AfriForum and the white international

The ‘civil society’ organisation is feeding into old tropes – and deep-seated racist ideas – in its international tour to lobby support.

AfriForum has a delegation in Australia to lobby support. It has had easy access to circuits of real power. Already it has met a government minister and participated in a discussion on Sky News Australia.

Having spent some years in New Zealand and undertaking academic research in Australia, I have little doubt that AfriForum’s campaign will resonate with many Australians. The dominant narrative about black Africans living in Australia portrays blacks as perpetrators of crime and violence. Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, has actively tried to incite a moral panic about “African gangs”.

Dutton is no outlier. Anti-black racism is rife in Australia, and the trope of associating blackness with criminality and gangsterism is widespread in the Australian mainstream media.

AfriForum’s campaign has repeatedly been exposed as being based on an entirely bogus set of claims. Farm murders are in fact in decline, and the most dangerous forms of crime are highly concentrated in African and coloured townships. Whites in South Africa retain immense economic power. According to a New York Times report, although whites make up about 10% of the population, they control more than 90% of the country’s wealth, while about 80% of the population, largely black, own nothing. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s Land Audit Report reveals that whites still own as much as 72% of agricultural land.

Racist roots run deep

Australia has a long history of racism and of preferring white immigrants over immigrants of colour. In its effort to create a white nation, the country went as far as to introduce the White Australia policy in 1901, which, for the greater part of the 20th century, was used as a legal instrument to keep out Chinese immigrants and other immigrants of colour.

There is also a long history of racism being developed as a shared project between Australia and South Africa. Academic studies have shown that “white labourism”, a synthesis of demands for social democracy and white supremacy, arrived in South Africa from Australia in the 1920s, where the Australian Labor Party combined socialist ideas with an explicit commitment to white supremacy. The party supported the White Australia policy designed to maintain the “thinly peopled continent as an everlasting home for an untainted European, and dominantly English community”. Immigrants from Australia brought this project to South Africa, with the result that the white working class agitated for labour rights for white workers within a system of white supremacy.

The white international was not only constructed between settler colonies. After the end of World War I, the German government successfully launched a worldwide racist propaganda campaign against the stationing of French colonial troops from Africa in the German Rhineland. Dubbed the “black shame”, the campaign deployed racist anti-black stereotypical images of depraved black men sexually threatening white women to generate moral panic about the presence of black African troops on German soil. The campaign had supporters throughout Europe, the United States and Australia.

AfriForum’s campaign is a contemporary attempt to affirm and defend white supremacy as an international project. It has become a rallying point for white supremacists in the US, Europe and Australia, and part of a resurgent white right reaching from Europe to the settler colonies. AfriForum, explicitly nostalgic for a system of white supremacy declared a crime against humanity, has been able to present itself as a “civil rights” organisation representing “victims”, and to access sympathy from powerful Western governments.

White solidarity

It was as a result of this campaign that Dutton considered fast-tracking visas for white South African farmers on humanitarian grounds. Dutton, of course, made no offer of residence in Australia for those living in townships and facing very high levels of crime, or black activists facing assassination. His offer was, explicitly, a matter of white solidarity within the framework of white supremacy.

It is striking how the Western world has treated white South Africans compared to Germans after World War II. Whereas Germans offered acknowledgement through wiedergutmachung, reparations, to the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution for years, white South Africans seem to have been welcomed with open arms in Western countries. According to research, the German reparations, which amounted to more than $60 billion, created the largest sustained redress programme in history. Many white South Africans, on the other hand, packed for Perth, other global metropolises of whiteness, taking with them wealth gained through unjust means. Once settled there, they went about creating a myth that cast white South Africans as victims of an imminent threat at the hands of bloodthirsty blacks. 

It is reported that there are about 210 000 South Africans living in the United Kingdom, 190 000 in Australia, 100 000 in the US, 60 000 in New Zealand, and 50 000 in Canada. Many white South Africans living in Australia and New Zealand see themselves as being lucky to have left South Africa.

Many white South African expats are still in denial about being complicit in the crime against humanity that was carried out in their name. More than two decades after the demise of the apartheid, many white South African expats have not come to terms with being morally culpable in the gross violation of human dignity that apartheid committed in their name.

Some white South Africans who left for white dominated countries as soon as black people achieved freedom in South Africa did so largely because they feared that whites would be subjected to revenge for what they had done to black people. This white angst is used to ward off feelings of guilt and shame for having benefited from a white supremacist system that was kept in power by white voters for almost 50 years. It is used to win white sympathy in Western countries.

It was only after 1973, when the White Australia policy was officially abolished, that immigrants of colour were allowed to settle in the country in large numbers. Dutton’s desire to fast-track visas for white South African farmers ought to be understood as an expression of a desire to sustain Australia as a project of white supremacy.

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