Julian Rademeyer COMMENT: Dodgy stats just a means to an end for Steve Hofmeyr and Sunette Bridges

A hate speech complaint lodged against Africa Check earlier this year was little more than an attempt to harass, intimidate and stifle debate. For its authors, facts mean little and "research" is merely a means to a self-serving end.

A snapshot of the SAHRC complaint as it appears on suzette Bridges' websiteSouth Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The most recent crime statistics show that for the first time in six years there has been an increase in the number and rate of murders and attempted murders. On average 45 people are killed a day.

Many of Africa Check’s reports and blog posts about South Africa have focused on claims made about crime.

We have exposed attempts by the police and the president to downplay rising crime levels. We have explored where murder really happens in South Africa. We have examined the horror of farm murders and looked at the politics of crime numbers. We have tried to help our readers understand crime statistics  – and also how they can be manipulated.

Two articles stand out for the threatening, misogynistic and racist backlash that they engendered.

The first was written by an Africa Check contributor, Nechama Brodie, and fact-checked claims by the musician Steve Hofmeyr that white South Africans are being murdered “like flies” in a “white genocide”. The report found that, while South Africa’s murder rate was indeed horrifyingly high, Hofmeyr’s claims about the numbers of white murders were grossly exaggerated.

(For readers outside South Africa, Hofmeyr, is a popular Afrikaans musician who is described on his website as an “actor, singer, songwriter, polemicist, presenter, poet, writer, activist [and] blogger”.)

The second was an opinion piece written by Lisa Vetten, one of South Africa’s leading experts on gender violence. It was an indictment of attempts by Hofmeyr and his occasional collaborator, Sunette Bridges, to “make light of intimate femicide in favour of racial scare-mongering”.

(Bridges refers to herself on her website as a “43-year old Mother of 5, Afrikaner, Artist [and] Writer” and says she is “often described as a Human Rights Activist”.)

The nub of Vetten’s argument, as I summed it up in the introductory blurb I wrote for her article, was that: “Claims that white women are likely to be murdered by ‘unknown black males’ amount to racial scare-mongering…The vast majority of women who are murdered in South Africa die at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends and lovers.”

Of “bitches” and “libtards”

Neither Vetten’s article nor Brodie’s report downplayed the violence of crime in South Africa. If anything, they served to emphasise the prevalence of crime across sections of South Africa that, often, do not make it to the front pages of newspapers.

But the articles were met with a stream of vitriol from a vocal handful of Hofmeyr and Bridges’ Twitter and Facebook followers, many of whom appear not to have read the pieces in the first place.

Some of the milder insults included references to Brodie and Vetten as “bitches” and “libtards”, the latter being a schoolboyish contraction of “liberal retard”. Africa Check was accused of being in the pay of everyone from the ANC and “the Communists” to the Freemasons. (You can find out more about our funding here.)

One man, who described himself as “God-fearing”, wrote to me: “I hope and pray that soon one of your children gets murdered by your black criminal friends so that you can feel the pain.” Emphasising his point, he signed off, “Regards hope one of your children gets murdered soon.”

In early April this year, Hofmeyr, Bridges and the Freedom Front’s Amanda de Lange lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Africa Check, Brodie, Vetten and the Medical Research Council’s Professor Naeema Abrahams, whose published research Vetten had referred to in her article.

They argued that we were “perpetuating a distorted view of femicide in South Africa”, that we had “advocated hate speech and racial discrimination against white South African men” and that we had “degraded the character of white South African men, not only in South Africa, but worldwide”. They also demanded that Brodie and Vetten apologise to all “white South African men”.

An obscene distortion

The Hofmeyr and Bridges complaint demonstrated the grotesque lengths that its authors were prepared to go to in order to prove their thesis that black men are more violent than white men.

Perhaps the greatest obscenity lies in the evidence that they presented to the Commission.

It consisted of two death lists – for that is the only way that they can be described – which were apparently compiled by Sunette Bridges. One gives the names of “the” 49 “white South African women” who, according to the complainants, had been “murdered by their husbands, boyfriends and lovers from 1993 to the present date”.

The other contains 616 names, purportedly of “white South African women… murdered by ‘unknown’ black men”.

Nowhere in the complaint is there any explanation of how the names were sourced, how they were evaluated and cross-checked, how the victims and perpetrators were classified as “black” or “white” and whether the families gave permission for the names to be used by Bridges in the course of her so-called “research”.

As we went through the lists while preparing our submission to the SAHRC, we found several names had been duplicated, often with slight variations in spelling. In at least one instance a murder that had occurred outside South Africa was included. In others, people who had been victims of crime – but were still alive – were named. And, in a significant number of cases, no suspects had been identified by police, making it impossible to determine the race of the killer, or killers, or their relationship to the victim.

The lists were a calculated and callous exercise in dishonesty and distortion, compiled with little care for accuracy and even less care and respect for the dead whose names became such easy tools for propaganda.

Curious logic

In my view, the complaint was little more than a vexatious attempt to harass, intimidate and stifle debate. Its logic was curiously contorted too. We summed it up in our submission to the SAHRC: “On the one hand [Hofmeyr, Bridges et al] publicly advance a discriminatory race-based theory, passed off as fact without any scientific basis. When their theory is proved to be wrong (or at the very least seriously flawed), they brand it as discriminatory. In effect what [they] argue is that it is racially discriminatory not to accept their racially discriminatory point of view.”

The SAHRC investigated and dismissed the complaint this week, finding that Africa Check had not demonstrated any “intent to harm, be hurtful or to incite hatred” and that the comments made by us were not only “fair and accurate reporting in the public interest”, but were also “protected comment” in terms of South Africa’s constitutionally entrenched right to freedom of expression.

A lack of statistical rigour and open contempt for scientific method, clearly explains some of the glaring weaknesses in the arguments presented by Hofmeyr and Bridges. For them data is a means to an end. It is there, not to illuminate, but to be manipulated, toyed with, distorted and, in some instances, manufactured to perpetuate a myopic, race-obsessed view of crime.

Violent crime affects all South Africans, irrespective of race. All of us have been scarred by it in some way and far too many lives have been lost and ruined. The numbers games, matchbox calculations and easy manipulations that Hofmeyr and Bridges dabble in, do little to add to the debate about crime in South Africa. The only serve to cheapen and debase the lives lost.

Download the SA Human Rights Commission assessment and findings here.

Julian Rademeyer is the editor of Africa Check.

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Comment on this report

Comments 8
  1. By Sinethemba

    Guys, this is another brilliant piece once again. Thanks for such great work. In South Africa we tend to jump to dangerous conclusions on serious misinformed beliefs. The fact that pubs and braai areas have come to inform our views is probably the reason why racism on all sides continues in this country. Its worse that often well-off and educated people continue such ignorant race mongering.

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  2. By Wayne

    Briliant piece you say…depending on which side of the spectrum you are standing on.

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

    South Africa allows hate speech by self styled politicians (read War Lords) and we as the tax paying populace barely flinch anymore. White people essentially do not have a voice and those ‘brazen’ enough to talk are told to wind their necks in by self loathing Euro-whitie South Africans. What is this knee-jerk mentality? Why do these Euro-whitie South Africans try so hard to fit in with a society that essentilly loathes them? Do they not know that as hard as they try to be black, they will still always be seen as white? Is it a survival mechanism? The true character of a person shows when there is fear tossed in to the equation.

    Be courageous Julian Rademeyer. Fight for the survival of a dying community. Okay so your masters will frown with disapproval, but your conscious will be cleared. Your people need your voice. We need more intellectual opinion on why we as white South Africans are living in fear and not why we have the audacity to express our fears. Don’t shoot down our opinions because society deems it ‘racist’ or ‘inflammatory’. before you say, yes but what about the black community…the black community already have a voice. His name is Jacob Zuma. He is the democratically elected saviour of their species. Jacob feels very little for the minorities in this country and we all know it. I would hope though that he is being all he can be to help his people. Good luck to them.

    The press and the government will never publicly have the integrity and social responsibility to systematically acknowledge and purge this country of the filth and evil that is violent crime on whites. They will pour water on the crisis and say that it’s widespread. Odd then that I do not know one person that feels confident enough to walk their neighbourhood during the day, or at night, for fear of reprisal by criminals of another race group. Not one roving group of white murderous thugs is ever mentioned in the news in South Africa. Never. We as whites do not fear our own people, because we are not terrorised by our own people. White people do not roam black neighbourhoods raping, stealing, murdering black people. common sense 101.

    So, when we finally do get a voice in this country of unsympathetic, and at times, inhuman cretins, we tend to feel a little better about life. The Hofmeyrs and Bridges of this country stand alone and exposed as naughty children misbehaving because they dare to talk about the unmentionable truths that invade our very existence. How dare they talk when we as the minority should be seen and not heard. How dare they indeed.

    Lets all be Julian Rademeyer’s and rather talk about the whities and how pathetic we are. It’s much easier and more acceptable than the bare truth. The truth is too painful.

    Or is it just survival to fit in….

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  3. By Manfred Delport

    The core assertion of Hofmeyr and Bridges remains unanswered. That is that blacks and whites suffer different levels of interracial crime. This is what they keep saying, namely that whites are attacked, raped, robbed and murdered far more often by blacks than blacks are by whites.

    Sure, there is a 1:10 discrepancy in population sizes, so one would expect a numerical difference. However, I challenge you to find one, single example of, say, a white gang invading a black home in Soweto.

    So have the courage, AfricaCheck. Put the matter to bed once and for all, by answering one simple question. What is the per-capita rate of interracial crimes committed by blacks against whites, and the same for whites against blacks. If the per-capita rates are almost the same, Hofmeyr and Bridges have been refuted convincingly.

    If not, the whole shaky edifice of left-wing disinformation and propaganda has come crashing down, and we are in uncharted territory.

    Do you have the balls to do such dangerous, potentially life-altering research, to come up with such explosive findings? I seriously doubt it.

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    • By Soso

      Why does it matter the race of the perpetrator? Or per-capita ratios of who victimizes who more?

      Not to downplay Hofmeyer and crew’s opinions on the issue but the crux of the matter is that crime is on a dangerous high is SA and little seems to be done about that.

      So I think that when we dish out statistics the tone should be more to reveal an opportunity to get to the root of the problem to adjust and fix what is wrong.

      Sometimes the tone just seems to be to want to blast black men without pointing to a solution or a reason to why it is so that black men are deemed violent.

      Reply Report comment
  4. By Fran

    Mr. Rademeyer, I don’t think you have all the facts either. Do you live in South Africa or are you sitting nice and cosy in a safe home overseas somewhere? I live in South Africa and I will tell you now that I am more inclined to believe Sunette and Steve than someone parking their butts in their cosy home in another country!!!! You sure you’re not on the ANC or EFF’s payroll? Just asking.

    Reply Report comment
    • By Julian Rademeyer

      I was born in South Africa and have lived here all my life. Like so many other South Africans I’ve had friends and acquaintances who have fallen victim to violent crime, some raped, some shot, others stabbed and one killed with an axe in front of her children (oddly enough by her intimate partner, a white Afrikaans man).

      I’ve had my home broken into, I’ve witnessed my neighbour being carjacked at gunpoint, I’ve been mugged and I’ve had criminals wave guns in my face.

      As a young crime reporter in the 1990s, I attended so many murder scenes, saw so many brutalised, butchered corpses and so many grieving families – both black and white – that I eventually lost count. In sporadic outbreaks of violence in various parts of the country I have seen people hacked, shot and burnt to death. You don’t ever forget those images. They scar you.

      So I think I have a pretty good understanding of violent crime in this country and how it ruins lives.

      And that is why I find Steve and Sunette’s manipulation of crime data and use of murder victims’ names as propaganda tools so offensive. To them the names of the dead are stepping stones in a self-serving quest for greater glory.

      They can be trotted out as “evidence” or garlanded in exclamation marks as Sunette Bridges does every time she excitedly posts that there has been “Nog ‘n moord!!!” (Another murder) on her Facebook page and website. It is grotesque. If either of them did care for the victims they would treat the facts and the names of the dead with a lot more respect.

      (Oh, and I’m on Africa Check’s payroll. You can find details of our funding on the website.)

      Reply Report comment
  5. By Andymo

    All the people praising this article are missing the point.

    AFRICA CHECK is meant to verify the truthfulness of a statement.

    They have not done this, in my opinion it is because they don’t like the conclusion: that the black community does have higher (when adjusted for population) levels of crime than the white community. This may be due to poverty/apartheid/culture etc. etc.

    Africa Check is not meant to provide excuses or attack Hofmeyer over his crude insults or his stupidity. Produce the hard data proving Hofmeyer wrong.

    Independent fact checking fail.

    Reply Report comment

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