Right on Time: Talk of "Race War" in South Africa

As FIFA Dictator for Life Sepp Blatter opened his morning newspaper while beng served the finest of breakfast stuffs in whatever five star hotel suite he woke up in this morning, perhaps the thing above all others that he did not want to see (even less than "FIFA Bankrupt") was a headline reading:

WHITE SUPREMACIST MURDER SPARKS OFF WORLD CUP RACE WAR FEARS

or

WORLD CUP MACHETE THREAT

or

WHITE SUPREMACIST DEATH COULD SPARK RACE WAR

or (my personal favorite just for imagining Blatters' reaction):

NEO-NAZIS THREATEN WORLD CUP ATTACK

or

"White Supremacist Group Warns Soccer Teams Not to Come to World Cup"

He probably couldn't even finish his eggs Florentine.

Now in point of fact, the only thing that actually happened was that disgusting old neo-Nazi Eugene Terre'Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (thankfully abbreviated AWB for Afrikaner Resistance Movement) got chopped into teeny little bits by a couple of apparently disgruntled employees who claim he owed them money.

Most people would agree that a) while hacking up your boss with a machete might be immensely satisfying it's not, as a rule, something to be encouraged no matter how much the bastard deserves it and b) the world is better of without people like Eugene TerreBlanche.

And of course in a world where everybody runs around calling everyone who disagrees with them about something a Nazi, the death of someone who really is a frikkin Nazi would seem more cause for celebration than alarm.

But in this case the country in question is South Africa, due to host the Worlds Biggest Sporting Event in just ten weeks, an event which is already sagging under the weight of an estimated one million unsold tickets (believe ye not in FIFA statements to the contrary) and a worldwide perception that it's not a safe place to travel, a perception not alleviated by announcements like the one that Germany made telling everyone that their players will be required to wear body armor whenever they are outside their hotel.

In a World Cup Campaign filled to the rafters with dirty little secrets, one of the biggest is the fact that, on average, two white farmers or their family members are killed every week in the RSA, an estimated 3000 or so since the end of Apartheid.

Last year alone, 120 were murdered. Many more, in fact, than in neighboring Zimbabwe where there is widely acknowledged official indifference, even a wink and a grin, at this kind of thing.

As a result, there is a ready audience of fearful citizens for the kind of rubbish that people like TerreBlanche and the AWB retail. Nobody is big on being hacked to death in their sleep, and there are always opportunists willing to exploit those fears.

Thus, when the AWB vows to take revenge for TerreBlache's death, they have to be taken seriously.

But there's another character in this potential tragedy, a 29 year old political organizer named Julius Malema.

Malema, who is currently hiding out in - excuse me "visiting" - Zimbabwe, has been equally successful in exploiting the stark reality that unemployment among blacks hovers around 50% depending on who's doing the counting.

There's a growing sense of anger and frustration at the ANC government of President Zuma who has had little success addressing the recent township protests over poor roads, lack of schools, housing and health care and, most importantly, jobs.

He has, however, had a great deal of success in spending billions of Rand building football palaces for the World Cup, at least some of which may never be used again.

The recent inaugurated "street cleansing" campaign where the police are rounding up hundreds of street people and the poor in general and herding them into already overcrowded camps hasn't helped the national mood much.

Neither has the FIFA decree forbidding any kind of "economic activity" within two miles of any of the stadiums, further ensuring that little or no economic benefit trickles down to local vendors.

As a result, there's a growing sense that Malema, who is not coincidentally head of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), while he most likely is not acting under the direct orders of Zuma and his operatives, is doing the ANC government a favor when he leads crowds in singing the now-banned "Kill the Boers" and delivers flaming rhetoric blaming white South Africans for all of their problems.

(The term Boer has no strict boundary: strictly speaking it translates as "farmer", specifically white farmers but can also refer to the Afrikaners or to the whites in general)

Because if the masses can be convinced that the white minority is the source of their misery they're not therefore busy blaming the Zuma government and, not coincidentally, massive spending on the FIFA World Cup.

For the record, the ANCYL denies that Malemas' singing, which he by the way vows to continue, had anything to do with TerreBlanches' death and indeed it's impossible to draw a direct line from Malema to the machete they found sticking out of the AWB leaders' chest last night. But in an increasingly angry, tense and dangerous situation such as this, Malema isn't exactly part of the solution, either.

Andre Visagie, a "senior member of the AWB" announced yesterday that the slaying "is a declaration of war" by blacks against whites in South Africa and added:

"We're going to warn those nations, 'You are sending your soccer teams to a land of murder. Don't do that if you don't have sufficient protection for them."

For their part, the ANC is rushing - a little late some might suggest - to head off a crisis as spokesman Jackson Mthembu told The Associated Press.:

"We don't think (staying away) is the right thing to do. This is a World Cup for all of us, not only black people of this country. And we have to give all the support we can for the World Cup to happen here in South Africa. We think our compatriots in the AWB should do the same as other patriotic South Africans."

So just how serious might all of this be?

Serious enough for a FIFA official to tell a reporter yesterday: “If it becomes too dangerous to hold the World Cup in South Africa then we are looking at a total nightmare. I don’t know if it could maybe be moved to next year, but we are all hoping that the problems in South Africa are resolved in time for June.”

Still, the white supremacist movement is a tiny fraction of the overall white population of roughly 10%. They aren't really capable of conducting much of a "war". What they can do, and what they're claiming they will do, is commit one or more token acts of revenge for TerreBlanches' murder.

Which of course might be all it takes to set off a larger conflagration.

A FAIRLY CALM AND SANE ANALYSIS suggests that the government is more than capable of handling anything which fringe elements might attempt.

Mostly this is a challenge for Zuma, who yesterday issued an appeal for calm, urging politicians of all stripes to show unity and "stay away from statements that might reverse nation building and racial cohesion".

"it is a key test for the leadership of Jacob Zuma: he has to make minority groups feel more secure and to distance himself from Malema," said political analyst Daniel Silke.

"If Zuma shows leadership, then we will avoid retaliation or an escalation of violence."

While the odds of a generalized "race war" canceling the World Cup would seem remote at best, the larger problem - international perception of the relative safety of traveling to South Africa - has just taken a hit it can hardly afford.

Sepp Blatter has been increasingly shrill in his denunciations of those who have been claiming that South Africa is a mistake because of safety issues.

Just a few weeks ago he labeled people who made such comments "colonialists" and "racists" and sometime today we can be sure that he will tell the reporters who hover in the palatial FIFA headquarters in Zurich that this latest "crisis" is much ado about nothing.

Whether that's true or not, it seems safe to say that it's not going to do much to help move that one million tickets that are currently gathering dust either.