‘Somewhere on the border of credibility’: the cultural construction and contestation of 'the border' in white South African society

Conway, Daniel (2008). ‘Somewhere on the border of credibility’: the cultural construction and contestation of 'the border' in white South African society. In: Baines, Gary and Vale, Peter eds. Beyond the Border War: New perspectives on Southern Africa's Late-Cold War Conflicts. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press (UNISA Press), pp. 75–93.

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South Africa’s Border War had profound implications for the social and political organisation of white society. Indeed, maintaining the credibility of South Africa’s presence in Namibia and the prosecution of the Border War was an important political project for the National Party (NP) government. The discourse of ‘the border’ became a powerful cultural sign in white society and underpinned a mythology that sustained and intensified South Africa’s militarisation. As a cultural mythology, ‘the border’ was not a complete fabrication of reality (there was indeed a war conducted on and close to the Namibian border), but white society attached political and social meanings to ‘the border’ that appeared to be ‘common sense’ and self-evident and yet were partial and contingent on the existence of a number of socially constructed discourses. It seemed, however, self-evident to the majority of white people that the border between Namibia and Angola had to be militarily defended if the Republic and all that was familiar were to survive. It is, therefore, unsurprising that dissent or criticism of the Border War emanating from within the community was met with rhetorical vitriol from NP and military leaders and punitive legal sanctions. This chapter will focus on the cultural construction of ‘the border’ and its contestation by a small group of white men who refused to serve as conscripts and their supporters in the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). The analysis reveals that gender norms were central to the operation of ‘the border’ as a cultural sign in white society and the most effective means for critiquing ‘the border’ were also gendered. Changing political and military circumstances, the realities of the effects (both psychological and physical) on white men returning from ‘the border’ and the discursive spaces opened by anti-conscription activists in South Africa, all challenged the credibility of the Border War and helped to hasten the end of the conflict in 1988.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 36732
  • Item Type
  • Book Section
  • ISBN
  • 1-86888-448-1, 978-1-86888-448-3
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2008 UNISA Press
  • Depositing User
  • Daniel Conway