With President Trump’s viral tweet concerning the plight of farmers in South Africa, which followed a related segment on the Tucker Carlson show, the rolling crisis in that country has entered the consciousness of everyday Americans for the first time since the end of apartheid.
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
The Guardian and other liberal media outlets have been only too happy to point out that the targeted killings of farmers in South Africa has long been a favorite hobby horse for American white nationalists, who see it as the perfect illustration of the so-called “white genocide” conspiracy theory they insist, incorrectly, is occurring throughout Europe and the United States.
Of course, just because an undesirable person or group uses a term or presents a fact doesn’t mean the term or fact is bad or untrue. Genocide is a moral abomination to prevent or end regardless of what skin color, religion, ethnicity, or any characteristic the group subjected to it possesses. We should not let the extreme left get away with implying that genocide, land expropriation, and violence against people of European descent in South Africa is justified due to their status as “white supremacist colonial oppressors” or similar nonsense.
Nevertheless, as horrible as the violence against the farmers in South Africa is, it has not yet reached the level of “genocide,” as it is not an organized campaign and not actually targeted against “white” people as a distinct category, but against a particular group: the Boers. The Boers represent a distinct ethnoreligious group, and should be referred to as such, not merely as generic “white people.”
What Defines the Boers Is Far More than Looks
The most common comparison of South Africa currently is to Robert Mugabe’s land expropriation from white farmers in Zimbabwe. This comparison misses an important distinction. Much like many Americans think of all Africans as being “black,” without reference to nation, tribe, ethnicity, or religious status, it is common for many Africans to view all European-derived peoples as “white,” without reference to their differences. While we do have a word for the white farmers in Zimbabwe (Rhodesians or Rhodies), they do not constitute a unique ethnicity as such. Those are simply British colonists who broke political ties with Britain during decolonization in the 1970s.
South Africa, on the other hand, has three distinct white groups: the native Boer/Afrikaner population (which arrived after a shipwreck in 1648), the British-derived population (which came to South Africa after 1814), and a variety of other people with pale skin who have settled in South Africa throughout the twentieth century. While Rhodesia represented only a political independence, the Boer/Afrikaner people, who are being targeted in what they call Plaasmoorde, belong to a well-established and unique ethnic and religious population that historically would never have come to exist outside of Africa. The color of their skin is incidental to their identity and intrinsic to it only in the eyes of non-Afrikaners.
In other words, the South African government is consciously targeting farmers and landowners from a particular ethnoreligious minority, not just white people writ large. Private property is a defining value of the Boer people, as is agricultural living. This means the SA government is explicitly targeting this population for expropriation and SA political groups like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are targeting them specifically for extermination because they are A) property owners B) Christian and C) descended from European colonists.
The Boer ethnic identity has three defining features:
- They are predominantly farmers and live an agricultural lifestyle. Some do live in the cities, but their identity is defined by the rural Boers.
- They are Calvinist Christians whose religion is derived from and deeply informed by Dutch Calvinism and French Huguenot Calvinism (the Huguenots are universally defined as an ethnoreligious group).
- They speak a unique language, Afrikaans, resulting from a blending of French and Khoe/Saan words with a Dutch grammatical basis. It is not as far from Dutch as German, but not close enough to be universally intelligible to Dutch speakers.
Thus not only is framing the situation in South Africa as a racial conflict between “whites” and “blacks” potentially politically and morally perilous, it is also factually inaccurate.
This Is a Really Complicated Situation
Unfortunately, much of the dangerous and foolish rhetoric of “white genocide” being promoted by white nationalist imbeciles from their racial squawk boxes on the internet has, unfortunately, been fed directly by some Afrikaner activists themselves. Simon Roche, one of the representatives of Suidlanders, for instance, has made the ill-advised decision to elicit support from white nationalists in America and has appeared on alt-right outlets.
He seems to have done this mainly because no one else seemed to be listening, but it has tainted his image and the image of his organization outside of South Africa. However, it is important to note that Roche is not a Boer, but a descendant of Irish immigrants to South Africa who came under British rule. Suidlanders has nevertheless been the driving force behind publicizing the plight of the Afrikaner minority to Western sources.
Likewise, many Afrikaner advocacy groups, such as Afriforum and Suidlanders, have been eager to correct what they view as the EFF’s fictional and exaggerated claims about conditions during the apartheid era. EFF is a radical racialist and socialist party led by Julius Malema and others. These qualifications have been picked up on by white identitarian and white nationalist groups, however, and amplified as pro-apartheid and anti-black messages, but neither Afriforum nor Suidlanders are white-identity or white-nationalist groups. Afriforum specifically is concerned with the Afrikaner/Boer population.
The case of the Suidlanders, in particular, is worth discussing in some detail because of their organization’s explicitly religious basis. They were inspired by the writings of Niklaas “Siener” van Rensburg, an important religious leader during the Boer Wars from the Transvaal. Rensburg is supposed to have predicted that the Boer Republics would be conquered and that the Boers, whom he identified as devout Christian Afrikaners who maintained the traditions of their predecessors, would eventually be ruled by a black African government, which would persecute and oppress them.
This persecution, he reportedly said, would eventually lead to two great civil wars in South Africa: the first against the black African government and the second against a self-appointed white government that would establish itself as purported advocates of the Boers but would, in fact, persecute and exploit both the Boer and black African populations. This has led Suidlanders to distance themselves from white nationalists because Rensburg’s prophecies could be read to indicate that white nationalists will be the ones who persecute the Boers after they have overthrown the black African government in South Africa.
Thus the Suidlanders’ explicitly religious identity is undeniable, as is their core differences with and opposition to the fictious concept of “white identity.”
In light of these facts, any approach to South Africa must take the ethnic and tribal nature of South African politics into account. This is not a white versus black conflict, but one between an ethnic minority and an ethnic majority. Remembering to make this important distinction is crucial to understand South African land seizures.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Boers arrived in Africa, like the later British-derived population, after 1814.