Global alt-right exploiting SA’s divisions and history
A steady stream of transnational right-wing populists and nationalists has trekked to South Africa in recent years hoping to leverage the country’s fraught racial history for their own global aims. They have found local friends who appear willing to allow these grifters to exploit South Africa’s past and its current high rate of crime and violence.
Swedish-born neo-Nazi and former member of the Ukraine ultra-nationalist paramilitary Azov Battalion, Jonas Nilsson, has been visiting South Africa regularly over the past 10 years, and now lives and works here.
Nilsson, the author of Anarcho-Fascism Nature Reborn and co-owner of Palestra Media, which publishes the online journal South Africa Today, is in South Africa furthering the “Boer cause” and the “white genocide” narrative locally and internationally.
The man is so badass that in November 2018 he was clocked as an “international thought criminal” and banned from visiting Poland (governed by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which won a parliamentary majority in 2015). Nilsson had hoped to participate in the far-right nationalist independence march on the Polish capital, Warsaw.
Nilsson was also due to speak about his The Boer Project at a conference organised by one of the leaders of the march, or so Nilsson publicly claimed.
Megan Specia, describing the march on Warsaw in the New York Times, wrote:
“Many participants held up Christian iconography. But others held banners of white supremacy, including one that read ‘White Europe of brotherly nations’… Still, others carried signs equating Islam with terrorism, waved signs denouncing same-sex marriage, and carried banners of the National Radical Camp, an anti-Semitic group founded before World War II on extreme nationalist values.”
The Department of Home Affairs was not able to explain to Daily Maverick how, or when, Nilsson washed up on our shores, how he supports himself or what his residency status is.
Nilsson too has not responded to our email asking him why he has chosen South Africa and the “Boers” as his current life’s mission and exactly who it is that funds him and his various media projects centred in and on South Africa.
In August Nilsson became engaged to Mariandra Heunis, widow of Johan Heunis who was shot dead on his smallholding in Kameeldrift in 2016. The two met in January 2018 while Nilsson was shooting his documentary focusing particularly on criminal attacks on white farmers in South Africa, characterised in some circles as “white genocide”. (The relationship ended shortly afterwards.)
AfriForum featured Heunis in its October 2018 YouTube message to President Cyril Ramaphosa and “the good people of America” about “the crisis surrounding farm murders in South Africa”. Nilsson is a frequent guest on Swedish alt-right YouTuber and vlogger Henrik Palmgren and his wife, American white supremacist, Lana Jennifer Lokteff’s Red IceTV.
It is Nilsson’s publicly stated view that “the white population [in South Africa] did not arrive as colonisers… They arrived to build their own nation. One of the major differences is those whites had European homeland. The Boers have not… They founded two Boer nations [republics] that were lost to England. The Boer has legitimacy to that county more than that and it goes beyond who was there first.”
In South Africa Nilsson has found fertile ground and has made friends and found support, including from cultural activist and singer, Steve Hofmeyr, as well as AWB leader, Steyn von Rönge, who told Daily Maverick he has “great respect” for Nilsson.
So, on the one hand, we have Nilsson, who fought on the side of anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists, raising the temperature in South Africa, while on the other, the “Boer” cause has also attracted a crop of Russian businessmen and “emissaries” to South Africa.
Men like Vladimir Poluboyarenko, a government liaison “emissary” from Stavropol in Southern Russia who has been trawling for “Boers” hoping to swap their “fatherland” for a new “motherland” in Russia.
Poluboyarenko represents, to these “Boers”, a version of Russia diametrically opposed to the one so many old SACP and ANC cadres might hold near and dear in their dreams of the old USSR and their current infatuation with Putin and his Russia.
Writing for SputnikNews (the web platform for the Russian State News agency) special correspondent, Denis Bolotsky said:
“Representatives of the Boer community visited Russia on several occasions this year to see for themselves the land that they will be able to rent or purchase, and, in turn, invited Vladimir Poluboyarenko to see for himself how they live in South Africa.”
Bolotsky charged that “Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is attempting to dismiss allegations that white farmers are being targeted” in a programme many in South Africa and abroad have termed a white “ethnic cleansing”. Russia is now a country that claims to defend “conservative values” with Putin describing, in his 2013 State of the Nation speech, so-called Western “tolerance” as “genderless and infertile.”
The Washington Post has reported that while Poluboyarenko claims that he funds his trips for the South Africans to Russia out of his own savings, “such activity would almost certainly need the Kremlin’s blessing”.
Journalist Annie Ferris-Rotman opined that what has been left unsaid about this particular Russian/SA entente with particularly Afrikaans-speaking South Africans and which, when clearly understood, “fits neatly into the identity politics of Russian President Vladimir Putin”.
In November 2018, Willem Petzer, Pretoria-based theology student, Bitcoin miner, right-wing vlogger, YouTuber, tweeter and self-confessed “public speaker for my Boer people” toured South Africa with a crew from Russian State Television 1.
The end result, “Black South Africans unleash campaign of savagery and predation on local whites” was broadcast in December 2018.
Petzer admires Putin’s attempt at reasserting what he [Petzer] claims are traditional Christian values. He also studied philosopher Alexander Dugin, “Putin’s Rasputin” who features on the US sanctions list for his advocating the murder of Ukrainians after the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014.
Dugin, as part of his “Fourth Political Theory”, believes that the goals of what he terms the “so-called” human rights movement in Western democracies are mere “propaganda” – unworkable and unsustainable.
“The concept of human in human rights theory is against the nation-state and against the concept of citizen. If you say that the human being has the same rights as the citizen, you destroy citizenship. Migration and the defence of migrants are not purely humanitarian, but ideological. It is the idea to destroy the concept of citizenship, nationality, and the state,” writes Dugin.
“If you want to understand the Russian plan in South Africa, you need to understand Dugin and his predictions of a 4th political theory (transnational Nationalism or Duginism), which proves itself to play out on the world stage with the election of politicians like Bolsonaro, Kurz, Orban, Putin, etc,” said Petzer.
Petzer has denied to Daily Maverick setting up the “best racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic chat in South Africa” on the Discord platform which was later exposed by Unicorn Riot. He did, however, encourage his about 11,000 Twitter followers to share the link at the time.
Petzer claimed a “fan” had set up the site and that he had merely commented on threads.
Petzer is an enthusiastic YouTuber who has also featured AfriForum Deputy CEO Ernst Roets, who would retweet Petzer’s tweets, but who, in September 2018, “condemned” racist memes on the Discord platform when these were made public.
Petzer is also facing a complaint to the Press Ombud for posting, in December 2018, an edit of a song, White Genocide, by satirist, musician and comedian Deep Fried Man a.k.a. Daniel Friedman, editor of the Citizen Online, and which Petzer claimed “mocked farm murders”.
Friedman composed the song in 2015 lampooning white South Africans who feared that there would be a “night of the long knives” after Mandela’s death.
Friedman maintains Petzer had targeted The Citizen and Friedman in particular for outing Petzer as well 32-year-old farmer and right-wing blogger Danie Barnard’s Discord activity and comments.
Petzer denies this and says that while Friedman may have composed the song three years ago, he claims to only recently have heard it and was “offended” by the satirist’s “insensitivity”.
Barnard, incidentally, also “went viral” after posting a video welcoming Trump’s tweets that the US president had requested Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to “closely study the South Africa land farm seizures and expropriation and the large-scale killing of farmers” and also that “South African government is now seizing land from white farmers”.
Barnard, who launched the #Boertestimony movement as well as — helptheboer.com, was also interviewed by the US right-wing The Official Hagmann Report, hosted by Doug and Joe Hagmann, who told his viewers that “there is a news blackout about the genocide that is taking place in South Africa”.
There are more of these young men (for they are all mostly men) online amplifying this right-wing white nationalist agenda in one form or another.
These South Africans also have no trouble connecting with many local and international platforms willing to amplify their muscular, combative and aggressive online presence.
Across the country too, there are countless racist, white supremacist WhatsApp groups and chat sites that spark to life regularly.
But, it is actually a strange time for Nilsson and the trickle of other transnational right-wing grifters to be seeking political cachet using South Africa.
These foul weather friends include British “columnist” Katie Hopkins (who claimed she had been injected with Ketamine during her visit), as well as Canadian far-right activist and “internet personality” Lauren Southern, who have both visited South Africa.
Another white nationalist, Canadian “political commentator”, Faith Goldy, has also attempted to make a pilgrimage to South Africa to highlight what she believes is the persecution of white people.
“South Africa is not my country. This is not my fight. I am not a vacation nationalist and have my own nation to salvage & defend. That said, I am sincerely praying whites in South Africa can one day secede to live in peace amongst themselves, in a state they call their own,” Goldy tweeted in January 2018 after she was unable to make a trip to South Africa. Goldy said her trip had been thwarted by “outside interests”.
Goldy’s attack on the South African notion of “Unity in Diversity” is typical of the white, nationalist right. This idea, she tweeted to her over 100,000 followers, was a “lie”.
“The idyllic ‘Rainbow Nation’ its people have been sold is a lie. Vulnerable whites are being slaughtered daily because of their skin colour and the air there is ripe for revolution, divided along racial lines,” she charged.
Point is, right now South Africa’s white minority, and particularly Afrikaners, enjoy protection and full equal rights guaranteed in the South African Constitution. They are just like every other South African who suffers at the receiving end of endemic government corruption and inefficiency and the shockingly high levels of poverty, crime and violence in South Africa.
But overseas white supremacist allies don’t let these facts get in the way of their growing international movement, spearheaded by the likes of Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s one-time editor-in-chief and the CEO of President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign.
Bannon has just been barred from setting up The Movement headquarters in Belgium where his “foundation” was registered in January 2017 by Belgian “fringe far-right party” leader Mischaël Modrikamen. In the meantime, Bannon is attempting to set up an “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West” in the village of Collepardo in central Italy.
Bannon has termed the proposed academy as “a gladiator school for culture warriors”.
It was through Bannon working with the right-wing Flemish party Vlaams Belang and other “conservative” groupings, that the white supremacist Simon Roche, leader of Die Suidlanders, was invited in December 2018 to address the European Parliament.
Die Suidlanders describes itself as “an emergency-plan initiative officially founded in 2006 to prepare a Protestant Christian South African minority for a coming violent revolution”. Roche personally attended the violent 2017 neo-Nazi torch-light “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer when a 20-year-old Ohio man accelerated his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. In the end, 19 people were injured, five critically.
In November CNN broadcast an investigation into Die Suidlanders by journalists David McKenzie and Brent Swails documenting attempts to peddle the narrative that white South Africans, and particularly farmers, are victims of a targeted political campaign.
An intelligence operative reportedly told CNN that “the online strategy and propaganda of the Suidlanders uses the same tactics as terrorist groups for recruiting members.”
Europe, like the US and the UK, has been plagued by growing right-wing racism, intolerance, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic sentiments which dovetail with the rise in popularity of nationalist movements across the world since the early 1990s.
Bannon, in fact, had hoped to provide “polling services” to 13 targeted countries in Europe. He has since been prevented from setting up shop in nine of these, while The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Italy have signed up for Bannon’s services.
Bannon has not limited his vision to only the UK and the US and earlier in 2018 he endorsed Brazil’s far-right former military officer and now president, Jair Bolsonaro, describing him as “a Brazilian patriot”.
So, right now the international right wing is all up on our business — Canadians, Americans, Russians, Swedes, English, Australians, the lot of them.
The point is, no-one is denying the horrendous levels of crime, brutality and violence that plague South Africa and which results in thousands of rapes, deaths from extreme violence and significant personal and financial loss as a result.
Crime is a national trauma for all in South Africa.
Delivering a keynote address by torchlight (yip, load shedding) at the Recognition, Reparation and Reconciliation conference that took place in Stellenbosch from 5 to 9 December 2018, Harvard University-based post-colonial theorist Professor Homi Bhabha described Bannon as “a salesman” for the “new barbarism” taking root in the US, Europe and elsewhere.
Bhabha said that these “barbarians” employed discrimination and dishonesty against their “perceived enemies”, whether at home or abroad.
He cautioned against the use of “the inflammatory language of politics” by a “line-up of inflated male leaders” dominating current world politics, from Presidents Trump and Putin to Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Modi. Bhabha said recent research in India had shown that incidences of hate speech by politicians and government officials had increased 500% over the past four years.
It is clear transnational white supremacists are feeding off and leveraging their own political agendas at the expense of South Africa’s uniquely diverse population. They are picking at the wound that is South Africa’s repressive, racist and nationalist history — ideas still embedded in the country’s political DNA.
But have Afrikaners in particular really been marginalised and targeted in South Africa?
Because apart from enjoying protection from the Constitution, the truth is that Afrikaans, as a language, is thriving. Economically too, white Afrikaans speakers make up the second-biggest “market” in the country and earn R20,357 a month on average in 2015.
“Afrikaans readers of Ads24 newspapers have high incomes. Earning on average R20,357 a month (which is almost R9,000 more than the South African average of R11,471), this market falls into the LSM 9-10 group. LSM 9-10 accounts for 43% of all spending in SA and 31% of LSM 9-10 is Afrikaans. This high income means they can afford the necessities as well as luxuries. Ads24 readers tend to be family oriented and are likely to be married with children.”
According to former Netwerk24 editor-in-chief, Adriaan Basson (now the News24 editor), “the combined household value of the Afrikaans-speaking population is R377-billion a year” — and once again that was 2015, more than three years ago.
Afrikaans music sales are good, at least 10 movies are made each year, Afrikaners are digitally connected and savvy and there are also countless cultural and music festivals, vlogs, e-zines and podcasts. There are private and public Afrikaans-medium schools, there are tertiary institutions where Afrikaans is part of dual-medium teaching.
In fact on 25 January, in response to news that the University of Pretoria would be phasing out Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni warned that it would be a decision the institution would “regret in 30 years’ time”.
Mboweni tweeted, “I publicly, and in my personal capacity, DISAGREE, with the phasing out of Afrikaans as one of the mediums of teaching at the University of Pretoria. As a country, you are shooting yourselves down. You will regret it in 30 years’ time.”
So, who is it actually that represents and speaks for those who self-identify as Afrikaners or Boers or the white alt-right in South Africa?
But wait, there’s more:
On 7 December 2018, Boerelegioen tweeted:
“You can say what you want about white people, we run slow, we can’t jump, we can’t dance and we burn in the sun. But the thing you fear most is a bunch of pissed off white men ready to go to war. Your only hope is that there will be other white men trying to stop them.”
The tweet was accompanied by a photograph of white men in SADF “army browns”.
The Boerelegioen, led by General Izak van Zyl, describes itself as “a passive people’s defence movement that will enable the burgers to offer effective resistance against the promised slaughter of white people in the RSA and also the promised theft of their property”.
On Saturday 8 December 2018 right-wing phones were abuzz due to information that the country was in a “code orange” and that “anarchy was at our doorsteps”. Van Zyl posted an angry response on YouTube to the circulating messages that had triggered “panic” among Afrikaners who had been urged to “hitch your wagons and go to places of safety”.
The Boerelegion leader berated a group named Masada for spreading fear and panic “among the elderly and single mothers” and for suggesting that the country would soon go from “code orange” to “code black”. He warned the leaders of “sects” to stop “exploiting the situation” and urged his followers to “get off their WhatsApp” groups and join the Boerelegioen.
“Come to a point, brothers and sisters, where you begin to trust the expertise of military veterans. Trust the instincts of your commander in your town. Trust the analytical capacity of your commander in your dorp… and to mobilise under the command and control.”
Petzer says his goal is the formation of some sort of Boer Volkstaat or homeland, an independent republic where the taxes of citizens (or at least those who qualify as citizens) are ring-fenced. It is a vision, of course, made flesh by the current “president” of the Orania Movement, Carel Boshoff IV.
Boshoff, a grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, heads the Afrikaner settlement in the Northern Cape and which has existed for more than 23 years. Boshoff has since approached the Freedom Front Plus to again explore this “dream” for Afrikaners in future.
The notion of an exclusive Afrikaner homeland is not new and is in fact, embedded in the historical DNA of those who lay claim to this right.
And while the Freedom Front Plus has always included “self-determination” as part of its policy this, according to veteran journalist and historian, Max du Preez, has never taken off.
“It really is a fringe phenomenon. Look at the reality. Orania was established in 1991 and only has around 10,000 inhabitants. And while ordinary Afrikaners might say it is not a bad idea, generally the attitude is ‘it is not for us’,” said Du Preez.
There was, among Afrikaners, “a half-concealed” support for a Volkstaat which, said De Preez, had initially helped the FF+.
“There is also undercover support by the likes of Afriforum and Solidarity for the idea of Orania but this is never expressed publicly. Many Afrikaners voted for the DA and would prefer to retire to Mossel Bay or George rather than some stuffy homeland,” added Du Preez.
Afrikaners had, for the past two generations, also been part of the upper-middle class and “they don’t want to give that up”.
There are Afrikaans thinkers and leaders who advocate for “non-territorial” self- determination and this has manifested in the establishment of Afrikaans private schools and universities, said Du Preez.
Afrikaners have found “cultural safe spaces”, like the church for example, where they can share commonalities while living in a multi-cultural society.
The notion of a potential homeland or the continued talk of it, points to anxiety, a notion that there would be somewhere safe to escape, “a sort of insurance policy” said Du Preez.
And while some Afrikaners, he added, might feel “marginalised and insulted” which has led to great “nervousness” this, however, is “mitigated by the privilege they possess”.
The bulk of Afrikaans farmers in the country “are farming all over the country” and at Stellenbosch University, where Du Preez lectures, he has found Afrikaans students have said they did not want to be isolated from the greater “multicultural” South Africa.
The international right wing’s interest in South Africa was, warned Du Preez, potentially dangerous “because it confirms every bit of prejudice people have” and have made the notion of white nationalism “attractive”.
Alt-right activists from Sweden, Canada, the US and the UK, or anyone who was not Afrikaans and propagating toxic extremes provided a seductive view to those calling for seccession as this “support” legitimised claims to self-determination.
“If people in the US and the UK and Russia think it then it must be so,” Du Preez said.
The increasing racist and populist rhetoric of the EFF and the BLF, said Du Preez, was exacerbating white and specifically Afrikaans-speaking fears, particularly among the working class, who are not able to bolt to secured middle and upper-class Afrikaans enclaves.
In 1952, one of the country’s and Afrikanerdom’s most influential poets, scholars and thinkers, NP Van Wyk Louw (1902 – 1970), penned an essay exploring the “survival” options faced by a minority such as Afrikaners who had essentially realised – embodied in the apartheid state – an exclusionary homeland for whites dominated by an Afrikaner economic, social, cultural, linguistic and political hegemony.
By creating “homelands” for the black majority, the apartheid state had hoped to realise this exclusionary paradise for whites, but it was one that was to wreak havoc on the country and its black majority.
Louw asked “is it possible for a small people to survive for long if it becomes hateful or something evil for the best, in or outside its ranks?” adding that it would be possible for Afrikaners to emerge from a “dark night of the soul” to proclaim “I would rather go down than survive in injustice”. The injustice being the violent oppression and dispossession of the black majority.
In the 1980s the white, neo-Nazi right wing in South Africa was synonymous with the AWB and its leader Eugene Terre’Blanche who bestrode the earth atop a frisky black stallion surrounded black-clad militiamen. (In 1992 the horse tossed Terre’Blanche during a rally in Church Square.)
In 1994, the AWB instantly lost any political traction when members trekked in their numbers to then “homeland” Bophuthatswana to defend its then leader, Lucas Mangope. The sight of AWB members being shot at point-blank range in front of the world’s TV cameras had an instantly sobering effect.
In 1997 Terre’Blanche himself was sentenced to six years in jail for the attempted murder of a worker, Paul Motshabi. He was also found guilty of assaulting John Ndzima, a petrol pump attendant.
Then on 3 April 2010, Terre’Blanche was beaten to death with a pipe on his farm in Ventersdorp by a worker, Chris Mahlangu, over a dispute about wages. Mahlangu was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The AWB’s website presently indicates that the paramilitary “movement” is active and while old white men with guns on farms are not a new phenomenon in South Africa, the tinder-box political climate adds to the level of potential threat.
Before talk of expropriation without compensation and the altering of Section 25 of the Constitution, most of these right-wing organisations, particularly those who self-identify as Afrikaners, were fractured (and they remain so) but some which have been galvanised are fundraising and arming themselves.
But now they are also supported by various overseas “friends” who are determined to portray the country’s white minority as “under threat”.
Of course, inflammatory public statements, such as EFF leader Julius Malema’s that he was not calling for the killing of white people — “at least for now” — as well as BLF leader Andile Mngxitama’s December 2016 statement at a North-West rally that “You kill one of us, we will kill five of you. We will kill their children, we will kill their women, we will kill anything that we find on our way” serve as “evidence” and “proof” to an overseas audience that white South Africans face a potential “ethnic cleansing”.
The extremism of South Africa’s “ultra-left” populists, as well as its “ultra-right” nationalists, exists in a dangerous symbiotic disharmony.
For now, the war is being waged on social media.
But on the ground, in real life, there are those arming themselves in preparation.
Daily Maverick recently caught up with AWB leader Von Rönge, as he was driving from his farm Nooitgedacht in die Zastron district in the southern Free State to a dentist’s appointment. Rönge became the leader of the AWB after Terre’Blanche’s murder.
The AWB, as is evident from the calendar on its website, has been conducting weekly “training” camps for members in what it describes as the Eastern Transvaal, North West as well as “shooting exercises” in the West Rand.
Von Rönge told Daily Maverick that the AWB had “changed direction” since 1994 and did not intend to be the aggressor.
“Our primary aim is to protect and not create anarchy,” he said.
His dream is for an Afrikaner “volkstaat” or “homeland” and that “we must be very careful to talk of war”. The AWB leader said that the organisation was “open to discussions” and that it had sought to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“But he is ignoring us,” said Von Rönge.
Von Rönge admitted that the cornerstone of the AWB is to “preserve white [Christian] purity” but that he was not racist as “I work with a lot of black people on my farm”.
But, he warned, “the day there are impulsive land grabs, then there will be blood. The AWB will not be the aggressor. We will act in defence”.
Asked about membership numbers, Von Rönge told Daily Maverick that it ran to “tens of thousands” although he could not provide any verification for this claim.
So, is government aware of this growing right-wing threat? Most certainly.
Hawks members who were part of the team that exposed the Boeremag, and that eventually saw the sentencing of leaders to long jail terms for treason, know the terrain. Insiders were reluctant to speak of intelligence-gathering work among South African right-wing organisations. They do not need to look far. The internet is teeming with them.
What is concerning is the growing financial and political international support for notions of white purity, superiority and nationalism and how the “Afrikaner” or “Boer” cause is being used for a greater global nationalist project.
Will the cause of South Africa’s Boers or those who identify as Afrikaners become entangled in the global shift towards insularity, white ethnic nationalism and violence?
Can and will the political “middle ground” — the idea of a South African constitutional democracy where the rule of law unites the country in a civic nationalism — survive the onslaught from the extreme left and right?
Both extremes reject the democratic values and freedoms, multi-culturalism and the cosmopolitanism that emerged in the shattering of Europe in the aftermath of World War II.
And as capitalism and liberal democracy faces a global crisis, right-wing populists and nationalists from Trump in the US, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Zuma in South Africa, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India, Kaczyński in Poland, Netanyahu in Israel and Orban in Hungary, are asserting their exclusionary vision for their countries’ citizens.
From the 1990s, far-right parties have found themselves in the legislatures of at least 20 countries across the world.
Alt-right or alt-left extremism is the enemy. Both are a threat, not only to South Africa’s democracy, but to democracy and freedom itself across the globe.
Delivering an address in 1961 NP Van Wyk Louw writing about the “Volkskarakter” pleaded with Afrikaners to apply “reasonable judgment” to “speak with circumspection even against those who stand furthest from us – even those whom we fear the most.”
“We will never understand another individual or nation if we do not, at least, love them; and how shall we love if we speak so lovelessly.”
We should, exhorted Van Wyk Louw, learn to tame “our mouths” – “maybe then the heart would learn better to tame itself.” DM