Defend Truth

Opinionista

Are we dancing to the tune of a granfalloon, a proud and meaningless collection of human beings?

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Koos Kombuis is a South African musician, singer, songwriter and writer who sometimes goes by the name of Joe Kitchen, André Letoit and/or André le Roux du Toit.

Does the fact that I’m Afrikaans-speaking automatically mean I am ‘an Afrikaner’? What if my colour scheme has been wrong all this time? Am I expected to dump my multicoloured bandana for a khaki hat?

A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism (created by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle), is defined as a “false karass”. “That is, it is a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is meaningless.” (Wikipedia)

Lately I have been swamped by people who wanted my opinion about a certain topic.

Okay, perhaps “swamped” isn’t quite the right word. I was approached by one regional radio station and by one Afrikaans Sunday newspaper.

I might not have been properly “swamped”, but still it bothered me. The reason was because I realised these people obviously considered me to be some kind of expert on the thingamabob they wanted my opinion about. Whereas, the truth is, I knew very little about it.

Here’s the thingamabob they wanted my opinion about:

Apparently, a group of Afrikaans cultural leaders gathered somewhere – I think it was at the Union Buildings or the Voortrekker Monument, or perhaps it was at Stonehenge? – to make some weighty and important statement about working together with the government and staying in South Africa to help fix things.

Good for them. That was my first reaction when I read these headlines. Before promptly forgetting all about it.

To clarify: I’m not quite sure which government they were referring to, since South Africa doesn’t really have a functional government at the moment. As for “fixing things” – that’s my paraphrasing of what I think they said, it’s not their exact words – well, yep, of course things needed fixing in our country. In fact, a frightening heap of things need a frightening lot of fixing.

That’s probably why that regional radio station and that Afrikaans Sunday newspaper thought that I would be very excited about this. Because, after all, this was quite a humongous event, after all, the very idea that all these important Afrikaner leaders – I think Schalk Burger might have been one of them, though I’m not sure if it was Schalk Burger Junior or Schalk Burger Senior – were willing to get together at Stonehenge or wherever and sign some kind of “pact” – yes, I think that’s what they called it, a “pact”, but apparently it wasn’t the “Moonshot Pact”, it was some other “pact” – to pledge their support for the idea of “fixing things” (my words, not theirs) in South Africa. Wow! HIER KOM ONS, OUENS, JULLE BETER OPPAS!

I should be wildly excited! After all, I’m Afrikaans as well! And I have been a bit of an influencer as well in my time, even if I may say so myself!

Yet there was something about the whole idea of the “pact” that bothered me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that bothered me, though.

For a brief moment, I toyed with the idea of writing an article about the whole thing so that I could pretend to know what bothered me. Then, I decided against it. What was the point?

The whole thing set me thinking about another topic, though. And it was while I was thinking about this other topic that I started to realise what bothered me about the first topic, which made me reconsider my decision not to write about it. If that sentence confused you, be very afraid. It might get worse.    

I decided to write something after all. But not about the Stonehenge thing. Rather about the thing, the underlying thing, the thing that made me feel I didn’t want to write about the first topic.

And here’s the underlying thing.

Tribalism.

O FOK. JA. Tribalism, nationhood, broederskap, al daai goeters.

What is tribalism? Is it good or bad? Am I part of a tribe or not? Does the fact that I’m an Afrikaans-speaking person automatically mean I am “an Afrikaner”?

What if my colour scheme has been completely wrong all this time? Would it then be expected of me to dump my multicoloured bandana and get a broad-brimmed khaki hat? Or to get a lump in my throat every time I visit the Voortrekker Monument (which is almost never)? Should I get all worked up about losing the Boer War?

Oh, my goodness, have I really been missing out on a bunch of really important stuff?

The word “granfalloon” comes to mind. Yes, you remember correctly, that’s the word coined by Kurt Vonnegut when he wrote about a so-called “false karass” (whatever that is) in 1963. In a subsequent book, Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, he defined the word thus:

“A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless collection of human beings.”

In Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut gave an example of what he considered to be a “granfalloon”: “the alumni of Cornell University.”

Even though Vonnegut had studied at Cornell himself, and was perfectly qualified to consider himself part of that exclusive club of proud human beings, he obviously disliked the idea of being called part of the alumni.

People who call themselves ‘Afrikaners’ are like people who like eating melktert. They can’t help themselves.

In effect, this is what he wanted to say to the world:

“I am not one of the alumni of anything. I’m just Kurt. Good ol’ Kurt. So all those people out there who consider me part of this alumni or any other alumni, you can go and fuck yourselves.”   

I don’t feel quite as strongly about this.

If anyone called me “an Afrikaner”, I would feel a bit awkward – it would be like someone calling me “Oom”, as people do occasionally – but I wouldn’t tell them to go fuck themselves. Some of my best friends are Afrikaners. I send WhatsApp jokes to Kallie Kriel all the time. Kallie Kriel is a good, solid bloke, I quite like him.

The way I see it is this: those people who, like Kriel and Flip Buys and that whole gang, consider themselves to be “Afrikaners”, have every right to consider themselves “Afrikaners”. They’re not doing anything wrong.

People who call themselves “Afrikaners” are like people who like eating melktert. They can’t help themselves. It’s a bit like an addiction. As for me, I prefer braaibroodjies, and I find melktert ‘n bietjie te soet, but so what?

(Besides, of course, melktert is really a bit too white, but of course I don’t mean that in a political way.)

On the other hand, braaibroodjies are neither white nor black, they’re sort of somewhere in between, they exist in that undefined grey area between nasiebou and “everything goes”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Where did this story that Afrikaans is a white person’s language come from?

Omtrent almal in Suid-Afrika braai, maar nie almal kan melktert bekostig nie. To tell the truth, most people can’t afford braaibroodjies either. Which is why this country needs fixing.

And perhaps that’s the most important thing.

South Africa needs fixing, full stop.

Whether the fixing is done by Solidarity or Gift of the Givers or the Boksombende or Action Society or the South African Sheepdog Association or Handicapped Golf Players Anonymous or The Koeksistergilde van Groblersdal or Black Sash or wie-de-fok-ook-al doesn’t matter, as long as things get fixed.

Let’s just get things done properly in this donnerse country. NOW.

We’ll have enough time for nitpicking, navel gazing and name calling once the job is done… DM

Koos Kombuis’s new book, The Death of History, published by Naledi, is due for release in May 2024.

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  • jcdville stormers says:

    Love your way of putting it ,lets focus on the fixing part

  • Norman Sander says:

    Yep, there is lots that needs fixing, perhaps we can all “put the fix in”…but I somehow doubt we could match current fixes these self serving b×××××××s ( choose your own pejorative),in the current government have in…

  • Mike Wiggill says:

    Thanks fir a good chuckle – almost made me choke on my morning coffee.
    I agree, we need to concentrate on the fixing part.
    I fear though, that once we get rid of all the parts, large and small, interested only in the stealing, destroying, for free and go-fund-me parts (even those smaller cogs within those parts which are only part of the machine, unknown and uncaring) we are left with a small machine trying to keep a gigantic machine from spluttering and stalling.

    This tiny but functional motor driving a behemoth could be seen as “minority power” by the passengers getting a free ride on the gigantic bus, and that is hard to swallow.

    But we already have that tiny motor driving everything. It is labeled “taxpayers”.

  • Elma Holt says:

    We should shout this from the rooftops! Let us fix things and stop trying to push people into boxes because they speak Afrikaans or are white! My kids decided that me and hubby must be aliens because we just refuse to fit anywhere! But fixing is necessary and so is communicating. Me and my maid had a long discussion about the fact that ALL politicians lie. They have been doing so since 1948. You must just listen and figure out whose lies are going to cause the least damage!

  • Lo-Ammi Truter says:

    The dilemma here is not getting agreement that our entire country needs fixing on every level. We all agree on that, except maybe Mbalula, Mantashe and some other deployed kadres whose opinions stopped counting to the people they counted to when Zuma came up with the idea of the MK party and caused a horisontal but equally unsound fixation shift.

    The thing that must agreed on is how we fix Mzansi. I doubt there is a single politician in this country who has the faintest idea how to even begin to figure that out. Firstly, none of them have the intellect; and, secondly, each of them are fixated on his/her party’s focus.

    Mzansi is holisticly screwed up (politely put to avoid peer rejection of my comment, but you get my drift I’m sure). Therefore, it needs a wholistic fix. That job is not cut out for any politician. That is the work of those with the academic expertise to identify the various ailments and prescribe their fixes so that those with expertise in putting academic ideas into practical application and execution may apply and execute the recommended fixes.

    On top of all of this we need a leader so strong and untouchable the he/she can keep the objectors (whatever their various agendas may be) at bay so the fix may proceed without disturbance.

    Impossible! you say.

    Yes, I say, that is why nobody has ever really gone beyond saying Mzansi needs fixing.

    We all know what must be done. The reasons why voters don’t do it is tribalism and ethnic mistrust. Fix that first!

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Too many tribes, too many crooks, too little taxpayers, they have left.
    None of this will be fixed in our lifetime.

  • Confused Citizen says:

    Funny how the fixing and saving and relieving is always done by NGOs and other voluntary social formations.
    Meanwhile the incompetent rulers go on their merry ways telling their sheeple how much they have done for them with the taxpayers’ money! Handing out bakkies and grants.

  • Peter van Heusden says:

    Koos, as someone for whom Voelvry included the first music concert I ever went to, I am disappointed. These signers of this latest “Afrikaner declaration” include Orania-dwellers and those beholden to the idea of a “boerestaat” – now renamed to “geographically-based special cultural zones”. As you your self have written, not even so long ago, about the “ghastly price” extorted by the Apartheid regime. At what price is the “help” offered by this new crew coming?

    I recently had the unfortunate experience of watching the 2014 movie “Pad na jou hart” with my daughter. In some ways it resembled the “innocuous” entertainment on SABC in the 1980s, but for goodness sake…. in 2014 the creators of the movie imagine a world where a 10-year school reunion (so: Matric 2004) is all white people? Where Groote Schuur hospital (I guess… thank goodness that the ou toppie was treated in a public hospital) is essentially monochromatic? There is something wrong with the Afrikaans imagination if it continues to yearn toward apartness… in those dark but hopeful halls of 1989 I imagined that Afrikaans-speaking could be separate from that grim dead end. In 2024… for goodness sake, can we hear a more robust critique of these dead-enders from people such as yourself?

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