Eugene Terre’Blanche

05Apr10

South African white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche has been murdered on his farm, allegedly by two of black workers who attacked him following non-payment for their labour. This has stirred up fears that racial warfare may be explicitly reignited in South Africa, a nation that is clearly still scarred by apartheid and interracial conflict.

Some may dispute that the man was a white supremacist and state that he was merely a white separatist who wished to established an independent nation based on white ethnic identity,  as in the comments to the Times reporting of his murder. Of course this is a much milder way of formulating the same basic racism. One could imagine what the same Times reader might say were he to hear of indigenous people’s liberation movements, say if an aboriginal campaign achieved a loud enough voice to be noteworthy in the UK for calling for an aboriginal secessionism from the Australian state. Already we can hear the tired old cries that are equally directed to black Americans who stubbornly refuse to stop harping on about the specificity of their existence being predicated on the history of slavery, or of Haitians who simply do not or will not sort themselves out.

Of course hidden in this tempering of the obvious racism is (the by now) all to obvious postmodern variant of the racist’s justification: difference.

I have always been made out as a racist, someone who hates black people.I don’t hate [blacks] them.I grew up with them. I just know there are many differences between whites and blacks and I will always believe it.

Here Terre’Blanche deploys the idea that his ethnic identity is just too different to live alongside that of the blacks he is surrounded by. It is not that the blacks are inferior, sub-human or brutish, it is simply that they are too different. There is some unbridgeable chasm. The black other is simply too Other. This isn’t particularly insightful, but there is something odd when another commenter can claim that

Of course the crimes [in South Africa] are black against white. That is where most people are in denial. Fact is there are not enough whites within reach to rob, rape and murder, so crime spills over into the black communities as well.

Here the difference, the radical otherness of the blacks becomes not just an extreme incompatibility or incommunicability between two far too different peoples but already slides directly and with ease into the assumption that the black other is an existent that has criminality at its core. An utter criminality that does not respect property, women (unlike our society, deprived as it is of all but the hint of misogyny) or life.

So the irreconcilable difference is circles around the fact of the black being a degenerate and an abject one at that. His antipathy towards the white even goes so far as spilling over into black on black crime, which we are left to assume must be either drive by some symptom of that degeneracy, idiocy or being carried away by some berserker frenzy which only the black man is afflicted by (there certainly existing no white on white crime). So utterly unlike the white is the black man that his pathological hatred causes him to steal from himself, to rape his own women and to murder his brothers. The black appears in much the same manner as an irrational and abject creature.

Of course here the term ‘community’ is invoked. It is the black  ‘community’ rather than the black which is carrying out these crimes and which lend cogency and legitimacy to  figure like Terre’Blanche and his reactionary ideas. The self-activity of the black community demonstrates their fundamental antagonism with the white community that necessitates their separation. Community is a political concept, a concept that invokes some sense of sharing , of holding in common.

Yet this rupture between the black community and the white community undoes this idea at its base, as it does whenever we hear talk of X-community or Y-community, as if the common could be a matter of the distribution of divisions that renders the common fractured. Where ever there is no possibility for sharing there is no community and the world itself becomes meaningless. What is really meant here by community, a word that seems to be deployed to mask the naturalisation of the black man’s madness and which holds forth the appearance of the possibility of dialogue or strategic negotiation between differences within a larger singular whole which is already explicity denied by the likes of Terre’Blanche?

What is at issue here in the abject alterity of the black other is its barbarian existence. The black does not speak the language of the white man but only understands violence and murder. In reality Eugene Terre’Blanche and those like him who variously cover their racism with either a strategy of declaring ‘our differences are too great’ or ‘we must preserve our differences out of respect for those differences’ are smuggling the same old racism in under the guise of something milder or seemingly progressive.

This barbarianisation of black people is explicitly born out in the reported statement of intent of Terre’Blanche in the words

I am going to stand, to work, to fight for the safety of my language, my mother tongue

This is also why in the UK someone like Nick Griffin (of the BNP) can operate within democracy. Never mind that they claim they represent ‘normal'(read:white) people’s opinions  but they simultaneously cast the other as the same as themselves but utterly different. The difference is insurmountable but is still contained within the democratic framework; they understand democracy as a system that is indifferent to the types of competing communities within it. Racist (or misogynistic) parties and their other, whichever they select, can co-exist within democracy in such a manner that they can deny that co-existence and this appears as a fundamental feature of actually existing democratic process. This is why such blatantly racist ideas such as Terre’Blanche (which sound merely like the desire to return to apartheid) or a Nick Griffin can be so easily be assimilated into the mainstream of political debate. In the case of South Africa things are particularly confused, where many black people are themselves rich and influential and are not pathological barbarian creatures. One can only assume that exposure to the way of the white man (money? law? integration into the white man’s linguistic codes?) has exorcised them and raised them up to the level of the whites. Though I’d suspect for Terre’Blanche’s followers this is probably not the case.

Here, democracy gives all the sheen of politics, or liberal or modest proposals, of rationality to a fundamentally racist discourse of the, in this case the black, other as animal, as the exceptional moment in the public body because although officially included within the political process it is already acknowledged from the outset as incapable of being so in any real sense. One thinks here of Agamben’s figure of homo sacer and at the same time of the comfort of an artificial womb or cocoon. The ‘mother tongue’ being the semiotic-organism in which the white ethnic identity of the Afrikaners is safe.

Yet I would think that the reverse occurs. I don’t think it is in anyway controversial to claim that the ‘democratic’ white supremacist has fantasised a violent black beast who will come and kill him in the night and his fantasy has come true. His fantasy has killed him, his obsession has hacked him up. In a sense it is a suicide but one in which he has given birth to his fantasy. Now every white supremacist can point to the black men (or man and boy, really) and say “ah ha! We are right! You see!” and never have to bother themselves with any further discussion.

I mean, this particular instance is supposed to have been immediately triggered by a wage dispute yet this aspect of the murder is almost universally absent from any kind of analysis, it is reported as a passing reference as if the immediate causality of the situation were really unimportant, just an accidental carrier of…what? The historical injustice black people have suffered in South Africa? Or the poor quality of life of poor black people? Or the way in which ethnicity and poverty’s histories interact in that country?

Yet it is not so much that it is a suicide as stated above as that would dissolve the murderers of both their responsibility and agency and feed into the fantastical production of the barbarian hordes. Yet this is precisely what seems to be going on in the contemporary racist’s mind: there claims all seem to me to amount to the ridiculous claim that it is they themselves who are homo sacer. I don’t think its an exaggeration to claim that in the South African case this is clear in the fears that Terre’Blanche will be taken up an ethnic warrior’s martyr, as one who has been sacrificed for the greater good of the cause.

In the heads of those for whom this man becomes a martyr (and one wonders if in the heads of those who announce this fear in the absence of those expressing it for themselves)* might it not be that he becomes the sacrificial offering? Likewise, if also otherwise, here in the UK, is it not the case that the BNP, in its rhetorical abuse of the discourse of indigenous peoples, imagines itself as the victim of some purposefully engineered genocide.  If this is the case then we reach the perverse position wherein the Nazi is able to adopt the position of the Jew whilst maintaining the Jew as such. That is, whilst fantasising itself as homo sacer the figure of the Nazi can ever more successfully reduce the other to the level of homo sacer.

Here, I think my ideas may go a bit wonky. Tell me if they do. For some time Zizek has been developing a critique of the political correctness. I have no problem with such a critique but I do not accept Zizek’s line of thought in its entirety. I believe it is in Lost Causes that he asks us to imagine a nazi or, equally we might as well say, a sex offender telling us his story. We would not suddenly feel as though we had to respect his difference. No, certainly we wouldn’t want to embrace him and say ‘oh this is just diversity’.  But then I don’t take it as particularly controversial to claim that these kinds of extreme figures are precisely what hold us together when all we have left is resentment and negative solidarity, as writers like Ballard have regularly shown us.

What underpins Zizek’s account is a sense that all this political correctness stems from a sense of white guilt. To move far too quickly (its late and I need my bed) he seems to think that white guilt is an awful, debilitating thing thats destroying us. Yet at the same time he wants to sure his politics up to a philosophy that is directly and avowedly influenced by Christian theology.

Isn’t experience of guilt pivotal in Christian theology? Isn’t that the point of sin? Or rather sin, which is paradoxically the precondition of redemption, is experienced phenomenologically as guilt. That is, I can repent and be saved only because I have an inner experience of having sinned. Is this not guilt?

The white supremacist, as long as they remain such, is precisely the one who is pathologically incapable of experiencing guilt and therefore of realising his sin and as such it is he who cannot be redeemed. I’m not saying this to suggest that the black youths are somehow morally justified in their violence and nor am I suggesting that every white person carries the burden of the history of slavery or racial subjugation as such. Simply, if Zizek wants us all to be good heirs to our Christian heritage we must also accept this aspect of it and as such it is not simply enough for us to repeat the move of the (not at all) covert supremacists in pointing to one specific group or another as being monstrous.

Being without redemption is not the same as being a monster and for that matter it is not identical to being homo sacer. The other is clearly the one who is reduced but we must not simply fall into acting as if this reduction were proper. In the case of someone like Eugene Terre’Blanche and those who agree with him we must realise that to treat them as if they were part of what Simone Weil calls the afflicted is already to bolster their stupid fantasy self-image.

I hope this made any sense whatsoever. Anyway, to bed.

*Possibly implicating myself here as well, I’m aware.

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