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On ‘Ex-South Africans’ and White Privilege in Diaspora

Nursing Home Just for ex-South Africans in Herzliya, Israel. Image Credit: Jonathan Paul Katz. Used with permission.

Nursing Home Just for ex-South Africans in Herzliya, Israel. Image Credit: Jonathan Paul Katz. Used with permission.

Do White “ex-South Africans” take their white privilege abroad? Do these “ex-South Africans” only identify themselves with Apartheid South Africa? Wikipedia defines White South Africans as people from South Africa who are of European descent and who do not regard themselves, or are not regarded as being part of another racial group (for example, as Coloured).

Jonathan Paul Katz, an American/South African writer and MSc Migration Studies candidate at Oxford University, tackles the issue of White “ex-South Africans” in a blog post on Africa is a Country titled “Taking White Privilege Abroad: On “Ex-South Africans” and the White Diaspora.” He specifically focuses on White South Africans who left the country for Israel:

They didn’t nickname Ra’anana, a posh Israeli suburb north of Tel Aviv, “Ra’ananafontein” [fontein, Afrikaans for spring is a popular name for locations in South Africa and Namibia] for nothing. There, and in the neighboring town of Herzliya, thousands of White South African immigrants — all Jewish, overwhelmingly Ashkenazi — settled in a tight bubble. One can live an entire life in Israel with a social circle wholly composed of White South Africans. Curiously, many of these transplants identify as “Ex-South African.”

At first, I considered this to be a peculiar quirk of the diaspora community in Israel. Yet it turns out many other white expatriate communities also use this term. When white migrants claim to be “ex-South African,” their statement is that South Africa is no longer their country – the political implications of which, only two decades since the end of apartheid and in the era where Rhodes is still falling, are retrograde.

These “ex-South Africans” enjoy special privileges, argues Katz:

In the Western countries where they settle, White South African migrants benefit from systems of power that reward them for being white in skin color and Western in culture. Thus, when some lament the attenuation of such privileges in South Africa, they gain greater access to hegemonic white identities in their host states.

He concludes:

It is an open secret that many white diaspora members are nostalgic for apartheid – and this position is always informed and colored by the local context. Nowadays, we see this in chain emails castigating the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States. These logics extend to military action itself: the communal publications of Israel’s South African community are filled with praise for “security operations” in the West Bank and adopt a congratulatory tone for Israel’s military that is considered right wing even in Israel.
[…] That said, the South Africa these migrants – and the right-wing white strains of South Africa’s diaspora – identify with is the South Africa of apartheid.

Reacting to the article [there are no permanent links for comments], a reader called Justincase maintains the article is unnecessary because it has not said anything that is not commonly known:

Great article, but the information provided is/ought to be such common knowledge to make this article unnecessary. Of course most “ex-white Africans” no longer identify with Africa. Many people within this group have been taught–whether self-taught or by the educational system–that everything but white is uncivilized and a menace. So it is evident that those who have embraced this form of schooling will leave countries that no longer allow them to act upon their beliefs and find countries that are more militant towards a similar cause (e.g. Israel or America).

While another reader, Port, noted:

Lets be honest, the Jews are always the first of any group of people to run from any neighborhood in which a black person moves into.

Countering Port’s argument of Jewish flight, Vynberber gave examples of Jewish solidarity with the predominantly black anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa:

Dennis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe, Joe Slovo.
Check these guys out. Goldberg was imprisoned by the National Party for 22 years!
In apartheid era South Africa the Jewish population accounted for roughly 10% of the white population and yet nearly 80% of the whites involved in the anti-apartheid movement were Jews…

The “ex-South Africans” were perhaps never truly South Africans, says Fredhatman:

[…]I would only add that perhaps these “ex-South Africans” were never truly South African but simply economic opportunists who have found it easier to live elsewhere. I only wish they would not denigrate my country’s attempts, in the face of many challenges, to evolve into the democratic and non-elitist nation that I believe Mandela visualised. We have a very long way to go but these “expats” have nothing to contribute, apart from their resentment and prejudices.

While Wessel van Rensburg disputes that White South Africans benefit from White privilege in the West:

“In the Western countries where they settle, White South African migrants benefit from systems of power that reward them for being white in skin color and Western in culture.”

Not necessarily. White privilege is not even distributed. I made a documentary about South African immigrants in London, mostly Afrikaans (white) and coloured. At two parties held (mostly) separately by each group I asked the same questions, about why they were in the UK, what they thought of South Africa. The answers were remarkably similar. They feared for jobs and crime, but missed home.

The interesting thing of course is that these two groups congregate in similar areas of London: Stratford, Leyton –- working class areas. Jewish South Africans have long since settled in areas of posher North London like Golders Green, while white English speaking South African in middle class areas like Wimbledon.

Jane Duncan, a professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, shared the article on her Facebook page.

Reactions to the publication showed sharp divisions.

Emma Gordon Blass thought the post shows “poor writing and scholarship”:

I assume you posted this piece because of its awfulness! The mere fact that the links refer to nothing like the topics being discussed should indicate this author's poor writing and scholarship.

Most South Africans abroad are proud of their country of origin, and don't refer to themselves as “ex's”. Too much anti-white, and anti-Semitic prejudice here to take these views seriously.

Being a South African living abroad and Jewish, Blass argued that she has personal insights into the issue:

I am a) South African living abroad, and b) Jewish. So, I have some personal insight into these sweeping allegations of privilege/prejudice. Not the same thing as full possession of the facts, but I know a lot of proud South African-Americans who pursue democratic ideals in their adopted countries, as they did in their home country.

Dennis Levy defends White South African migrants in Israel arguing that Israel at least is a democracy compared to South Africa where everyone knows who is going to win the next election:

Racists like you who blame Jews for everything are the reason why these Jews left South Africa and now live in a place where there is no antisemitism. In case you didn't know, Israel is a democracy where it is possible to change the government. In South Africa we all know which party is going to win the next election, regardless of the crimes they commit.

Responding to those attacking the quality of the article, Jane Duncan says that the critiques are attempts to avoid the evidence presented in the piece:

The article is not at all badly written. That's too often used as a means of slagging an article off so as not to deal with its contents. The links are perfectly relevant to its contents. Now, people migrate all the time in search of better lives; that's why doing so is a basic human right. But to deny that there's such a thing as white flight from South Africa, and that many whites have left because they don't feel comfortable living under a black government, and wish to recreate white enclaves elsewhere, is to deny reality.

Fred Hartman found food for thought in the article:

As a white South African who left SA under apartheid (1984) and returned with a vision of a truly “Rainbow Nation” (1997), I found this article (more a column?) very interesting and well worth thinking about. And worthy of a debate between open minds, rather than from an entrenched position and reactive defensiveness.

Finally, Anna Majavu notes that one settlement designed for White South Africans in Israel was stolen from the Palestinian village of Bili'in:

Good article. Thanks for posting, Jane. It only scratches the surface of white South Africanness in illegal Israeli settlements. The land of Palestinian Bili'in village was stolen in front of my eyes to help build Modi'in Ilit, a new Israeli settlement specifically targeting white South Africans…

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