So here’s a more academic type article. I did this essay as part of my Visual Studies course. The brief was as follows :
Discuss the communicative function of propaganda by analyzing contemporary
visual examples of political propaganda from your immediate environment, be
it propaganda that you see or hear in the streets, in the newspapers or magazines
that you read, films that you watch, music that you listen too, or websites that report
on South African and/or international society. You need to provide a thorough and
critical examination of the different propaganda techniques used. You also need to
contextualize the visual examples used by giving reference to the social and political
arenas within which the chosen propaganda vehicles operate. You might choose to
focus your discussion on a particular media, context, message or form of
propaganda in order create a coherent argument.
Given that I live in Stellenbosch, and my paper directly critiqued whiteness, white nostalgia and the fallacy of an Afrikaner genocide – you can imagine how poorly I was marked for it. (Poorly being relative because I’m an over-achiever when it comes to this subject – that’s not a flex I just do well). Nonetheless, I know this paper was relatively flawless and had the wonderful lecturer marked my paper – I would have achieved a distinction (the kind of mark i’m accustomed to). Unfortunately, someones child became a tutor and marked my paper. Said child is a white Afrikaans female who critiqued me “on my spacing” and made suggestions that did not exist in the brief. Nonetheless, distinction or not – here it is :
For purposes of the essay, this image below is referred to as Figure 1:
- Front Nasionaal Election Poster. 2019. Own Photograph.
There exists the pervasive idea that propaganda operates in a recognizable vacuum which renders the contemporary consumer thereof, well aware of both their role as visual consumer and the role of the propagandist as producer. However the central axis upon which propaganda finds success is its deeply embedded cultural existence. Propaganda oscillates on a spectrum between the invisible and the hyper visible. Propaganda exists in the core of a given communities social imaginary, and it is from the locus of control which group think is identified and manipulated to the benefit of the propagandist. The propagandist operates with an existing understanding of the socio-politic and socio-economic in which its message is intended to disseminate. It is this dissemination which is closely controlled in order to successfully manipulate, and control the intended audience – both in terms of reception and desired response. It is this subtle and calculated manipulation which is the focus of the following essay, with specific regards to the nasionaal front’s poster, a detailed picture of which has been provided below. The following essay will prove the means by which the visual lexicon of South Africans and the socio-historic conditions effect the propagandist success of this poster.
The poster was produced by the Front Nasionaal, which is a far-right Afrikaner political party, which aims to rebuke the perceived “attack on Afrikaner nationalism” which has been posed by democracy. The Front Nasionaal is a relatively “new political platform, which aims to fight for Afrikaner self-determination” – regardless of the fascist overtones thereof (Godhino, 2014). Founded in twenty-thirteen, the party aims to address the oppressive economic environment posed by black economic empowerment as well as preserve the Afrikaner culture. While the party does not actively distinguish between white Afrikaners and white Englishmen implicitly (as seen on the poster which translates nasionaal to national) , it seeks to preserve and further white political interests through the establishment of a Volkstaat (Godhino,2014). A Volkstaat would operate beneath the political idea of self-determination, essentially operating as a politically separate state that exists within its own demarcated sovereign borders, as a politically sovereign nation. A sovereign nation geared towards the betterment of whites only – a notion which can be paralleled with the fascist Nazi regimes ideas pertaining to lebensraum.
The notion of lebensraum or a Volkstaat is not new to the South African context and echoes ideas which emerged from the far right Afrikaner Nationalists shortly prior to the fall of the Apartheid regime. Prior to the fall of the Apartheid regime, the national Party ruled by F.W. de Klerk indignantly insisted on the retention of a white minority rule during negotiations, which resulted in a deadlock during CODESA negotiations. The Nationalist Party wanted to retain a veto which could be used in parliament in order to derail the democratic process, and ultimately maintain Apartheid.
Cosmetically the Apartheid state would have succumbed to ideological notions of an inclusive democracy, but systemically power would continue to reside in the fascist Nationalist Party. The continual rejection of this stipulation by members of CODESA resulted in the ironic adoption of National Determinism Theory as a seemingly viable alternative to the perilous future posed by democracy and participatory governance. National Determinism Theory developed in early European nations as a response to imperialism and oppressive regimes. The ideas of national determinist theory “postulates the principle of ‘one nation: one state’ which meant that not only each nation should form a state, but also that each state should be ethnically homogenous” (Klug, 1989). An idea of ethnic homogeneity which was plausible in a world absent of globalization, as well as prior to the tyranny of the third of Reich. However, with both of the aforementioned events taking place as well as the rise of fascist regimes such as the Soviet Union, as well as Mao Zhe Dung’s rule of China, the international community proceeded to reject this ideology as an illegitimate ideology. Especially given the ideologys’ continual co-opt by fascist regimes as it aligns with mentalities regarding ethnic cleansing, eugenics as well as the establishment of racial hierarchies. It is in spite of the scrutiny of the international community at this juncture that the Nationalist Party co-opted the idea of a Volkstaat facilitated by Nationalist Determinism. Ironically, the international community had begun to push for the right of the black majority to gain access to the right to universal suffrage, and African self-determination in the democratic sense (Fisher,1972). The prevalence of this historical revision will become apparent throughout the remainder of the essay.
It must also be noted that South Africa has its own history with fascism, independent of its European heritage. Fascism aims to establish itself as a viable and necessary form of centralized governance, in which the state acts paternally in the interests of its citizens. Citizens prioritized in this type of regime are identified as sharing a nationhood which is usually determined along ethnic lines – to the detriment of the subsequent out-group. The state would then proceed to channel their socio-economic efforts solely towards the betterment of the chosen in group – normally at the expense and exploitation of the out-group. The need to strengthen the perceived nationhood of the in-group is typically constructed by determining a collective enemy, who is deemed to pose a threat to the betterment of the in-group and the regime. This creates a collectivized, shared ideology resulting in echo-chambers in which the disseminated ideology is bolstered and operates without critique. A central tenant of fascism is the removal of a multi-party, or democratic leadership which is believed to contribute to inefficacy, as well as the potential demise of the state into anarchy. In a ploy to avoid democracy, fascism aims to eradicate oppositional forces in order to create a centralized political body that can disseminate political ideals. This dissemination is intelligently targeted towards the ‘in-group’, as well as the youth thereof in order to preserve the longevity of the regime. The utilization of the youth, as well as the establishment of totalitarianism – totalitarianism which can only be maintained through violence. State-sanctioned violence becomes a normal appendage of a society which is reliant upon the maintenance of a regime which remains above reproach in order to discourage democracy. Militarization of the state is also normalized in this political climate in order to swiftly oppose dissidence, and operate as an agent of fear. Fascism is also closely allied with religious rhetoric which is used to imbue the ideological movement with divine ordinance, in order to detract from the illegitimacy of the regime. It is this perceived divinity, which not only manipulates the historicism of the movement, but also contributed to the idea that the ideology is above reproach, as critique or question would be blasphemous – following this logic.
Fascism is heavily reliant upon propaganda techniques in order to create perceived legitimacy surrounding a fascist regime, and it is propaganda used to “document” this societal faction as it can be controlled, as well as manipulate public perception. “Censorship in South Africa was codified in 1963 by the Publications and Entertainments Act which defined the term ‘undesirable’ in forty different ways… Censorship is [was] also enshrined in the internal security legislation which has [had] been built upon the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950.” (Merrett,1982). The existence of a censorship board during Apartheid is a clear indication of a fascist regime, as free press poses a threat to the continued longevity of a political regime which utilizes undemocratic means to achieve its goals. Moreover, South Africa’s fascism rose as a result of a four hundred year colonial imperialist period in which people of colour were systematically denied of civil liberties, human dignity and civic agency in a bid to progress right-wing white Afrikaner Nationalism and British settlers’ interests.
There exists a global rise in alt-right, white nationalism and fascism in the West with specific reference to the Trump Administration. An administration which has been riddled by multiple scandals, but initially rallied around ideas surrounding propaganda and has continued to do so. Ideas which have emanated from a strong position of knowledge pertaining to the aesthetic effectiveness of propaganda. This is stated with specific reference to Trumps allegiance towards National Socialist ideas of the Nazi Germany Party. In the 1990 edition of Vanity Fair, Trumps first wife Ivanka details her then husbands rabid fascination with “Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which she said Trump kept “in a cabinet by his bed’” (Stan, 2018).
In recent months, Trump has shown an increased interest in publicizing sympathy towards right-wing conspiracy theorists that purport the dire situation ‘white genocide’ happening in South Africa. The continual investment in disinformation is only bolstered by sporadic reports regarding farm murders, alleged racial attacks which neglect to highlight black farm workers who are often also casualties in violent crime committed on farms. The death of black farm workers in these instances is neglected as it detracts from the legitimacy of farm murders being racially inspired. This is without making reference towards the inequitable working conditions, abuse and dop system which is often found on these farms run by white Afrikaners.
Nonetheless, there has been a continued push to spread disinformation with regards to the theoretical ‘white genocide’ happening to Afrikaner farmers. A narrative which the Suidlanders have pushed on international platforms meeting with “alt-right groups, including people who have been publicly described as Nazis, fascists, racists, white supremacists, homophobes, anti-Semitic, anti-feminist and conspiracy theorists. Some have served time in jail for racial assaults and others regularly advocate violence in defence of whites. These include the likes of David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, a Republican state representative and an avid US President Donald Trump supporter, and David Spencer, a Nazi sympathizer, who coined the term “alt-right” to attract a new generation of right-wing supporters.” (Gedye, 2018).
It is this disinformation which has taken priority in international discourse, and while this is propaganda in itself, it is propaganda which harks on a particular narrative surrounding white nostalgia. The mythical, purist conception of whiteness as a static race which disregards anxieties surrounding whiteness and the spectrum upon which this whiteness exists and is safeguarded. In this mythical conception of race, whiteness is afforded a superior status and postulates a position of contemporary powerlessness in response to a globalized society which no longer actively invests in the arbitrary privileging of white people. “Nostalgic memory is not regular memory, rather it is a function of present fears and anxieties, and involves an ‘active selection of what to remember and how to remember it’ (Wilson, 2005: 25)” (Maly et al. 2013). It is this mythical remembrance which facilitates white Afrikaner nationalists ideas surrounding the need to firstly receive foreign, alt-right intervention which positions them as powerless white figures parallel to faux- white virtuousness. Secondly, the complete evasion of the role of the white Afrikaner nation in prior genocides committed against black bodies in this country. An evasion which facilitates an entitlement not only to maintaining privileges which exist as a legacy of this genocide, but entitlement to rebuking action aimed to redress this legacy.
Propaganda is ideologically dialectic. The choice of the Front Nasionaal to construct a poster which harks back to an Apartheid regime idea of white self-determination is a propaganda technique linked to white nostalgia. The choice to couple this nostalgia with the primary colours of red and navy was deliberate. Those colours hold a visual fingerprint which echoes that of the Trump administration. An administration who have found success in capitalizing upon white nostalgia, and have subsequently seen a rise in the white alt-right, as well as racially motivated attacks both systemically and socially. Meaning, visually the lexicon of the poster aims to subtly ally itself with the Trump administration, an administration which privileges the needs of white people. Not only white Americans, but white Afrikaner south Africans- given Trumps sympathy to claims surrounding the alleged white genocide. This allies the party with a substantial war mongering country, which is again reminiscent of white nostalgia as white Afrikaners used to enjoy civil liberties which allowed them to freely exercise fascist violence against black bodies unpunished. Moreover, this violence was state sanctioned and ordained by fascists’ religious rhetoric which encouraged white aggression.
The posters syntactic choice to vote for self-determination is a specifically contentious issue given the current political climate regarding the re-distribution of land. The choice to publicize the need for a Volkstaat is also one of nostalgic militarization – which postulates the White Afrikaners rights as under such severe attack that the creation of a sovereign nation is the only viable outlet. A notion which is reminiscent of the fascism much enjoyed by the white Afrikaner twenty four years ago.
Moreover, this syntactic choice utilizes race-baiting, not only does it polarize white Afrikaner identity but this poster illicit a very particular emotive response from people of colour. While this poster satiates the desires of white fascists, it also exploits people of colours collective outrage at the Apartheid regime and proponents thereof. This is reductionist propaganda which argues along black and white lines, neglecting nuance and complexity in order to present a manipulated view of reality. The wording “ had enough”, is racially loaded with a critique against black democratic governance, i.e. had enough of democracy? A democracy which, while riddled with innumerable historical and contemporary issues, has at least legislatively liberated people of colour. This is a direct attack against democracy and ultimately the constitutional liberties owed to and now enjoyed by black bodies. This poster essentializes information to illicit highly emotive response from an array of passer-by’s alike. The syntax of this poster aims to embolden white Afrikaner fascists to vote for them in national elections, in order to achieve a Volkstaat and the re-establishment of a white regime untainted by democratic politics. While postulating a sense of powerlessness, the “solution” to said powerlessness would be voting for fascism, in order to preserve Afrikaner culture. A culture previously endorsed by the United States beneath Apartheid, and again endorsed now by the Trump Administration.
Aesthetically the poster has a clear visual hierarchy in which the party logo is visually linked to a sentiment of resistance. The need for self-determination is highlighted through the choice of using red and typography which extends the font, drawing attention to the most important part of their message. Overall the typographic choice is uniform and the rhetoric is generally accessible to the average, literate South African.
In conclusion the use of propaganda in contemporary South African society, can only expect to be successful if operating from a deep-seated understanding of the complex socio-political landscape. An understanding of these complexities allows for propagandists to utilize well established ideologies and create a dialectic discourse in which the past informs the future, to the benefit of the propagandist. The Front Nasionaal poster has been successful in creating a poster which essentializes information in order to construct a version of reality which is beneficial to the party and detrimental towards its opponents.
Fischer, B. 1972. ‘Editorial: Self Determination or Self-paternalism’ . Africanist. November. 1-3
Gedye, L. 2018. ‘ White Genocide : How the Big Lie Spread to the US and beyond’. Mail & Guardian. 23 March
Godhino, T. 2014. Front Nasionaal stokes the embers of the Afrikaner-right’ Mail & Guardian. 25 April.
Klug, H. 1989. Self-Determination and the Struggle against Apartheid. Wisconsin International Law Journal.(8) 251
Maly, M., Dalmage, H. and Michaels, N. 2013. ‘The End of an Idyllic World: Nostalgia Narratives, Race, and the Construction of White Powerlessness’, Critical Sociology, 39(5), 757–779.
Merrett, C.P., 1982. Political censorship in South Africa: Aims and consequences. Reality. A Journal of Liberal and Radical Opinion, 14, p.307.
Stan,A.M.,2018, ‘ Trump and the rise of 21st century fascism’. The Reality Prospect. August.