White strangers on the internet keep telling me I’m in danger. I’m a white person living in South Africa, and a white genocide is underway here, I am told. Sometimes these people are South Africans. Sometimes they are not.
24 years ago, a few months before I was born, apartheid legally ended – but its economic and social legacy continues. I have had white privilege all my life, despite the fact that I was never alive during apartheid. When you’re white, the white privilege here is like air: it surrounds you, so much so that you forget it’s hard to identify. To white South Africans, this privilege is so normalized it feels invisible.
On average, white South Africans earn five times more than black South Africans. We’re less likely to live in poverty or be unemployed. We’re more likely to have access to quality healthcare services. White people hold the majority of shares in stocks. Despite the fact that we make up 9% of South Africa’s population, we own 23.6% of rural land and 11.4% of the urban land, with 67% of the total land being owned by the state, companies, churches, communities and traditional authorities.
That’s not to mention the intangible evidence of white privilege in this country: the microaggressions that suggest white people are superior to black people. I’m not saying that some white South Africans don’t have it hard. Some do – but that’s not because they’re systemically and institutionally oppressed because of their race.
But despite the overwhelming evidence that white South Africans are privileged, many claim that a white genocide is underway in South Africa.
I’m telling you that this is absolutely not true. There is no white genocide in South Africa.
There are many prominent right-wing figures who’ve spread the myth about white genocide. Steve Hofmeyer, a South African musician who’s well-known for his racist remarks, has said that white South Africans – especially Afrikaans-speaking whites – are being killed like ‘flies’, a statement that was proven incorrect. Mike Cernovich, an alt-right activist in the US, tweeted that ‘white genocide in South Africa is real’ back in 2016 – again, a statement that is unsupported by data.
More recently, after our Parliament made a move towards considering land expropriation without compensation, the topic of white genocide was again brought to the attention of an international audience. Peter Dutton, Australian minister for immigration and border protection, said that Australia might fast-track visas for white farmers who want to emigrate to Australia. His reasoning behind this was that white farmers are facing ‘horrific circumstances’ in South Africa – that is, genocide and land expropriation.
Most claims about white genocide seem to rely on exaggerated statistics about farm attacks – that is, brutal assaults, robberies, and murders that occur on farms. Many have misconstrued the reports on farm attacks to assume that all farm attacks are against white farm owners for racially-motivated reasons.
There has been an increase in farm attacks, but as many have pointed out, there’s been an increase in violent crimes throughout the country. Additionally, not all victims of farm attacks are white, nor are all of the attacks racially motivated. There are very few statistics that suggest farm attacks are politically motivated, and with a total of 74 farm murders in total happening between 2016 and 2017, it’s certainly not at a genocidal level. Statistically, young black men are more likely to be murdered in South Africa than any other demographic.
Genocide Watch, a global group, is often cited by those who believe a white genocide is happening here. The group placed South Africa on stage 6 of their “10 Stages of Genocide”. However, the group itself has stated that there is no genocide underway in South Africa – not to mention that Genocide Watch’s methodology has been called into question.
The statistics should make it obvious that a white genocide is not happening in South Africa. So why do so many people believe that it is?
Partly because there’s a vicious spread of misinformation, misleading statistics, and blatant lies on social media. Despite the fact that conversations about ‘fake news’ have led to some of us being more vigilant when it comes to fact-checking the news, others simply gobble up this information.
Our country has a problem with media literacy. White people a little older than me were taught not to think critically about what the apartheid government put out there, and they were indoctrinated into accepting white supremacy.
But that isn’t an excuse. While certain social media posts can be misleading, the lack of critical thought amongst white South Africans is astounding. People often believe not what they’re misled to believe, but what they want to believe. You don’t fact-check statistics that tell you what you want to hear. And honestly, I think many white South Africans want to play the victim after being (rightfully) blamed for apartheid.
Claims about white genocide in South Africa are ridiculously untrue. In a country where we clearly hold the majority of institutional, economic, and social power, comparing our situation to genocide is an insult to every people that’s ever experienced actual genocide.