2019 is barely two weeks old and we’ve already seen polarizing racial rhetoric dominating the headlines. This is to be expected. It is, after all, election season and nothing turns heads like racism. More importantly, nothing sells newspapers like racism.
I suspect that between our politicians and journalists we’ll be kept quite busy this year. Add to this racial rhetoric a bit of insensitivity, social media, lack of context and a genuine painful history and you have the ingredients for a perfect storm.
Having caught wind of this storm, BeterEinders started a campaign at the end of last year to collect success stories of racial cohesion and reconciliation. Yes-yes, we are part of a naïve group in this country who still believes that through the storm comes a rainbow and as cliché as that may be, we are still committed to working towards a better end.
One such success story took us to a small town called Matatiele. If you haven’t heard of it, it is close to Kokstad on the border of KZN and the Eastern Cape. Whilst the rest of South Africa is going to social media to voice their opinions on all things racial – these guys are just quietly going about their business but in a rather profound way.
I met lawyer/farmer Andrew Duminy a while ago and whenever I’m despondent about the country I call him and his solution is always – “come visit us in Matatiele, here your hope will be restored”. Over December I finally took him up on his offer and took the long drive there. Andrew and his wife Deidre are one of those epic, A-type personality, super couples that make you question your life choices. While Andrew juggles farming, lawyering and pastoring a small community church, Deidre is a medical doctor at the local hospital, the mother of three attractive children and runs something of a care centre for local horses. In line with their dedicated involvement in the community, Deidre also coaches the first team hockey at the King Edward High School and Andrew is head of the governing body.
On their farm the Duminy’s have built a few rondavels that are almost permanently occupied with guests. Some are looking to retreat; some are going through drug rehabilitation and others are there because they were expelled from the school hostel and need a place to stay. The result is that on any given night, supper around the table is an event with all kinds of interactions and conversations.
On one supper night, we learnt that their eldest son is head boy at King Edward (of course he is) and he is dating the head girl (of course he is). We also learnt that his black friends are mocking him about his upcoming labola payment because his girl-friend happens to be Xhosa. It was the type of scene that would make any right winger furious, but for the rest of us, it was highly entertaining experiencing the banter.
Rob is another farmer in the community that we met. He looks a bit like a white beggar given his vicious tan and lack of shoes, but as it turns out he is quite a successful farmer. Skipping the small talk I asked him the sensitive question of farm murders and he gave me an answer I could never have anticipated. According to Rob the farm attacks (of which there have only been two that he can recall more than 10 years ago) in his area are not entirely unprovoked. He told stories of white farmers being killed and after a bit of context, I almost thought to myself that the farmers had it coming. He qualified his statement saying that he can only speak for the few instances in his area and that he wasn’t trying to make a blanket statement, but I thought that his response was rather fresh given the AfriForum type campaigns that we are used to. After challenging white victimhood he also told me of some interesting initiatives he is part of to try and fast track effective land reform.
When we changed topics it was only to rant about white people in the community sending their children to Durban and Pietermaritzburg schools. He resents the so called ‘white flight mentality’ in the community and gave a raving endorsement of the local school – “My children are far better equipped to handle South Africa, because they went to a school where they encountered the real South Africa. They have the cultural intelligence to not only survive in this country but to enjoy it”.
I had to poke myself every now and then to make sure I was awake. To further my state of disbelief, a farmer called Louis joined the conversation. He is the first team rugby coach at King Edward and a stereotypical Afrikaner boer – big, loud and badly dressed. Surely this guy will ‘sort out’ this liberal soutie-farmer. As it turned out, this boer tried to convince everyone at the table to vote ANC in the upcoming election. I thought the guy must be drunk, but he was adamant that he was going to vote for them and the rest of us should join him. Asking Andrew about him later that day, he smiled and showed me photos of Louis embracing his almost entirely Xhosa rugby team.
In our time in Matatiele, I didn’t get to meet the special folks who own the local hardware store. The lily white Whittle family have taken five lovely Xhosa children into their home some of whom I’ve met in Gauteng. These kids are doing tremendously well at university and beyond. Their back story is a tragic one, but their story turned when the Whittles took them in them and raised them as their own.
I’m sure these farmers, adoptive parents and coaches also make mistakes and I’m also sure there are many intellectuals in our country who would call them patronizing whites with a messianic complex. But what I experienced was a community who are not making plans to immigrate but are passionately pouring themselves into this country. If more people can have their attitude then I have tremendous hope for our beautiful country.
How I wish stories like these would get more airtime and inspire others as it did me. But alas, I’m sure when the media get a hold of this community they will find something polarizing and sell a few extra newspapers.
– Johan Erasmus