Afrikaans, Show more Afrikaans, wit white + doek (head-)scarf, cloth. The term seems first to have arisen in Afrikaans during a period of violent political upheaval in 1976 (see Cole quotation, 1987).
One of a conservative group of (armed) men in the townships of the Western Cape, using for identification a white cloth worn on the head, neck, or arm, or attached to a weapon. Usually in the plural, used collectively. Also attributive.See also fathers, vigilante. Cf. rooidoek.
In the mid-1980s, used specifically of vigilantes from a group campaigning against squatters and left-wing activists in the vicinity of the Crossroads settlement near Cape Town; later applied more widely.
[1976M. Tholo inC. HermerDiary of Maria Tholo (1980) 177We..spotted a group of youngsters sitting on the pavement. The one said, ‘Hey, look. In those bushes there are a group of white-doeks. We’re waiting for them.’]
1986Cape Times 26 Mar.Mr Mdini said about 300 ‘witdoeke’ there were told..to wear white strips of cloth around their heads ‘so we could know each other’.
1986E. Prov. Herald 10 June 5A recent Supreme Court interdict restraining police, soldiers and ‘witdoeke’ from participating in or permitting unlawful attacks on people or property in the KTC squatter community.
1987Learn & TeachNo.1, 38In Cape Town..the ‘witdoeke’ fought with the ‘comrades’ and 20 000 houses were burnt down.
1987J. ColeCrossroads 83A significant feature of the April  conflict was that the men who participated as part of what was called ‘Ngxobongwana’s army’, wore white bits of cloth to identify themselves. This was the first appearance of what would become known as ‘witdoeke’ in Old Crossroads. This phenomenon was not new to Cape Town. Migrants wore them during the conflict between hostel dwellers and township youth in 1976.
1990Tribute Apr. 40In 1986 Mhlawuli, along with thousands of others, had her home burned to the ground by ‘witdoek’ vigilantes.
1994C. Louw inWeekly Mail & Guardian 4 Feb. 2Alleged collusion between the police and the Witdoeke in fighting ANC-aligned ‘comrades’ led to the complete demolition of huge living areas on the Cape Flats.
One of a conservative group of (armed) men in the townships of the Western Cape, using for identification a white cloth worn on the head, neck, or arm, or attached to a weapon. Usually in the plural, used collectively. Also attributive.
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