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Holocaust memorial

22 April 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) began in the evening of Wednesday, 18 April 2012, and ended in the evening of Thursday, 19 April 2012.

I didn’t know that, although I have seen quite a few blog posts that have referred to it, so obviously some people knew. I just wondered at why people were mentioning it all of a sudden.

One of the posts I read had this picture (hat-tip to The Poor Mouth), which I thought was quite telling.

The Hebrew caption reads Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day 5772

One of the thoughts that comes to mind is how little we have learned. People in many different parts of the world reacted with shock and horror when they heard of the extent of the Nazi attempt at genocide, and indeed those events added the word “genocide” to our vocabulary. Yet much of the force of the word has been lost because of attempts to trivialise it, and apply it to something less than the planned and deliberate attempt to exterminate a race of people.

Not all ethnically related violence is genocide, though sometimes people speak as if it were. And sometimes people use “genocide” as if it were not ethnic violence at all. All killing of other human beings is evil, but not all killing of other human beings is genocide. And so it is good to be reminded of what genocide really means.

It doesn’t mean just ethnically-related violence, nor does it mean killing a large number of people. Some referred to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 as “genocide”, but it wasn’t. Cambodians killing Cambodians is not genocide. The reason for the killing was not that those who were killed belonged to another race, but because the people who were killed were considered to be  not politically correct. Actually it wasn’t even that, because the killers didn’t even bother to find out the political views of many of those they killed. It was the raw assertion of political power. It was a case of  “We can kill you so you had better do what we say, and even if you do what we say we may still kill you to convince others that we are serious, and so we will kill you just because we can.”

The killing of a similar number of people in Rwanda 20 years later was more like genocide, because it was based on ethnic hatred.

I mention these things because one of the worst trivialisations of the word “genocide” takes place right here in South Africa, and can be seen in web sites like this one. There are people who deliberately attempt to equate “farm murders” with “genocide”. This is a kind of mischievous propaganda that is calculated to deceive, though perhaps some of those who spread it are self-deceived by their own propaganda. They are trying to create the impression that “farm murders” are all part of a deliberate plan to exterminate the “Boer race”.

But let us examine the words more soberly and objectively.

“Farm murders” are murders that take place on farms, as opposed to, say, cities and suburbs. The “genocide” propagandists like to ascribe all these murders to a single cause: genocide. They do not provide any evidence for this assertion, other than gruesome pictures of murder victims. The picture itself is supposed to be “proof” that the motive was “genocide”.

But murders on farms, like murders in other places, take place from a variety of motives. To equate farm murders with “genocide” is simplistic.

Also, the “genocide” conspiracy theorists like to give the impression that all “farm murders” are murders of farmers. But they are not. Some farm murders are murders by farmers of their workers, or of trespassers, or of alleged tresspassers.

One motive for farm murders is labour disputes. There is a dispute between employers and employees which escalates to the point where one party kills the other. The police sometimes point out that very often a murderer is someone known to the victim — a family member or an employee or employer. And this applies to farm murders as well.

One of the common motives for farm murders is robbery, and robbery with violence, or the threat of violence, is all too common. For that purpose, farms are seen as a soft target because of their relative isolation. There is time for the robbers to make a getaway.

What I have not found is any evidence that the motive for farm murders is “genocide”. The perpetrators are sometimes caught, tried and convicted. In how many of these cases has the motive been proved to be “genocide”? If the genocide propagandists can show that this morive has been proved in the majority of cases (a 51% majority will do), then I will be prepared to take their contentions seriously. But until they do that, I will take their assertions with several bags of salt, and merely white racist propaganda. Sannie sê Sannie sal sewe sakke sout sleep.

Some of those who maintain the genocide theory refer to a slogan “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer”, coined by Peter Mokaba, an ANC leader, who used it a lot in the early 1990s. The media confused this slogan with a struggle song that contained the words “dubul’ amaBhunu”, which can be translated as ” shoot the Boers”. But, apart from Peter Mokaba’s silly and irresponsible slogan, there is a difference between “Boer” with a capital letter and “boer” with a small letter. There is a historical precedent: during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) British troops came to South Africa in l;arge numbers to “dubul’ amaBhunu”, because while “boere” with a small “b” means “farmers”, “Boere” with a capital B meant citizens of the South African Republic (ZAR) and the Republic of the Orange Free State, which in that period were at war with the Britsh Empire and its local representatives, the Cape Colony and the Colony of Natal.

After the Anglo-Boer War, and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the National Party was formed to promote and develop the spirit and ideology (as they saw it) of the Boer Republics, and in the 1940s that spirit developed into the ideology of apartheid. Thus “Boer” and the Zulu version “iBhunu” came to represent the apartheid ideology and its supporters. And they called themselves “Boere”, no matter how urbanised they might be. And this was what the struggle song referred to — the destruction of the ideology of apartheid and the power of the apartheid regime.

And there is no ambiguity in the Zulu words. The Zulu word “amaBhunu” does not mean farmers, it means Afrikaner nationalists collectively. The Zulu word for farmer is “umlimi” (plural “abalimi”).

It was only the silliness of Peter Mokaba, and the supporters of the genocide conspiracy theory of  “farm murders”, that led people to think otherwise.

Farm murders, whatever their motives, are horrible, but they are not genocide.

And the Holocaust Memorial day can remind us of what genocide really means.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 April 2012 10:14 am

    Thanks Steve – I have had many arguments on-line and off about this. I really appreciate the way you have laid this out and made the arguments I have often tried with less success to make. A great article which I have shared on my Facebook timeline.

    • 22 April 2012 12:03 pm

      Thanks Tony. It’s something that has bugged me for a long time, because so much nonsense is spoken about it by so many people who ought to know better.

  2. Etienne Marais permalink
    22 April 2012 12:56 pm

    “We in the ANC have declared all white farms war-zones… white men,
    women and children are targets, they are part of the military and
    paramilitary units and the local police force… Source: BBC Monitoring,
    October 28 1986

    • 22 April 2012 6:16 pm

      Are you saying that every military operation in a war zone is an act of genocide? That’s a pretty good example of the misuse of the term. War is evil, but it is not genocide. War crimes are evil, but not all war crimes are genocide.

      • Etienne Marais permalink
        22 April 2012 7:51 pm

        If it really was war is a matter of opinion. The ANC was a terrorist and Communist organization which sought to overthrow South Africa in a state of anarchy and installing a communist regime, often invited to negotiation if they would denounce terror as valid operational means. Whatever your stance on that may be, post 1994 (not at war) saw a very dramatic increase in farm murders so it is not an act of ‘legitimate’ warfare (not that it was prior to 1994).

        Genocide actually has a broad meaning, including the destruction of heritage, language and culture, as we are currently facing. As much as you would like to believe it is not genocide, that much I believe it is. Farm Attacks are considerably higher per capita than nationwide murders (the former and latter totalling 40 to 50 per day which in itself is utterly unacceptable).

        The government’s failure to proactively do something about farm attacks can be interpreted as them condoning it, despite their Orwellian double-speak and perhaps very limited and meek operations.

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