Koos Kombuis
Koos Kombuis

The unbearable whiteness of being a middle-aged Afrikaans male

When I was recently asked to perform a few of my songs at the private birthday party of an old fan from the Voëlvry era, I agreed.

“I don’t like performing at private parties, but at least these people won’t be a bunch of potbellied Afrikaans right-wingers,” I said to my wife. “This guy says that all his friends had been, in some way or other, involved in the anti-apartheid struggle when they were at university.”

So I got on a plane and off to Joburg I went to attend this gathering of old liberal stalwarts.

The evening started off pleasantly enough. I arrived in my rented car at the gigantic mansion in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg promptly at half-past seven, hoping to be back at my guest house by about 10. As I mingled with the guests before my performance was about to begin, I could hear snatches of conversation around me that intrigued me.

“When we went to Dakar … ”

“No, Polstu was before my time … ”

“Remember when we used to smoke dope at Kerkorrel’s concert … ”

Somewhere during the course of the evening, however, I made a decision that would later prove to be disastrous.

Since all these people were more or less of my own age group, and obviously shared my political persuasion, I decided I might just as well take the liberty of inviting one or more of them to help sponsor my next album. They were obviously affluent, and I reckoned I had a good chance of attracting an investor among these people.

During my set, I made my pitch, performed one of the songs from my planned new CD, and added as an afterthought: “If anyone is interested to help me with this project, and you have a business that can give us approximately hundred grand in exchange for their name on the album cover, please think about it. But don’t talk to me about it tonight. Please send me an email tomorrow. We’ve all had a few drinks, and I don’t like talking business at parties.”

The birthday boy, a 50-year-old man whom I remembered from my days at Stellenbosch, was very friendly after I concluded my performance. He took me on a tour of his house and showed me the magnificent view he had of the Johannesburg skyline from his upstairs balcony. He also said, “I’m sure one of my friends will be able to help you out with that sponsorship deal,” he said.

“That’s very nice,” I said. “I hope I hear from them. I’m going to go back to the guest house now.”

“What? You can’t go home now! The party’s just begun!”

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” I explained. “First the Woordfees, then the KKNK. And I have a lunchtime show tomorrow in Pretoria.”

He did not quite seem to understand, but I left it at that, and went back downstairs to pack up my stuff. Surely no-one could FORCE me to stay for the rest of the night?

Before picking up my guitar case to leave, I realised that I was suddenly very thirsty. I needed a non-alcoholic drink for the road. So I made my way to the kitchen, filled up a glass with Coke, and started walking back to the front door.

Someone grabbed me by the sleeve, pulled me down and said: “Sit with us! We need to talk about that sponsorship!”

I tried to break free, but the next moment I found myself seated against my will, surrounded by a group of men in suits who were leaning forward, watching me intently, and all talking at the same time. They were all trying simultaneously to explain to me who they were. From the garbled monologues, I gathered that most of them were either CEOs or the lawyers of CEOs.

“We’ll give you a hundred thousand rand! No strings attached!” one shouted.

“Why are you drinking Coke? Waiter, bring this man a gin and tonic!” another one gesticulated loudly to one of the black members of the sound crew.

“I really don’t feel like drinking any more alcohol, I still have to drive,” I explained, and once again tried to get up.

Once again, I was pulled back. Physically. And then I was forced to listen, for almost 10 minutes, to a litany of business plans, ideas, proposals to become the “face” of this or that product in exchange for money, etc, etc.

When, eventually, someone handed me a drink, and refused, an uproar ensued.

“You’re not going home now! No way!”

One of the men leaned close to me, and started talking at me very loudly at very close quarters.

“Do you KNOW why I want to SPONSOR you?” he said. “Because I BELIEVE in the STRUGGLE, like you! I’m not a RACIST! BLACKS LOVE ME! I go to SOWETO REGULARLY! You must come and SPEND TWO DAYS with me in SOWETO!”

I wanted to ask him, “So why are there no blacks at this party apart from the sound engineers, whom nobody has mingled with at all?”

But I knew it was time to end the dialogue. I got up for, what I hoped, would be the last time.

The man in front of me responded by trying to stand up and pushed me backwards violently with his hands, almost making me lose my foothold.

That seemed to break the spell. Suddenly, I was outside the group, half-falling, spilling my drink. I simply turned around and carried on running, leaving the drunken mob behind.

How I got out of that house with no-one coming after me, I’m still not sure. Presumably they were all much drunker than me.

I still regret that I never had the chance to greet my host. But I simply could no longer handle all that craziness.

As I finally got into my car, and drove away, I had a flash of insight.

For the first time in my life, I understood, really understood, TRULY understood, a certain concept, which until then, had been meaningless to me.

For the first time, I actually understood what the term “whiteness” meant.

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    • Monika Rohlwink

      That is an unacceptable generalization. If Johannesburg has such rich and overbearing white CEOs and their lawyers then that may be peculiar to the Jo’burg fast-paced, money-making clique. I am very sure there are white CEOs and business people in Gauteng who do not live such a lifestyle, don’t force guests to drink more than they want to and stay longer than they intend.
      There are thousands of white citizens – whether Afrikaans, English, Portuguese, French or….. – who lead sober lifestyles based on commendable principles which include working for the betterment of all South Africans, not just their own little circles of family and friends.
      How can you sum up ‘whiteness’ as being what you experienced in that particular house? And if I were Afrikaans myself, I would be even more upset, as there are multitudes of Afrikaans citizens who have worked honestly and responsibly with their resources and have shared selflessly with those in need.

    • Anton Pillay

      good read.

    • Johann

      Yes, I’m Afrikaans and I own that whiteness and I’m a racist – in recovery……. Those people, and many blacks, will never be my friends, as we don’t fit, and I’m sorry and grateful for the past and the present, maybe people like me, will stand together one day and make this a great place, after all, all we need are some clever rules….

    • Mufasa

      I’m ashamed…

    • Sifiso Xolile Ndlovu Zgwanyanw

      Great read, great read!

    • ikick

      A+ for imagination. Other than that, Koos, you really haven’t made much of a point at all. Your R100k “afterthought” kinda says it all.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      If you want the truth, ask a child or a drunk person.

    • Rory Short

      Koos it is not ‘whiteness’ it is just uncouth behaviour by a collection of people who also happened to be white. I am white and I don’t think I would ever have dis-respected others like that even in my student days when I was prone to over indulge in drink, when I could afford it that is. The pejorative use of ‘Whiteness’ to label uncouth behaviour is most unfortunate because like all in-correct labeling it sweeps every person into one and the same basket.

    • Uli

      Lol indeed….

    • Barry Saayman

      “’I don’t like performing at private parties, but at least these people won’t be a bunch of potbellied Afrikaans right-wingers,’ I said to my wife…………..For the first time, I actually understood what the term ‘whiteness’ meant.” – Mr André le Roux du Toit

      Think again. You are in my opinion merely fudging on the edges of the most important anti-white ideology of the day.

      You made an astute observation about whiteness but many fingers are pointing right back at you as an opinion leader of the intoxicated conceited white males at that party struggling to somehow come to grips with their own overwhelming individual and collective depression and feelings of inadequacy most probably also in their personal lives.

      Their never-ending tussle to be acceptable and well-respected members of the widely derided old boys club that still defines their identity has become part of their collective personality. They are among others so used to intimidate others they do not even notice the absurdity of their behaviour anymore.

      You are by own admission also a supremacist (read self-styled South African white liberal) that look down on others just as pot-bellied, politically stubborn, outspoken, intolerant and white as you. Left-wing and right-wing moneyed elitists are in my view equally obstinate.

      You and your overbearing white think alike associates are in fact perfect examples of snobbish undue white privilege and “conspicuous consumption” in motion.

      According to my understanding of the whiteness ideology if one fails to appreciate this basic truth about “whiteness”, you unfortunately understand little about the concept.

      Denials and projecting guilt are counterproductive.

      Admission of own whiteness guilt is the first step to recovery from the “unbearable whiteness of being” with acknowledgement to Rory Pilossof. Or not?

    • david

      I actually understood what the term “whiteness” meant.

      No you don’t, non of us really do. What you have focused on here is the particular culture of a group of people with white skin, which is different to the many other cultures found in people with a white skin.

      Go do yourself a favour and actually ready up on some of the studies regarding culture, try Cultural Insights by Geert Hofstede