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Reviewed by:
  • Sitting Pretty: white Afrikaans women in post-apartheid South Africa by Christi van der Westhuizen
  • Marlene de Beer (bio)
Christi van der Westhuizen (2017) Sitting Pretty: white Afrikaans women in post-apartheid South Africa. Pietermarizburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

Sitting Pretty: white Afrikaans women in postapartheid South Africa, examines the intersectionality and unstable nature of race, class, gender, and culture in the post-apartheid South African Symbolic. The book delivers a well-researched overview of the culturally constructed volksmoeder myth, and a critical analysis of Afrikaner constructions of subjectivity. Van der Westhuizen argues that the fall of apartheid and constitutional democracy resulted in an Afrikaner identity crisis, exacerbated by a collective humiliation bestowed on the architects of apartheid. Afrikaners are not new to humiliation, which van der Westhuizen identifies as being twofold. The West, due to the collective shame of apartheid, regards Afrikaners as moral delinquents, adding to their shame caused by the fact that early twentieth century Afrikaners were deemed inferior by English speaking whites. This humiliating shame extends to affect the morale of post-apartheid Afrikaners, and van der Westhuizen believes self-acknowledgement of their shame could serve as a catalyst for authentic and ethical transformation. The book uses the notion of ordentlikheid (uprightness) as a lens to explore transformation in Afrikaner subjectivity, more specifically female subjectivity, since the fall of apartheid. The hypothesis being that a deficient change in Afrikaner apartheid ‘logic’ is grounded in their aspirations to re-establish respectability, under guidance of the volksmoeder and her patriarchal overseer (193). [End Page 95]

The subjects under investigation are white, heterosexual, middle class Afrikaans speaking females, which necessarily involves white Afrikaans speaking heterosexual men. She relies on the hypothesis that the identity of Afrikaner men is most clearly reflected on two fronts: firstly, in middle-class hetero-feminine female sublimatory strategies, demonstrated in a normalisation of black poverty, and most evident in the domestic realm (194). The second proposed discourse which drives the Afrikaner aim to attain ordentlikheid, is an aspirational effort to normalise colonial racial divisions by endeavouring to erase the stigma of apartheid and to align themselves with English speaking whites, manifesting as a ‘whitewashing’ of collective guilt. Van der Westhuizen, in six chapters, sets out to build a hypothesis of the perpetuation of racism driven by a post-apartheid heteronormative white Afrikaner masculine identity crisis actively supported by white Afrikaner female subjectivities. Van der Westhuizen chooses not to hyphenate ‘postapartheid’ as she proposes that there has been insignificant change in the Afrikaner cultural Symbolic since apartheid. I found the interchangeable use of the terms Afrikaans, white Afrikaans, white Afrikaans speaking, ‘Afrikaner’ and Afrikaner distracting.

Van der Westhuizen concedes that the study is necessarily restricted (6), and she chooses to focus her research on an analysis of the Afrikaans women’s magazine, Sarie, concentrating on 12 issues (dated 2009), and a focus group consisting of 25 women. Six women are selected for in-depth interviews in order to investigate a makeshift Afrikaner identity and the naturalisation of racial and gender inequality in post-apartheid South Africa (20). She identifies eight discursive strategies, applied by Sarie (‘Sarielese’), which provide a neo-nationalist white ‘space’ for promoting the notion of a modernised postfeminist ‘true’ Afrikaner woman, as vrou en moeder (wife and mother), who achieves ‘equal’ agency by embracing objectifying post-liberal consumerism. This naturalisation of hetero-normative gender roles stigmatises homosexuality and is sanctioned by a totalising hegemonic manhood that infantilises and domesticates women.

Chapter one deliberates transformation of post-apartheid Afrikaner identity, and uses the term ordentlikheid as a marker for Afrikaner aspirations to regain a mode of respectability forfeited during the apartheid era. Van der Westhuizen argues that ordentlikheid forms the glue that holds together precarious identities seeking sublimatory participation in an egalitarian and mutable society. She argues that the Afrikaner’s deep-seated [End Page 96] desire to attain respectability is traceable to imperial British class-discrimination, with Victorian masculinity serving as the totalitarian marker, commencing with colonisation of the Cape and perpetuated during the South African war. Van der Westhuizen argues that the impoverished post-war Afrikaner’s socio-economic aspirations to attain respectability resulted in a drive to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1726-1368
Print ISSN
0258-7696
Pages
pp. 95-101
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-10
Open Access
No
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