“The promotional video shows racks of white power-storage batteries …” a report on ABC’s AM said this morning. Your correspondent heard it as “white-power storage” because the previous story had been yet another report on the bizarre, pernicious, utterly racist “white South African farmer” problem.

Here’s the point this vile issue has got to: Nationals MP Andrew Broad is opposing the notion that we should offer special immigration visas to white South African farmers not because it is an act of racist skin-selection — ho no — but because the farmers are too important to South African food production. The black farmers haven’t “proved themselves”, he noted, charmingly.

In the Senate, David Leyonhjelm has been running hard on the issue, having — surprise, surprise — spent some time in South Africa. The “libertarian purist” is an old-fashioned social engineering statist when it comes to colour and culture, telling the Senate that white South Africans would “integrate better” than Rohingya Muslims.

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Who else has popped up to defend the rights of this sadly oppressed group? Oh, it’s Andrew Hastie, member for Canning in Perth’s outer southern suburbs — and a base for decades of white South Africans and Zimbabweans, the latter starting to arrive after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980.

But it is, unbelievably, even more cynical than that. The right are competing for Australian-South African support all right, but it’s also a culture war play. By finding a white group that can be defined as a cultural minority, the right can try and push back against opposition to the mandatory detention regime, and the demand for greater humanitarian intake.

It’s a measure of how hideous this whole proposal is that the cynical explanation — it’s just about numbers and the base — is more decent than the ideological explanation: a racist concern for the lives of whites over and above those of different skin colour. At least that racist conception is out in the open now.

Were there a specific cultural group somewhere, that happened to be white, while those around them weren’t, and were under threat of massacre and mass violence, there would be a case to treat them the same way we treat other persecuted groups: i.e. with grudging minimal assistance, some limited resettlement, and years-long detention of those who arrive irregularly.

But the “white farmer” crisis is a beat-up. For a start, why do “white farmers” scattered across a country count as a distinct group? Why is this not a matter for internal South African policing policy? To identify such a group amounts to an intervention in the internal affairs of a parliamentary democracy.

Secondly, the figures are spurious. Right-wing South African politicians have quoted a figure of 133 murders per 100,000 per year for farmers. There are 250,000 farms, white and black-owned, in South Africa, and 2.9 million agricultural households.

There were 74 farm murders, including white and black, in 2015/2016.

Meanwhile, in South Africa as a whole, there are around 40-50 people murdered each day. An inner-city area such as Hillbrow — the size of Kingston or Woollahra or Fitzroy — has 103 murders a year. Many of its residents are targeted for being central African work-migrants. Where’s their visa?

No? Because of course that’s not what it’s about. The content of this “white farmer” push is not merely racist — it is, as Broad’s clumsy comments show, actively racialist*. It constructs white South Africans as “better specimens”, in the old language. It’s been implicit in the indifference to non-white suffering that is part of our refugee policy. The rush to favour white farmers, off confected statistics, and with no clamour for them to come here, at least makes that explicit. White power storage indeed.


*I don’t actually think Andrew Broad is saying that black farmers are “naturally” inferior; he’s taking the oft-argued position that they lack the experience to run agribusiness-style farms. Maybe. But they also lack the capital and support, built up by white farmer families over generations. But it is ugly language, cutting with an ugly grain.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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