This article by CNN focuses on the group known as the Suidlanders, a South African far-right militia group that propagandizes about a coming “white genocide” of white South Africans. As the article demonstrates, the leader of the Suidlanders, Simon Roche, has connections with white supremacists groups and rallies in the US. That should be enough evidence for most people to not take the claims of the Suidlanders seriously, but Fox News and President Trump have been faithfully touting the Suidlander line. The narrative of white victimhood in South Africa has been successfully planted in the US, with global consequences for the spread of right-wing fearmongering and paranoia about minorities. Right-wing groups in South Africa claim that there is an epidemic of politically motivated killings of white farmers, while the statistically few farmers that were killed were killed because of crime alone.
The reason behind the claims of coming white genocide in South Africa is the ongoing changes in land policy in South Africa. The conflation of statistically low criminal murders of white farmers and the government expropriation of land in South Africa amounts to an alt-right conspiracy by the white minority. This conspiracy theory is being globally broadcast by white South Africans to maintain a hold on power after the fall of apartheid.
White South Africans make up just 9% of the total population of South Africa while owning 75% of commercial land. Therefore, the government has embarked on a program of expropriation and redistribution of land. This arguably socialist land policy only seeks to redress the previous ills of the apartheid system, in which land was forcibly expropriated from the masses and given to the ruling racial minority. This has always been the policy since the beginning of ANC rule, but the land reform has only increased in speed and scale. Furthermore, changes have been proposed to seek expropriation without compensation. Why is compensation no longer being pursued? The answer is as much bureaucratic as it is a matter of principle: compensating farmers for the land makes the process of land redistribution take an immense amount of time and costs the government money. Fiscal conservatives should be on board with this. However, they would rather see the economic sub-class of the vast black majority in South Africa to remain virtually colonized subjects.
However, the ideology that the Suidlanders maintain is that South Africa will “become like Zimbabwe”. This excellent article explores how mass shooter Dylan Roof was obsessed with the “white genocide” in Zimbabwe and the fall of white Rhodesia, one of the most oppressive colonial regimes in Africa. So what exactly happened in geographically proximate Zimbabwe? After the fall of Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe’s social democratic ZANU-PF party came to power on a platform of land reform. According to Wikipedia:
“Although many whites had left Zimbabwe after independence, mainly for neighbouring South Africa, those who remained continued to wield disproportionate control of some sectors of the economy, especially agriculture. In the late-1990s whites accounted for less than 1% of the population but owned 70% of arable land. Mugabe raised this issue of land ownership by white farmers. In a calculated move, he began forcible land redistribution, which brought the government into headlong conflict with the International Monetary Fund. Amid a severe drought in the region, the police and military were instructed not to stop the invasion of white-owned farms by the so-called ‘war veterans’ and youth militia. This has led to a mass migration of White Zimbabweans out of Zimbabwe. At present almost no arable land is in the possession of white farmers.”
It is evident from the quote that the hard numbers of Zimbabwean land distribution were even starker than is the case in South Africa. Forcible expropriation or taking of land by the government did occur, but conflicts arose as a result of white farmers fighting back. There was an exodus of white people from Zimbabwe, and this is what the white farmers in South Africa really fear: not being killed, but being landless, which is ironically just what happened to black South Africans during apartheid. Furthermore, the ANC has gone out of its way to distance itself from the authoritarian tactics of Zimbabwe:
“Last week, David Mabuza, the country’s deputy president, looked to allay fears when he addressed the Land Summit in the northern Limpopo province. He said that no farms would be invaded or grabbed and that farmers did not have to fear for their well-being.
‘As the leadership of the ANC and government, we are clear that the implementation of land reform measures must not result in social fractures and racial polarisation,’ Mabuza said.”
The ANC is only fulfilling its mandate to end the effects of apartheid, which still linger on. Officially, legal apartheid ended, but economic apartheid, which is perhaps the most damaging legacy of the racial caste system, remained. The fact that historical apartheid is rarely mentioned in US conservative media when addressing this issue speaks to general lack of historical consciousness of the American people and the ease to which the right-wing media is able to perform propaganda tricks to its misinformed audience. It is also a worrying development in a time when the usual conservative propaganda only flirts with “demographic collapse” and fearmongering about minorities rather than embracing downright conspiracy theories. Fox News has seized on Venezuela as an example of why socialism doesn’t work. The Left should seize on Fox News’ and conservative media’s conspiracy theorizing about South Africa as a breakdown in intellectual discourse, the point where Alex Jones becomes indistinguishable from Fox News. In the Trump era, nothing seems to shock anymore. But the idea that the American people can forget the 1980s, the fall of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela and what he stood for I am not willing to accept. The narrative of white victimhood is now routinely trumpeted on conservative media, and is the slow cooking recipe for fascism. However, because of the changing demographic nature of the US, I am hopeful that some of the reactionary views of the white demographic in the US are the last gasps of a dying racist backlash.
There is now a global intersection of right-wing groups in the English speaking world. The Brexiters and UKIPites are talking with Trumpites. The Suidlanders are talking with UKIPers. To counter this growing anti-immigrant, far-right populism that is growing in Europe and elsewhere, we need a real Left alternative, one that offers real solutions to ordinary peoples problems, one that is staunchly anti-corruption, pro-democracy, and doesn’t sell out. This Left alternative is doing the proper thing in South Africa by attempting to address the everyday problems of black South Africans by fixing the systemic problem of the economic legacy of apartheid. This is something that should be celebrated, not decried- if you aren’t a racist.
Is the policy that South Africa is currently pursuing the right one? In terms of expropriating without compensation, I believe a possible compromise should occur in certain circumstances in terms of small commercial farms. However, paying the full value of the land is usually not possible because of price inflation, and meanwhile the people of South Africa remain economically deprived. According to Al Jazeera, “more than 60 percent of South Africans now live in urban areas, and the struggle over land is no longer a question of resolving historical dispossession but a matter of inclusion in the country’s economy.” 11% of these urban households are “informal settlements”- in other words slums. There are real concerns about this land reform policy will be implemented, such as how beneficiaries of this new policy will be selected. But a simple look at the economic figures- 30% black unemployment in South Africa compared to 6.7% for whites, for example- makes clear the necessity for land reform. Unfortunately, a simple look at the economic figures is deliberately not in the game plan for Fox News and other alt-right media. So remember, if you ever encounter the “white genocide in South Africa” talking points, remember apartheid, and remember the slums of Johannesburg.
Finally, watch this video by Tucker Carlson to understand the scary effectiveness of right-wing on this subject. Notice how the bulk of their claims are built off of lack of statistics, lack of any context about apartheid and its real material consequences, and out of context video footage of a certain radical politician in South Africa who evidently uses anti-white rhetoric. The fact that Tucker Carlson, a person I believe genuinely believes what he believes, can’t contextualize those feelings and rhetoric in the context of the brutal history of apartheid is stunning. What is most worrying of all the synchronicity of the conservative media and the US state department and President. Fox News is now effectively the mouthpiece of the President and faithfully repeats their line.