"Moenie jags wees nie. Niemand gaan JA stem nie!" ("Don't be crazy. No-one is going to vote YES")
It was the late 80's. The divide was enormous. But whites who watched the news wondered where in the world all the turmoil was. Not on the road to Hartenbos and not in the elegant coaches en route to Durban.
I understood my best friend's concerns. He was an agriculture student. I was in theatre, memorising Hamlet soliloquies in baby blue leg warmers. My gran too had serious misgivings. She had paid for my drama school studies in Pretoria and now I was bound to turn out a kafferboetiemoffie (a pansy, black brother). In common Afrikaans: Satan himself. And in my bookish family, good 'heritage' was and still is tantamount to Gospel. My great-great grandfather was SA's first prime-minister, General Louis Botha. His daughter, the stately oumie Helen de Waal, whom I fondly remember, was on the Sunday Times magazine cover of 1972. The general's daughter's son-in-law was the military head of the culture organisation Die Ossewabrandwag - the covert 'Owerste'. Also a Steve Hofmeyr. (The backdrop to my latest novel, Laaste Dans Drienie).
How these Afrikaner family strands ever converged under one roof, boggles the mind. But, on the other hand, that familial strain is the Afrikaner summed up. Natte versus Sappe, verkramptes versus verligtes, a republican-democratic tug-of-war still very much a-rage, not just among Afrikaners, but also inside so many individual Afrikaners. I’m one of them.ÂÂ I find myself gravitating between these extremes all the time.
When some students punched me for doing lunch with Bethuel Mamela in 1985, I instantly understood what was happening. I had asked permission for Bethuel, the first black student at Pretoria Technicon, to have lunch with me on campus as I thought it was insane for him to take the bus to Mamelodi and then back again to Sunnyside for the afternoon’s rehearsals of our drama production. We were doing The Boyfriend. That the permission was granted, meant absolutely nothing to these thugs. I got my beating proper.
When some years later whites were confronted with a whites-only YES or NO vote - effectively for or against the New South Africa - my stance once again did not contribute to my popularity. I wanted so badly for it all to end. I wanted a Break-even Point, where Bethuel and I could freely be the peers we ought to be. Could we not just share the motherland and get it over with? I was warned it wasn’t all that simple. Ironic, too, is the fact that my generation who fought the war in Angola was the only generation who did not - and still do not - want more war. Unlike the bereted Malemas of the "revolution", real soldiers want peace.
For many, Black Consciousness in South Africa had is birth with the ANC in the 1920's. A few Blacks returned from Oxford with the idea that they would take ownership of things (like more gold than the world could handle) merely by virtue of the fact that they out-numbered others. It had nothing to do with contracts or legitimate rights. It was about numbers. No more. No less. Democracies. Majority vote. Right in the lap of the black majority.
The English didn't really mind, for two reasons. They had outnumbered everybody in Britain and could retreat to their motherland at any time. The Boer/Afrikaner had hardly had time to wipe the gunpowder and ashes from his brow. They were completely overwhelmed by the numbers against them in all their wars, both against Brits and Blacks.ÂÂ But the last war got their goat. Their families were dispersed by scorched earth policies or they were dying in concentration camps. They would now never be the majority, under no circumstances. Fortunately for them the Brits set up a Union and would later hand over the entire Republic to their former foe. Apart from eager labour, Blacks proved to be insignificant to these proceedings. They remained a footnote in the Botha, Hertzog and Smuts speeches, but nobody feared these tribes anymore: they had proven to be militarily, politically, technologically and administratively of little distinction. The former republics were sovereignties once before and the Boers would see to it that they would reach that status again. Any antagonism to what they deemed dearly and legally acquired, would be considered treasonous - nothing less. Immaterial of the birth of democracies and post-war humanitarian narratives, they guarded their proprietorship jealously:THEIR land, THEIR conquests, THEIR wars, THEIR victories, THEIR cemeteries, THEIR rules, THEIR taxes. THEIR achievements, THEIR education, THEIR health, THEIR literacy rate, THEIR employment rate, THEIR life expectancy, THEIR mortality, murder and rape rates.
Yes, you can hijack it with Struggle promises, if you could promise to improve on it. This never happened. The question - as Richard Steyn explains in Giliomee's The Last Afrikaner Leaders - is: what persuaded a small and determined minority, in control of a country that was neither defeated nor bankrupt, to hand over power voluntarily to a racial majority. My answer: something between Christian magnanimity and collective foolishness.
And propaganda. The “white-guilt” variety. Marxist-socialism’s handiest keynote: white-privilege. My answer to the question of white’s benefitting from what their pioneering ancestors brought in from the West, is: you betcha!
It was the 17th century. My (white) forefathers landed on the Dark Continent and did what Europeans then did: built schools, churches, farms, administrations, hospitals and universities. It will always be your Afrocentric right to deplore the West, but the direction of assimilation was always towards those “benefits”.ÂÂ It still is. I don’t care that we have a black government. I ask why we should not enjoy the low rape and murder stats of our white (root) countries - Holland, France and Great Britain. Why must the Mfecane be South Africa’s only benchmark? And why must my demographic/tribe/race/group pretend to internalise this vile new substandard and woeful life-expectancy, when my tradition affords us more “moderate” brutalities. The only pitiful answer I continue to get is: are you saying whites don’t rape?
I judge historical choices OUT of context only to guard against repeating mistakes. For the rest, I gladly grapple with hermeneutics. Reading history IN context, when in its time it was ridiculous to find otherwise. That (Apartheid, slavery, Inquisitions) is the way it was and children of their time did what children of their time did. For the same reason we don't abscond from Christianity simply because Jesus never reprimanded slavery, which, much like Apartheid, was also legal in its day.
The sense of entitlement on both sides of the South African coin needed thorough discussion before reconciliation or transformation would have made sense to everybody. Preferably, before we voted YES. Don't fool yourself that every South African is in agreement. Don’t pretend you do not feel the heaving undercurrent of discontent. Don’t think because the Afrikaner franchise is a smaller one, it is a minor one with minor rights to entitlement. Could it be that we have a different tolerance for these pathetic standards and too optimistic expectations for South Africans that some would march and some would not?
Red October was not a white march. All races were welcomed and attended in 58 marches in many countries from Tasmania to America. Its memorandum decried the oppression of a specific victim. A white one, this time. But how could this be done, they ask? Crime has no colour?
The Black debtor is patronised worldwide but never do they seem to accuse the paralysis of their own ancestors at any point. Never do they consider the lack of ethics for these reparations nor the human rights transgression on their side of the divide. No court will stand for anybody’s guilt-by-proxy , because if you did not do it, you cannot be punished. And if whoever did whatever, acted legally in doing so, what kind of punishment is justified? And only if the losses can actually be quantified, could someone be compensated. Consider the land reform debate: blacks want compensation for land they did not own in modern terms/titles nor in any specific areas, acres or hectares, from owners who legally acquired it in title deeds, hectares and acres. Africa held different views on land ownership (and everything else) to Westerners. Pretorius bought the suburb of Arcadia for a single pony. And then contemporary liberalism wants to punish prior generations for acting within the law. This begs the question of how we may one day be punished for actions we consider legal, constitutional and damn-well right today.
The Break-even Point I fought for as young activist, never came. Instead, my dreams were shattered by more state interference than what the Nats could ever manage and more skin-based procurement than Apartheid: BEE, AA, PP, EE, quotas, representivity, tenderpreneurship and cadre deployment. These extended discriminations would inevitably create a new unhappy victim, who could never be pacified with therapy-slogans such as: it’s not about the colour of your skin! ÂÂ Because you see, it is, isn’t it? (Tony Leon agrees: http://www.beeld.com/nuus/2013-11-07-dn-is-da-nes-die-anc)
I have marched for so many different South African victims. Even its elephants and rhinos. And I will march for this new victim as well. Because I know a victory for them will be a victory for every South African.
Hence, Red October.