Donald Trump and his Magafrikaners


Donald Trump and his Magafrikaners

Why does the former US president have so many Afrikaans fans, and why do they believe the disinformation and conspiracy theories that surround him, asks JOAN VAN ZYL.


THIS will be the largest election year in history, with more than half of the world's voters heading to the polls. The election in South Africa  could be game-changing, yet I can’t help but wonder what people on Afrikaans social media will talk about most: our own candidates or the prominent figures of Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Because if there's one thing my old volkie really enjoys arguing about, it's US politics. Thanks to social media and easy access to right-wing American outlets, Trump has consistently found support among many conservative Afrikaners. Even though he departed the White House nearly three years ago, the orange man remains one of the most influential figures in American politics, perpetually enshrouded in a cloud of disinformation and conspiracy theories.

The latter usually go like this: Trump is not a criminal, he’s a victim of dark liberal forces. The real villains are the demented Biden and the deep state. Vladimir Putin is a great Christian who is hated just because he challenges the hegemonic West. Covid-19 was developed by Fauci/Xi/Soros/Gates/Big Pharma to enrich themselves and end overpopulation. The wokes incite gender confusion in children and undermine Christian family values, while the Jews have a plan to replace the earth's white population with people of colour. If you don't agree, you watch too much CNN.

Fortunately, most people don't agree, not because they watch too much CNN but because their BS radars work rather well. However, it’s astonishing how many people do accept the conspiracy theories and other fake news swirling around Trump.

What is it about the man and his tall tales that resonates so deeply with admirers on both sides of the Atlantic? The answer is complex but its essence lies in a simple truth: the world around them has undergone profound changes and they are battling to adapt.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Grievances and nostalgia

Straight white people, especially men, were accustomed to a life of privilege and predictability. However, as the social landscape around them evolved, their privileges became eroded. At work, they now face competition with women and people of colour, while even a hint of impropriety towards a female colleague can lead to trouble. At home, traditional gender roles have blurred and their once unquestioned authority has diminished. Even the concept of gender has become more fluid.

Adding insult to injury, they are constantly lectured that they should be more aware of their white privilege, despite their belief that they worked hard and contributed towards their country’s development.

In other words: an environment that used to be straightforward, with clear parameters, has become complex, hostile and bewildering.

For many Afrikaners, the discomfort is even more extreme because our identity was long linked to Afrikaner nationalism and Afrikaners' political, economic and social dominance. Today that nationalism is frowned upon, their political power has disappeared, and at work there’s black empowerment. Only language and culture remain, yet some lament that these too are under attack.

Enter Trump with his 2016 slogan “Make America Great Again". One can understand that it struck a chord with this group; after all, it promised a return to a past where white people held sway and where everything was “great" (for them).

In the US, this group is referred to as the Magas; locally, I refer to their Afrikaans counterparts as the Magafrikaners.

Information silos

In response to all the unwelcome changes, many people seek out online communities and information sources that confirm their grievances and frustrations. This fosters information silos or echo chambers, spaces where Magas and Magafrikaners alike can commiserate and feel a sense of belonging as they share their misgivings.

Although researchers have found that only a small minority of internet users are trapped in information silos, they are almost always highly partisan individuals. The silos feed their biases, shield them from alternative perspectives and serve as a hospital for their wounded identity.

They also function as hotbeds of disinformation and conspiracy theories that validate the inhabitants’ sense of victimhood.

Take, for example, the old, far-right “great replacement theory", which gained new momentum in France a few years ago then spread through social media with help from Trump. It says the world's political elites are trying to replace white populations in the West with non-white immigrants and undermine traditional Western cultures, values and identities. (In some versions, Jews are blamed for the plan.) The underlying implication is that white people would have unchecked hegemony worldwide were it not for the elites and the wokes.

It is easy to see parallels with the white-genocide theory, which is embraced by some far-right South Africans in the context of farm attacks.

Deep lack of trust

Most people maintain a healthy scepticism towards institutions such as the authorities, science and the media. We must also concede that  South Africa and the US are sick communities where inequality, greed, hypocrisy and corruption thrive and where the entire system is in dire need of change.

However, many Maga conspiracy theorists take these misgivings to a  new level. For them, it's not just about corrupt governments, fake news, lobbyists armed with money bags or dishonest scientists. They believe there are dark forces set up against them: the “deep state", elites, mainstream media, George Soros and Bill Gates, the Clintons, climate scientists, medical scientists, Big Tech and Big Pharma. Wikipedia has a list of 48 conspiracy theories supported and propagated by Trump, many of which have gained traction in South Africa.

Researchers say conspiracy theories are a way to show a middle finger to institutions that upset people. But they also make supporters who haven't felt special in a long time feel exceptional because they think they understand something that others don't. They provide simple explanations for complex events and make them feel more in control.

And above all, they add yet another log to the fire of white victimhood.

The Christian angle

What could be more fitting in these challenging circumstances than a Great White Leader who, for once, champions the self-proclaimed “left-behinds"? One who pledges that if re-elected, he will exact revenge on everyone who has harmed the Magas and Magafrikaners: the liberals, the Dems, the political elites, the “Biden crime family", the immigrants (i.e. people of colour) and the deep state?

He may live in America, but boy, does he make Magafrikaners feel proud of their white identity. What’s more, he advocates for Christian family values, an area where the Magas and Magafrikaners find considerable common ground.

Many people find Trump's popularity among so many Christians bewildering. He faces 91 criminal charges, is a self-confessed sexual harasser and adulterer, has recently been found guilty of sexual misconduct and corruption, advocates state violence, spews hatred every time he opens his mouth, and his entire 2024 campaign revolves around revenge rather than hope or policy. Yet, his supporters stand firm.

How is it possible for someone to blatantly disregard nearly every moral principle in the Bible and still garner such widespread support from Christians?

Perhaps it's because something greater than religion is at play here. It seems to me that discussions on Afrikaans social media reveal a common thread among most Magafrikaners: a deep-seated animosity toward “the libs".

During Trump's administration, the US Supreme Court moved dangerously close to the radical right, and the former president’s influence continues unabated. Trump-appointed judges make decisions that prioritise traditional values and conservative interests over the spirit of the law. Books are banned from schools. Women's fundamental rights have been diluted, LGBTQ+ rights are undermined, voting rights are restricted and companies that question decisions are intimidated. Trump has made it clear that he plans to widen the scope of these tendencies and has put forward harsh and brutal measures to curb immigration.

In a nutshell, he aims to teach the libs a lesson. He envisions a form of illiberal democracy akin to that of Hungary, which is admired by right-leaning Europeans and Magafrikaners alike. Conservative, illiberal democracies are typically led by strongmen. They are corrupt, erode the rule of law, subjugate the media and undermine democratic institutions. Populism holds sway, with undemocratic actions often justified under the guise of Christian nationalism.

The result is a deeply flawed democracy run by a minority bent on ensuring they remain in power. Sound familiar?

Such a system is deliberately anti-liberal — and for many Magas and Magafrikaners, this undermining of the “libs" and the affirmation of their own power, privilege and special place in the world is more important than any biblical or other moral value.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.