New Afrikaners are making the trek to inclusivity

15 November 2015 - 02:00 By CHRISTI VAN DER WESTHUIZEN
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Apartheid has officially come to an end, but white power persists. Whiteness derives its power from operating invisibly. It is an unspoken regime of oppressive norms and so it is absolutely necessary to disturb whiteness by making it seen.

Whiteness is not skin pigmentation, but the meaning attached to pinkish, whiteish skin. People with such skin are seen as "naturally" belonging to the top, while darker-skinned people are racialised as black, to be placed as "naturally" at the bottom. This has a wide-ranging effect on the distribution of resources, resulting in white privilege and black deprivation.

Democracy has been good to white people in South Africa. The average annual income in white households was R125,495 in 1996 - in contrast to R29,827 for black households. White households' average annual income rose to R530,880 in 2013, in contrast to R88,327 in black households. Out of 4.5million whites, only 35,000 live in poverty, according to StatsSA.

The poor white problem has been all but eradicated. Apartheid was an affirmative action scheme for Afrikaans whites, also in building wealth: companies controlled by Afrikaners on the JSE increased from zero in 1948 to 35% in 2000, according to McGregor's Who Owns Whom.

What are Afrikaans white people doing with our new-found democracy and renewed prosperity? Fortunately, the picture is varied. I identify three groupings: the Afrikaans African nationalists, the neo-Afrikaner enclave nationalists, and the Afrikaans South Africans.

The most clearly identifiable Afrikaner nationalists, the former National Party rulers, have merged with the currently ruling African nationalists. They make their talents felt in ANC entities such as the Progressive Business Forum. They are the Afrikaans African nationalists.


The second grouping, the neo-Afrikaner enclave nationalists, is the most vocal, and therefore frequently positioned by other South Africans as "the Afrikaners", as if they are wholly representative. We are seeing the worst elements that marked the beginnings of Afrikaner identity in the first half of the 20th century being dug up like an old cow from a ditch, to adapt an Afrikaans expression.

The enclave nationalists include organised neo-Afrikaner nationalist remnants to the far-right. These are the so-called verkramptes, who have redoubled their efforts at maintaining inequalities.

But these remnants avail themselves of the reconnection of South Africa into global circuits of knowledge to draw on neoliberalism, neo-racism, neo-sexism and the postmodern "return to the local" to legitimise their enclave nationalism.

Unexpectedly, verligtes (progressives) have converged with verkramptes. Verligtes harvest neoliberal affluence but increasingly turn to the verkramptes' vision of enclave nationalism foranchors amid post-apartheid tumult. Enclave nationalists look to the Global North for guidance, and global Anglo-American neoliberalism provides remnants of Afrikaner nationalism with a new lease of life.

Enclave nationalism hinges on the basic precept of capitalism - private property.

Individuals become Afrikaners by becoming consumers of Afrikaner culture, spaces and anti-politics. Afrikaner identity is enacted through consumption. In this regard, Solidariteit and AfriForum have stepped forward as the masters of the trade in Afrikaner identity, the 21st-century versions of the cultural entrepreneurs who first clobbered together "the Afrikaner" a century ago.

In the contemporary context, politics is stigmatised as pursued by "backward" people. Afrikaner politics is recast as an anti-politics channelled through consumption of products ranging from financial services to security and labour.

Verligtes and verkramptes meet up under consumption. As was the case with Afrikaner nationalism, die taal (the language) is central to enclave nationalism. You make your retreat into your world through the plethora of Afrikaner cultural products spawned by reinvented neoliberal Afrikaner organisations, from media to cultural industries to trade unions.

From the north this version of Afrikaans whiteness also draws lessons of reinventing racism as "culture", and heterosexism as "family values". Enclave nationalists make cultural claims with which they set themselves apart from the dominant Anglo whiteness. This emphasis historically included the division of black others into multiple ethnic others, hence the bantustans.


The Afrikaner claim on an unchanging Afrikaner ethnic essence, transmitted through "culture", is projected onto multiple ethnic black others to validate that very claim. Its effect is separateness, which actualises racial separation and aids the maintenance of this group's ill-gotten privilege.

The family values trope, used across the globe to attempt to roll back the gains of feminism and queer movements, has been analysed as a centrepiece of new racism. But it has also been pointed out that the family was centrally placed in colonial racisms.

The Afrikaner nationalist version serves as an example. While we dismantle the racial organisation of apartheid, we must also dismantle the internal repressions of gendered and sexualised others. The internal division is as highly hierarchical as the external division, and plays out in spaces of family, commerce and religion.

Lastly, like Afrikaner nationalism, its enclave version switches between race and ethnicity to safeguard its position of supremacy.

When it suits, it submerges itself in dominant Anglo whiteness to demand the latter's privileges, for example, in defending Cecil John Rhodes as a symbol of white masculine (not homosexual!) achievement. It claims colour-blindness. But when it suits, it claims its status as a "minority".

In contrast, my research on Afrikaans white women shows individuals who refuse attempts to be regimentalised into Afrikaans enclave nationalism. They belong to the third group, the Afrikaans South Africans. They pursue the expansive and imaginative kind of identity expression that this historic moment demands.

The best of their cultural legacy - the hard-working, tenacious volksmoeder (mother of the nation) - is reworked through critical self-reflection to shed its patriarchal racism. They are feminist volksmoeders creating new ways of being to unlock their own and others' potential for an inclusive humanity based on social justice.

Van der Westhuizen, the author of "White Power and the Rise and Fall of the National Party", is an associate professor at the University of Pretoria. This is an edited version of her address at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection's recent round table on "Whiteness, Afrikaans, Afrikaners" held in Johannesburg

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