And the Straw Man’s name is Steve Hofmeyr
According to the Wikipedia definition of a “straw man”:
“A straw man, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. The so-called typical "attacking a straw man" argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and then to refute or defeat that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the original proposition.”
In April of this year, Steve Hofmeyr, Sunette Bridges and the Freedom Front Plus laid a complaint of hate speech with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Africa Check, who published an article titled “Racial scare-mongering in South Africa makes light of women’s murders” along with the author of the article and members of the Medical Research Council. Hofmeyr and company claim that the statement “the majority of white women are murdered by their white male partners” made in the article amounts to hate speech against white men. Even though the SAHRC rejected the claim, being a white male myself, this affected me so I took interest. The reason for this letter is solely in response to the statement.
Africa Check articles
Last year an article appeared on Africa Check titled “Racial scare-mongering in South Africa makes light of women’s murders”. The article touches on femicide in South Africa, intimate femicide in particular, but is mostly in response to Steve Hofmeyr’s claim that “white women are likely to be murdered by "unknown black males". A number of other articles have been written, knocking down Hofmeyr’s claim, notably an article posting on the Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader website titled “The uncomfortable truth about white masculinity” and another Africa Check article titled “Dodgy stats just a means to an end for Hofmeyr, Bridges”.
The aforementioned Africa Check articles place a substantial emphasis on the “dodgy stats” of Hofmeyr and Bridges, knowing full well that these two activists are not masters in statistics. Steve even admits he’s “no statistician”. They mention the flaws in the “scientific method”, “duplicates”, sampling process, questioned the authenticity of data, sources and the completeness of the data. But this is where Africa Check’s argument becomes flawed…
· The original proposition in this case is Hofmeyr’s claim that “white women are likely to be murdered by "unknown black males"”.
· Africa Check replaces this proposition with a new proposition, “standing up a straw man”, namely Hofmeyr’s statistics which he uses to back up his original proposition.
· Africa Check then defeats the false argument, “knocks down a straw man”, by proving his stats to be incorrect due to flawed statistical methodology.
· The illusion is created that Hofmeyr’s original proposition has been defeated.
A genuine attempt to prove his original proposition incorrect would have been to provide their own detailed statistics but instead, Africa Check’s main strategy has been to“attack the straw man”, playing the man and not the ball, disputing the character and backgrounds of Hofmeyr and Bridges and their statistical ability. Quoting insults on Facebook and Twitter by supporters of Hofmeyr and Bridges also doesn’t count as winning the argument.
In the Africa Check article in question, the author makes reference to research done by the MRC. These reports done in 1999 (data collected in 2002 and 2003) and 2009 provide the detailed statistics regarding femicide (intimate and non-intimate for women 14 and over) that Africa Check would need to take down Hofmeyr and Bridges.
The key finding which she does disclose is: “Non-intimate female homicides [non-intimate femicide or NIF] declined from 8.6 per 100,000 in 1999 to 4.2 per 100,000 in 2009, while intimate femicides [IF] declined from 8.8 per 100,000 to 5.6 per 100,000”. As one can see the ratio of IF:NIF was 8.8:8.6 and 5.6:4.2 in 1999 and 2009 respectively meaning that the majority of women are killed by their partners. She rightfully makes the statement: “Although the decline in non-intimate homicide is statistically significant, that for intimate femicide is not. In other words, over the decade, there was a real decrease in the number of women killed by strangers, family members, friends and acquaintances but no significant decrease in the number of women killed by their husbands, lovers and boy-friends. As a result, by 2009, intimate femicide had become the leading cause of female homicide in South Africa”. But then near the end of her article she reiterates the statement that resulted in Hofmeyr’s SAHRC complaint: “Hofmeyr and Bridges’ claims therefore cast no doubt on the research showing the majority of women to be murdered by their intimate partners and, by extension, that the majority of white women are murdered by their white male partners”.
Medical Research Council (MRC) findings
In 1999, 8.8 per 100,000 women 14 and older were killed by an intimate partner. This compared to 8.6 per 100,000 for non-intimate femicide. This means that slightly over half of femicide in 1999 was committed by intimate partners. Then there is the rest of the report, most of which is not mentioned at all in the articles I’ve mentioned above. Before continuing I’d like to add that Africa Check, which makes reference to these MRC reports, describes the reports as “real, peer-reviewed, scientific research”. So here are the findings:
Intimate Femicide (per 100,000) by victim’s racial group
· African – 8.8 (5.7 in 2009)
· Coloured – 18.3 (10.1 in 2009)
· Indian – 4.9 (3.5 in 2009)
· White – 2.8 (1.5 in 2009)
Non-Intimate Femicide (“Murder by OTHERS”) (per 100,000) by victim’s racial group
· African – 8.4
· Coloured – 13.8
· Indian – 3.0
· White – 5.8
By applying very basic maths, the ratio for IF/NIF for whites is 2.8:5.8 compared to the ratio of 8.8:8.6 across all races. Thus if 100 white women were murdered, 33 were at the hands of their partners (presumably white men) while the other 67 were at the hands of “OTHERS”. This alone supports Hofmeyr’s statement. The question now is: who were these “OTHERS”? Fortunately for us the MRC report gives us more:
Perpetrator race by type of homicide for Non-Intimate Femicide:
· African – 68.3%
· Coloured – 13.2%
· Indian – 0.3%
· White – 2.6%
· Other – 15.6%
Using a reasonable assumption, the unidentified perpetrators are allocated to the races based on the ratio of Non-Intimate Femicide committed by each race:
Perpetrator race by type of homicide for Non-Intimate Femicide (adjusted, rounded):
· African – 80.9%
· Coloured – 15.6%
· Indian – 0.35%
· White – 3.1%
These figures, which closely correspond with prison demographics, now allows us to work out who commits Non-Intimate Femicide, this is the “OTHERS” referred to earlier. Continuing with my example, the remaining 67 of the white women murdered were murdered by the following race groups:
· 54 by Africans
· 10 by Coloureds
· 0 by Indians
· 2 by Whites
In summary: Approximately 67% of white women (14 and over) were murdered by perpetrators (almost all men) who were not their partners while approximately 33% were murdered by their partners (almost all white men). Approximately 54% were murdered by Africans (almost all black men) while approximately 35% of white women were murdered by whites (almost all white men). This supports Hofmeyr’s claim that “white women are likely to be murdered by "unknown black males". I have no idea how Africa Check missed this or maybe they didn’t read the entire report in the first place.
Of course the first report was done 10 years ago therefore things may have changed. Unfortunately the 2009 doesn’t reveal as much detail as its predecessor but it does mention that white intimate femicide has dropped to 1.5 per 100,000. Given this and the changes in the population demographic since then, it’s highly unlikely that the situation 10 years ago will have been reversed.
The comfortable truth about white masculinity
The rate of 1.5 per 100,000 which was the rate at which white women were murdered by their partners according to the 2009 report, is the lowest rate amongst all races. I won’t touch on the rates of other races as this might amount to “racial scare-mongering”…
This equates to a figure of 30 (based on approximately 2 million white, women 14 and over, taken from the census around that time) white women murdered annually by their predominantly white partners, hardly a number that is “countless” unless you are totally incapable of counting. In fact it’s rather bizarre when referring to “countless cases of white masculinity gone wrong” and then having to use an example which happened in 2001 (Waterkloof 4).
Based on the annual rate of homicide (murder plus culpable homicide)/murder (SAPS reported) which was approximately 30,000/18,000 in 2009, between 0.1% and 0.16% of all homicides were white females (14 and over) murdered by their predominantly, white partners. While Oscar continues to get the lion’s share of media coverage it’s understandable that the perception that the rate of white intimate femicide is high, this is not reflected in the actual numbers along with a limited number of cases reflected in the media.
This whole furore could have been avoided. In a country with arguably the highest crime and murder rates in the world (over 650,000 homicides in the last 20 years) and dubbed “The rape capital of the world”, it’s inexplicable that there are no detailed crime stats being kept, or crime stats being kept but not released to the public. In any form of management, statistics are vital, yet with the management of crime in our country, they are nowhere to be found. Then it would be infinitely easier to analyse and take action from there. The question of the impact of femicide would be clear and we wouldn’t have activists having to scrounge around looking for their own stats.
Based on the research brought to the table by Africa Check in response to Steve Hofmeyr’s claim, is it really “fair and accurate reporting in the public interest” to say that “the majority of white women are murdered by their white, male partners”?
Yes, it’s true that we are all affected by crime and that all races perpetrate crimes including femicide. Yes, femicide is a real issue that needs attention, just like other categories of homicide such as xenophobic genocide, homicidal hate crime, farm murders and homophobic homocide. But if false statements are made against me then I take offense, just as others have clearly taken offence.