Media statement: Black Monday protests symbolise deep divisions

It is a week since the marches of 30 October, Black Monday.

While the Nelson Mandela Foundation deplores the murder of farmers and respects the constitutional right of South Africans to protest, as an organization charged with promoting Madiba’s legacy we are deeply concerned by much of what unfolded during the Black Monday protests.

All expressions of "us" and "them" in the contexts of a country like South Africa in 2017 are worrisome. When they come with a belligerence manifested in burning of the national flag, displaying of the old South African flag, and disrespecting histories, then they become deeply problematic.

Let us be clear on a few fundamentals:

  • One: apartheid was a crime against humanity. Displaying the flag of apartheid South Africa represents support for that crime
  • Two: South Africa’s food production relies as much on the labourers who work on farms as on the owners and managers of farms
  • Three: the most likely victims of murder in South Africa today are poor, young and black
  • And four: if the protesters had been black then the way in which the police responded would have been completely different. Think of how black protesters occupying highways are dealt with by police. Whiteness has power. Structurally, black lives matter less.

There is no doubt that the Black Monday protests have deepened divides in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela Foundation has spent a week reflecting, and consulting with stakeholders. We welcome, for instance, AgriSA’s assurance to us that it supports the Constitution’s provision for national symbols and distances itself from displays of the old flag like we saw a week ago.

Is it time to criminalize displays of the old flag? Is there a connection between the hubris of the Black Monday protests and the deep well of rage that underlies individual cases of murder on white-owned farms? How do we foster a collective revulsion at the murder of any South African, regardless of categorisation? Can we turn our country from one defined by violence into one inspired by Madiba’s dream of freedom?