On Monday 25 March 2024, Postdoctoral Fellow Augusta Dell’Omo (Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University) will lead this month’s session of the Seminar Series on Modern North American History, organized in cooperation with the Sciences Po Center for History (CHSP) in Paris.

This is an online event. You can attend her lecture, titled Human Rights for White Power, from 17:00 to 18:30 CET.

In her presentation, Dell’Omo will explore the strategic repositioning of South Africa’s pro-apartheid movement as defenders of minority rights, utilizing human rights discourse to defend white rule in the post-Cold War era.

Human Rights for White Power

The end of the Cold War heralded a shift in the pro-apartheid movement’s organizing, as white supremacist actors drew on the global human rights movement to defend and reimagine white rule in South Africa. In a world without the existential threat of the Soviet Union, the pro-apartheid movement’s anticommunist rhetoric did not resonate as it had in the 1980s. As international concerns about human rights emerged in the 1990s, the pro-apartheid movement positioned itself as the premier defender of ethnic rights for white Afrikaners, and eventually, for South Africa’s Black Zulus, both under threat from the African National Congress. President F.W. de Klerk’s ascension to the helm of the apartheid state and his apartheid reforms enraged the South African far-right. In the aftermath of de Klerk’s 2 February 1990 unbanning the African National Congress, South African white paramilitary and political actors organized across the nation, insisting that the National Party no longer represented the interests of Afrikaners.

Boer Republics

The National Party and the African National Congress’s formal process of negotiating towards a democratic transition—the Convention for a Democratic South Africa—galvanized far-right violence in South Africa, unleashing almost five years of national and local white terrorist action. Fearing a permanent shift in the balance of power in South Africa away from whites and toward the Black majority, South African far-right parties — backed by their U.S. counterparts — created their vision for white rule. Invoking the historic “Boer Republics”—self-governing white republics of the late 19th century—South African far-right organizations demanded the formation of new, segregated ethno-states under the guise of minority rights protections.

However, not all factions of the pro-apartheid movement supported creating the Boer Republics. Far-right organizations across the United States and South Africa disagreed on the pro-apartheid movement’s tactics, strategies, and goals as it faced the reality of a National Party no longer serving exclusively white interests. The renewed focus on national and ethnic minority rights within democratic states provided the perfect opportunity for pro-apartheid activists to continue using human rights rhetoric to defend white rule.

Augusta Dell’Omo

Augusta Dell’Omo is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Austin in 2022. She specializes in U.S. foreign policy and race in international relations from the late Cold War to the present. Augusta’s manuscript Saving Apartheid: White Supremacist Internationalism at the Cold War’s End analyzes the construction of a transnational network of white supremacist political, religious, and terroristic organizations seeking to stabilize white rule in South Africa while working against Congressional and Presidential sanctions policies from 1980 to 1994. Her work has been published in Cold War History and Diplomatic History. You can find her public-facing work on Washington Post, Inkstick Media, AJ+, and CNN International. Her research is supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, and the Clements Center for National Security, among others.


For more information on Augusta Dell’Omo and the event, click on the invitation. If you are interested in attending this lecture, please register here before Friday 22 March.

We look forward to seeing you there.