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The Afrikaner dilemma - two opposing views
29 Sep 2011

1. White first. African second.

ADRIAAN BASSON - Open letter to AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel

DEAR Kallie,

Like you, I am a white Afrikaner who lives in Africa. I was glad to read in last week’s City Press that you identify yourself as “an African with a light complexion”.

I do too. I suspect, however, that we have vastly different interpretations of what it means to be an African Afrikaner in South Africa, and on the position of Afrikaners in 2011.

You see yourself firstly as part of a minority group, whose constitutional and human rights are being disregarded by the ANC. The premise of AfriForum’s campaigns is one of victimhood.

You regard the Afrikaners as a group under threat, a people whose basic rights to expression, association and movement are constantly being undermined by the black majority.

You want to struggle — in the courts, on the streets and in the Legislature.This is a dangerous game, Kallie. You are not stupid, I know that.

So why are you refusing to present to your supporters a fairer, more balanced picture of your people’s position in South Africa today?

Is something more sinister at play? Is scaring people a more profitable tactic for Afri­Forum?

You know as well as I do that the Afrikaner’s cultural, religious and linguistic identity is not under threat. When I visit the Potchefstroom or Oudtshoorn Arts Festivals, I don’t see people who are suppressed.

In fact, they look happier to me than they were in 1994.

Have you heard of Afrikaner author Deon Meyer’s phenomenal success? We write what we like, Kallie.

You referred to the right-wing publication, Die Afrikaner, in your interview with us. Would an oppressive regime, hellbent on suppressing its minorities, allow such a publication to appear?

I think not.

You (and Judge Colin Lamont) use the very narrow definition of numeracy to define minorities. Yes, numberwise, the Afrikaner is a minority group.

But even the United Nations (UN), whose Minorities Declaration of 1992 is repeated almost verbatim on AfriForum’s website, recognises numbers can never be the only determining factor when defining minorities.

The UN published a report titled “Minorities under international law”, in which it specifically (and ironically) quoted the South African example: “In most instances, a minority group will be a numerical minority, but in others, a numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like or non-dominant position, such as blacks under the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Who knows why the ANC’s legal team didn’t make this point in the case you brought against it. I’m sure Afri­Forum would agree that poor black South Africans are in an even less dominant position than middle-class Afrikaners from Pretoria.Which brings me to crime.

Why does AfriForum focus largely on crime against whites when you know black, poor people are by far the most vulnerable members of society when it comes to violent crime?

I see your old foe, the Transvaal Agricultural Union, admitted last week that farm murders were down by almost 100% in the last financial year.

I didn’t see a press statement from them or AfriForum on this.

If they are a minority, then Afrikaners must be one of the most powerful, wealthy and diverse minorities on the planet.

Remember apartheid? The system that benefited your and my forbears to such an extent that we are still better off today than our black peers?

Have you had a look at the Sunday Times’s most recent Rich List published two weeks ago?

If you did, you would have seen that four Afrikaners — Christo Wiese (Shoprite), Laurie Dippenaar (FirstRand), ­Johann Rupert (Rembrandt) and GT Ferreira (RMB) — are included in the country’s top-10 richest people. And did you see who the top two earners were for 2010?

Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson (who earned R627 million), and BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers (R77 million) — two Afrikaners.

Surely it is not possible for people from a minority group who are suppressed to do business in their country of birth?

Did you see Stats SA’s latest quarterly Labour Force Survey for 2011?

Did AfriForum tell its supporters that the year-on-year unemployment rate of white people was the only population group to have decreased?

Did you explain to them that 30% of adult blacks (four million people) are jobless, compared with five percent (105 000 people) of whites?

If not, why not?

I suppose you have to emphasise the “threats” to get your supporters to donate to your “Stop Malema” campaign.

This is speculation, but I’m guessing that AfriForum has close to zero legitimacy today for black South Africans (and thousands of whites).

I am not saying you shouldn’t have taken the Dubula iBhunu case to court, but I’m questioning why you decided to pick that case and insisted on a judgment, even when Judge Colin Lamont was trying his best to push for a settlement.

I am deeply concerned about the effect AfriForum’s actions are having on our society, and this is why I’m writing this letter to you.

Your actions are having a polarising effect, and you need to do serious introspection if you want to be respected as a civil-rights group.

Have you considered joining forces with other rights groups like Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African shackdwellers’ movement?

Or even the Landless People’s Movement?

Or do you really only want to represent the rights of (a small group of) Afrikaners, even though your “Civil Rights Manifesto” commits you to benefiting “all the citizens of South Africa”?

Do you always have to feel white first, and African second?

Best wishes,

Adriaan Basson

 • Adriaan Basson is the deputy editor of City Press.

2. Heartbreak and anxiety are our burden

WESSEL VAN RENSBURG responds to Adriaan Basson

IN City Press this week an Afrikaner journalist I respect very much, Adriaan Basson, wrote a great piece critiquing AfriForum, the Afrikaner civil rights group. There’s much I agree with in the article — why does AfriForum not team up with Abahlali baseMjondolo, for example? — but this column is about the bits in it with which I disagree.

Much of Basson’s argument turns on one point. Afrikaners might be a numerical minority, but they are not minority in the sense that they are potential victims who need protecting or special treatment from the state. That is because they are well to do, Basson argues. Let’s for the moment forget about the fact that a significant number of Afrikaners live in poverty. Is Basson’s a good point?

No. Basson’s argument is too simplistic. It does not take into account the things that make most people truly happy in life. At its essence his is a right-wing argument. One I am sure he does not intend.

One line of argument is easily dispatched for six. Basson quotes the UN in support: “In most instances, a minority group will be a numerical minority, but in others, a numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like or non-dominant position, such as blacks under the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

But apartheid is no more. Many progressives like John Pilger like to claim that apartheid is still alive, but Ferial Haffagee, Basson’s own editor, does a grand job of dismantling this argument herself: “Its only harvest is to keep us from the honest answers and the hardest analyses. It is sound-bite activism, good to raise a ‘Viva!’.”

That many Afrikaners are relatively wealthy vis-a-vis the majority of South Africans is true.

But are we to judge the sense of happiness and wellbeing of a group of people in terms of the money they are making? A growing body of evidence suggest that what people want in life is not only money, but a sense of fulfilment, recognition and belonging. A sense of inclusion in a society, a sense that your skills are put to good use and valued, and a sense of security.

Basson argues that events like the Klein Karoo Kunste Fees is a sign of the vitality of Afrikaans. But the reverse is true. The strength of Afrikaans festivals in the country is precisely because of its demotion in public life. It’s the privatisation of a previous public identity. In the words of sociologist and lead singer of the Brixton Moor en Roof Orkes, Andries Bezuidenhout, we are giving the language “a beautiful funeral”.

The impact of the loss of Afrikaans in the public sphere cannot have but been and is no less than an experience of collective existential trauma for Afrikaners. One could argue that this process was unavoidable in a country with so many competing languages. One could argue that the ascendancy of English as the language of the public sphere is not only normal, it is desirable.

However, one cannot argue that it has not been at the cost of Afrikaner’s sense of being or belonging. Arguing that Afrikaans still plays a massive role outside the public sphere is to discount the importance of identity to you and me. Identity must have a public component.

It also completely ignores the nature of Afrikaner identity in particular. Unfortunately, the history of Afrikaans and Afrikanerdom is tied to the language, and its acceptance as a language in the public sphere is tied to Afrikaners sense of self, and self-worth.

Professor Melissa Steyn points out with respect to Afrikaners and their responsibility for apartheid: “... ironically, it would be a mistake to read the racial domination thus entrenched as emanating from a group that felt secure in their power. Afrikaners contended with the more powerful forces of the British empire throughout a history that was experienced as a long and bitter struggle for freedom from white-on-white overlordship. The self-esteem, indeed the very self-image, of Afrikaner nationhood was forged within a mythology that celebrated the courage of a people who refused to be subordinated to the British empire on more than one occasion in their history.”

This is not an argument on my part for the recognition of Afrikaans alongside English. This is me pointing out that there is severe collective pain being felt that is not recognised by the South African community at large. Steyn analysed letters to the editor at the Rapport newspaper. She concludes: “Deep-seated anxieties about identity and loss of self are discernable in the letters. Unlike English South Africans, however, whose in-group has an international ideological centre which gives the ‘we/us’ a stable continuity, Afrikaners are contending with a profound existential crisis, grappling with the question ‘Who are we?’”

In a fantastic article that I recommend every South African read, Rustum Kozain makes the point even better. Kozain surfed many an Afrikaner right wing website and his conclusion will surprise:

“... if one looks past the racist language and past the sensationalism, the emotional tones of many of the posts and comments of white dissatisfaction are hard to ignore. There is rage, yes, but also heartbreak. In a culture that has in its history a strong agricultural connection with the land and a strong literary celebration of landscape and belonging, it is not difficult to see and understand this rage as a product of heartbreak, among other things.”

The argument that the well to do can’t be an oppressed minority is bogus. The Jews in Germany suffered a terrible fate largely because of their perceived superiority and wealth and in Africa similar thing happened to the Tutsis in Rwanda.

Each time I visit South Africa I am surprised by the levels of fear and anxiety among South Africans of all races and cultures. Among whites, however, this fear is often irrational and qualitatively different. It is, however, not even remotely without basis. I would like to use two examples to explain how violence against whites is not only perceived as a threat, but is driving them from public spaces.

A few years ago, on a crowded day in the town of Zeerust, Constand Viljoen, who was deep in his 70s, and his wife were attacked as they went shopping. He managed to fight off his attackers after a struggle, but what is important is that none of the many onlookers came to his rescue. That an elderly couple can be attacked in a busy town without anybody helping is very odd and not normal societal behaviour.

A similar thing happened to my dad, who used to be a doctor in Krugersdorp and who was attacked when he was in his 70s. He always went to the same bank machine and when he was mugged in front of many people, nobody helped. The community just looked on.

The reason I suspect it happened here was because the community sees Viljoen and my dad as “other”. They see them as being part of a privileged group, and the attackers part of a group that are the real victims, just like Basson describes. So why intervene? The result is that white South African faces are disappearing behind walls.

So what bothers me most is not actual violence against whites, but what it means. The fact that whites by and large cannot move in public spaces in South Africa’s cities any longer without becoming a target of crime is delegitimising them as citizens. Their whiteness marks them as wealthy targets and removes the protection one would normally find in a society at large. The result is that they are confined to a life spent behind high walls, shopping malls and cars.

To the Afrikaner identity this loss of being able to move around in public, to go to the park, to walk in the city centre, to become non-citizens, but getting in turn an ever bigger fancy house, is a grand Faustian bargain. And my anecdotal experience says that they hate it.

— Moneyweb.co.za

• This article first appeared on the Kameraad Mhambi blog at http://mhambi.com/

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