Steve Hofmeyr: apartheid denialism shows its face

Rafieka Williams

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This isn’t about Steve Hofmeyr. But Steve Hofmeyr has screwed up again. The multiple SAMA award winner, author and stalwart of Afrikaans music recently caused an uproar by tweeting a series of controversial statements using the hashtag #TheRealArchitectsofApartheid. His tweets, flowing from his timeline like a train of uninterrupted thought, listed the reasons why, according to […]

This isn’t about Steve Hofmeyr. But Steve Hofmeyr has screwed up again. The multiple SAMA award winner, author and stalwart of Afrikaans music recently caused an uproar by tweeting a series of controversial statements using the hashtag #TheRealArchitectsofApartheid.

His tweets, flowing from his timeline like a train of uninterrupted thought, listed the reasons why, according to him, white people were not entirely to blame for apartheid. In an interview with Afrikaans news site Netwerk24, he explained that his tweets centred around the idea of “toeeiening” or “ownership”. Hofmeyr’s contention is that black people should take ownership for “their part” in apartheid. Hofmeyr believes that black people had as much to do with apartheid as white people and that the blame should be shared equally because “we are all South Africans.”



The significance of Hofmeyr’s tweets is not that a 50-year-old philandering pop star is racist – it’s that the essence of his message is one that continues to find expression in some parts  of the Afrikaner community, as evidenced by people like Dan Roodt. It’s an outlook of fear underpinned by apartheid-era propaganda, mainly “Swart Gevaar”. “Die Swart Gevaar was a significant part of apartheid propaganda,” begins Fourie Rossouw, a white Afrikaner social commentator who considers himself a “recovering racist”. He continues, “It labels the black majority as a threat, a danger to white identity. [It] was a very powerful method by the apartheid government to keep control over the white community.”

The socially-malignant doctrine continues today – as evidenced by campaigns like Red October – and extends further into a form of latent apartheid denialism that often finds expression in right wing political discourse: the apartheid regime is supposedly justified on the basis of the failures of the current black leadership (The ANC). We’ve taken the prerogative to deconstruct the inanity of this worldview, for the purposes of ensuring that racist suppositions such as this don’t find fertile ground anywhere, the next time anyone encounters them.

True to the Swart Gevaar worldview, Steve later insinuates in his barrage of tweets that he believes crime in the country has affected the white minority more severely than any other race, especially white Afrikaans farm workers.

This is untrue. In an article on fact-checking website Africa Check, Hofmeyr’s claims are found to be based on no form of legitimate or accurate evidence. Africa Check has proven, with statistics from the Institute of Security Studies, that white people are in fact less likely than black people to be murdered in South Africa. The report shows that Hofmeyr’s claims, which he has made before, “are incorrect and grossly exaggerate the level of killings.”  Still, this finds expression in some parts of Afrikaner society, as Fourie explains: “Whites tend to label black as dangerous.” He adds that “leading up to the death of Nelson Mandela, fears of black revenge after his death became a dominant imagination amongst some white communities. Especially amongst right-wing Afrikaners.” Armed heavily with denialist think, Hofmeyr later continues in his tweets:

It’s difficult to discern if he means that it’s not the indigenous black people’s fault that they didn’t want to share land. Hofmeyr implies here that all land in South Africa was somehow indigenously owned by the white Afrikaner government to begin with. But basic knowledge of the history of any African country will show that white people are not indigenous to this land – his lineage in particular, having landed here in 1652.

 An old proverb goes, “When the whites came we had the land and they had the Bible. They asked us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened them again, we had the Bible and they had the land.” As a result of colonialism, in the following centuries, the overwhelming majority of land owned by white people during apartheid and imperial times was acquired through a centuries-long history of exploitation and structural racism. Still, Hofmeyr makes the tacit claim that white governments were within their rights to forcibly take land with impunity – and that restitution today is entirely their prerogative. This too is false.

 Today, the legacy of apartheid’s white empowerment – which involved land-grabs and limiting socio-economic opportunities for black people – continues sharply. Land restitution and reform moves along at a slow pace and black people remain displaced, living in devastating conditions and without ownership over means of production. This is why the systems of redress the Hofmeyr claims to be racist – BEE and affirmative action – are sharply necessary.

 So whether or not black people, whose ancestors and origins have salience with the land, should have shared land with the colonial settlers ought to be the question here, not the other way around.

Steve continues:

 It certainly isn’t. During apartheid times, international investors fled the country because of people like him, not the other way around. Due to gross human rights violations and atrocities, sanctions were placed on the apartheid government amid mounting pressure from members of the international community. Disinvestment by companies such Barclays Bank and General Motors was a direct consequence of apartheid because of the profits they were losing as people started boycotting them. Ironically, Williams Hunt (a bakkie dealership that falls under the GM South Africa brand) has reclaimed the vehicle that they sponsored Hofmeyr with, because of complaints that they received regarding Hofmeyr’s tweets. Go figure. In a News 24 article, Trevor Ville, manager of Williams Hunt Pretoria, commented about the return of the bakkie, saying, “We don’t want to get involved and we don’t want to take sides in a Twitter fight.”   Remarkably, Hofmeyr soon thereafter tries to justify his claims by suggesting that they are not racist:

 WTF? The fact that Hofmeyr thinks that what he offers, by blaming black people for apartheid, is an “alternative” to the “race card” is an attempt to cower from all the racist undertones seething from his so called “metaphor”.

 Conrad Koch, the man behind political analyst puppet, Chester Missing, explains why Hofmeyr’s comments were racist and why the thought behind Hofmeyr’s tweets are unacceptable. He gives a basic definition of racism, “Simply put, racism isn’t the consciousness of race as much as it’s the prejudice against people based on race.” This means that although it may seem that he is simply promoting white Afrikaner nationalism, the fact that he is implicating black people in their own demise because the apartheid government, according to him, “didn’t want to play with” people because they were black – that is racist. Koch further states that, “When a white bigot with huge public presence starts telling black people apartheid was their fault it’s time for us to block his access to socially accepted public platforms.”

 What he is proclaiming is no alternative to the race card. It is an alternative to our current state of democracy and to our current leadership, which no doubt has its flaws, but has been voted into power by the citizens of South Africa, black citizens. It is an attempt to legitimise the former glory of Afrikaner nationalism without admitting to the numerous failures of that system. Failures which were essentially responsible for the uprisings staged against the government.

Steve Hofmeyr
Steve Hofmeyr

 There has been an attempt to rectify the social, political and economic damage – caused by apartheid – that left our country crippled. But, the beliefs of Hofmeyr and all those who openly agreed with his tweets about apartheid prove that these attempts at “Reconciliation” have only been attempts and not achievements.

 Fourie believes that we still have a long way to go  before such views are truly weeded out. He shares his thoughts on reconciliation, “I personally do not relate with white-fear. It is hyped up by a consumerist individualised and neo-colonialist racist world view where white is the norm and anything else is a threat. I do however believe that white people in SA need to tread very lightly and humbly due to our history of structural racism. We are far from forgiven and even further from being reconciled.” Fourie also adds that “Young black people will deal inherited hurt and suffering, even if they grew up in context way different from the ones their parents grew up. The legacy of apartheid will stay with us for a long time and if whites are arrogant in their interpretation of history, as well as demanding of black grace, the road will be longer than hoped for.”

 That’s a road Hofmeyr unfortunately refuses to take as he continues to perpetuate racist, apartheid denialism, a system that he has benefitted from. Fourie explains this further by saying that, “Since 1994 whites are richer than they were in the time of apartheid. People like Steve Hofmeyr have become multi-millionaires in a period of 20 years, while enjoying freedom of speech, religion, movement, etc.”

Hofmeyr blatantly disregards the struggle and hardships that black people went through under apartheid and still have to go through today dealing with poverty, crime, unemployment, etc. He tries to reconstruct the idea of racism by making it a norm, by making white racial superiority a natural disposition. Not only is this problematic in the context of a South Africa that is still suffering from the effects of apartheid but it hinders the progress that is made by all those who aspire to nation building. The fact that Hofmeyr is an influential public figure and is using his fame to forward such beliefs is an issue that needs to be dealt with.

The #2014Elections has set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward”, whether we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you analysis, debates, comments, polls and all YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.