Shareef Blankenberg
Shareef Blankenberg

What about my rights?

I know this one is really going to open a flood of responses, most negative, but I have to ask this question.

For the past couple of years, I have seen much reporting on the work of Afri-Forum. According to some news bulletins on mainly SABC2, it is a “rights-based group” doing sterling work on asking pointed questions about issues pertaining to government and service delivery. What I want to know is: What and whose rights is it promoting and protecting?

Last year, there was an interview on SABC3’s Interface with Professor Russel Bothma and others. The topic was the promotion of Afrikaans as one of our (protected) national languages. A representative of Afri-Forum was also there. Asked about Afri-Forum, this person (I can’t remember his name, but it was some derivative of old Cape Dutch) answered that it stands for the promotion and protection of the rights of Afrikaans people. Second question: Did he mean “Afrikaans” people or “Afrikaner” people?

For the only times I see Afri-Forum on TV, or read about it in the print media, it has to do with the protection and promotion of the “rights” of Afrikaners.

It came out in defence of Afrikaans, which, according to Afri-Forum, is the language of Afrikaners. Laughable, if you hear experts actually giving more credit to coloured people (San, Khoi and others) for the establishment of Afrikaans as a language.

When there was a move to change the name of Pretoria to Tshwane, Afri-Forum, together with the Freedom Front Plus, launched a massive (and expensive) campaign to show “support” for the retention of the name Pretoria. Sadly, I did see one or two black faces somewhere at the back of the crowd (their traditional position during apartheid!).

I went on to the Afri-Forum website to see what it is all about. Again, some evasive statements are made with regards to the protection of rights, without a full declaration of what rights and whose rights it is seeking to protect and promote.

And its campaigns! “Rasseklassifikasie”, “Kom Huistoe” (aimed at getting “skilled people” back into the country after they decided to run away), “Kunste Forum” (undoubtedly in collaboration with former white art fora such as the ATKV), “Sport Forum” (its latest action proved only that it wants to keep rugby and cricket lily-white), “Stop die moorde” (for white farmers being murdered on farms and little white children), “Maatskaplike Forum” (for the retention of government grants to former white NGOs) and, of course, “Pretoria Optog”.

Clicking on the various links to these campaigns only produced more confusion, with photos only of white people. I had quite a laugh when I saw a picture of a young white girl carrying a placard saying “Tshwane is nie my pa nie“, which begs the question: Is Pretoria your father?

I am not saying that organisations like Afri-Forum do not have a place in South Africa. Nor am I trying to downplay its right to a campaign to “save the white man”. I am simply asking for more information on what it is and what its real agenda is.

I do agree that we need to get rid of official race classification, although we also need to assure that people know who they are. And the only way to do this is by teaching people to be proud of who they are, be it Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaner, coloured, Venda or whatever. For all of us are South Africans, but even before that, we belong to a specific ethnical group. But I cannot agree with an organisation that aims to preserve the notion of one group being superior to another, or all others.

I strongly agree that we need to entice skilled people back to South Africa, if they decided to leave. But I cannot agree that only white people are skilled. What about black doctors, professors, bankers, mechanics, engineers? Or do they not form part of this “brain drain”? The government has committed itself to see that white former municipal managers are accommodated in Project Consolidate, to be champions to struggling municipalities. But these “champions” want this to happen on their terms, regardless of other factors involved.

I am extremely concerned over farm murders. Having been in the agriculture sector myself, I have a huge regard for farmers who struggle with the elements on a daily basis in order to play their part in our economy. And the murder of a farmer is something serious. So, I believe that a concerted effort is needed to address this problem. But also, it is not only farmers being murdered on farms. It is also farmworkers. But are we saying that the life of a white farmer is more sacrosanct than that of a black farmworker? And can we afford to have separate campaigns to stop the murders of different peoples?

Last year, when a little girl from Pretoria/Tshwane was murdered, some organisation asked us to wear pink and blue in her honour. A week later a black girl on the Cape Flats was murdered — without the same organisation asking us to wear something special for her. Isn’t that double standards, or is it again a matter of her being the wrong colour? Children from different races are abducted, molested and killed across the country, and we need a concerted effort here as well to ensure that our future does not slip away because our children are not allowed to grow to their full potential.

A child, any child, being abducted, molested and/or murdered should an indictment against us all and against this society in which we are living. We should all make this country a safer place for all our children. I can’t help thinking about the old USSR, where, despite all its problems, children were regarded as the most important part of the community. An adult would rather go to bed hungry than seeing his neighbour’s child going to bed without food. Children were allowed to roam free, without fear that they would be lured into crime or hurt in any way. That’s the type of legacy we should build for all our children.

There are many organisations out there that are struggling to ensure that some form of arts and culture is kept for the future. Why should we then decide to support one over another? Why should the government be petitioned to give more money to an organisation that only protects the history of one particular group? To make this bigger, why should the government be pressured to support some welfare institutions where the majority of people need these services? Afri-Forum is talking about places like former homes for (white) orphans and organisations such as the ACVV. The government has decided that there should be at least one (decent) old-age home and orphanage in every district municipal area. Shouldn’t we throw our combined weight behind this, instead of preserving some old notion of racial superiority?

And most laughable of all is this “Pretoria Optog” campaign (seems to me like the gem of Afri-Forum efforts). The whole Pretoria/Tshwane issue is one more example of some white Afrikaners trying their utmost to cling to some power. The fact is that Afrikaners changed the names of places as they saw fit. They did not inherit an empty land. When they came here and when they were governing, most places in South Africa had some name or the other. They felt that it was their prerogative to honour their “heroes” by changing traditional names to more Afrikaner names. And where they couldn’t properly pronounce a name, they decided to change it to suit their tongue. Now that people are reclaiming their land, they baulk at this! What about our part in history, or does this not count? And please do not tell me that we need to build new communities and name those after our heroes. Did the old government build new towns and name it after Afrikaner heroes? No, it took over our land and abruptly changed names to suit itself.

Please understand me, I do not make organisations like Afri-Forum off as not having a role to play to entrench our young democracy. Surely we need all perspectives to build a vibrant society that can be a home for all peoples. My problem is the often clandestine way in which it tries to reach its objectives.

If you stand for the preservation, protection and promotion of Zulu culture, come right out and say so! Do not hide behind blanket statements and exploit other peoples. Do not use ambiguous tactics that might sound like one thing to me and something totally different to someone else.

I really would support Afri-Forum if it can tell me who and what it is — even if it is an organisation for Afrikaners.