White left smarts after Pyrrhic 1994 victory

Alex | Sep 28, 2009
Dan Roodt argues the case for a new Anglo-Boer entente for the twenty-first century.

Summary - For the past two centuries, South African politics have been characterised by the rivalry between what used to be quaintly known as “the two European races” inhabiting the country. For most of the last century the phenomenon of anti-apartheid politics was ancillary to the greater battle for power between the two white antagonists.

With the rise of left-wing influence after the 1922 miners’ strike, a liberal-left split occurred in English-South African politics. The liberal wing was non-violent, parliamentarian and reform-minded. The left, on the other hand, became increasingly radical and by the 1940s was ready to abandon parliamentarianism in favour of Bolshevism and revolution.

The electoral win by the National Party and subsequent banning of the Communist Party in 1950 further radicalised the English left, and seeing in the black masses both its political ally and raison d’être, it abandoned so-called white interests altogether.

Black revolution and “decolonisation” would be its own road to power.

The left triumphed in 1994, but it has been a Pyrrhic victory. Having crushed both Afrikaner nationalists and English liberals, an anachronistic Frankenstein going under names like Africanism, black nationalism, national liberation, and so on, has crowned itself, seemingly forever.

Some cynical historian will no doubt remark in the not too distant future that 200 years of white rivalry produced a black victory.

However, some friends and acquaintances have been discerning a reawakening of the Afrikaner spirit. A major theme has been the search for new meaning under black domination and possibly a way out of the political impasse constituted by a biological democracy. Afrikaner political demands on the all-powerful ANC might soon begin. A first claim would be for its own municipality, especially in the Pretoria region where unfair and probably unconstitutional gerrymandering, together with a name change, threaten Afrikaner survival in the very citadel of their former republican sovereignty.

In assessing their strategic options in withstanding the yoke of Africanist domination, Afrikaners are obviously going to look for allies. The two white communities might find that they have a lot more in common than they realise.

A debate needs to take place on some form of English-Afrikaner entente after two centuries of near-civil war. Just as under apartheid, when petty discrimination and segregation created black nationalism cutting across tribal lines, the Africanist ANC’s racial policies which treat whites as a common group to be discriminated against are leading to a new-found sense of solidarity across the language barrier.

If the inchoate intellectual and popular movement among Afrikaners currently under way gathers strength and manages to create a semblance of Afrikaner unity, a rejuvenated and freshly mobilised volk will become a political factor to be reckoned with. Increasingly, I get the sense that English whites are looking to Afrikaners to get them out of the fix the English left — and the liberals with their naive and spurious assessments of African individualism —– has got us into.

What is needed now is debate, not only on the role of whites in our society — if there is still a place for them once transformation has run its course — but also whether some form of English-Afrikaner entente is possible.

Next year it will be 200 years since the second and definite arrival of the British at the Cape. For the past two centuries, South African politics have been characterised by the rivalry between what used to be quaintly known as “the two European races” inhabiting the country.

They fought two wars and countless electoral battles in trying to settle their differences. Ethnic invective flew during rugby games between English and Afrikaans schools. In the early 1900s, “racial reconciliation” meant a coming together of Boer and Briton, Afrikaner and Engelsman.

Since the revolution of 1994, most South Africans seem to have fallen prey to collective amnesia about “the great game” played by two highly talented antagonists, each exploiting its own strengths to the full. Afrikaners used their rural rootedness, their cohesion wrought by a common language, culture and religion, as well as their demographic majority against the English-speakers’ urban domination, international language and sympathies within a far-flung Anglo-Saxon empire.

If one had to summarise the twentieth century, one could say that Afrikaners triumphed politically, whereas English-speakers enjoyed economic dominance, controlling most of the major mining groups, banks and industrial companies. For a while the Afrikaans language made inroads in government, education, the courts, the army, radio and television, but it has now almost completely slipped back to its base in rural areas, as well as new outlets such as the ubiquitous kunstefeeste and a burgeoning Afrikaans popular music scene.

Black or African commentators might not agree, but for most of the last century the phenomenon of anti-apartheid politics was ancillary to the greater battle for power between the two white antagonists. With the rise of left-wing influence after the miners’ strike, crushed by Smuts in 1922, a liberal-left split occurred in English-South African politics. The liberal wing was non-violent, parliamentarian and reform-minded.

The left, on the other hand, became increasingly radical and by the 1940s was ready to abandon parliamentarianism in favour of Bolshevism and revolution. The electoral win by the National Party and subsequent banning of the Communist Party in 1950 further radicalised the English left, and seeing in the black masses both its political ally and raison d’être, it abandoned so-called white interests altogether.

For various reasons beyond the scope of this article, the left actually beat both English-speaking liberals and Afrikaner Nationalists in the struggle for power. From the late 1940s, the most influential Anglophone academics were increasingly attracted to Marxism and other radical philosophies, including Africanism. By the 1970s, the term “liberal” and especially “white liberal” had become a scathing insult at Wits, UCT, Natal or Rhodes universities.

In a paradoxical display of tolerance, the National Party had banned the Communist Party but not communist ideas. It allowed English universities to become hotbeds of leftist thinking and even subsidised Marxist and neo-Marxist treatises through the Human Sciences Research Council. Today, it would be unthinkable for the ANC government to exhibit similar tolerance of Afrikaner thinking by, say, subsidising studies of Afrikaner history written in Afrikaans.

After 1948, English criticism of Afrikaner rule became increasingly vehement. As someone recently told me, “They were the only substantial Anglo-Saxon community anywhere in the world not ruling themselves and therefore highly frustrated”. In the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, all Anglo-Saxons enjoyed unfettered power and self-determination.

When Verwoerd was assassinated by Tsafendas in parliament, PW Botha’s first emotional reaction was to blame it on the liberals and the hate campaign they were conducting against the prime minister. Little did he realise that the growing left-wing intellectual hegemony in the English-speaking South African community would eventually bring the entire edifice of white rule in South Africa to its knees.

In a sense, then, liberal parliamentarians in the old South Africa, such as Helen Suzman, were the allies of Afrikaner nationalists in that they preached moderation and were opposed to revolution. Not for nothing did Oliver Tambo characterise Mrs Suzman as a “sweet bird”, an epithet recently resuscitated by Thabo Mbeki.

Interestingly, so-called “English liberals” have recently become some of the most vociferous critics of South Africa’s de facto one-party state. Of course, throughout the twentieth century, there have been an influential number of Afrikaner liberals but they have never enjoyed much support among their own people. Nor did English liberals attract many votes from English-speakers, but their influence extended to the powerful English press, as well as the boardrooms of the major companies.

The last ten years have been characterised by the increasing silence of the English left. Having undergone a sudden conversion to parliamentary democracy after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the English left has also seriously underestimated the influence of ethnicity in South African politics. It is still reeling from the resurgence of black consciousness and Africanist thinking within the ANC.

It may be stretching the point a bit but the English left is just about dead. Some of its ideas have found a home at universities like Stellenbosch or Tukkies, but it will not be long before the flickering flame of South African Marxism and leftism dies out forever.

For the largest part of the twentieth century, white South Africans argued about what Smuts called “the Sphinx-like problem of black political rights”. The left saw in black revolution and “decolonisation” its own road to power. The Great White Marxist would ultimately rule at the helm of the black masses in a localised version of proletarian internationalism.

The left triumphed in 1994, but it has been a Pyrrhic victory as Helena Dolny and many others have since learned to their dismay. Having crushed both Afrikaner nationalists and English liberals, an anachronistic Frankenstein going under names like Africanism, black nationalism, national liberation, and so on, has crowned itself, seemingly forever.

As the vice-chancellor of Natal University, Malegapuru Makgoba, recently explained in the Mail & Guardian, South Africa will become an “African country”, whatever that means. Whites will literally have to dance like blacks, speak their languages and adopt their worldview. With illegal aliens streaming across our borders at the rate of one million per annum, we are literally importing “Africa” into our country. Logically, within twenty to thirty years, the quasi-Western experiment known as South Africa will be no more, and Johannesburg or Pretoria will look like Nairobi, Lagos or Luanda.

Some cynical historian will no doubt remark in the not too distant future that 200 years of white rivalry produced a black victory. The Boer women and children died in the British camps so that Thabo Mbeki could apply race preferences, black economic empowerment (BEE) and make Pretoria the capital of a new African Empire.

Is history meaningless? Many Afrikaners, and some English-speakers, might be excused for thinking so today.

Some friends and acquaintances have been discerning a reawakening of the Afrikaner spirit over the past few weeks and months. The Afrikaner might not be completely dead, even though the outside world, including the major powers, seems to have issued his death certificate.

Afrikaner political demands on the all-powerful ANC might soon begin. A first claim would be for its own municipality, especially in the Pretoria region where unfair and probably unconstitutional gerrymandering, together with a name change, threaten Afrikaner survival in the very citadel of their former republican sovereignty.

For obvious reasons, the left will oppose such demands as they go against the grain of proletarian internationalism, “African integration” and Utopian egalitarianism.

The question is: what will the liberal position be? Can liberalism stomach a departure from the myth of the universal man so that the Afrikaner nation might secure a minimal habitat for its own survival, such as an own municipality in Pretoria? Until now, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has not been supportive of the idea as it wishes to portray itself as “the party for all the people” and not only the party for its own voters, 75 per cent of whom are white and possibly even a majority of whom are Afrikaans-speaking.

But more fundamentally, a debate needs to take place on some form of English-Afrikaner entente after two centuries of near-civil war. Even today, anyone standing up for Afrikaner rights is almost automatically fingered as a maniac from the far right in the English press, as if we are still fighting the 1948 election and not against the Zanu-fication of our country.

On the campus of Pretoria University, the DA sided with the African National Congress (ANC) against the Afrikaner students in the Freedom Front Plus. Is this an indication of what one might expect at a national political level as well, that atavistic English hostility against Afrikaner political ambition — even Afrikaner survival — will cause the remnants of the English community to side with the ANC in bringing the African nationalist project to its logical conclusion, a Zimbabwe?

One hopes not. But although Afrikaners and English-speakers have intermarried for just about 200 years, they still represent two very different cultures with very different expectations of what South Africa should be. Whereas fifty per cent of English-speakers became bilingual in the old South Africa — apparently the highest percentage of bilinguals among any Anglo-Saxon population anywhere in the world — they have progressively rejected Afrikaans in favour of monolingualism since 1994.

Beginning in 2000 with the publication of Afrikaner journalist Chris Louw’s letter to FW de Klerk’s brother Willem (the so-called “Boetman letter”), protesting against the manner in which ordinary Afrikaners, including those who served in the security forces, have been “sacrificed” by the Afrikaner establishment, there has been an unusual ferment in Afrikanerdom. A major theme in the ferment has been the search for new meaning under black domination and possibly a way out of the political impasse constituted by a biological democracy where racial head counts determine most political outcomes. The Afrikaner cultural response has been even stronger, for, since 1994, after losing most if not all state-controlled institutions to the ANC who applied an almost vicious Anglicisation to them, approximately 400 arts festivals in some form or another sprang up in a massive privatisation of Afrikaans culture.

Starting this year, one may discern a new assertiveness among the large mass of Afrikaners who are openly referring to transformation as “reverse apartheid”, challenging the dogma of white guilt and subservience, the staple of the mainstream media since 1994.

In assessing their strategic options in withstanding the yoke of Africanist domination, Afrikaners are obviously going to look for allies. A resurgent Zulu nation claiming a monarchy in KwaZulu-Natal might be one, but, even more naturally, the two white communities might find that they have a lot more in common than they realise.

Just as under apartheid, when petty discrimination and segregation created black nationalism cutting across tribal lines, the Africanist ANC’s racial policies which treat whites as a common group to be discriminated against are leading to a new-found sense of solidarity across the language barrier.

As ever, there are political and historical realities, however. The west of France still regards itself as more Catholic and less republican than the rest due to its support for the monarchy during the revolution of 1789. In some Free State towns, the descendants of bittereinders and hensoppers from the Anglo-Boer war still regard each other with suspicion more than one hundred years later.

The Engelsman is still seen by many Afrikaners to be a turncoat, unpatriotic and only in it for the money. Whereas English businessmen and intellectuals are seemingly happy to co-operate with the ANC in its transformation project that must ultimately lead to white subjugation, most ordinary English-speakers are becoming increasingly critical of the growing plethora of race-based policies being showered on them.

If the inchoate intellectual and popular movement among Afrikaners currently under way gathers strength and manages to create a semblance of Afrikaner unity, a rejuvenated and freshly mobilised volk will become a political factor to be reckoned with, regardless of numbers. It, and not the vacuous parliamentary opposition, will become the countervailing force necessary to staunch the Africanists’ ostensibly unlimited appetite for power and assets.

An Afrikaner power bloc could safeguard democracy in removing the temptation of a Mugabe-ist total transformation. We must not underestimate the widespread admiration of ANC politicians and many black South Africans for Mugabe’s ill-fated policies. Some black Africans regard what seems like folly to most whites and Western observers, as a display of courage and commitment to black nationalism.

Ahead of us lie interesting times, perhaps “too interesting” as they say. When the chips are down, Afrikaners are going to stand together as they have so often managed to do in the past. Post-Zimbabwe, South Africa’s whites are scared. Fear often creates unity where ideas or leadership by themselves fail.

Increasingly, I get the sense that English whites are looking to Afrikaners to get them out of the fix the English left — and the liberals with their naive and spurious assessments of African individualism — has got us into.

What is needed now is debate, not only on the role of whites in our society — if there is still a place for them once transformation has run its course — but also whether some form of English-Afrikaner entente is possible.

Paradoxically, ANC rule has placed Afrikaners in a much stronger position than they have ever been vis à vis their traditional enemies, the English-speakers. For the ANC has achieved what neither JBM Hertzog nor HF Verwoerd could, and that is to largely destroy what was left of the local English community, its identity and sense of cohesion.

The game of politics is fascinating because history determines outcomes, more often than the present. Sooner or later, Afrikaners will challenge ANC hegemony to gain either minority rights or territory, or even to reassert themselves as rulers over large tracts of South Africa. Why not? In an increasingly anarchic Africa, of which Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast are but the two most recent examples, anything is possible.

English-speakers will be the vicarious beneficiaries of any Afrikaner resurgence, as it will positively impact on the second-class status and uncertain fate of whites in general. Depending on how well future Afrikaner leaders understand this, they might demand a price for such a free ride on the Afrikaner train. Could it be that Afrikaners might insist on the final integration of English-speakers into their culture and identity, the much-feared “Afrikanerisation” that was talked about in the 1950s and referred to in JM Coetzee’s memoirs, as the price to be paid for enjoying Afrikaner protection against the likes of Mugabe or any South African emulator of the Zimbabwean hero?

After all, English-speakers already eat boerewors, say lekker and listen to Afrikaans rock music. Most of them have Afrikaner relatives or neighbours. It will be a small step to internalise the finer aspects of Afrikaner history and come under the charm of the Afrikaans language, literature and those many icons of rugby, golf, swimming, female beauty and the arts whose names they already pronounce impeccably, unlike their long-lost relatives in Britain.