Mulder, Zuma and the press

James Myburgh says the past week has not been a good one for our media

In his State of the Nation Address to Parliament President Jacob Zuma stated that "The year 2013 will mark the centenary of the Natives Land Act of 1913, which took away 87 percent of the land from the African people."

By African people Zuma was referring to black South Africans, not Coloureds or whites. The clear implication of his statement was that the entire land mass of South Africa had once belonged to black Africans and the Land Act had deprived this group of 87% of this area.

In his reply to Zuma's speech Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder contested this assertion. He stated: "Africans in particular never in the past lived in the whole of South Africa. The Bantu- speaking people moved from the equator down while the white people moved from the Cape up to meet each other at the Kei River. There is sufficient proof that there were no Bantu-speaking people in the Western Cape and North-western Cape. These parts form 40% of South Africa's land surface."

Nowhere did Mulder claim that the Khoikhoi and the ‘San' were not the first inhabitants of this area - it would have been absurd to do so. This is SA History 101 stuff. If anything it was Zuma who was denying this group's - and their descendents - historic presence in this area. This matters as the ANC is currently trying to impose racial quotas based on national demographics in employment in the Western Cape. There's no reason why the ANC wouldn't do the same with land in the province (if they could).

In his reply to the debate Zuma accused Mulder of callousness and a "bold denial of historical facts about land dispossession." He urged "Honourable Mulder to tread very carefully on this matter. It is extremely sensitive and to the majority of people in this country, it is a matter of life and death."

This response did not constitute a rebuttal, on the facts, as much as a threat. This reaction was imitated in the Sunday papers.

In the Sunday Times Mondli Makhanya accused Mulder of "crude denialism about South Africa's evil past" and of driving a "sharp knife into the belly of black South Africans." Again, Makhanya did not rebut Mulder's statement factually instead translating it to mean: "Shut up you darkies! We whites were right to mess you up all these decades."

In City Press Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya stated that "Mulder best personifies why many black people believe that their white compatriots have spat on the hand they extended in the name of building a non-racial society." And he accused the Freedom Front leader of denying the truth "that African people's claims to Africa is unquestionable."

He followed this up with a thinly veiled threat of genocide if the white minority did not learn its place. He suggested in the process that the Jews of Europe and Asians of Uganda had brought their destruction on themselves. According to Moya's interesting reasoning "Fascists and strongmen [like Adolph Hitler and Idi Amin] tend to materialise when a people who have endured degradation and oppression decide they'd rather live in dignity than in a democracy that perpetuates their dehumanisation."

On early Monday morning a dairy farmer - David Hall - was murdered by a gang of five armed men on his farm in the North West province for no apparent reason.

In a more decent society a killing like this might sober the media up a bit. But the denunciations of Mulder continued unabated. Pierre de Vos accused Mulder and other white South Africans of "historical amnesia". De Vos did not actually dispute Mulder's statement, launching instead into a tangential lecture on the 1913 Land Act based on some undigested reading of the literature.

Finally, at least one newspaper had the bright idea of asking an expert for their opinion. The Mail & Guardian proudly reported that the "historical evidence disproves Mulder's argument" citing as its authority David Coplan, the professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand.

Coplan accused Mulder of perpetuating the "empty-land myth" of the early apartheid-era before conceding both that white farmers and the Xhosas had indeed "met" near the Kei River and that there had been no Bantu-speakers in the Western Cape when the Dutch arrived.

The past week has not been a good one for the South African media.

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