Shifting Dynamics of White Identity in South Africa?

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By Thandile Xesi

This article is exclusive to the online Edition 2 (Wrap Edition) of VARSITY Newspaper. 


It is a well-documented fact that white identity in South Africa is drawn heavily on white Afrikaner Nationalism, which has relied on multifaceted, intertwined discourses. These have been centred on themes of religious and cultural purity, superiority, dispossession and conquest of non-whites. Thus, in this context, the construction of white identity is built upon the dehumanisation, exploitation and genocide of black bodies.

However, what played in parliament on 22 February 2018 was historic. The African National Congress (ANC) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) joined forces and called for land expropriation without compensation. In the light of this call, it evidently tampered with the attention of white farmers who felt “threatened” that “their” land will be taken away from them through illegal practices, and many claimed that within the tenets of land expropriation bill, lies the underlying ideologies of white genocide.

Images by Thapelo Masebe, Aaliyah Ahmed and Sipho Mpongo

This sudden fear is premised on convenient historical amnesia, which forgets that the current patterns of land ownership are inherited from colonial past and practices. In addition to this, this white anxiety and fear invited foreign countries to intervene. An example of this being Pieter Dutton, Australian Minister for Immigration and Boarder Protection. Dutton reportedly said that his department is considering fast tracking the visas of white South African farmers looking to move to Australia as they deserve “special treatments”, owing to the “horrific experiences” they are subjected to in light of the proposed land expropriation bill.

Even though the statistics suggest that there were 74 people who were murdered on South African farms and smallholdings in 2016/2017 financial year, according to the police’s official record, not all victims were white. This precedence suggests that the white identity still pretty much gets preferential treatment as it did under Apartheid South Africa.

Amidst all the crimes black people have been subjected to, there seems to be no-one who is concerned enough to remedy the continued exploitation of black people (i.e Marikana Massacre, Life Esidimeni crisis), and all the ongoing violence levelled against people of colour. There was no third force, no foreign country that ever came to remedy anti-black violence. This suggests albeit that white-minority rule has supposedly, and constitutionally, fallen, its dominance and legacy still looms menacingly over the country’s post-1994 race relations. Hence, it is clear that the notion of white identity’s changing character must be examined within the broader context of neo-colonialism, as Frantz Fanon has theorised.

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