Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Afrikaner aspirations: An hour with AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel

Many South Africans believe that leaving the country or sticking it out under a cloud of despair are the only options available to us. Fortunately there are those who believe that we can achieve far better, through peaceful means, operating within the systems of our great country.

Carl Martin Kriel (38), born in Johannesburg and schooled mainly in Pretoria (matriculated Hoërskool Pretoria Noord), the CEO of AfriForum, is one important example.

Kallie is married with four children (his wife’s stopped counting) and believes we can all achieve our goals within the new South Africa. Due to the importance of the topic I did not go into any real depth on the personal side.

T: Kallie, could you give a brief overview of AfriForum?

KK: It is a civil rights initiative to mobilise civil society and specifically minority communities, in order to take part in democratic debate. It was established by the trade union Solidarity with a membership of 130 000 around the middle of 2006. It has also recruited further individuals to fund our objects and these now number over 7 000.

T: Where does Kallie Kriel fit in?

KK: I was a teacher, then joined Solidarity in 1999 as head of marketing and was made CEO of AfriForum at its formation.

T: Main goals of AfriForum?

KK: We would like to achieve balance in South Africa. True democracy needs alternative voices in order to succeed. While we aren’t a political party, we give alternative ideas and suggestions, where applicable, to the government stance. The government shows signs of “Zanufication” in all spheres of our society and we try to act as a counterweight.

We are open to all races and we stand as an important check and balance in the interests of society as a whole, an example being our action against the government for failing to adhere to its constitutional obligations in dealing with crime.

In addition we take on minority issues — their voices need to be heard; one good example being the fight to retain Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at schools and university levels.

T: AfriForum has a substantial Afrikaans base.

KK: Yes.

T: How do you perceive the modern-day aspirations of the Afrikaans community?

KK: The vast majority of the community has grown and modernised with the planet. They are people who see the global rather than the smaller picture. Having said that, they are extremely proud of their heritage and achievements. They have achieved in all fields from scientists to teachers and tradesmen and want to play a material and essential part of the country’s future — this as first-class citizens, not as a marginalised group.

We perceive the right-wing fringe groups, because that is what they are, as part of our past but who cannot bring us the future that a dynamic and forward-thinking “New Afrikaner” is looking for. They want to retreat where we want to advance. We always say we are fighting for a better future, not a better past.

T: Kallie, do the guys believe this can be achieved within the existing framework or would a federal or alternative system be better?

KK: Under the ANC we have seen a centralisation of power which spreads to every sphere of society. Because of the power of the ANC it can marginalise many communities; ie, anyone not in bed with the ANC or the governing elite.

We work with the realities; society is very diverse — decision making should be taken at the lowest level rather than government being married to centralised decision making on all issues. For example, schools and the community in which they operate should be allowed to decide on language, religion, culture et cetera.

Local communities feel that any material decisions relating to things that concern them are being taken by the central government, which doesn’t take kindly to being questioned.

T: Long term, where does the community see itself?

KK: The first point I would make is that the Afrikaans community does not believe that isolation is the answer to the problem. We are constantly looking at ways to achieve more rights and power for the minority groups in order that they have a full say in the new South Africa.

T: What political views do your members hold?

KK: We have taken a strict decision not to align with any political party. Our members cover everything from the Democratic Alliance, through the IFP, FF+ and other opposition parties. There are also many apolitical members who see upliftment and social issues as the basis for their presence.

T: How do you operate on a day-to-day basis?

KK: We work basically in response to feedback from members as well as what Solidarity and AfriForum perceive, from a variety of sources, as the issues which need debating and addressing.

Once we decide that an issue has merit — ie, the country needs to balance to the position adopted — we would start a campaign during which decisions are made by our members as to what action they deem to meet the circumstances.

We have instituted legal action against government, addressed public hearings in Parliament and approached international organisations.

T: Give me a couple of examples.

KK: In respect of the Pretoria naming issue, we sent numerous faxes to Pallo Jordan who never responded to us. We then organised a huge march in Church Square as a result of which the minister advised us that the name would not be changed while emotions are running so high.

In addition we have a court interdict against the Tshwane metropolitan council to prohibit them from replacing the name on road signs.

Another good example is our litigation and broader campaign against the government’s inability to deal with crime. In addition, we are currently formulating a workable plan for communities to deal with crime.

There are many other campaigns which we are dealing with — those I’ve set out are just two of them.

T: What is the importance of Solidarity and AfriForum?

KK: Our central goal is to provide real hope for the future; that people can lobby or make a difference within the new South Africa without resorting to extremism, losing hope and leaving or just conforming because they don’t know what else to do.

Ours is a beautiful country with potential which needs not be abandoned to fate. People can take the future into their own hands and create a better society for all South Africans.

T: In conclusion, I would like our readers to pose questions to you in the comments section, if you would be happy to answer them.

KK: I will check up on any questions put to me and revert as soon as possible.

T: Thanks for taking the time.

KK: My pleasure.