RISE OF SOUTH AFRICA’S NEW WHITE RIGHT

A new pop­ulist force is emerg­ing among Afrikan­ers, fus­ing deep Apartheid-era roots with a more mod­ern, al­tright out­look. CHRISTI VAN DER WESTHUIZEN re­ports

The New European - - Expertise - Christi van der Westhuizen is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria; this ar­ti­cle also ap­pears at the­con­ver­sa­tion.com

There has been a global rise in pop­ulism, es­pe­cially of the right-wing va­ri­ety and in South Africa this has man­i­fested in the in­creas­ingly stri­dent Afrifo­rum. This pres­sure group pur­ports to ad­vance the rights of Afrikan­ers, the eth­nic group most closely iden­ti­fied with the for­mer apartheid regime. The prime min­is­ters and pres­i­dents who ran the coun­try from 1948 un­til 1994 were all Afrikan­ers.

Afrifo­rum is usu­ally ig­nored out­side of Afrikaner ranks. But it at­tracted the ire of South Africans more broadly when two of its lead­ers, Kal­lie Kriel, its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, and his deputy Ernst Roets, un­der­took a mis­sion to the US in May this year. Their aim was to con­vince alt-right fig­ures in Amer­ica that South Africa’s white farm­ers were be­ing tar­geted for mur­der.

Roets even se­cured an in­ter­view with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. The cov­er­age on his favourite broad­caster ap­par­ently in­spired Don­ald Trump to tweet that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will in­ves­ti­gate the “large scale killing of (white) farm­ers” in South Africa.

Afrifo­rum calls it­self a ‘civil rights or­gan­i­sa­tion’. Un­til re­cently its pri­mary ap­proach was to use the coun­try’s hu­man rights-based con­sti­tu­tion to launch court cases in de­fence of white Afrikaans speak­ers and, at times, of black peo­ple amenable to its agenda.

But it has since be­come the face of white de­nial about the past, and of de­fi­ance of the need for re­dress in the most un­equal coun­try in the world. Afrifo­rum has suc­cess­fully trans­lated a grow­ing re­sent­ment about the loss of Afrikaner con­trol of the state into a po­lit­i­cal project.

Dur­ing the last decade of the coun­try’s 24-year-old democ­racy a form of schaden­freude has emerged among white right-wingers. Mas­sive cor­rup­tion and fac­tional in­fight­ing in the gov­ern­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) have harmed state ca­pac­ity. Mul­ti­ple po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and con­sti­tu­tional crises have, in the minds of white right-wingers, con­firmed their racist nar­ra­tive that ‘black peo­ple can’t gov­ern’.

An in­crease in pub­lic ex­pres­sions and in­ci­dents of racism sug­gests a re­turn to an in­tran­si­gence that is un­apolo­getic about con­tin­u­ing white priv­i­lege and colo­nial and apartheid abuses. A more an­tag­o­nis­tic Afrifo­rum stepped into this mo­ment rife with po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity.

Its pol­i­tics are a cun­ning com­bi­na­tion of Afrikaner na­tion­al­ist mo­bil­i­sa­tion from the past with con­tem­po­rary neo-lib­eral el­e­ments and alt-right rhetoric from the US, Aus­tralia and Europe. Afrifo­rum is part of the Groter Sol­i­dariteit-be­weg­ing (Greater Sol­i­dar­ity move­ment) that in­cludes a trade union, a me­dia house and com­pa­nies sell­ing ed­u­ca­tion and other ser­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to Sol­i­dariteit, its move­ment has 350,000 mem­bers – size­able in re­la­tion to a white pop­u­la­tion of 4.52 mil­lion. Sol­i­dariteit and Afrifo­rum are the 21st cen­tury ver­sions of the cul­tural en­trepreneurs of the volks­be­weg­ing (peo­ple’s move­ment) that con­structed and ad­vanced the Afrikaner’s iden­tity a cen­tury ago.

That move­ment, which in­cluded Soldariteit’s ear­lier man­i­fes­ta­tion as the whites-only Minework­ers’ Union (MWU), rose to state power in 1948 on the back of the prom­ise of an ex­panded form of colo­nial­ism named apartheid.

Up­ward mo­bil­ity due to apartheid ben­e­fits caused the Afrikaner na­tion­al­ist class al­liance to split be­tween the mid­dle class verligtes ( ‘the pro­gres­sives’) and the work­ing class verkramptes (‘the re­ac­tionar­ies’). Verligte re­form of apartheid to suit the chang­ing op­er­a­tion of cap­i­tal­ism was detri­men­tal for re­main­ing Afrikaner work­ers.

It re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the Con­ser­va­tive Party (CP) in 1982, which was op­posed to the pro­posed re­forms of the rul­ing Na­tional Party, which it saw as a threat to white mi­nor­ity rule.

At the ref­er­en­dum 10 years later the verkramptes voted against the con­tin­u­a­tion of talks for the es­tab­lish­ment of a non-racist, non-sex­ist democ­racy.

Afrifo­rum hails from this po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion. Not only is its par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion the for­mer Minework­ers’ Union, but the same names ap­pear. For ex­am­ple, Kriel was a youth leader of the Free­dom Front Plus, a party that con­tin­ues the CP legacy with four seats in par­lia­ment.

Afrifo­rum is a po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion of what I call neo-afrikaner en­clave na­tion­al­ism. This is a post-apartheid phe­nom­e­non that com­bines an ‘in­ward mi­gra­tion’ to white spa­ces (sub­urbs, in­sti­tu­tions, me­dia) with con­nect­ed­ness to global white­ness. In their dis­courses, racism is re­cast as ‘cul­ture’, and het­eropa­tri­archy as ‘fam­ily val­ues’.

It is chan­nelled through the con­sump­tion of prod­ucts. In­di­vid­u­als be­come Afrikan­ers by be­ing con­sumers of Afrikaner cul­ture, me­dia prod­ucts and re­lated ser­vices, and spa­ces.

In a his­toric irony, democ­racy has brought to­gether what apartheid rent apart. Verligtes and verkramptes meet each other un­der the sign of the mar­ket. Afrikaner iden­tity be­comes en­acted through con­sump­tion.

The tra­di­tion that the en­clave na­tion­al­ists draw on has his­tor­i­cally only rep­re­sented about 30% of white peo­ple, judg­ing by the CP’S sup­port and the ‘no’ vote of the 1992 ref­er­en­dum. Sol­i­dariteit, Afrifo­rum and their verligte me­dia al­lies are ea­ger to ex­pand their con­stituen­cies.

Alt-right rhetor­i­cal de­vices are em­ployed. Prej­u­dice, half-truths and dis­tor­tions are com­bined with in­sults and threats of vi­o­lence. For ex­am­ple, in a 31-minute late night mono­logue on Youtube Roets at­tacked Elmien du Plessis, a law pro­fes­sor at South Africa’s North-west Uni­ver­sity, for crit­i­cis­ing Afrifo­rum’s US visit. He con­cluded by quot­ing Jewish writer Vic­tor Klem­perer, who wrote that if the ta­bles were turned af­ter the Holo­caust he “would have all the in­tel­lec­tu­als strung up, and the pro­fes­sors three feet higher than the rest”.

It is rel­e­vant to men­tion that Du Plessis is a white Afrikaans-speak­ing woman. As other ex­am­ples also show, the ranks of pa­tri­ar­chal white­ness are again clos­ing in de­fi­ance of racial and gen­der jus­tice. The polic­ing of the bound­aries of the Afrikaner iden­tity has been stepped up.

As hap­pened dur­ing apartheid, al­ter­na­tive voices are dele­git­imised. Afrifo­rum and its al­lies ac­tively seek to sup­press po­si­tions that con­tra­dict theirs. Gaug­ing the ex­tent of dis­si­dence among Afrikaans-speak­ing whites is dif­fi­cult. Many no longer iden­tify as Afrikan­ers. Many are get­ting on with their con­tri­bu­tions to make South Africa’s democ­racy work.

Most would be loathe to or­gan­ise as Afrikan­ers. But, given re­sponses that show that many among their com­pa­tri­ots and in the out­side world see the white right as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all white Afrikaans-speak­ers, the time may have come for those in sup­port of jus­tice and equal­ity to be more vo­cal in keep­ing the record straight.

Photo: Gul­shan Khan/afp/getty Im­ages)

RE­SENT­MENT: Afrifo­rum mem­bers protest against what they say is an ex­plo­sion of vi­o­lence against white farm­ers in ru­ral ar­eas of South Africa

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