The post-Apartheid miasma to which South Africa succumbed, encouraged by the sway of a beatified presidential mandala, induced a strangely protracted period of national narcissism that saw enthusiastic processes of renewal and repentance. These processes cut far and deep with gut-wrenching scenes of truth and reconciliation helping us to introduce ourselves to each other, many for the first time. This engineered recognition of our collective humanity formed the basis of many a presumption that we have somehow changed, evolved, become different. That we are one. But collectively, the nation overlooked the persistence of the dogmas that nurtured the toxic mythology at the very core of Apartheid. The deeply emotional hub of the segregation policy was precisely what enabled its proponents to give it life among a people who espoused god and goodliness with a fierce and Calvinistic tenacity that enabled other equally rather irrational undertakings such as the Great Trek and a series of battles and invasions that set out to own the land and enforce the submission of the savages that occupied it. The question is whether this has really changed.
* Disclaimer – the following opinions are not necessarily politically correct.
The mythology of savagery and some inherent Black proclivity to collective rage and violence has in recent weeks subsisted in thousands of Facebook posts and hashtags that vent an immeasurable hatred of “these people” and their “barbaric” actions. The semantics bespeak identical emotions and the distance between the judgment and the judged remains as vast as it was then – the fear of total onslaught it seems, has never really gone away. It’s been one of the biggest social scams in history though, and this renewed exposure of communal bigotry is making a lot of us very uncomfortable all over again, as we are cast into associated stereotypes of variable whiteness. Everyone who is white should be feeling incensed by the pseudo-outrage and its subtext of hate speech that makes proxy bigots of us all. Even a cursory glance at our social media reveals that these are mostly not even opinions – they are unfettered feelings that are just as savage as the panga-sharpening dance shown on local and international television.
The injustice, however, feels even worse when you are a white Afrikaner whose proxies are the cringeworthy grey shoe shuffle of a tone-deaf Steve Hofmeyr who strangely passes for a sex symbol while he flabbily stands up for the volk in-between ‘concerts’ in every small dorp in the country. The injustice is even worse when you see again the mythology that typified Apartheid creeping back across the land and the extent to which it has gained, not lost, traction in the unconvincing post-Apartheid trance that has seen whites quietly retreat into the political shadows and gated communities where they can whisper about Blackness without fear.
Beyond Steve and company the white Afrikaner has some very visible representations that jar with variable pain from the hillbilly-esque rural support for the policy-less Vryheidsfront, led by family cliques, to the somewhat secreted presence in the Democratic Alliance (DA) of chino sporting un-liberal, ex-NP types, where they try to keep the DA’s transferral of leadership within the bounds of symbolism.
White civil society is limited to anti-crime activities, driving community patrols at night with weapons on their laps and talking about the ‘’grensoorlogdae’’ even if they were never involved or simply too young to have been ‘operational’. They share ‘statistics’ from white genocide websites that have been saying the same thing for the last two decades: the end is nigh, we are all doomed (because we are white).
The church has stayed pretty much on trend as well. The triage of so-called ‘’Suster Kerke’’ includes at least two of which are still deciding whether Apartheid was unconditionally wrong, never mind if it qualifies as an actual sin. The other one is in a never-ending process of drafting and redrafting post-Belhar or similar declarations while sitting in almost exclusively White ‘’sinodale vergaderings’’ – the solemn gathering place of the doctor dominee that gave its blessing to Apartheid in tidy step with the machinations of the Broederbond and State (yes, with a capital S) – another blurry trinity that typifies the Apartheid architecture.
And unlike other more ostensibly extremist doctrines, the white Afrikaner church makes few moves outside its congregation. They have missed one massive opportunity after another to make themselves, and the flock, a fundamental part of a new social fabric. And there are very few Black sheep inside the flock as well – despite no formal exclusions there has been little proactive drive to deracialise. The dearth of Black congregants assumes an odious irony given the generic white claim that domestic workers are part of the family.
A caustic similarity pervades a few other generic refrains that echo through White Afrikaner enclaves in South Africa (and drone on in excruciating sameness in London and Sydney). They go something like this:
The ANC government should not blame Apartheid for its own perceived failures.
Truly they do not see that Apartheid was a fundamental process of racial, social engineering that changed the fabric of society – education, opportunities, spatial presence, political rights etc. Sure, British colonialists may have done some groundwork, but Apartheid was the sick brainchild of White Afrikaners, many of whom still do not get what the fuss is all about.
Racial discrimination was probably wrong but we realised it and the final goal was separate but equal development for ethnic groups.
A little bit of denialism with your holocaust, anyone?
Current levels of violence are the result of poor government policies and the violent nature of the liberation struggle – insert repeated references to necklacing here… But the White government and its intelligence and security force structures fomented ‘Black-on-Black’ violence for over a decade. It armed Zulu impis to kill train commuters; mine hostels became mini-military bases from where anti-Apartheid protestors were attacked and often butchered; the Civil Cooperation Bureau and Vlakplaas operatives (sometimes called part of the SADF’s ‘special operations’) employed known criminals to kill ‘enemies of the state’; opponents of White minority rule were assassinated over the world; the Apartheid government built weapons of mass destruction and paid doctors to prepare toxins to kill opponents; tens of thousands of young white men were conscripted and indoctrinated to hate Black people, communists, liberals, and homosexuals, not necessarily in that order. Nothing barbaric about any of that!
But we did not know, whines the white cry. You did – you knew about Apartheid; you went to the SADF; you sat in secretive Broederbond or Ruiterwag meetings; or maybe you were a real renegade and read the Vrye Weekblad. You helped make the Eugene de Kocks of our world – they were heroes because they killed the ‘enemy’ day after day. After all, without PW Botha’s stroke, and FW de Klerk’s ascension, we might well have just carried right on killing and suppressing Black people until full-scale civil war erupted and all that killing expertise would have come in handy indeed. We would have passed biological weapons around like salt – we would have said we did not know.
It is not only the former white President or Cabinet or State Security Council members or the SADF and SAP senior officers or Apartheid’s spymasters or thousands of officials or the Broederbond elite or the church leaders who must share the blame for what happened and for our current troubles. Nobody is denying that the ANC, past and present, must also carry blame, but White Afrikaners were in control for many decades. They conceptualised and implemented Apartheid. They simply cannot escape collective responsibility for what is now happening in the country. To date they have tried to escape it entirely, preferring to withdraw from the new South Africa after 1994 and rather complain continuously about almost everything – including the cost of private schools and private medical services and private security. It is almost as though they have tried to privatise Apartheid and it has almost worked, but the associated high-visibility inequity is a call to arms amid a growlingly hungry population sick and tired of nothing changing.
The fragility of this pseudo Apartheid makes it an obvious target and we must tear it down deliberately and openly before the constructs that keep us hollow men and women endure and devastate our future. We must try again to introduce ourselves to ourselves before the eyes we “dare not meet in dreams” become our own. Defying type, Breyten Breytenbach told his people this a few times and succinctly captures the embedded human dilemma: Mag die bome groen bly/en die sterre wit/en mag daar altyd mense wees/wat mekaar sonder skaamte in die oë kan kyk – /want die lewe is ‘n asem lank/en die sterre op die Anderplek donker. [May the trees remain green/and the stars white/and may there always be people who/can look each other in the eyes without shame-/because life is but a breath/and the stars in the Other Place are dark.]
To save ourselves from this other place we may need to retrieve our past in all its ugliness, we may need national ceremonies at which we erect and re-erect embodiments of the evils of so many white men and women, many Afrikaners and many not – and their multiple accomplices. We need to more honestly face up to the horror of our own fears, hatreds, and what another Afrikaans poet, Wilma Stockenström, ironically calls our “klein verlede” – our small past – before it is eclipsed by a more defining tragedy that bears testimony to the monsters of suburban racism, and sanctions sustained social segregation without any law being passed. We need to become Afrikaners and Africans as a matter of urgency. DM
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After working as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Pretoria and the Institute for Strategic Studies, Nel Marais joined the South African Defence Force where he served as a Military Intelligence officer. During the 1980s, he joined the South African National Intelligence Service, during which time he specialised in both political and economic intelligence issues. Nel was seconded to the Department of Constitutional Affairs where he served the negotiation process and structures with intelligence assessments. In 1994 he became a member of the newly-formed South African Secret Service (SASS). In his capacity as Research and Analysis Manager, he interacted with numerous foreign intelligence services, political leaders and members of the South African government. Nel resigned from government at the end of 2000 and established his own consultancy company called Thabiti. The company focuses on risk management, business intelligence, as well as business facilitation. He works closely with government officials and private business entities in Africa and other parts of the world. Jo Davies started her career lecturing Afrikaans at the University of the Transkei and then moved to the Department of Arts and Culture where she worked as a language practitioner on a range of new legislation and policy documents. In 1997 she was employed as an editor for the newly constituted South African Secret Service before joining the National Intelligence Agency as an analyst with a special focus on the SADC region. She resigned from the NIA in 2003 to pursue a freelance career that has extended her focus to multiple risk related issues across the Continent.
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