Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Ek is ‘n Boer…or am I?

By Anton I Botha

A while back I wrote a little piece on the Afrikaner as villain which was meant to be a light-hearted reflection on my own cultural identity and its portrayal in the popular media. More recently the comments made by Jimmy Manyi and others again made me think of race and culture. In my previous piece I described myself as “being an Afrikaner by origin”. One commentator, identifying him or herself as G, made the following observation, “what are you now, surely you can’t be anything else [but an Afrikaner]?” This got my mind juices flowing a bit (not a frequent occurrence I can assure you). Good question I thought! Even though I felt on an intuitive level that I can be something more, I can’t logically be anything else but an Afrikaner … or can I?

Is it true that we are locked in by our cultural identities? Am I doomed to support the Blue Bulls, drive a double cab bakkie and eat biltong? Should all coloured people, as Kuli Roberts would have it, resign themselves to the fact that they will end up smoking, have large families and eat lots of fish? I would like to think there is more to me and to other people than just our rather narrow cultural identities. Individuals are complex beings with many different facets and influences. Just think of a couple of examples among the Afrikaners. In one ethnic group we have ex-minister Pik Botha and Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout (Pieter-Dirk Uys), Dr Chris Barnard and Dr Wouter Basson, Carike Keuzenkamp and Karen Zoid, Steve Hofmeyr and Koos Kombuis, Beyers Naude and Eugene de Kock. Each represents radically different values and ways of being yet they are all, inescapably, Afrikaners.

I, for one, am proud of being an Afrikaner but my identity is by no means limited to it. I would like to think there’s more to me. I am also a proud South African and African. I have travelled a fair bit and lived overseas for a number of years. I watch too many pop culture movies and I read books (although not nearly often enough) and when I get an opportunity I make sure to learn about things outside of my area of speciality. I have friends from as many different cultural backgrounds as can tolerate me and I have learned to cook food from many different parts of the world (although how well is up for debate). All of these experiences make me more than just an Afrikaner, and yet, being an Afrikaner is still part of who I am.

Some people find the label “Afrikaner” troublesome, and who can blame them if the music of Kurt Darren and Nicholis Louw are inextricability linked to being Afrikaans? I would rather have my ear drums burst by an angry chimpanzee with red hot nine-inch nails than listen to their music. Rather, as an individual I have chosen not to expose my fragile mind to that kind of “cultural” entertainment.

And we all have this choice. There are some things about being Afrikaans, just like there as some things about being Zulu, Xhosa, coloured, English, French or any other ethnicity that are wonderful. As an Afrikaner I love to braai, I love potjiekos, I love Afrikaans literature and stand-up comedy (the language simply captures nuances that no other language can). I am also proud of all the positive things we have given the world, including heart transplants, pinotage, bobotie, Minki van der Westhuizen and the Creepy Crawly. I am also proud to be associated with a group of people who stood up against the tyranny of a large empire.

I am not, however, proud to be associated with the oppressive regime that followed and the untold damage it did in the name of a “pure” ethnicity or race. (In case you were wondering, I mean apartheid, not the Afrikaans version of Idols.) Nor do I associate myself with, or relate to, the Reitz Four or the AWB.

What I am driving at is that just because you “originate” from, or belong to, a specific ethnic group does not mean you have to internalise all its values and practices. Each individual has a responsibility to examine the values, beliefs, and practices of what they believe to be their own culture and decide if these things fit with “who” they are and what can be reasonably understood to be right. There is no superior or inferior culture; they are all flawed in their own special ways.

Any person, who limits themselves to the values and practices of their own culture and therefore lives the stereotype of their culture, will be a poor individual indeed. Equally, people who pigeonhole and stereotype others based solely on their assumed “culture” will be equally poor as they will miss out on a rich diversity of human encounters.

So to those who believe I am an Afrikaner and nothing else, I say you should go and fall into the unemployment line of intelligence and those who think I should praat Afrikaans of hou my bek I say try speaking in more than one language. After all it’s impossible to properly order crème brûlée in a language other than French!

Anton likes hats cause when you wear them there’s less of the world to deal with.