n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Suid-Afrika en die klimatologie van ras : grepe uit 'n vroeë 20ste eeuse omgewingsdiskoers

Volume 46, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Because of its low middle latitude location and the juxtaposition of vigorous white and black communities, South Africa figured prominently in the early 20th century discourse of environmental determinism, the notion especially entertained by geographers that human physique and culture were controlled by the environment. Discussion in this paper focuses on the discourse around the question: was the South African climate suitable for white people? Using an approach of discourse analysis, the paper summarises the controversial answers to this question in terms of three overlapping narratives. Firstly, that whites degenerated not only in the humid equatorial latitudes, but also in warm temperate regions, and this was the ultimate cause of the South African poor-white problem; secondly, that whites could use the higher, cooler parts of Africa more efficiently than blacks; thirdly, that South African whites were physically and mentally improved by evolutionary adaptation to the local climate and should therefore be segregated from the blacks on the basis of climate. These narratives lost their credibility following the Second World War, which proved that, with the necessary precautions, whites (like blacks) could live and fight anywhere in the world. In geography the paradigm of environmental determinism was displaced first by possibilism and eventually during the 1950s by spatial theory, but its conceptualisations supported apartheid which persisted for the rest of the 20th century.

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