Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mantashe, Mulder and other Africans

‘Race’* is an overused concept in South African discourses that frequently hides more than it reveals. Therefore, it remains imperative to scrutinise the particular historical context in which ‘race’ is wielded. When we discern how ‘race’ is applied to maintain or expand power, we can resist attempted reactivations of the apartheid template and disrupt ‘whiteness’ as a project of privilege.

A recent example of the operations of ‘whiteness’ came in the form of an allegation by Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), in his reply to the State of the Nation address in Parliament on 15 February. He insisted that a group that he calls ‘Bantu-speakers’ did not historically live across the whole of South Africa.

He added: “The Bantu-speakers moved from the equator down while the whites moved from the Cape up to meet one another at the Kei River. There were no Bantu-speakers in the Western Cape and north-western Cape. These parts make up 40% of South Africa’s land surface. There also are differences of opinion about the influence of the Difaqane over land ownership.”

President Jacob Zuma criticised Mulder in his retort in Parliament, as did numerous pundits, including in a debate on SAfm radio in which I participated. During that debate, FF+ MP Corné Mulder not only defended his brother Pieter’s position but also declared himself an ‘African’. Pieter Mulder repeated this claim to ‘Africanness’ in a subsequent newspaper article.

Added to that, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe contributed to the debate the argument that the ‘Khoisan’ are also to be regarded as ‘Africans’. By rendering the ‘Khoisan’ ‘African’, he could argue that ‘Africans’ did live across the whole of South Africa during pre-colonial times. The use of ‘African’ in ANC parlance is typically racialised by being reserved for all ‘black’ people except ‘coloureds’ and ‘Indians’. Mantashe’s expansion of the category by implication still excludes ‘white’ people.

My contribution to the radio debate was as follows: apart perhaps from the ‘Khoisan’, we can at best argue that South Africans today are the descendants of successive waves of immigrants, starting with arrivals of people from the rest of the continent from the 4th century AD onwards.

The systems of colonialism and apartheid forcibly ended the relatively free movement of people who were colonised. Therefore, even if it were true that few people in pre-colonial times moved from present-day Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape and south-western parts of the Northern Cape, migrations could have expanded to those areas were it not for colonial interference.

But this is all in the realm of speculation. What we do know is that the pillage of land by colonialists, culminating in the Bantustan system of Verwoerdian apartheid, left people racialised as ‘black others’ with access to only a tiny percentage of land.

This patent injustice has to be redressed, which is broadly the objective of the post-apartheid government’s land reform plans – plans that have mostly failed thus far, as again acknowledged by Zuma in the State of the Nation address.

The more relevant question that we should ask ourselves is why Mulder should be raising this argument now, at this particular juncture in time.

His argument is predicated upon elision: it does not mention how it happened that certain migrations were halted in what is today the Eastern Cape. This manoeuvre attempts to erase colonialism and its effects. The causes of the concentration of people marked ‘black’ in northern, eastern and south-eastern ‘homelands’ through forced removals are also erased, as well as the consequences of declaring the Cape a ‘coloured labour preference zone’ in 1955.

Having elided these crucial historical events, he then implants the Christian National Education version of history: ‘white’ and ‘black’ ‘meeting at the Kei River’; the ‘Difaqane’ emptying out the land of its inhabitants just in time for colonialists to claim it.

The innocuous-sounding ‘meeting at the Kei River’ obfuscates the nine anti-colonial wars that the ‘Xhosa’ and ‘Khoi’ fought against the ‘Boers’ and the ‘British’ in that region. The ‘Difaqane’ myth enables the imposition of the Afrikaner nationalist version of Australia’s ‘terra nullius’ (‘empty land’) justification for colonial plunder.

But these erasures serve to hide yet another omission: that the people driving colonial and apartheid land expropriation deployed racialisation to position themselves as ‘white’ and therefore ‘superior’ and possessing an automatic claim to land.

By rendering not only colonialism and apartheid invisible but also ‘whiteness’, Mulder’s argument furthers the denialism which has been fundamental to the preservation of South African ‘whiteness’ after 1994. Denial of the sources of ‘white’ privilege serves to legitimise such privilege while delegitimising ‘black’ claims of redress. Mulder brandished denialism because Zuma proposed a re-look at the terms of redress.

But what then to make of the Mulder brothers’ assertion that they are ‘African’? Pieter Mulder rejects the ANC’s categorisation of ‘blacks in general and Africans in particular’. He tries to undermine the ANC use of ‘African’ with his so-called ‘academic’ term ‘Bantu-speakers’.

I would agree that the ANC categorisation is problematic, not least because of how it relies on the apartheid template of racialisation, only adjusted for reasons of political opportunism. For example, does Mantashe’s inclusion of the ‘Khoisan’ in the racialised category ‘African’ also include ‘coloured’ South Africans who count slaves among their forebears? Or are we witnessing another attempt at an ahistorical purging of unwanted (foreign) others from an identity (‘Khoisan’) to allow its embracing for political ends?

Philosopher Judith Butler reminds us: “One seeks to preserve oneself against the injuriousness of the other but if one was successful at walling oneself of from injury one would become inhuman.” This observation resonates with the South African experience, where inhumanity was the result of apartheid’s walling-off.

Reflecting on contemporary conditions, wielding ‘African’ as a new category of ‘racial’ exclusion elaborates on the apartheid pattern and is a move that should be rejected. However, simultaneously, claims to ‘African’ inclusion are rendered spurious when based on ‘white’ denial, such as that spun by Mulder.

Undoing the racialisation of apartheid and colonialism demands that we break with the apartheid template, whether in the form of racial exclusivism or the maintenance of ‘whiteness’.

South Africans would do well to note Butler’s admonition: ” … my own language must break up and yield if I am to know you. You are what I gain through this disorientation and loss. This is how the human being comes into being, again and again, as that which we have yet to know.”

‘Breaking language up’ means resisting both reinventions of the apartheid template and those strategies aimed at propping up ‘whiteness’.

*All references to ‘race’ and ‘racial’ categories such as ‘African’, ‘white’ and ‘Khoisan’ are placed in quotation marks in this blog entry as reminders of their constructed and contested status.
**This blog first appeared on the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s SA Reconciliation Barometer blog Vol 10 (April 2012)



  1. Dave Harris Dave Harris 27 April 2012

    Thank you Christi for speaking out against Mulder’s embarrassing attempt to justify the land grab that went on for centuries under colonialism and apartheid as blacks (Africans and later during apartheid, Coloreds and Indians) were systematically dispossessed of their land – the grand theft of apartheid. Addressing land reform is becoming increasingly urgent!

    Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of apartheid still chose to ignore the issue entirely or point to the government as the primary cause of land reform failure during the last two decades. Instead of offering creative solutions to undo this mess created by apartheid, they resort to their usual delaying tactics, which only worsens the situation and leads us down the road to perdition.

  2. Ernst Marais Ernst Marais 27 April 2012

    Christi, the “good news” from the perspective of “white guilt liberals” and African (as in black) nationalists, is that we are living in the last stage of “white” influence in South Africa.
    As in Zimbabwe, the “white” portion will become numerically insignificant – as will their political, social and economic impact.
    Like Zimbabwe, South Africa is fast becoming another failed African state.
    Unlike Zimbabwe, the inhabitants will not be able to flee south.

    I don’t know if you can still read Afrikaans. If so, it will be worthwhile to read Eben Venter’s Horrelpoot to have a glimpse of the South Africa of the not to distant future.

  3. Philip Cole Philip Cole 27 April 2012

    Excellent article, Christi. The contradiction of South Africa is that we are historically one of the world’s great melting-pots in terms of people of different skin colours and histories coming together to occupy the same space, yet we have failed to acknowledge the strength and beauty of this history.

    I especially appreciate your recognition that in the aftermath of apartheid, terms like ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘African’ and ‘coloured’ are all contested and contestible in the light of our history and the way in which these terms have been used to oppress targeted groups of people. Mulder’s intervention is a very good example of the way in which such terms continue to be abused.

  4. beachcomber beachcomber 27 April 2012

    “‘Race’* is an overused concept in South African discourses that frequently hides more than it reveals.” …… Perhaps this edit addresses the real situation.

    “What we do know is that the pillage of land by colonialists, culminating in the Bantustan system of Verwoerdian apartheid, left people racialised as ‘black others’ with access to only a tiny percentage of land.”

    My edit ….

    “What we do know is that the pillage of resources by the agri-industrial establishment, culminating in the capitalist system of unequal distribution of wealth, left people segregated as ‘dispossessed others’ with access to only a tiny percentage of wealth generating facilities.”

  5. Perpetual Emigrant and Immigrant Perpetual Emigrant and Immigrant 27 April 2012

    Everyone is descended from an immigrant. Having a continent identity is absurd as having a sports team identity – both are articicial constraints. Some just benefited more from power than others and gain unfair “rent” from inherited resources. Militant Ngunis (and others non-documented), then whites, now ANC-buddies.

    Sort out the tax system, so that any non normal profit is taxed and returned as education/health/infrastructure. That way, anyone who “owns” an asset doesn’t get a disproportionate benefit from it. Those who add proper value, gain proper value; those who just collect rent, get less and less as time goes on.

    Agricultural land taxes, investment property taxes, mining resource taxes are all part of this. Finally, make the government service like any other job ie those outside of it are not prejudiced against when they want to join, and those inside can be downsized and fired like everyone else with the same benefits/non benefits.

  6. Geoff Smart Geoff Smart 27 April 2012

    We love to use labels to separate people into “US” and “THEM”.
    To be really civilized means moving on from using labels to seeing others as the same as us inside, just different outside in how we look or how we behave or what we believe or whatever.

  7. Rory Short Rory Short 27 April 2012

    It is high time that the State started treating people without appending racial labels to them. That is the only way to start de-racialising South Africa. Whilst the State insists on using racial categories in its workings racialism will definitely remain part of South African life no matter how much the State protests that it is trying to eliminate racism by means of further racism. One of the roles of the State is to help people who have problems, racialising the people with those problems is actually not a necessary part of doing something about the problems.

  8. Andrew Bee Andrew Bee 28 April 2012

    Somewhere in history we have had a colonialism background. Take Britian, invaded by the Romans, Saxons and Normans and almost recently by the Germans. The land has been occupied by kings and their surrogate lords and barons. Nobody can unscramble the egg and would lead to chaos and death on a huge scale (like the Russian revolution) if it were attempted. Nobody is a winner in the end – just a loose, loose situation, The sooner we get rid of the racial tags and start talking about the have-nots (as in have not proper education, health amienities) the better. Racial tags will just fan the flames of envy and hatred. On the one side will be a spirit of entitlement and the other a defensive laager. Can’t we see that yet? Did we not learn from the past?

  9. Oldfox Oldfox 28 April 2012

    @Ernst Marais,
    The English translation of that book was published in 2008, it’s called Trencherman.

  10. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 28 April 2012


    I notice you are still beating the same drum as in your book “White Power”.

    Mulder is historically accurate – you are hiistorically inaccurate. Like Mbeki it appears you can’t admit an error.

    In your book you say, for example, that the whites turned the Homelands into Bantustans without adding any land – which is again historically inaccurate. Just as one example, friends of my mothers had their family farm, a very successful pineapple farm, expropriated to add to a Homeland. A few years later they went back – the farm had reverted to bush, with a caretaker living in the original family home, and the only “farming” a mielie and pumpkin patch in the back garden.

    Aswer these 2 questions for us:

    1 .Why were there Bushmen in the Cape when the whites arrived, but none in the Northern Transvaal or Zimbabwe when the whites arrived there , even although their paintings and stone age implements were everywhere?

    2 Were either the Khoi (Hottentots) or San (Bushmen) Bantu speakers?

  11. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 April 2012

    All through the “apartheid years” the explanation for the non-development of the Homelands/Bantustans, despite the vast sums of money given by South Africa to their leaders to develop, which amounts were in the budget figures to the SA parliament every year,was that they were run by “puppet chiefs” and not the “real chiefs”.

    So why in 18 years have the ANC not deposed the “puppet chiefs” and brought back the “real chiefs”?

  12. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 April 2012

    The Black tribes of Southern Africa grew annual crops – millet, sorgum and maize. After the harvest they migrated to fresh grazing for their cattle. They never grew fruit – which grows on trees and bushes. You can’t migrate with fruit trees. There never was a “First Fruits Festival” like the Kwanzaa Cultists proclaim copying the American Harvest Festival. Who would they have grown the fruit for – the monkeys? the baboons? the elephants?

    And there never was a “Killing of the Bull” ceremony either. There was only one bull in a kraal – the bullocks were killed when young.

    It used to be said that history should be studied to prevent people making the same mistakes.

    It appears that history should be studied to prevent a diaspora making it up!

  13. Obzino Latino Obzino Latino 1 May 2012

    Mulder’s denial of white settlers’ land grab programme in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and so forth is the most clearest indication that blacks were fooled in 1994 to believe that former oppressors of South African People have repented, ready to reconcile and participate actively in concerted efforts to redress the imbalances of the colonial and apartheid past. Instead they seek to oppose and frustrate any attempt like Affirmative Action, BEE, Agrarian & Land Reform and many other transformative initiatives aimed at addressing apartheid (racialised) fault lines. As they are battling to reconcile with the harsh democratic reality of “healing the division and injustices of the past”, they see any attempt to redress the imbalances of the past as an attack to their own narrow, selfish and often ill-gotten privileges. This is highly provocative particularly to us youth – they might have fooled our predecessors, but to expect the current generation to stomach their denialism and unfounded fears is highly provocative. The question we should all ask and work towards addressing is did whites, particularly afrikaners ever renconciled with blacks for all the horrendous crime they have committed? Is reconcilliation a black people project, with whites defending apartheid privillages and critisizing everything that government tries to do. Mulder and his cronies must stop provoking the youth of this country., we have had enough with apartheid and don’t want to even smell its sight

  14. blogroid blogroid 1 May 2012

    I’m not quite sure what point is being made in this blog that starts with the statement “Race is an overused concept…” and then after wandering around for a while finishes with the unremarkable observation that the terms used to denote stereotypical ‘racial’ identities are arbitrary…

    Perhaps it would be useful for the writer to re read Jared Diamonnd’s excellent account of “How Africa Became Black [Chapter 19 of Guns Germs and Steel].

    As a foreign biologist with an impeccable academic record he has used[among other tools] linguistic analysis to determine that those members of the [so-called, regrettably] Bantu speaking language group [some 500 languages] all migrated from a part of present day Cameroon in one of what he describes as “two of the most
    dramatic population movements of the past 5000 years…”

    The [so-called] Bantu speakers apparently behaved like any other colonising movement over time by engulfing, enslaving or eradicating sitting occupants in the lands they “engulfed” [Diamond’s term] So the African Pygmy largely disappeared and so did the Khoi and the San who at one time lived and hunted as far north as Ethiopia.

    As to why this colonising movement stopped at the Kei, Diamond argues that it was simply due to the absence of winter crops amongst the arsenal of foodstuffs used by the migrating tribes [in this case the Xhosa speaking ‘nation’].

    This may be called an accident of history and in no way justifies the nastiness…

  15. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 11 May 2012


    You have hit a massive nerve with me! Jared Diamond, the Californian writer, has ALL his facts on Southern Africa and on America wrong – even worse in the film than in the book!

    The Winter / Summer Rainfall area does NOT stop/change at the Kei River! From the Kei River to past Mossel Bay by about 100 miles is the GARDEN ROUTE, an intermediate area, called that because it rains ALL year and EVERYTHING grows! The closest climate to it is Hawaii!

    Nor did the Blacks farm their cattle – they used them as money and drunk only the blood and the milk – the Masaii and the Tsusis were fanatical about no killing of cattle – as bad as the Hindus of India!

    Nor did the whites bring maleria to Kenya. Whites had no resistance to maleria and did not even penetrate the interior of Africa until after a cure was found, which was in the days of Livingstone, when the slave trade had already been abolished in the West – EXCEPT in America.

    ALL of these are errors of fact made by Jared Diamond!

  16. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 11 May 2012


    And another thing that Jared Diamond leaves out is the migration of blacks into Africa from Asia and across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean, which they could not navigate as they had done the Indian Ocean, which is WHY they started to migrate down Africa.

    It is logical that Blacks got their similar attitude to the sanctity of cattle from Hindu Indian traders. All the cattle of Southern Africa are of Indian origin. Indians were trading with blacks long before either Arab or European arrived in Sub Saharan Africa. Indians were not allowed slavery – what they were there for was gold. Blacks had no interest in gold – you could neither eat it or make clothes from it. Popular theories are that blacks were persuaded to pan for gold in return for beads and cloth – but maybe cattle as well?

  17. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 12 May 2012


    Jared Diamond in the film “Germs, Guns and Steel” is seen being paddled upriver in an outrigger canoe by blacks in what looks like Borneo. After which he promises the blacks he will find out “why whites have so much cargo”. Then he starts on investigating migrations.

    One would have expected that he might have noticed that the people of Borneo were black like the black Africans, had similar intitiation ceremonies, tribal markings, and culture (including cannibalism/ belief in “muti” of body parts).

    Plus if he had read “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryason, he would have noticed that the oldest language in one of the islands off East Africa (if I remember correctly Madagascar) comes from Borneo.

    So HOW did he miss finding out the earler migration?

Leave a Reply