National

The carefully hidden face of online racism

Phillip De Wet

The tweet by Jessica Leandra Dos Santos is but the tip of an ugly iceberg: SA's online racism goes a lot deeper than that, writes Phillip de Wet.

It’s only unusual to see the word “kaffir” online if you avoid certain parts of the web. On closed and semi-public networks and discussion boards, casual racism is very much alive, and the racial slurs come thick and fast, as long as participants believe they are cloaked in anonymity.
 
But in recent years references have become less direct and sometimes harder to track, especially where real-world identities are associated with comments; thanks to Facebook filtering and moderation you are more likely to see a reference to “barbarians” or “monkeys”, or occasionally “k4ffirs” on that network.

Sometimes the denigration is linked to assertions about relative racial intelligence levels, and sometimes it is through subtle references to the violent nature of black people. But because such discussion tend to occur in member-only groups, on private message boards and in Afrikaans, it draws little attention.
 
The Suidlanders, a group that is primarily preparing itself for what it believes to be an inevitable race war in South Africa (to be triggered by black people), boasts more than 5 000 members on Facebook. Membership is open only to white people, and only white people without any more-pigmented Facebook friends. Failure to adhere to that rule is grounds for summary expulsion, and the group vigilantly looks out for what it considers informers or traitors.
 
Discussion on the Suidlanders page, though it carries heavy racist overtones, is nowhere near as direct as that to be found openly on the likes of Stormfront.org, one of the largest white-supremacist websites in the world. Users such as “kaffirhater” frequent the parts of its forums dedicated to South Africa, where anything approaching liberal views can see other users referred to as “kaffirboetie” (literally, brother to a black man), and even a discussion on urban freeway tolls features the phrase “kaffirs appointed as separate speed cops” — though the word “fuck” is obscured. [  ] The level of common discourse is perhaps best illustrated by a February post with the headline “White woman gang raped by kaffirs during protestt” (sic).
 
Other groups use a combination of email lists and their own websites to encourage racist behaviour. In the same week that Dos Santos posted her fateful comment, the Kommandokorps organisation launched a call to boycott restaurants that don’t employ white serving staff. It called on supporters to turn off the power to their houses entirely any time a television programme depicts “racial mixing, inter-racial marriage and homosexuality as the norm”, in order to send producers of such shows a message. School children, it advised, should hiss while the Xhosa and English parts of the national anthem are sung. Such action is necessary, it said, because Afrikaners are being denigrated and impoverished daily, while “black fat cats” drive expensive cars and throw expensive parties.
 
The largely silent and passive nature of the Kommandokorps’ proposed set of resistance actions reflects a growing trend of keeping displays of racism out of the public eye, for fear of what some believe will be victimisation if they air their thoughts. On various forums members advise one another to only use non-public Twitter accounts, to avoid references to race war and to attend in-person meetings to discuss sensitive topics.
 
“You’d better watch out, the government is good at intercepting online stuff these days,” one user recently cautioned another. “If they identify you, the kaffirs will come for you.”


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