Racial discourse among white Afrikaans-speaking youth : a Stellenbosch case study

Barnard, Jana (2010-03)

Thesis (MA (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study seeks to present a picture of the racial discourses circulating among white Afrikaans-speaking youth in South Africa, with closer focus to students at the Stellenbosch University (SU). Fifteen years into democracy, Afrikaans-speaking whites find themselves in a position where their ‘Afrikaner’ identity does not enjoy the same government-supported security as under apartheid. The responsibility is thus shifted onto white Afrikaans-speakers themselves to negotiate and secure this identity in the light of new challenges brought on by the post-apartheid context. In this regard, the white Afrikaans-speaking youth, in particular, are faced with the ambivalence of being both exposed to a habitual scheme of normalised racial divisions, as well as to a context where ‘old’ frameworks need to be transcended in the name of survival in multi-racial South Africa. SU, a historically white, predominantly Afrikaans-medium university, is currently faced with the challenges of government-induced transformation and the attended ‘language debate’, the aims of which are to make the university more accessible to non-white sectors of society who, under apartheid, was excluded from this institution. Making use of interviews and participant observation among students on the SU campus, an attempt was made to shed light onto the types of discourses employed by white Afrikaans-speaking Stellenbosch students to negotiate their position in this setting, as well as to determine to what extent such discourses are racially based. With the help of a social anthropological approach to discourse analysis, the discourses encountered during fieldwork were considered within the context of macro-historical processes, and were conceptualised as complex sets of meanings produced within the context of interaction, appropriated and employed by individuals, strategically and artistically, in response to moment to moment situations. It is argued that these discursive processes are immensely complex, as it is influenced and shaped by a plethora of factors. These youth are, firstly, faced with a received framework in which dualistic and racial distinctions are subconsciously reproduced. Secondly, they take part in a rhetoric in which group boundaries manage to reproduce itself and, lastly, they are exposed to a popular discourse, reinforced by the media, that strongly relies on race-based sense-making. However, politically induced transformation ideals do call for a readjustment of priorities within white ‘Afrikaner’ discourse and students have been observed to respond to this in creative ways. Finally, it is argued that the heavy emotional baggage accompanying the race topic, exacerbated by media emphasis and the ‘racist taboo’, can lead to denial and indifference among white Afrikaans-speakers so that no space is created for constructive engagement with the topic.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie studie is om ‘n voorstelling van ‘ras-diskoers’ daar te stel soos wat dit onder die wit Afrikaanssprekende jeug in Suid-Afrika voorkom, met spesifieke verwysing na studente van die Universiteit van Stellenbosch (US). Tydens die skryf van hierdie tesis is dit reeds vyftien jaar in die ‘nuwe Suid-Afrika’. Waar Afrikaanssprekende blankes se ‘Afrikaner’ identiteit destyds deur die apartheidsregering beskerm en bevorder is, berus die verantwoordelikheid tans op hierdie groep self om hul identieitsbelange te beskerm en te onderhandel in die lig van nuwe uitdagings. In hierdie opsig is die fokus veral op die jeug aangesien die raamwerke wat dikwels tuis aan hul oorgedra is, nou moet plek maak vir ‘n nuwe manier van dink wat aanpas by blootstelling aan veelrassigheid op alle gebiede in Suid-Afrika, in hierdie geval op die universiteitskampus. Die US, ‘n histories wit, hoofsaaklik Afrikaans-medium universiteit, word tans in die gesig gestaar deur kwessies rondom ‘transformasie’ en die ‘taaldebat’, deurdat aan die regering se vereistes voldoen moet word om die instelling meer toeganklik te maak vir ‘n sektor van die samelewing wat onder apartheid toegang tot sulke universiteite geweier is. Met behulp van onderhoude en deelnemende waarneming by die US is gepoog om vas te stel hoe wit Afrikaanssprekende studente in hierdie konteks hul eie posisie verstaan en onderhandel, en tot watter mate die diskoers waarmee hul sin maak van hul omgewing, ras-gebaseerd is. Die studie maak gebruik van ‘n sosiaal-antropologiese benadering tot diskoers analise. In hierdie opsig word diskoers beskou binne die konteks van makro-historiese prosesse, en word dit verstaan as betekenis wat op komplekse wyse gegenereer word tydens interaksie, betekenisse wat op hul beurt strategies en op kreatiewe wyses toegeëien en aangewend word in reaksie op situasies. Daar word aangedui hoedat die diskursiewe praktyke wat hierdie diskoers ondelê, uiters kompleks is deurdat dit beïnvloed en gevorm word deur ‘n verkeidenheid van faktore. Eerstens is daar ‘n oorgeërfde raamwerk waarin dualistiese raamwerke wat ras-onderskeid reproduseer, onbewustelik seëvier. Tweedens is daar ‘n landwye kulturele retoriek wat die idee van grense tusen groepe as onoorbrugbaar voorstel, en laastens word ‘n populêre diskoers, wat sterk staatmaak op ‘n ras-gebaseerde verstaan van die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing, dikwels deur die media versterk. Ten spyte van bogenoemde, is daar egter ook waargeneem hoedat studente grootliks bewus is van die polities-gemotiveerde transformasiedoelwitte wat vereis dat die prioriteite vervat in wit Afrikaanssprekende diskoers, daarby aanpas. Laastens word egter ook geredeneer dat die swaar emosionele bagasie wat met die ras-onderwerp gepaard gaan, onder andere die groot taboe rondom ‘rassisme’, op die ou end onder wit Afrikaasnsprekende student lei tot apatie en ignorering van die onderwerp, wat konstruktiewe bespreking daaroor kan belemmer.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4243
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