The Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, declared that Australia should organise fast-track humanitarian visas for white South African farmers. He made this offer in March this year. Immigration falls within the purview of the Home Affairs ministry, which Dutton has led since its creation in 2017. Immigration has been transformed into a security issue with the foundation of this Home Affairs department.
Dutton’s specific offer to resettle white South African farmers rests on claims that this group faces persecution and brutality at the hands of South Africa’s post-apartheid government. His outreach to white racial brethren stands in stark contrast to the Australian government’s longstanding practice of forcibly detaining – and repatriating – refugees and persecuted people from the non-white nations of the world. The Australian government is currently forcibly repatriating displaced Rohingya refugees – an ethnic and religious minority from Burma which is facing systematic ethnic cleansing in that country.
Dutton’s racialised sympathy for white farmers is nothing new in Australia’s history. Back in 2000, the Western Australian branch of the Liberal party voiced similar offers of sanctuary to white farmers from Zimbabwe – another case of supposed persecution of a white minority from a former British colony. The notion of “white genocide” which underlies such racialised solidarity is a major talking point of the Alternative Right. Dutton has done his best to give such myths respectability and oxygen in the media.
Jason Wilson, writing in the Guardian newspaper, states that forging white kinship is necessary in maintaining Australia as a kind of white nationalist garrison, surrounded by hordes of non-whites greedily eyeing our riches. Lurid and gory tales of white farmers being massacred and brutalised in sadistic ways helps to sustain a white supremacist vision of us as a civilised presence amidst the non-white barbarian masses.
Dutton has taken the “white genocide” hysteria from the playbook of the Alternative Right, and made it mainstream and given it credibility. Dutton referred to Australia as civilised, in contrast to South Africa, when making his call for sanctuary. A slur not only on South Africa, but on black Africa in general, the South African government demanded that Dutton apologise for his comments.
Bruce Haigh is a former Australian diplomat who was posted to South Africa in the 1970s, during the years of apartheid. He has written an informative article for Independent Australia, responding to some of the falsehoods and hyperbole surrounding the issue of white farmers. Have their been attacks on white farmers? Absolutely. Is there a “white genocide”? No, there is not. South Africa does have a sadly high rate of homicide; each murder an individual tragedy. Haigh writes that homicidal violence, while horrifying, is not disproportionately directed against the white farming community:
South Africa has a population of 56 million. In 2016-17, 19,000 murders were committed of which 74 occurred on farms — of these, 60% were white farmers, their families and/or friends, 34% were black workers and 5% were of Asian origin. There were 49 deaths in 2015-16. 72% of agricultural land is owned by white farmers with whites comprising 8% of the population. South Africa ranks tenth in the world in relation to violent deaths, Jamaica ranks sixth and Brazil 16th — with a population of 200 million there were 65,000 murders in 2012.
The main victims of homicidal violence in South Africa are young black persons. The implicit assumption of the “white genocide” myth is that violent crime increased substantially since the end of apartheid in 1994 – not true. The homicide rate is not higher today than it ever was – it is comparable to what it was in the 1970s. Many white farmers have not accepted political change. Many emigrated to Australia where they have found sympathetic voices. Concerns about crime mask the underlying opposition to social and economic changes. Australia has provided refuge for those white South Africans who choose to live in the past.
Sisonke Msimang is a South African writer who divides her time between South Africa and Australia. In an article for the Washington Post, she wrote that over the years, the phrase ‘going to Australia’ was code for ‘you can be racist’. Australia has been built up as a white supremacist fantasy, where the Indigenous nations are near invisible. Since the end of apartheid, Australia has welcomed white South Africans who do not wish to live in equitable and democratic relationships with black Africans.
This is not the first time that Dutton has made racist remarks. His selective sympathy for white racial brethren matches his contempt for non-white ethnic and religious groups. In 2016, he suggested that Australia made a mistake in allowing Lebanese Muslims into the country. Msimang, in her article, compares Dutton’s politics to that of Donald Trump. Certainly, both politicians share an anti-immigrant outlook. But I think the comparison, while appealing, is incorrect.
Dutton is an example of the UKIP-ization of Australian politics. Australian politics in many ways follows that of Great Britain – the creation of the Home Affairs ministry being one example. Dutton is not the Trump of Australia – he is our Enoch Powell. The latter was an anti-immigration Tory politician, who railed against what he believed was an influx of non-British immigrants.
Powell gave his ‘Rivers of Blood‘ speech in 1968, denouncing what he viewed as mass immigration into Britain from the Commonwealth countries as a threat to Britain’s culture and security. Dutton, in his own way, is promoting a Powellite vision for Australia, portraying non-white refugees and immigrants as a hostile force, unable to assimilate into our white Anglocentric sanctuary.
Dutton’s outreach to the white farmers and offer of sanctuary has deep roots in Australian history. We cannot blame the Alternative Right exclusively for his vision. His description of Australia as a ‘civilised nation’ rescuing the supposedly besieged South African white community continues the equation of white identity with civilisational values. Jon Piccini, a research fellow at the University of Queensland, details how Australia and white South Africa have cooperated as members of a white fraternity.
Since the 1940s and 1950s, both Australia and white South Africa worked together to oppose decolonisation, thwart anti-apartheid activities, and protect restrictive and racist immigration policies from the review of international bodies. Sympathy for white South Africans, the Afrikaners, was evident even during the Anglo-Boer war.
A kind of white racial fraternity was forged during that conflict, even though Australians (at the time still unfederated British colonies) were fighting alongside English soldiers. Mutual hostility to the blacks, white settler colonialism, the dispossession of the indigenous nations – these were common traits between these military opponents.
John Marnell, copyeditor at Overland magazine and a researcher at the African Centre for Migration, wrote a thoughtful piece called “South Africa: where ‘Australia’ is code for racist.” He writes of the need to change the way we interact with non-white nations. Instead of seeing tidal waves of greedy black Africans mowing down white farmers, Australia needs to confront its own white-washed version of indigenous dispossession and colonisation. We need to stop seeing ourselves as part of a white racial fraternity, and start acting like responsible global citizens. Let us abandon paranoid and grotesque fantasies of “white genocide”, and instead treat refugees and asylum seekers with humanity and respect.