes, there certainly appears to be a culture of selective prosecutions. We’ll take Nel’s word for it.

But is AfriForum really the organisation to challenge the NPA? Or, indeed, target the elites that it says it will?

There is nothing normal, innocuous or organically contrarian about AfriForum. It is a grouping that holds the rights of white, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans as more valid than those of the rest of the people of this country. It may style itself as a civil rights organisation, but it is concerned with the protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of only one group. In this, it is replicating a pernicious ideology that draws strength from a nostalgia for more separateness, a nostalgia for unimpeded white hegemony. As an ideology driving legal prosecution – the legalities in themselves not withstanding – it is frightening.

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