At the forefront of controversy, Ms. Southern's latest documentary provides the world with a glimpse into the plight of white South Africans.
Whether it’s being caught up in the all too frequent riots at UC Berkeley, finding herself banned from the United Kingdom, or taking part in noble efforts to block migrants ships from entering European ports, Canadian journalist Lauren Southern is no stranger to controversy. Farmlands, Southern’s latest foray into advocacy journalism, reveals just how poorly some countries regard their own citizens and disregard their civil rights. Viewers will witness unprecedented levels of political violence against political minorities.
A Tumultuous Timeline
Southern’s documentary starts off with a concise history of South Africa, beginning when the first Dutch settlers arrived in the 1600’s. She outlines the subsequent history of ethnic conflicts, property disputes, and numerous boundaries drawn throughout the region over the centuries. In differentiating between the various ethnic groups that played a role in the region’s history, Southern highlights just how complex the region’s racial relations and history truly are, from conflicts between rival black races such as the Khoisan and Bantu peoples, as well as the fact that the children of many white settlers were also born into indentured servitude.
In the early 1900’s, when the British took control of the land from the Dutch, the region began its evolution into modern-day South Africa. During this rule, the policy of apartheid was officially enacted to separate the white and black races. Southern then touches upon more recent history as she discusses familiar names such as Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, which fought back against apartheid through terrorism before rising to power in the 1990’s.
This leads to the current issue addressed by the majority of the documentary: Demands for racial reconciliation in regards to much of the farmland still owned by the white population, known as Afrikaners, who are descendants of the original Dutch settlers.
To this end, Southern visits numerous white-owned farms in South Africa, where she interviews farmers who survived vicious attacks on their lands, committed almost exclusively by blacks. Several heart-wrenching stories are told, from a woman whose father was executed by burglars in his living room chair (which still remains in the living room), to a man who was shot in the face and survived, but let his blood stains remain on the brick wall as a reminder of what occurred there.
The White Plight
Inevitably, Southern reaches the very difficult and very complicated question that underscores the entire film: Are these attacks motivated by race, and subsequently being ignored or covered up by the black-majority government?
Southern interviews several government officials, one of which essentially denies that there is an issue with white farmers being attacked, and instead covers it up with broader crime statistics throughout the country. Another, who is a member of a far-left black nationalist party, outright declares that such attacks should continue in order to “give the land back” to the country’s black population, without compensation and by force if necessary. It is pointed out that even Mandela himself did not support going this far; although he also voiced some support for retaking farmland from whites, he still at the very least supported compensation for the farmers in question.
In perhaps the most poignant scenes in the film, Southern then visits a camp that has been set up for white farmers who have been driven from their land; funded entirely by a handful of philanthropists. The camp is austere, with only the basic utilities and accomodations for the farmers and their families, who would otherwise be completely on their own in the streets.
When asked the crucial question of whether or not race is a factor, an overwhelming majority of the white farmers believe it is. Whether it’s the reason behind being attacked in the first place, or the reason for the government’s lack of a response, they feel that they are being systematically targeted for the color of their skin. Others too afraid to give a direct answer for fear of retaliation strongly imply that this is the case.
Towards the end of the film, Southern’s last few ventures throughout South Africa display the various last resorts being taken by the country’s white population. Either acknowledging the race-based reality of the situation, or believing that the worst is yet to come, these people are turning to very drastic measures to guarantee their own survival.
As such, Southern pays a visit to a small settlement called “Orania,” which is the one location in the entire country that is specifically designated as being for white people only. The citizens of Orania have developed their own currency, run their own utilities, and have nearly 0 percent unemployment and 0 percent crime rate. As such, the Afrikaners living there are more than content to be completely separated from the rest of the country, and thus—although it is not explicitly stated—this revelation seems to not-so-subtly imply that in this particular instance, segregation might not be a bad thing.
Others outside of Orania who have not yet lost their land have joined a survivalist group called the “Suidlanders.” With over 200,000 members across the country, the Suidlanders have taken drastic measures to prepare for a possible race war by stocking up on weapons, armored vehicles, survival supplies, and easily-transportable greenhouses to continue farming after they are forced to flee.
What Does it Mean?
The film makes clear that there are very few options left for the country’s white population, and those remaining options are of an extreme nature: Flee, self-segregate, or fight back. Through it all, repeated mentions of how the government has done and will do nothing for them leaves a devastating sense of isolation hanging over their heads.
Through its precise explanation of the country’s history, it is made clear that despite stereotypes and widespread impressions about Africa, the white population undoubtedly has a history in the country and throughout the continent. Hundreds of years and dozens of generations have led to the current white population still feeling as attached as ever to the lands of their ancestors, and thus are all the more reluctant to just leave despite being in a clear minority.
At the same time, it is made clear that to view the country through a literal black-and-white lens, in which both skin colors are monoliths, is foolish and ignores history. Even despite the rhetoric of the radical black nationalists who wish to forcefully retake the white-owned land, it is undeniable that there has been just as much conflict between different black tribes as there has been between whites and blacks. But all of that has been thrown out the window in today’s socio-political climate, where such distinctions are blurred even further in favor of a broader “clash of civilizations” view of the world.
But perhaps that fact is what defines the most powerful—and unspoken—message of the film: The dangers of such vitriolic, anti-white rhetoric that is all too familiar in today’s world. Many political forces in South Africa already see the white population as a monolith that must be eliminated or expelled, in the name of “giving the land back” to the population that was there “first.”
Such a revisionist view of world history, and the idea that it is acceptable to “reclaim” land that was taken just as fairly as land throughout history that has been similarly colonized, sets a dangerous precedent and further encourages ethnic violence strictly for the sake of ethnic violence. Thus, even if it is too late to save South Africa, perhaps the unfolding disaster there could serve as a warning for how to avoid similar incidents before they happen on an even larger scale, and hit much closer to home.