Accepted paper:

From taboo to exotic: Popular cultural invocations of the Afrikaner working class in the postcolony


Schalk van der Merwe (Stellenbosch University)
Danelle van Zyl-Hermann (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

During the apartheid era, the cultural expressions of the Afrikaner working class were suppressed to accommodate the sensitivities of the cultural elite. In the post-apartheid era, this taboo subject has often been invoked by middle class artists, leading to the re-imagining of Afrikaner class.

Paper long abstract:

It is often problematic to consider African popular culture in class terms (Barber 2018). However, South Africa's industrialisation around the turn of the twentieth century saw the distinct emergence - especially in the mining centre of Johannesburg - of black and white urban working-class communities. Living in multiracial and multi-ethnic communities were white Afrikaans-speaking workers who developed distinct cultural practices such as the enjoyment of boere-music and dog racing, clearly discernible from the tastes expressed by Afrikaners of higher social standing (Grundlingh 2003, 20014; Van der Merwe 2017). From the 1930s onwards, Afrikaner culture became a highly politicised space in service of an emergent, racially exclusive Afrikaner nationalist ideology which was acutely class sensitive. The lower social strata became a source of embarrassment and during the subsequent apartheid era, cultural elites employed various means to subdue, censor and mute contrary popular culture and creative works which emerged from or drew on the realities of working-class Afrikaner life. The end of apartheid disrupted this process, and Afrikaner working-class culture re-emerged from its historical silence - but in a surprising guise. Serving as the inspiration for various popular works - from hiphop and rap to film, literature and photography - it was now often caricatured, or portrayed as somewhat exotic, deviant or even dangerous. Moreover, these expressions often emanated not from working-class actors themselves, but middle-class artists. This paper seeks to illuminate the invocation of a once taboo subject against the unravelling of white Afrikaner hegemony in the postcolony, casting new light on the contestations and social relations of this period.

panel His03
Alternative histories of decolonisation in Southern Africa