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Title:The springbok and the skunk: war veterans and the politics of whiteness in South Africa during the 1940s and 1950s
Author:Roos, NeilISNI
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic term:South Africa
group identity
social conditions
World War II
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03057070903101870
Abstract:This article draws on oral and written sources to explore the wartime and post-war experiences of white South African men who volunteered to serve in the Second World War. By examining the meaning of war service for these men, it argues that their history offers a critical perspective of the production of popular whiteness in mid-twentieth-century South Africa. The act of volunteering created a sense of entitlement among these men and, for them, the Allied war objective of 'social justice' converged around their hopes for 'homes fit for heroes' - an ideal loaded with a range of assumptions about race, class and gender. During the war, the Springbok Legion, a type of 'trade union of the ranks', attracted a substantial membership of white male soldiers although, by the end of the war, most were alienated by its increasingly radical politics. After the war, there was widespread disappointment and 'restlessness' among volunteers, which helped to consolidate their identity as 'comrades'. However, after the advent of the National Party government in 1948, veterans realized that they would have to stake their claim to the privileges of apartheid society, not as heroes who had served their country, but as white men. War service remained a crucial part of their identity, and many joined the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH), a veterans' movement that represented a 'political' response to a party political culture that failed to appreciate their service. The article argues that the MOTH helps to explain how white veterans negotiated the shift from segregation to apartheid, and suggests that we need to look beyond the political realm for insight into ways that whiteness was reproduced and its dominant forms 'contested'. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]