Searching for white genocide in South Africa

The plight of white South Africans has clearly become the flavor of the month on the far-right.

South African Football fans in Soweto during the World Cup in 2010. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“I’m going to South Africa,” far-right UK media personality Katie Hopkins announced in January 2018, to cover the “racial war waged by black extremists who are systematically murdering white farmers.” Recently hired as a correspondent by the Rebel Media, Canada’s far-right website akin to Breitbart, Hopkins promised her feature length documentary about the “ethnic cleansing of white farmers” in South Africa would be the “first of its kind.”

This promise was immediately undercut, however, by competition from several other alt-right media personalities who also announced their own travel plans to the country at the start of this year. In the race to be the first to produce the definitive documentary on “white genocide” in South Africa, Hopkins was joined by Lauren Southern and Faith Goldy, both of whom were star contributors to the Rebel until last year. In South Africa, Southern also met up with Jonas Nilsson, the Swedish author of “Anarcho-Fascism: Nature Reborn” who is working on an identical film project. In the end, Goldy — who was recently fired from the Rebel after appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast — cancelled her trip at the last minute, citing unknown “outside interference” and a “failure of guaranteed security on the ground.” (Southern and Hopkins both had successful trips, although Hopkins claims that she was detained prior to departure for “spreading racial hatred”).

It should be noted that Rebel Media — clearly a major player in promoting this agenda — is deeply connected to the core of the Canadian conservative movement. Only after Goldy’s sympathetic coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville did the party begin to distance itself from the Rebel under its current “editorial direction,” and one of its founding directors, Hamish Marshall, ran the leadership campaign for the current Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and has been hired to run the party’s campaign in the next general election.

The plight of white South Africans has clearly become, in Goldy’s words, “the flavor of the month” on the far-right. While it is a remarkable coincidence that these media personalities all decided to undertake the same project both independently and simultaneously, attention to this issue had been growing in alt-right circles throughout 2017, with articles appearing in Breitbart, the Rebel, and on conservative video blogs. In the image of the beleaguered Afrikaner, it appears that these online commentators — whose work is predominantly obsessed with fear-mongering attacks on Muslims and refugees — have finally found a supposedly persecuted minority they can get behind.

What has sparked the attention of the far-right in particular are the high rates of violent burglaries against white farmers in South Africa, what Afrikaners call plaasmoorde or “farm murders.” Drawing primarily on interviews with survivors of violent attacks, Southern and Hopkins have both utilized the format of short, provocative videos uploaded to YouTube to deploy a narrative that these incidents are not regular burglaries, but rather systematic and politically-motivated acts of ethnic cleansing, approved by the South African government, and deliberately ignored by the international media.

As the alt-right descends upon South Africa in search of white genocide, it is obvious that their concern-trolling for white South Africans is motivated, above all, by a domestic anti-immigration agenda. Deeply fearful of what happens when North American demographics shift and white people become a minority, what the alt-right really wants is a harrowing story about whites being “hunted to extinction” by a black majority which can be used to bolster the case for white supremacy at home.

Why white people?

In their reporting, the alt-right portrays white South Africans as facing patterns of marginalization and violence which constitute a unique threat to their very existence as a people. In a video titled “Why White People?” Southern tries to explain why she has decided to focus on whites when violent crime is a problem faced by all South Africans. White people in South Africa face “actual discrimination,” she asserts, “and not in the SJW sense” of minorities in North America (Social Justice Warrior or SJW is a pejorative and dismissive alt-right term for left-wing activist). In Nilsson’s documentary The Boer Project, South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment program — its affirmative action policies meant to address centuries of racial segregation and oppression — is referred to as “reverse apartheid.” Multiple segments linger on “white refugee camps,” as if the vast black shanty towns and slums did not also exist.

As for the violent crimes against white farmers, which are described in meticulously grisly, horrifying detail, the alt-right insists on characterizing them in terms of genocide and ethnic cleansing, suggesting that political forces are deliberately deploying violence to force white people off of their land — people tell Hopkins that within fifty to seventy years there will be no more white people in South Africa. The alt-right speculates that somebody must be training and funding the killers, and they suggest the possible complicity of the South African government, the African National Congress (ANC), and/or the police forces, who may be providing the murderers with “tacit support.”

One possible motive for the farm murders, the audience is intended to believe, is to advance the land redistribution agenda of the ANC, which threatens to eat away at the concentration of land under white control. Southern, appalled by the idea of taking away someone’s land based on their “skin color,” features a couple of interviews with black political representatives on this topic, including the ANC and Black First Land First, an outspoken yet marginal group whose sole function seems to be to defend the Guptas and the Zuma faction of the ANC. Southern later describes how in order to meet with these organizations she had to pretend to be a “self-hating SJW white person.”

The real target of the alt-right, however, is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a populist left-wing party led by former ANC Youth leader Julius Malema, whose menacing image is featured prominently in most of these videos, along with images of EFF members singing and dancing in their characteristic red jumpsuits at political rallies. Not only is Malema a communist, we are warned, but the EFF is “inciting a new generation of young, disenfranchised black South Africans to fight back with violence.”

The central piece of evidence leveled against the EFF is their continued use of a popular anti-apartheid era protest song “Ayesaba Amagwala” which features lyrics typically translated as “Kill the boer, kill the farmer.” Afrikaner groups have complained that the song constitutes hate speech, but the song’s proponents have insisted that this interpretation is “vulgarized,” and that the lyrics target the system of apartheid, not white people. In 2012 the ANC agreed that it would no longer sing the song, but this move was likely motivated by Zuma’s attempts to isolate his rival Malema who was publicly associated with it. Not interested in context, Hopkins points to the song to conclude that the EFF’s rallying call is “the white man, he must die.”

This claim that the EFF is broadcasting its genocidal intentions through song takes on an even more conspiratorial note in an interview with one of Hopkin’s sources, Dr. Johan Burger. He estimates that “nationally, EFF members make up 30%—35% of the police force,” and that when the EFF sing “kill the boer,” its supporters “inside the police force understand that they have a political mandate to disregard — even facilitate — certain crimes, including the butchering of whites.” Dr. Burger even claims to have multiple sources tell him that the South African police force is “actively arming and facilitating farm attacks,” which Hopkins accepts as explosive evidence. Hoping to interrogate Malema about these claims in person, Hopkins has been taunting him on Twitter: “a big black man like you, afraid of a little white woman like me?”

With the spike in violent “hate crimes” against whites, and the looming threat of the South African government violently dispossessing white farmers of everything they have, the alt-right paints a picture of a beleaguered, God-fearing community “preparing for civil war.” It’s not surprising, then, to see that Southern’s trip was assisted by Suidlanders, a fringe Afrikaner civil defense group which has emergency plans “to prepare a Protestant Christian South African Minority for a coming violent revolution.” Suidlanders’ Simone Roche has made frequent appearances in alt-right media, including speaking to Faith Goldy for the Rebel, and has repeatedly appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theorist website Infowars.

During her travels, Southern also visited with frequent far-right commentator Dan Roodt, the founder of the Pro-Afrikaans Action Group (which fights “for the rights of all Afrikaners and other people of European descent in South Africa”). Roodt is also the former deputy leader of the Front Nasionaal (National Front), a fringe white separatist party that lobbies for Afrikaner self-determination. In 2010 he was mocked by the Daily Show’s John Oliver for his “vintage bigotry,” and on South African television in 2015 he defended a petition calling for white South Africans’ “right of return” to Europe.

Apartheid nostalgia

Throughout their reporting, alt-right personalities appear to be fighting an inner impulse to praise the former apartheid system. Breaking with this pattern is Faith Goldy, who tweeted that she is “sincerely praying whites in South Africa can one day secede to live in peace amongst themselves, in a state they can call their own.” Partition into separate white and black states, of course, was the explicit objective of the architects of apartheid. For good measure, Goldy added “PS: Mandela was a commi and a terrorist xo.”

The alt-right rarely expresses similar outright support for apartheid, but this is complicated by their nostalgic disposition towards a supposedly better past. Southern, for example, refers to South Africa as “one of the world’s one-time greatest nations,” without specifying exactly when that descriptor applied. Later, letting her guard down in an interview with Canadian podcaster Stefan Molyneux, Southern says: “I know I’m not allowed to say it because of my complexion, but I’ll just quote what my black security guard outside my hotel told me, he literally told me [he] preferred living under apartheid.”

Hopkins, on the other hand, writes that “apartheid ended more than 25 years ago,” before somewhat unconvincingly adding, “and that’s a good thing.” Constantly, however, her remarks veer into racist territory, as when she reflects upon the “violent lives in black settlements, where one man’s life is worth so little it is not even counted when it ends.” Worst of all is Hopkins’ video proudly demonstrating that white farmers and their black farmworkers can get along quite well, so long as the blacks “follow the rules” and there is no “outside interference” — a sociological analysis that seems remarkably similar to apologetics for slavery or apartheid.

It is in Southern’s interview with Molyneux, however, where the worst racism underlying the alt-right’s obsession with South Africa is truly revealed. It is there where Molyneux brings up the supposed “IQ problem” — he explained that the IQ difference between Sub-Saharan blacks and European whites is “absolutely enormous,” and therefore the demographics in South Africa creates a huge problem “when it comes to running a functional complex first world society,” and why “one-person-one-vote” might not be appropriate there. Southern not only agreed with all of this, but offered her own thoughts on how South Africa is governed by tribal Zulus who believe in witch doctors, and who are fundamentally different from African-Americans, declaring: “this is not a situation of highly assimilated top-of-the-population Africans.” During apartheid, this was a common racist argument used to deny black Africans voting rights. Every old propagandistic device in support of apartheid can be found here anew.

South Africa as the future of the West

Ultimately, the alt-right’s white nationalist field trip to South Africa is not really about Africa, but shoring up a domestic policy agenda which is anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim. This is evident from the start of Southern’s interview with Molyneux, who immediately describes her reporting as a “possible glimpse [into] what happens when whites slide into the minority” in the West. In the same interview, Southern suggests that the current government of South Africa is an example of what would happen if “SJWs” and Black Lives Matter were to be in power in North America. This is a view which is promoted by far-right Afrikaners as well; on the Suidlanders website, alongside videos fear-mongering about African and Muslim migrants in Europe, is a statement declaring that “South Africa’s present is the west’s future if it continues down its current path.”

Whether explicitly or implicitly, the defense of white supremacy at home is the ideological thread that underlines the entire alt-right attention to South African whites. Nobody wants the “Rainbow Nation” to fail more than these people do. The problem of violent crime in South Africa is real, but its victims deserve better than to be used as cynical props in a Canadian agenda of hate.

Further Reading

Between two evils

After losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, the African National Congress is scrambling to form a coalition government. The options are bleak.

Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.