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Hey Dutchman! The dignity and self-discipline of the Afrikaner

Crruuncch! It was like crashing against a concrete pillar. The Dutchman, erm, Afrikaner kid shrugged me off and ran towards the school rugby field touchline, the crowds roaring. I lay on the spiky grass, dazed from my attempt to tackle that big bastard.

I was thirteen then and to this day I swear blind it was more painful trying to tackle a Dutchman, um, Afrikaner, in a game of rugby, than to be tackled. It was like trying to fricken nosedive into a brick wall and hope to come out of the collision without a scratch. It took me a good few seconds to get my backside off that rugby field after my useless tackle.

The childhood war between “Englishmen” and “Dutchmen” in South Africa is of course legendary. “Those bloody rock-spiders,” we “Engelsmanne” would shout. And they would call us soutpiel, rooinek and all the lovely rest. Gaan kak in jou broeke, jou bliksemde Engelse snotneus.

I still have Dutchmen friends who call me soutpiel. I love it. They just don’t get it: the enormous compliment, the delicious Freudian slip. One foot in England, one foot somewhere near Bloemfontein. And hooaaah … this magnificent apparatus dangling deep in the Atlantic. Greek gods or demi-gods like Atlas and Hercules have got nothing on us awesomely well-endowed soutpiel, sperm count thick and salty, ready to help the nations multiply and bear much fruit.

I was moved to write this piece because in a recent blog of mine I referred to Dutchmen, um, Afrikaners, as Dutchmen (because they are as I will in all good jest say to my rock-spider friends), with no deliberate offence intended … well maybe just a teensy weensy. Some commentators, who are Afrikaners and apparently not Dutchmen, were very offended by this and said so in the commentary. I replied without qualification: “My apologies for inadvertently insulting you. It was not intentional. I do hope you accept my apologies if you are still on this thread.”

If some people do not like to be called certain names then I need to look at my own attitude and respect their views on the issue.

But that got me to thinking about the Afrikaner. While I hated them as a child (and feared them; they are a bloody strong, stubborn “tribe” and most are not scared of a fist-fight at all) I developed enormous respect for them. My first real experience of their enormous self-discipline and fierce pride took place when I was in the army (1982-1984).

Now I did not want to go to the army. I despise the previous SA regime and also the current. However, the thought of spending at least four years in jail (one of the alternatives at the time) appealed to me even less. I did not wish to be one of those conscientious objector “heroes” of the time, like the Christian, Charles Bester (who got sentenced to six years though did not serve the entire term). But to get back to the point, I had to admire the Afrikaner blokes’ discipline and pride. They sweated through the three month “boot camp”, or Basics, enjoying, it seems, every moment of the gruelling PT we went through. This snotneus bitched and moaned and dreamed of lying on my comfy bed back home with a book and a plate of peanut butter sarmies. Most of the Afrikaners I met in the army and thereafter were and are extremely proud of their volk, their culture and their country. Yes, some of them were also Jingoists and some (just like “Englishmen”) were downright racists.

To me the reason why South Africa has won the World Cup rugby twice since coming out of international isolation in the early Nineties is obvious. There are lots of Dutchmen in the Springbok squad. They are disciplined, exceptionally strong and zealous about their sport, which is a part of their culture. Hulle vat nie kak nie. I like one unparsed translation: “They grab no shit, no?”

The retired Joost van der Westhuizen is a sportsman I admire enormously. I wish I had half his physical strength, stamina and fitness. And that sharp mental outlook both on and off the field. His sex life is none of my business.

Many of my readers know I love poetry. Though I am not fluent in Afrikaans, an all-time favourite poem of mine is Jan Celliers’ “Dis Al”. The short poem deals with the Boer War, and a boer coming back to his farm to find everything destroyed in the war. The poem is also an emblem of the suffering and determination of the Boer nation in the face of the British onslaught. It does not translate well at all into English, so here it is in Afrikaans. If you can’t read Afrikaans, dear reader, you have lost out. It is compressed, minimalist and aches with deliberately understated anguish:

Dis al

Dis die blond,
dis die blou:
Dis die veld,
dis die lug;
en ‘n voël draai bowe in eensame vlug –
dis al.

Dis ‘n balling gekom
oor die oseaan,
dis ‘n graf in die gras,
dis ’n vallende traan –
dis al.

In many conversations my Afrikaner friends of course have told me that the insult, “Dutchman”, is fallacious anyway. Many Afrikaners have surnames like Du Toit, Du Preez and Labuschagne which are French in origin. Other families are Belgian and, or so I am told, even Danish and Flemish in origin. Sure the “insult” is spurious. But it is like the dreaded word kaffir. Its meaning when used as an insult has nothing really to do with the original meaning: one who does not believe in Islam. But then calling me Englishman or Engelsmannetjie is also incorrect in terms of my origin. My ancestry is almost purely Scots and Irish (one grandparent, born in South Africa, was of French Huguenot stock) and I also have an Irish passport. So when I got told to “bugger off back to England” by some Dutchman in the army, they got that completely wrong. Readers out there know full well the Scots and Irish hate the English (historically speaking) anyway.

This just goes to show that often when we insult someone, we really show we do not understand them, their culture, roots and identity at all. Often when we insult, we are showing up our own ignorance.

But then, when I use a word like “Dutchman”, I venture to add that an offended reader has not understood my joking manner at all. They are perhaps over-identifying themselves with a group of people, the Afrikaners: a minority that has become, sadly, increasingly marginalised in South Africa.

Many Afrikaners have left for other countries. While living in New Zealand, I met many “Afrikaner” teenagers who could not speak their “own” language at all. They had completely assimilated kiwi culture. Their surnames just happened to be Labuschagne. Or Van Niekerk. Or Du Toit.

This article first appeared on Rod’s column, The Mocking Truth, on NewsTime

Author

  • Rod MacKenzie

    CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from www.knowledgethirstmedia.co.za. His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/Rod_in_China