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Donald Trump, White Victimhood and the South African Far-Right

A foolish belief in "white genocide" connects Trump supporters, the American alt-right and South African Afrikaner nationalists.

By Charles Villet, Monash University


In the age of smartphones and social media, the spread of ideas as digital memes is global and unpredictable. This includes, for example, Islamic State (IS) recruiting followers from across the globe, to the nationalist and xenophobic ideas that were espoused respectively in the campaigns by Brexiteers to get the UK to leave the European Union and Donald Trump to get elected as US president.

Around the world, the right especially has shown how effective a tool social media can be.

A good example is popular South African singer Steve Hofmeyr, who is a foremost crusader for white right-wing causes, –especially on social media. With 222,000 followers, his Twitter timeline not only features local issues of so-called white victimhood, but also retweets of prominent European extremists’ campaigns. As to be expected, he is a strong Trump supporter.

Recently, there was a fundraising campaign to send Hofmeyr to the US to meet with Trump. The extremist campaigner behind the proposed “talks” said it was aimed at stopping the “genocide” of white Afrikaners. He even sent tweets to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his wife, Melania, to help facilitate the talks.

But South Africa’s right-wing is a fractious bunch, and the fundraising campaign stuttered to a halt when it appeared that it was a scam and Hofmeyr distanced himself from the efforts.

Victimhood crossing borders

White victimhood has crossed international borders. The idea of white people falling victim to an “onslaught” of refugees and immigrants has become a major factor in elections across Europe. The meaning of “PC” is changing, with political correctness making way for patriotic correctness. That’s what Trump’s “America First” is all about.

Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” appealed to white victimhood. He focused on a white electorate who feels disillusioned by demographic and sociopolitical change in the US. They feel that American values are in danger, and hence there is the need to “take back America”.

White victimhood is a right-wing tactic that inverts the left’s narratives of minority discrimination and neocolonialism. This tactic denies that there is such a thing as white privilege, and attempts to camouflage white domination.

Whites can surely be victims of crime or discrimination as individuals, but white victimhood goes much further. It implies that whites as a demographic group are victims of discrimination, oppression or even persecution. In short, whites are endangered by all sorts of dangers out there in the world.

This recent right-wing tactic has morphed into the “alt-right” movement in America with various faces. The extreme is the new Nazism dressed in designer suits and championed by American white supremacist Richard Spencer, who is president of the National Policy Institute.

There is the more “gentrified” culture of anti-left trolling with the Brit Milo Yiannopoulos as its flamboyant poster boy. This right-wing provocateur was forced this week to fall on his sword over remarks in which he appeared to endorse sex between “younger boys” and older men.

And there is Trump’s powerful chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, with his siege mentality against “Islamic fascism”.

Alt-right’s South African ties

The “alt-right” news website Breitbart has an editor-at-large (after Bannon’s departure) with strong South African ties. Joel Pollak, born in South Africa, was a speechwriter for the opposition Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon from 2002 to 2006 whilst studying in the country.

Pollak is now being floated as Trump’s possible US ambassador in Pretoria.

This South African connection goes deeper. The persecution of whites is an influential idea for the South African far-right. The fear of black violence, the so-called “Swart Gevaar” (Afrikaans for black danger) propagated by the apartheid state, still persists. The most extreme version of this victimhood is “white genocide”.

This idea has been popularised by the Afrikaans pop singers Hofmeyr and Sunette Bridges through their Red October campaign. They advocate that farm murders in South Africa come down to “white genocide” – farm murders most certainly are problematic, even without it being hijacked for political mileage. But they don’t amount to “white genocide” and affects more than white people.

The right-wing political party Freedom Front Plus has called on the UN to investigate white genocide. The numbers show that this idea is sheer hyperbole.

An online petition has also requested the Council of the EU to “allow all white South Africans the right to return to Europe”. The petition says that whites face persecution and ethnic cleansing at home.

The petition has been reinvigorated by Trump’s election as US president and calls him “a new hope for white South Africans”. It now addresses Trump to accept whites from South Africa as refugees to the US.

The idea of white genocide (or annihilation) has spread to the rest of the globe. Views from the South African far-right found its way into two well-known acts of terrorism committed by radicalised white men.

The first was the 2011 mass murder of 77 people (mostly minors) by Anders Breivik on an island near Oslo in Norway. Breivik’s manifesto “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence” is a reference to his predicted date when Europe becomes a Muslim continent. It includes various references to the persecution of whites in South Africa and a whole section on Afrikaner genocide.

Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Breivik during a court appearance.

Lise Aaserud/ScanpixThe second was the 2015 mass shooting of nine black people by Dylann Roof in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof’s manifesto “The Last Rhodesian” included a reference to discrimination against whites in South Africa. He also lauds the “success” of apartheid as proof that a black majority can be controlled by a white minority.

Breivik and Roof both raised the fear of persecution of whites as motivation for their actions. They invoked the South African situation as “proof” that whites are in danger due to an onslaught by Muslims (in Europe) and black people (in the US).

Trump’s mention of “American carnage” in his inaugural address is a continuation of the narrative of white victimhood. It forms the imaginary basis for something similar to the apartheid state’s “Swart Gevaar” – except with Mexicans and Muslims being the “peril”.

Trump’s way to deal with these hyperbolic dangers is the proposed wall between the US and Mexico, and the Muslim travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries.

The idea of white victimhood played an important part in Trump’s rise. The South African brand of white supremacy has made a tangible contribution to this narrative of victimhood. It is part of a growing “white supremacist cosmopolitanism” and a Trump New World Order.

Charles Villet, Lecturer in Philosophy, School of Social Science, Monash South Africa, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njere, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njere. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko formed a creative and activist hub, called PAWA 254, with Mwangi, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko


OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njere represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njere's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njere, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has three cinematographers, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njere and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.


Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko


That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating. They're putting us on the same level as porn.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'


"SOFTIE" Movie Poster



Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko www.youtube.com

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