[OPINION] To go or not to go, that is the question

Following the recent suggestion by an Australian interior minister that a special visa arrangement could be made for white South African farmers, the most bizarre of debates has ensued. It can best be described as the curious case of “the Messiah complex”.

Recently, in an Australian radio interview, Peter Dutton, the minister in question, made reference to the ongoing South African debate on land. He suggested that Australia may have to come to the aid of white South African farmers who were under the threat of possible illegal dispossession of their farms. A special visa arrangement for the “white farmers”, said the minister, may have to be expedited in order to allow them to find refuge in Australia, from the “uncivilised” country that is South Africa.

True to form, the chattering classes went into debate overdrive as to the diplomatic probity of these utterances, whether it was a justifiable call or not and whether such a call could even be seen as fundamentally racist or not.

Our newly installed Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, stood on a familiar podium and demanded a retraction from the Australian minister. AfriForum’s Ernst Roets stood on another and berated the government for their newly found voice on the land question, particularly the part about expropriation without compensation.

On another radio station in South Africa, as the feverish discussion about matters of land continued, a talk show host suggested that if white farmers had made an assessment of the South African political climate and reached the conclusion that it was better for them to go, well then, said the host, “they must go”. The backlash of violent vitriol and anger at this suggestion was rather surprising and perhaps quite telling upon further reflection. I have it on good authority that the host was even asked to clarify his assertions to the radio station’s management following a slew of complaints about his utterances from some listeners.

Be that as it may.

Allow me to give a little explanation by way of contextualisation.

Indeed, the debate which continues in South Africa around the issue of land expropriation without compensation is very concerning. Not only is it concerning to those who may lose their land should this policy proposal become law, it will undoubtedly wreak havoc for an already ailing economy and further threaten food security. The ongoing racial slurs by Julius Malema, coupled with unabated illegal land occupations, open physical attacks on journalists, violent farm murders and a lack of decisive government action in these matters, does little to inspire confidence.

Hence, as explained by the host, a serious consideration of the Australian minister’s offer would not be surprising and that those who wished to entertain it, should freely do so. This suggestion seems to have incensed many listeners, particularly those who happened to be white, but not exclusively so. The reasons for the anger ranged from a suggestion that the host was insensitive to the fears of the whites in this country and that he was pandering to the populism that is peddled by the likes of Julius, to a lack of acceptable tone. No amount of protestation by the host that he understood the fears, the economic threats, and the constitutional instability that may make white farmers wish to explore the possibilities of going “down under” seemed to bring any calm to the conversation. In fact, it only seemed to escalate the anger.

Puzzling though it may seem, this rather emotional and seemingly irrational reaction to the suggestion that those who could no longer take the South African situation anymore should rather go, especially if they had received invitations of asylum from Oz, has very simple roots. Those roots can best be described as unresolved attitudes of supremacy and exceptionalism.

At the core of the anger is what is viewed as the temerity and utter cheek of the host, who happens to be black, to even suggest that farmers must go if they have decided to do so. The unflinching staring down of the threat that the proverbial saviours may abandon our shores. This is inspired by the idea that the host seemed to have forgotten his place and seemed not to realise the contribution of white farmers and, by extension, whites to the comforts which he enjoys.

It is a sense of panic, that the “good black”, the host, seemed to be going rogue and joining the chorus of “kill the boer, kill the farmer” and would no longer be a buffer of protection against the hordes in red, led by a lunatic. A deep sense of betrayal. It is the self-indulgent deeply held belief that should they go, all will be lost, famine and strife, which they have kept at bay, will engulf South Africa and that the reasonable thing to be done here is to helplessly beg them to stay.

It is the unflattering expression of a maniacal superiority complex that cannot believe the possibility of not being needed. The desperate need to be needed by an ever-grateful, unquestioning native class, a narcism of epic proportions. This is the Messiah complex. The arrogance is mindboggling. It is unacceptable.

Just before the dawn of democracy, many similar sentiments of paranoia made a showing. Many stocked up on canned food and survival supplies and retreated into their laagers, many left. It was mostly white South Africans who were afraid of the prospects of a black-led government. Times were hard, there was a lot of uncertainty and palpable fear. However, South Africans of all races stuck it out and sought a way to find each other and connect. They did not leave. They stayed. They argued, fought, negotiated the contortions of the birth-pains of a nation, but they stayed. They stayed to find a way to be together. They created a new reality and a prospect for a nationhood never before imagined. It was not perfect. They stayed.

We may fail, but we believe we will succeed and so we stay. It is that hope, that faith against all odds, which builds a nation. Some farmers will leave, but many will stay to build with us and be part of us. They will stay because they love South Africa and what they will make it become. We will stay. Together.

I say it again. If you have made your assessment of the current South African situation and arrived at the conclusion that you can no longer stay for reasons best known to you... then go. Bon Voyage.

Aubrey Masango is a presenter on Talk Radio 702. Follow him on Twitter: @702Aubrey