Ever since I started my work in politics, I have heard stories and rumours of something sinister happening in South Africa. I was regularly sent images and videos claiming there was a white genocide going on – right now. As a journalist, I have learned to never take anything at face-value: to second guess and question it all; but, I also believe there is never smoke without fire.
This is what makes South Africa so intriguing, because, depending on your outlook, it is either a paragon of multiculturalism and social justice, or a powder keg with a genocide against the white population ready to erupt into an all-out race war.
With these words, Lauren Southern opens her much anticipated full length documentary about the state of South African farm attacks. In the past, Southern has had to repeatedly fend off accusations of being “alt-right” for many of her contentious YouTube videos, but Farmlands could prove to be her most controversial project to date. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that in the coming weeks and months it will provoke extremely polarised reactions across the entire political spectrum.
The personal is political
Despite being a harrowing pilgrimage across much of our country’s ideological landscape, it doesn’t seem that Southern intended to produce a documentary that explores the political beliefs and arguments presented by more moderate voices. With this said, however, farm murders and the land issue are thoroughly intertwined in many South Africans’ minds, and it’s little wonder that these have combined to create what may be the most divisive conflict our country has faced since the dismantling of apartheid.
A lack of condemnation
One can’t help but feel that Southern does hit a sensitive nerve when stating that, on the one hand, “farm murders are a non-issue” in left wing thought and the “establishment media”, while, on the other hand, the “far right [is] predicting a civil war”. And when various interviewees describe the unfathomable brutality and inhuman violence perpetrated in farm murders, condemnation should, without even the briefest moment of hesitation, thunder forth from all South Africans, no matter what political view they hold with regards to land redistribution.
“The intention… is to kill”
The testimonies recorded by Southern paint portraits of viciousness that can’t, in any meaningful way, be understood or made sense of. One of the “Blood Sisters” recalls an incident in which a 12 year old boy was drowned in boiling hot water – his skin had to be removed from the bath during the crime scene clean up. Babies and children haven’t escaped murder and other absolutely atrocious crimes; and, by other reports, reprehensible sexual violence has been used as a means of prolonged torture. The inventory of inexpressible cruelty surpasses even our worst of imaginings.
The dehumanisation is as undeniable as it is incomprehensible to anyone endowed with even the slightest conscience.
A tragic flaw
It is with deep regret, however, that in bringing these stories to a wide and diverse audience, Southern wandered into the territory of Orania. She alludes to the “whites only” town as being peaceful, and avoids taking a critical position with regards to its perceived ethnic nationalism ideology. This unnecessary transgression could be costly beyond measure: in exploring the topic of Orania in the context of farm attacks and murders, critics now have a defendable claim that she is not only biased, but sympathetic to the idea of racial separation and the protection of white privilege.