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Rolling in the Deep: South African festival and fabulous falafel lighten the gloom of a right-wing win in Holland


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

It came just days after a sinister populist with a strange bouffant hairdo in the Netherlands sent shockwaves across a continent still haunted by the ghosts of World War 2.

The opening scene of Woody Allen’s 1980 movie, Stardust Memories, takes place in two train carriages. Allen is in a grey, unlit compartment filled with unsmiling, stern, silent passengers staring blankly ahead.

Across the tracks is a carriage with a full-on party happening. A young Sharon Stone (making her film debut) in a strappy dress, feather boa and cockatoo hair swoop looks out and blows a kiss to Allen’s character, Sandy Bates. Allen is trapped.

5.55am, Monday, 27 November, The Hague, where the Dutch parliament is situated. Just three days earlier, anti-Islamist populist Geert Wilders, with his strange combed-back silver bouffant, had secured a “dramatic” victory. His PVV (Party for Freedom) won the most votes but not enough to govern (at this stage).

For now, all you need to know is that this writer was there, in the middle of it all for four days, as a late addition to the biennial Festival voor het Afrikaans, which takes place in the Netherlands. More on this later.

I was trapped with what appeared to be European zombies… ‘Ma se p&%#’ was a thought that flashed through my mind.

6am – the warm glow of the tram spotlight signalled its imminent arrival at 6.03 as an icy wind from the North Pole chilled the Gothic city’s streets, pounding faces and hands.

Two other passengers waited on the same platform. The tram stopped. In we got. Everyone else beeped their cards.

But the ticket machine doesn’t take coins. Euros, people, so not the loose change you leave in your car in South Africa. The machine also does not take notes, and rejects my South African bank card.

I turned to my fellow passengers, swaying on the tram like a drunk in Woodstock on a Saturday night, and asked, in Dutch, whether anyone could please help with the machine. Note the please. Alsjeblieft!

I felt like Allen’s character. I was trapped with what appeared to be European zombies.

A silence descended, so loud you could hear it over the clatter of the tram wheels on the tracks. Hollow eyes looked past me, or out of the window. Silence. Like a movie. And I wasn’t even wearing a headscarf.

“Ma se p&%#” was a thought that flashed through my mind.

Travelled for free in the end. Braced myself for an arrest that didn’t come. Nudge nudge, wink wink. They expect you to be law-abiding. I tried, I really did.

Fortress Europe

The BBC described Wilders’s victory as having “shaken Dutch politics” and said it would “send a shock across Europe too”.

It’s the usual response from the British media over there in Brexitland, but the result did unsettle many in the Netherlands – the rest of the citizens who voted for other parties.

The Dutch spent the rest of the weekend talking about the results on television talk shows. Many felt it was the most significant political turn of events since World War 2 on that genocidal continent.

Arriving at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Monday, 23 November, the very day these apparently seismic political events were taking place, you would not have known.

If you were a Muslim visitor, you would have been spared the headlines in newspapers. There were none.

Not one single newspaper to be seen anywhere. No street banners proclaiming the win. All just happening in the background.

Outdoors, in the cold and rain, a sort of dampened spirit enveloped the city. Dutch hosts were quick to point out: “It’s complicated.” Don’t we know!

For four days and nights South Africans brought warmth, diversity, literature, poetry, film, music and laughter to the gloomy streets.

Around the corner from my hotel was a Middle Eastern restaurant. Fabulous menu, my best item being falafel. The owner was there the first night. Moroccan first-generation immigrant. An elderly man who prepared my food with care and experience.

Wilders has made it very clear what he thinks of immigration, Muslims and Islam. And in South Africa it would be a hate crime.

The eatery had clearly been there for years because the following night the elderly gentleman’s grandson made my falafel. And, the night after that, the owner’s son.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Humanitarian catastrophe – migration battleground brings out the worst in Europe

On the walls of the restaurant were huge blown-up photographs of the Dutch royal family mounted on wood. The place was festooned with orange flags, the colour of Holland.

What did they think of what had just happened in the elections? I dared not ask in my odd-sounding AfriDutch. The flags and the pictures are some immigrants’ attempts at showing they are trying to “fit in”. “Look, we like you, we mean no harm, have a falafel.”

South Africa

This is where we came in.

The theatre De Regentes, which hosted the festival, is in Weimar Street, where for four days and nights South Africans brought warmth, diversity, literature, poetry, film, music and laughter to the gloomy streets. Cold hearts were warmed to the very cockles.


Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom won the most seats in the recent election in the Netherlands. (Photo: Ramon van Flymen / EPA-EFE)

Antjie Krog, Frazer Georgio Barry and Deniel Barry, Amanda Strydom, Dean Balie and Bianca Flanders Balie, Stef Bos, Lee-ursus Alexander, Marita van der Vyver and Marlo Minnaar were just some of the artists who wowed the audiences, some of whom came from France, Germany and Belgium to attend.

The festival’s director is the tireless Ingrid Glorie, who deserves much glory.

South African ambassador Vusi Madonsela opened the festival and recited a poem in Afrikaans while also presenting much of his speech in this official language. There was a South African market selling wine, biltong, jewellery and books.

An exhibition of magnificently intimate portraits of the residents of Melkhoutfontein, taken by Hans Mooren, founder of the Dreamcatcher Netherlands Foundation, festooned the venue.

More than 200 families featured, and the relationship Hans and his partner Coby have developed over the years in this village near Stilbaai is evident.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Trevor Noah’s South Africa tourism promo works — because we’re obviously worth it

This is the side of the Dutch I love, but Hans is part of a dying generation. I left Western Europe dejected. The ghosts of World War 2 linger.

Just 100km from The Hague is Nijmegen, where my German father was taken prisoner by the Canadians in the last days of the war. In England he met my Portuguese mother and here I am, a mongrel like the rest of us.

I suppose I have the Netherlands to thank for being here and for tossing me into a mixed South African masala that made me metaphorically want to kiss the runway when we landed back home.

South Africa is the happy carriage on the train in my heart. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

Page 1. Front page DM168. 02 December 2023


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    Beautiful article Marianne.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      The description makes me think of Juju as the alter ego … they both just inhabit greatly variegated skin pigmentations ! BUT … spare a thought for that white supremacist US supreme court justice, inhabiting a black skin … but at least married to a white supremacist ! Not sure how much comic relief there is in that ?

  • Niek Joubert says:

    Indeed a good story. What crossed my mind about the concerns of the conservative win (I believe the press use the term “right wing” and “far right” to discredit certain politicians) is that it seems Europe has not learnt from the world wars: suppression of a nations patriotic aspirations will lead to extremism. As much as the world opinion is tolerant of left wing extremism, turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by certain groups, a groundswell of resistance by ordinary conservative people is growing. When will they ever learn?

    • J vN says:

      Agree totally. Any politician who refuses to sing from the backward woke hymn book, and simply wants to enforce his country’s laws, especially as far as immigration goes, immediately gets labeled as a right-winger and a populist. I’m seeing hard times ahead for the MSM, with multiple heads exploding. The west is increasingly rejecting the failed multi-cull monster.

    • Timothy Van Blerck says:

      is this left wing extremism in the room with us righ now?

    • Johann Olivier says:

      What planet do you guys live on? Wilders is not a Conservative. He’s a fanatic. A lunatic. This is my problem with kneejerk reactions. Traditional conservatives are about individual freedom….letting folks get on with it while they create the framework for that individual freedom. READ the statements from Wilders. See what he is about. He IS a right-wing nut. What is so through the looking glass is the statement: ‘….it seems Europe has not learnt from the world wars….’ What? It is precisely because of right-wing nationalism that Europe ended in disastrous wars…

  • Denise Smit says:

    Stamppot and smoked sausage would have been a traditional Dutch food to eat

  • Alex Valk says:

    Dear Marianne, I am sure the festival was amazing, but something went wrong in your timeline because you write that you were arriving at Schiphol Airport on Monday 23 November… The facts are: Wednesday 22 November there were general elections for the 150 seats inParliament in the Netherlands. Exit polls showed that evening that Geert Wilders got 35 seats; the next day this number was corrected into 37 seats, which is the official outcome. Being the largest party in Parliament the PVV gets the initiative to form a government with other parties. As always we will get a coalition government, on the basis of the outcome of talks between parties willing to form a government, in this case with the PVV, the party run by Geert Wilders. Up untill now only one party (BBB) is positive about such a government, other parties are hesitating or negative. We will see what happens but in Dutch parliamentary history it would not be the first time that the winner of the elections is the loser of the government building process…
    Fact is that many people in the Netherlands were shaken by the outcome of the elections, not so much that parties on the left side of the political spectrum again lost seats in Parliament, as they lost their seats for almost 20 years now, but that a right wing party, the PVV, got about 24 percent of the popular vote, which was no surprise, because our liberal party, the VVD, declared immigration as the biggest threat to our society – the one and only issue of Wilders.

    • Marianne Thamm says:

      Let’s clear it up for you. My flight left five minutes after midnight on 23 Nov. I was at the airport on the 22nd to make the flight and arrived at Schipol on the morning on 24 November….Hope that makes me less suspicious…Plus the plane was full of farts…and chock a block full of people….Sleepless night…but those were my dates…regards

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    To dismiss Wilders as a right-wing reactionary with a bouffant hairstyle adds nothing to the debate. It is the type of journalism that you and (not all) but other DM journos resort to when you cannot confront what the man says. His views on Islam are clear – he calls it out, not as a religion, but as an ideology. An ideology that does not fit with Western notions of freedom of speech, of movement, nor Western notions of democracy. Islam is an ideology of authoritarianism. His view is that we are the custodians of the freedoms we enjoy, which were handed down to us by our Western forefathers who shed blood for those freedoms. We are now betraying that gift by being appeasers to the violence and retrogressive social laws being imported by the Islamic immigrants into Europe and the UK in the guise of being refugees. None of this comes through in your “unbiased” reporting on the situation you found in Holland. All you’ve got is some dreamy, unrealistic parody of Woody Allen’s 43 year old surreal, drug inspired movie.

    • J vN says:

      Remember that the Daily Maverick is partially funded by the OSF, which in turn is funded by George Soros. The latter is notorious for actively funding the destruction of the West by means of open borders and DAs in the USA who don’t view murder or rape as a biggie, and certainly not worthy of a jail sentence.

      • Timothy Van Blerck says:

        did you figure this out from the L Ron Musk Twitter feed?

        • Johann Olivier says:

          So true, Mr. van Blerck. Great question for what could be termed a comment from the ‘lunatic fringe’. However, it pleases me that, notwithstanding such risible comments, DM is still on the reading list of said commentators. And let us be crystal clear: yes. Yes!! We do believe that Wilders is a ‘right-wing reactionary’….well …. because he IS. Ex facto. And NO. We do not dismiss him and his ilk – those believe as he does – out of hand. That would be foolish. He, and all that think as he does, are a real menace to modern liberal democracy.

    • Jaco le Roux says:

      Hi Rod. How does one distinguish between a religion and an ideology? What makes one religion and ideology and another just a religion?

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Does it really matter … but … be sure you will get a ‘smart’ response/answer ! Some people have learnt to have an answer to every thing.

    • Marianne Thamm says:

      To throw anti-Islamic statements into your campaign is right wing in my book. He does not look like an expert in Islam to me so I would rather make up my own mind in that regard. 55-million people shed blood in Europe in WWII, including 8 million Jews and other “undesirables”. My German grandfather died as well as the rest of my family on the German side who were shot in the head in their potato fields in then Prussia…so please the war lives inside me….Europe is a genocidal continent…

      • F B says:

        Must be wonderful to have such a simplified, dogmatic view of the world.

        • Jaco le Roux says:

          Must be wonderful hiding behind the letters F B…

          • Johann Olivier says:

            Well said, Marianne & Jaco. FB would probably not want others to know how he thinks & what he believes. I know folks like that. They serve on boards, manage large groups of people & often have international connections, but keep their true fringe beliefs to themselves. Of course they have a right to those, just as we have the right to challenge them. The difference? We do it openly, because there is nothing to be ashamed about.

      • Denise Smit says:

        How does an expert in Islam look to you Marianne?. What would you call Pakistan, the Americas, China, Russia? Your boxes are very judgemental

  • Richard Baker says:

    Why “Gloom”?! Marianne’s slip is showing!

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Sentimental Journey? If today’s Europe is as horribly genocidal as you feel, then I wonder why so many people from Africa pay family fortunes to smuggler gangs in order to reach the destination of their dreams in such a life-threatening way? Is DM’s reach so short that these people don’t know they’d be better off moving south, to the country that in their hearts should be the happy carriage on the train?

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    By the way: When I travel abroad, I always find out beforehand which bank cards are accepted or how the transport systems work. You can easily google it. It is not unusual that foreign bank cards do not always work and cash payments are becoming increasingly out of fashion. The Netherlands has a uniform ticket system nationwide. It’s best to buy a rechargeable OV-chipkaart at the train station.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    What Europeans have learned above all from the murderous world wars is that conflicts are best resolved through a peaceful reconciliation of interests without winners and vanquished. Borders are not questioned and old maps belong in the archives of history. For the people living there today, military conflicts between states are completely unthinkable. Coalition governments are the norm. Solid democracies will endure swings to the right or left and correct them again, see Poland. The ghosts of the genocidal past have been evoked by the dictator from Moscow!

  • Nev Nev says:

    Incredible. What could move a society known for Incredible liberalism to now vote to the right?

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      Maybe right-wing, left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism and the real experience of Islamist bombings in a fundamentally welcoming society? Don’t make the mistake of equating the electorate of right-wing parties with their actors! Anyone who sows fear, hatred and violence should not be surprised if frightened citizens have had enough. The victims are also the well-integrated migrant families who have been living there for generations and who find themselves caught in the middle under the social pressure of a few extremists.

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      Two days ago, a German tourist was killed in a knife attack on the street in Paris, with the perpetrator shouting “Allahu Akbar”. How do you think this affects people who increasingly feel that democratic centrist governments are losing control?

    • dexter m says:

      Economics . The benefits of EU membership and neo liberalism did not filter to all. Wilders is just in his blunt way giving a outlet for voters that have felt ignored by traditional parties .

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