Technology beyond History: Re-Workings of Afrikaner Identity on the Internet

By Stephney, Inez | Ethnologies, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

Technology beyond History: Re-Workings of Afrikaner Identity on the Internet


Stephney, Inez, Ethnologies


A substantial literature on the creation of an Afrikaner identity demonstrates the importance of the ideological use of history in South Africa in the pre-apartheid and apartheid periods. But Afrikaner identity has been reworked in the late 20th century. Scholars have demonstrated the significant role history played in the development of the National Party (victorious in the general election of 1948), and how that party represented itself as a vehicle for the restitution of Afrikaner rights against the perceived injustices of British/English speaking capitalism (Moodie 1978; O'Meara 1983). A particular version of history continued to sustain Afrikaner nationalist values for some time after 1948 (Thompson 1985). However, the nationalistic portrayal of Afrikaners as struggling pioneers and victims of British greed and militarism, or, increasingly, as victims of foolish English liberalism that could not deal effectively with relationships between the races(2), faltered in the later 1980s and its credibility was eventually destroyed. But the manipulation of history in the service of remaking Afrikaner identities is still a potent issue, and the Internet has become a prime location for contesting these identities. A close analysis of one Internet text, "Who Are The Boers? The Truth At Last" by Arthur Kemp (1995), explores the reinterpretation and reinvention of Afrikaner identity on the Internet, in the context of the changing political and economic conditions of South Africa following its transition to democracy.

One of the important aspects of the transition in South Africa inaugurated by the first democratic general election in 1994 is the perception by many white people (who were the only truly enfranchised group in the apartheid period) that they have been pushed into a fringe group. These individuals blame corruption and nepotism, affirmative action, land restitution, attacks on white farmers by black assailants, and falling standards brought about by integrated education and escalating crime on the present government, epitomised by its black leaders. For some white observers, these developments appear to confirm predictions of the swart gevaar(3), the paranoid belief, propagated by the National Party and some of its predecessors, that blacks would swamp the cities, and that anarchy would be the result. This ideology originated in the 1920s and was effective in aiding the campaign that brought the National Party (and thus apartheid) to power. A fringe group of heirs to swart gevaar paranoia call themselves "Boers" and feel that they have been sold out by Afrikaners which, atone level is ironic since the Afrikaner identity has always been extolled as divinely ordained and divinely favoured in Afrikaner Nationalist propaganda. The paper seeks to understand this apparently paradoxical distinction between "Boers" and Afrikaners.

Why Afrikaners or Boers?

Although many Coloured(4) and Black people in South Africa speak Afrikaans as a mother tongue, the term Afrikaner is usually applied to whites.(5) Although the majority of non-white people in the Cape provinces speak Afrikaans as their first language, the term Afrikaners is most commonly used to connote white. The language was widely promoted in the twentieth century because it expressed the supposedly unique national character of its white speakers. British attempts to suppress its usage after their victory in the South African War were emotionally recalled by Afrikaner intellectuals and politicians (Moodie 1978; Hofmeyr 1991) and used to stoke the fires of Afrikaner nationalism.

The history of the word Boer is complex and paradoxical. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Dutch/Afrikaans speaking farmers were referred to as Boers(6). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Boer acquired derogatory connotations in the South African War. Variously called by both sides the "Boer War" or the "Anglo-Boer War", it was recently renamed the "Anglo-Boer South African War" by President Thabo Mbeki. …

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