Author Archive

Renegotiating an identity: The case of the Afrikaner group post 1994


by Stephane Meintjes

In preparation for my thesis which will focus on Afrikaner identity in the post-Apartheid dispensation, I have had to do a great deal of research about Afrikaner identity and how this group have had to renegotiate and find their place in the new South Africa. Since the fall of apartheid South Africa, according to Mads Vestergaard, has become a “virtual battleground where different actors are trying to define Afrikaner identity” (2001: 28). The demise of apartheid and the rise of a democratic South Africa meant that Afrikaners have had to reposition themselves politically, socially as well as ideologically and in the process they have attempted to find new ways of defining themselves. This re-examination and renegotiation of identities have left many Afrikaners feeling “displaced” and as a result have forced many individuals to find new ways of interrogating and redefining their place in this country (Marlin-Curiel. 2008: 59).

A very interesting source which I have come across whilst researching notions of Afrikaner identity in a post-apartheid dispensation, is the book Afrikaners in the New South Africa: Identity Politics in a Globalized Economy by Rebecca Davies. Since the end of apartheid Afrikaners as a group moved from a position of political, economic and social, almost absolute, power to a position of limited political influence and partial social marginalisation. However, the argument which Davies develops in her book is that although the position of Afrikaners has changed significantly, it is evident that this disempowered minority still have a great deal of cultural capital. This leads her to contend that the way in which “new” Afrikaners see and position themselves, is significantly influenced by the modalities of political, economic and consequently cultural globalization. She illustrates this argument by characterising and distinguishing various different formulations of Afrikaner citizenries and identities and how each play out in the complex political, economic and political landscape of South Africa.

Davies also tries to differentiate between what the concepts Afrikaners, Afrikaans, Afrikaans speaking, Afrikaanses, Afrikanerdom and other variations of the term mean. Wasserman in his “Learning a new language: Cultural Ideologies and Economics in Afrikaans Media” refers specifically to Die Burger’s decision to abandon the term ‘Afrikaners’ in favour of a more inclusive term ‘Afrikaanses’ which includes all people who happen to speak Afrikaans as a mother tongue (Wasserman. 2009: 62). This is an example of a redefined identity. Davies also contends that identity is not only a structural and subjective condition but that it is also determined by historical forces and the existing structure of power relations.

In the light of the above the book by Davies provides a case study which looks at the effect which globalization has on the identity and politics of societies which are in a state of flux. Furthermore, Davies advances a new theoretical framework for understanding identity politics which she grounds in an international political economy, perspective.

Afrikaners in the new South Africa: Identity Politics in a Globalized Economy is a very well-written and accessible book which is of interest to any reader or scholar interested in South Africa, globalization, identity politics and international political economy.

  • Rebecca Davies is a senior lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Plymouth University where she teaches African politics. She has a DPhil from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa where she remains a visiting fellow at the centre for Comparative and International Politics.


  • Davies, R. 2009. Afrikaners in the New South Africa: Identity politics in a globalized economy.  Tauris Academic Studies.
  • Marlin- Curiel, S. 2008. “Sampling the Past: Sound, Language and Identity in the New South Africa” in Shifting Selves: Essays on Mass Media, Culture and Identity (ed.) Wasserman, H & Jacobs, S.
  • Vestergaard, M. 2001. “Who’s got the Map? The Negotiation of Afrikaner Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa in Daedalus Vol 130, No. 1. pp 19-44. The MIT Press.
  • Wasserman, H. 2009. “Learning a new language: Cultural Ideologies and Economics in Afrikaans Media after apartheid” in International Journal of Cultural Studies. 12: 61. SAGE publications.

Researching media and citizenship amongst South African youth

What is my role as a South African citizen?

Can I make a difference?

Am I able to effect change?

The above questions implicitly confront every citizen on a daily basis and the answers to these questions will affect the qualities of individual citizenship. However, these questions are difficult to answer and when they explicitly confront the citizen he or she may well find it difficult to formulate an answer.

The ‘Media and Citizenship’ initiative of the Mellon Foundation Humanities Focus Area at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies has embarked on on joint project with the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’ funded by the South Africa Netherlands Project on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD). This joint project looks at how citizens make meaning of citizenship and scrutinises their use of the media in South Africa’s democratic evolution. The mode of investigation into these issues will take place by means of focus group discussions which will be held in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Alice, East London and Johannesburg.

The project forms part of a larger national project funded by SANPAD which investigates the ways in which the media help to shape the identities of South African Youth. The Mellon-funded ‘Media and Citizenship’ project looks specifically at the media and its connections to citizenship, and our involvement with the larger SANPAD-funded project attempts to widen the range and extent of the SANPAD research and data set. Approximately 1000 people between the ages of 15 and 36 from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal have already participated in the survey conducted by the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’.

The purpose of the joint venture between the two projects is to explore some of the issues which were brought to the fore in the SANPAD-funded survey in more depth by creating spaces in which South African citizens of various social, cultural, and economic backgrounds can have their say about the issues which affect them and the greater South African society. The focus group discussions also look at the way individuals navigate and make use of the media in order to become involved in not only community but also national issues. Furthermore the discussions will look at the way in which people acquire information and how they make use of that information in order to connect with other people. The discussions will also attempt to determine how the acquired information assists citizens to become active in their community.

The information gathered in these various locations across the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg will hopefully provide a deeper understanding how the complex dynamics involved in the way in which citizens process information.

In the last few weeks the ‘Media and Citizenship’ group have discussed the importance of ‘listening’ as well as the creation of ‘listening spaces’ with specific reference to the work done by Tanja Dreher. In a sense the focus group discussions become a created space where listening can take place not only between the different participants who are engaged, active and responsive in the process, but it is also a space where the interviewers will be in a position to listen to the information provided by the participants and to interpret and report the views expressed.

  • Focus group discussions have already been conducted in Grahamstown and are at present being conducted in Alice and East London. The Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg focus groups still have to be held.

Education has failed to create new citizenship

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High levels of education among South Africans have failed to translate to greater democratic demand among the youth, a University of Cape Town professor revealed during a lecture at Rhodes University.

Professor Robert Mattes, who was presenting findings of a study conducted in 2008, said that “South Africa is one country where high levels of education did not lead to increased demand for democracy”. The other country with a similar characteristic was the former Soviet Union.

He said education’s failure to translate into greater democratic demand meant that political reform in education failed to achieve its main goal – the creation of new citizenship. He attributed part of the problem to lack of adequate training on teachers to teach about democracy in schools. In township and rural schools teachers are still struggling with the lack of learner discipline.

Mattes said that only a third of South Africans supported democracy in 2008. Voter turnout has declined at elections has dropped from 86% during the first democratic election in 1994 to 56% in 2004. “South Africa has a lower voter turnout than the United States of America.”

He described this decline in voter turnout as “a lukewarm embrace of democracy”.

His study also found that The Born-Free generation prefers democracy if it works, which create problems when it does not work.

Mattes divided the South African population into five subcategories: the pre-apartheid generation, early apartheid generation, grand apartheid generation, the struggle generation and the Born frees. All these groups have different social, economic and political characteristics. The pre-apartheid generation is made up of people who turned 16 before the National Party came to power in 1948.

The early apartheid generation is those people who turned 16 between 1948 and 1960.

The third group, the grand apartheid generation consists of people who turned 16 between 1961 and 1975. The people who form part of this generation have no memory of life before apartheid came to power.

Those who turned 16 between 1976 and 1996 fall under the struggle generation.

The fifth group, Born frees’ are people who turned sixteen after 1997. These people had little or no experience of apartheid. Mattes said that they form 30 per cent of the South African population in 2008 when the study was carried out.  His said that the majority of people in this category are black, and reside in rural areas unlike the previous generation.  Mattes said that the findings of his study showed that the “parents’ generation was more educated than this generation”.

In terms of multilingualism, the born free generation is worse than the previous generations.  This generation has “slightly lower levels of multilingualism than the previous generations”.

The study also found that there was little increase in using news media.  Newspaper readership among the Born-Free generation has decreased compared to previous generations.

Contrary to popular believe that the Born-Free generation uses the internet more than any other generation, Mattes said that the study found that the Born-Free generation uses the same amount of the internet as the previous generations if not lower.

The Born-Free generation is also less religious than the previous generations. “Religion isn’t an important part of their lives,” said Mattes.

In terms of being democratic, he said that there was no bid difference between the Born-Free generation and the other generations. Mattes’ study also revealed white, urban dwellers were more democratic than their black urban counterparts. “The lines that divided South Africa has been replicated amongst the younger South Africans,” he said.

“What is needed in the country is much more debate about democracy”, and not just the materialist view of it, Mattes said.

  • Mattes’ lecture was part of the ‘Media and Citizenship’ initiative of the Mellon Foundation Humanities Focus Area at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies.


Photographs from the ‘Being & Belonging’ exhibition during the National Arts Festival 2012

Photographs of the ‘Being & Belonging’ exhibition raising questions around the notions of citizenship and what it means to be a citizen in the new South Africa. We were privileged to have photographs by prominent South African photographer Roelof van Wyk from his Jong Afrikaner (The Young Afrikaner) series included in our exhibition. The series centres on exploring conceptions of young Afrikaners almost 20 years after a new democratic dispensation in South Africa. The exhibition also featured photographs of elections taken by Sophie Smith, documentaries done by the School of Journalism and Media Studies TV students as well as poetry by the Upstart students from schools in Grahamstown.

The Being & Belonging programme is part of the Mellon Humanities Focus Area project called ‘Media and Citizenship’ based at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, at Rhodes University.

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‘Being and Belonging’ at the National Schools Festival 2012 – World Cafe sessions hosted by Symphonia

The World Cafe sessions were hosted by Fortune Sibanda, a Leadership and Team development facilitator at Symphonia during the National Schools Festival as an extension of the ‘Being & Belonging in South Africa’ series of discussions at Think!Fest during the National Arts Festival. The ‘Being & Belonging’ programme is part of the Mellon Humanities Focus Area project called ‘Media and Citizenship’ based at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, at Rhodes University.

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