About two months ago I wrote a light-hearted post (on my blog) about the South African language I considered to be the sexiest. The post was written for a limited audience and was not intended as social commentary. I rated Afrikaans fourth and said — in jest of course — that “unfortunately, Afrikaans is burdened by Soweto Skhothanes, Capetonian thugs and, well … the National Party. Many young South Africans thus refuse to speak the language”.
I made these comments sincerely. Despite being a joke, I did not expect Afrikaans speakers to take offence (let alone read the blog). It was only when an Afrikaans blogger, who calls himself alleman, posted a comment that I realised my ignorance. Alleman commented that: “I appreciate this was written in a light-hearted way, but at times I need to speak out about South Africans’ habitual hypocrisy about Afrikaans. I can remember how the majority of white English people supported the National Party in the 1980s, and how their young men, like me, were willing conscripts to the SADF. Why do people not remember that now and why do they not know the role that Britain played in the formation of white rule in South Africa? If Afrikaans must still be tied to the National Party, then why is English not called the language of colonialism?”
The comments have haunted me. In retrospect I realised that I might have spoken out a prejudice towards Afrikaners. In school I voluntarily studied Afrikaans, even when many of my schoolmates opted out. Over the years I have made many Afrikaner friends. The annoying voice inside me posed a difficult question: How is this different from the racist who says “some of my friends are black”?
Over the years a number highly publicised political shenanigans have brought to the fore a strong black resentment (if not sheer hate) towards Afrikaners. First it was former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s instance on singing the provocative dubul’ ibhunu or ”shoot the boer” song. Bizarrely, and in spite of its progressive stance, the ANC sought to defend the singing of the song. Defenders of dubul’ ibhunu (and other divisive struggle songs) argued the song was ”sacred heritage”.
Writing from this pro-dubul’ ibhunu stance, Abe Mokoena rehashes the inane argument that: “Our Struggle songs are a sacred heritage that was constructed with solid revolutionary creativity, iron faith in the future and an unbreakable firmness of spirit. They are the barometer of revolutionary thought. They are the embodiment of great thinking and leadership. They mirror the sustained commitment and dedication of revolutionary martyrdom for the realisation of a great national ideal, democracy.”
More recently the minister of women, children and people with disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, and her rant to the media about young Afrikaner men. Xingwana told an Australian newspaper that young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion believing they own a woman and children and can therefore take that life because they own it. Xingwana has since made an incongruent and derisory apology.
The pejorative black perception of Afrikaners is not only regressive, it’s also hypocritical. Blacks often bemoan the unwillingness of whites (especially Afrikaners) to chip a shoulder towards nation building. Such calls are insincere if blacks are themselves unwilling to walk the walk. Rather than uproot black racism, it is often justified as anger.
It is regrettable that the relations between the various cultural communities in South Africa have been characterised by mistrust, bloodshed and residual anger. All South Africans must be reminded that we, together as a nation, decided to wipe the slate clean in 1994. Democracy did not only liberate blacks from oppression, it also liberated whites from their oppressive position.
It’s important that we guard against the tendency to annihilate Boer (Afrikaner) culture. Prejudice bears only prejudice, it will deepen the rift between South Africans and reverse the democratisation project.
I am a Zulu man. Between 1826 and 1836 King Shaka Zulu, the Zulu king credited with building and growing the amaZulu nation, waged bloody wars against other Bantu tribes in southern Africa. The wars are collectively known as imfecane (the crushing or scattering) because various Nguni tribes escaping the wrath of Shaka’s formidable army scattered all over southern Africa including Mzilikazi and amaNdebele (Zimbabwe), Ndwandwe and Soshangane (Mozambique), Sobhuza and amaNgwane (now Swazi in Swaziland), Zwangendaba (now Ngoni in Tanganyika) and Moshoeshoe (Lesotho).
The point is, I imagine, that those who suffered under Shaka’s wrath have continued to tell the story for generations. As a Zulu descendent I wish not to be tainted by Shaka’s cruelty. I continue to be a proud Zulu without fearing abomination by the Basotho or amaSwati (for example). Young Afrikaners must be afforded the same space to celebrate their Afrikaner (Boer) heritage without pressure from past events. It is true that some Afrikaners raise culture as a justification for apartheid and discrimination, Orania is an example. This is merely a challenge we must overcome as a nation.
Besides, who wants to live in a country without biltong or boerewors?