Written by: Quentin Ferreira
This piece is a response to the article: South Africa’s white right, the Alt-Right and the alternative
The quality of our thinking is reflected in the quality of our language. Similarly, the degree to which our language is capable of accurately describing reality is illustrative of the clarity of our perspective on the world around us. George Orwell lamented the fact that:
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”
One may be forgiven for the assumption that these statements should be axiomatic, especially to those whose academic credentials imply that they are among those who know better. The lack of epistemological awareness displayed by Prof. Van der Westhuizen in her article titled “South Africa’s white right, the Alt-Right and the alternative” reflects a concerning trend in academia and our broader cultural discourse. It is no wonder that the social sciences are suffering a crisis of reputability at the moment, a fact that was exposed most recently and ingeniously by a group of liberal academics from the US and UK. The uncritical parroting of de rigueur phraseology, in which ideological adherence serves as a proxy for intellectual rigour is the subject of this piece.
When applied within the South African context, the academic prism of critical theory relies on certain tropes such as the “racist Afrikaner”, “unrepentant white” and “perpetually victimised African.” Prof. Van der Westhuizen employs these tropes throughout her article, as evidenced by her profuse recourse to academic jargon such as “heteropatriarchy” and “whiteness,” as well as her use of poorly defined but politically potent labels such as “alt-right” and “populist” to describe AfriForum and other members of the greater Solidarity Movement. Ostensibly, this type of discourse relies on the reader’s aversion to cultural and political forces which have been rightly maligned in our society due to their implication in human rights violations of the past.
Given that these theoretical representations of sociocultural reality have held historical water, the “critical” perspective on the status quo in South Africa resonates somewhat with the better angels of our nature, at least to the extent that we share a collective desire to live free from state oppression and interference in our social and economic lives. This is one of the foundational principles of classical liberalism, and it is also one of the reasons why people who oppose the underpinning ideologies of Apartheid tend to gravitate to such explanations of present day inequality.
Any rational person is able of comprehending the extent to which the Apartheid state contributed to the retardation of South Africa’s cultural and economic progress; Prof. Van der Westhuizen is thus partially correct in her assertion that there were certain social and political hierarchies that needed to be dismantled in order to further the noble goal of freedom for all. What is missing from this analysis, however, is the glaringly obvious fact that the political status quo relies on the revolutionary notion of an “eternal Apartheid” in order to legitimise and further its increasingly totalitarian ends. In their reductionism, proponents of revolutionary ideology are unable to recognise the point at which their ideas have usurped hegemony. Once this is accomplished, the mechanisms of the state, media and academia are used to control the way the public thinks about the past and the present. The theories underpinning Prof. Van der Westhuizen’s epistemology are the political status quo, masquerading as if they are not.
It is not surprising that AfriForum and Afrikaners draw the ire of many a journalist or academics trained in critical theory. At face value, they represent the “white patriarchy” and serve as an ideologically sanctioned representation of all of the ills besetting society. In addition to providing a catch-all taxonomy, a surface appearance of intellectual legitimacy is maintained through the use of academic language. In essence, a political perspective takes on the appearance of science which it maintains through the existing process of the academy. Thus, the primary difference between this academic discourse and the hateful political rhetoric spewed by the ANC/EFF is that the former disguises itself as legitimate scholarship.
A theory about reality is taken to represent reality itself, and any attempt to falsify the underlying philosophical assumptions of the theory are summarily dismissed as “white privilege”, “heteronormacy” or “patriarchy.” This theoretical perspective forms the basis of Prof. Van der Westhuizens article. The methodological goal of critical analysis is to subject the world to an examination through a lens of Marxist, intersectional and feminist theory. While on a superficial level these theories appear to address different concerns, they share common philosophical assumptions about hierarchy and power. Most insidious among these is the assumption that all asymmetries in outcomes between groups are a result of oppression and exploitation, and that the mechanisms of the state should be used to “correct” these. Taken together, the assumptions constitute the basis for what I am calling “The Narrative,” in which people who constitute the “oppressor” class come to represent the cause of all inequality.
The Narrative is one of the big lies at the heart of post-Apartheid South Africa, because it robs the citizenry of alternative dialectical frame in which the locus of control over their lives is internal as opposed to being located within the ever-widening mandates of the state. The Narrative is also used to legitimise the ideology of “transformation,” in that it entrenches power within the same state which claims to represent the oppressed, whereas in fact it is and has been the primary oppressor in South Africa.
What baffles most about Prof. Van der Westhuizen’s article is that it seems to deal with the rise of a novel political consciousness as if it was simply a reconstitution of the vestigial far-right ideology she no doubt still sees lurking around every corner. I submit that it is instead a reaction to the perceived failures of “liberal” thought which have legitimised the worst excesses of post-Apartheid South Africa, in where classically liberal principles have been sacrificed on the altar of “transformation.” The ANC have used legitimate concerns about social justice and economic inequality to further their power over as many institutions and facets of the economy as possible.
It is telling that in contemporary political discourse, any ideas which serve to subvert state hegemony are immediately dismissed as “racist” or “alt-right”, whilst being legitimised in many cases through precisely the kind of academic discourse exemplified in Prof. Van der Westhuizen’s article. An intellectually consistent view of the case of AfriForum and their supporters would contextualise their positions on property and minority rights within the post-Apartheid political context, wherein whites in general and Afrikaners in particular are scape-goated for the failures of what is now a borderline socialist government. It is hardly surprising that the article in question affords no such context, given that when your tool is the hammer of critical theory, every problem is a white, male nail.
I am not a member of AfriForum, nor do I claim to have ultimate insight into the inner workings of the organisation. However I have read and understood their mission statement, watched and listened to many interviews with their senior leadership, closely studied the parliamentary submission on property expropriation without compensation and followed the press reporting on the legal cases that they have thus far undertaken. Furthermore, I have investigated the theoretical assumptions of “Alt-Right” ideology, which although poorly defined involve ideas of white-supremacy, anti-Semitism, Hyper-Nationalism and neo-fascist authoritarianism. I recognise the way these ideas were used to devastating effect during Apartheid, as well as the fact that there are a small minority of South Africans who hold some or all of these ideas. However, the characterisation of AfriForum, the Solidarity Movement and their hundreds of thousands of supporters as “white-right” or “Alt-Right” is frankly laughable.
Given the ANC’s overt anti-white agenda and stated goals of the creation of a socialist government, it is no wonder that a growing number of people from all races admire AfriForum’s unashamed commitment to the protection of minority rights, property rights, and free speech that cuts deeply into the heart of a tyrannical state. When the citizenry at large feel vulnerable in the face of constant state predation, it is heartening to see a privately funded organisation challenging the state fearlessly, whilst also protecting the civil rights of black people who suffer equally under the current regime. AfriForum are one of the few organisations who are aware that the real threat to prosperity and liberty is socialism, and it is clear that when the media and academia resort to unwarranted labels such as “Alt-Right” to describe those in opposition the status quo they are either misrepresenting or misunderstanding the problem, whilst legitimising the destructive ideology of “transformation.”
Nowhere was the discrepancy between reality and the Narrative more evident than during Ernst Roets’ submission during the parliamentary hearings on expropriation without compensation. The attacks on Roets by members of parliament were strikingly similar to those levelled against AfriForum by Prof. Van der Westhuizen, albeit articulated in a less sophisticated manner. Whilst Roets focussed on the ANC’s stated goals for a Nation Democratic Revolution and the historical revisionism underpinning the land question, the critiques leveled against him focused on his race and his ethnicity as opposed to the content of his submission.
These attacks rely on the association between Afrikaners and Apartheid, as well as conflating legitimate criticism of an inept and ideologically possessed government with schadenfreude at the fact that they have failed in their mandates. Far from deriving pleasure from the fact that South Africa is becoming a failed state, organisations like AfriForum are putting their skin in the game and demonstrating that it is possible for people to cooperate in order to undermine the government’s agenda. The government and its institutions have shown themselves to be incapable of adequately describing and tackling the very real problems facing South Africa precisely because they accept the same Marxist assumptions that also underpin critical theory, and academics like Prof. Van der Westhuizen serve as little more than the intellectual branch of the state.
In closing, I implore the reader to consider the fact that socio-economic disparities existed before Apartheid, were exacerbated during Apartheid and are maintained post-Apartheid. The reasons for this are complex and cannot be adequately explained through a single, all-encompassing ideological perspective that masquerades as science. Furthermore, the solutions that flow from this ideological perspective have brought nothing but death and destruction to the world. As the Zen saying goes: “Do not confuse the moon with the finger pointing at the moon.” The media in general and Prof. Van der Westhuizen in particular, are wrong about the real threat to South Africa. The “Alt-Right” is an irrelevant element on the fringes of society and politics, but serves as a convenient target for the ideological sleight-of-hand which relies on baseless assumptions about the “racist Afrikaner”, “unrepentant white” and “perpetually victimised African.” If you disavow racism, statism and discredited theories that masquerade as concern for the poor, I urge you to take cognisance of the manner in which language is being used to manipulate your thinking, whilst leading you further down the road towards socialism.
* Quentin Ferreira is a qualified clinical psychologist. Originally from Johannesburg, he now lives in self-imposed and reluctant exile in The Netherlands. As a libertarian, Quentin hopes his writing will help defend liberty, justice & secularity.