I’ll just be that other white African, an Afrikaner

May 7, 2010

This reflection flows from the debate on Antjie Krog’s Begging to be Black, organized by the Centre for Public Theology at the University of Pretoria, in which Jurie le Roux, Klippies Kritzenger and Rodney Chaka participated. Tom Smith wrote a brilliant critical overview of the debate, which I’m not even going to try and repeat. However, I’ve been journeying with my own being Afrikaner since July last year, and would like to continue this journey with reference to the current conversation.

The responses at the above mentioned debate again made me realize how much more thorough I still need to think about my own being, my own Afrikanernes. The detailed and critical analyses of Krog’s book, pointing out some of her own indebtedness to being an Afrikaner, as well as some naiveties in her approach forced me to think about by own almost naively positive reaction to Krog’s work.

One thing I think we have almost consensus about. Krog’s use of Black wasn’t the best choice of words. We might differ on our reason for saying this, but maybe Begging to be African would have been a better choice. For me, however, this quest has found words over the past year in becoming an Afrikaner. I, the naive reader of Krog and Jansen, want’s nothing more than to reclaim being Afrikaner. I want to claim being Afrikaner, being born from Afrika, wanting to be from Afrika, while being white and Afrikaans speaking, but I want to be that other white African, not the Afrikaner from the Voortrekker monument pictures, not the Afrikaner from the April 2010 letters to daily papers in South Africa,but the new kind of Afrikaner, the one who has no identity other from being part of a democratic South Africa.

And yes, Krog help me with this. I have called Jurie le Roux “one of the unsung heroes of my life” in the past, and I’ll stick to this, althouh I have realized years ago that we differ when it comes to how we understand our own being part of Africa. As a brilliant philosopher and exegete, he was able to point our some of the problems in Krog’s approach. Using French philosophers one could say he, and others, is able to “break” Krog’s work. But just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s broken. Somehow Krog seem to fail the deconstructionists, whom I love – the little I understand about them, and then in my eyes get up and become helpful in spite of messy formulations, lack of philosophical depth, and lack of theological understanding.

And I think it’s something on a more emotional level that really get’s me into Krog’s work. The way in which she attempts to deny her own European heritage at some stages, but then have to admit her comfort in Germany, they way in which she are uncomfortable with her white Afrikaner tradition, but at times are forced by others to admit her own being advantaged by exactly this which she fights against, and the way in which she simply goes out there, and attempt to live relationally with a broader South Africa.

Through messy formulations and all, I find in Krog’s work something which missiologists called interculturation, an exchange of concepts, ideas. Krog might make it sound as if her attempt is simply to become more African, but in her person she really learn from different cultures, and in her story also give of what she is back to those black’s whom she so easily identify with Africa. Maybe I’ll not beg to be black, not even beg to be African, as if there are some ideal form of African out there which I should strive to become. But please let me be that different Afrikaner.

I want to be the interculturated Afrikaner, the Afrikaner that are actually able to listen to my fellow Africans, to allow them to deconstruct who I am, to deconstruct my own whiteness, to help me become more Afrikaner. No, I cannot deny that I also feel this connection with European and white thoughts, that is part of me. But I want to see that part of me through the eyes of my fellow South Africans. I don’t simply want to continue existence as an Afrikaner, but I want to understand my own being white and being Afrikaner, and understand it in relation to other around me, and through this become more of a white African.

Krog would call this something different. She’ll call this becoming black, maybe. She will sound different when she speak about this than I do. But I see in her work how she finds a reinterpretation of her own identity in relationships with black, colored, indian South Africans, South Africans of different languages and backgrounds. She struggles, she’s critical, and yes, in the end we’ll agree that she remain a white Afrikaner, but she’s more and more of a white Afrikaner that finds identity in relationship to others, and in spite of brilliant critique against her work, in spite of the fact that her work could be broken, it’s not broken for me, because on an emotional level, and in spite of critique also on an intellectual level, she helps me along this journey of becoming that white African, that Afrikaner that’s not the Afrikaner that we know.


7 Responses to “I’ll just be that other white African, an Afrikaner”

  1. shans99 Says:

    This is thought-provoking, Cobus. I have to admit that one of the things I like about being in SA is that I get a free pass as an American: I’m white, but black people will easily tell me their stories because–so I’m told–I’m “safe,” no one is trying to figure out what my family background is and what side of the apartheid fence we were on. I’m a tabula rasa there. But in my own country, I am doing the same thing you are–which I think is sometimes why I like being in SA, where I can eavesdrop on the conversations about race without feeling so implicated and invested.

  2. […] van Wyngaard, another blogger who was at the debate writes, I’ll just be that other white African, an Afrikaner � my contemplations: One thing I think we have almost consensus about. Krog’s use of Black wasn’t the best choice […]

  3. Reggie Says:

    Hi Cobus,
    Do you want to beg to be an Afrikaner- a different Afrikaner ? Would you beg to be that or simply be that?
    I ask this because, I wondered, who would beg- someone who knows the power-relations, who know where the bread is for tomorrow’s meal or some-one who confesses the inter-relatedness of us all?
    Do you not perhaps hail Afrikaner-ness as a safe final rock-bottom ?
    Krog is a poet-do we need to measure her, according to our theological or philosophical canons- is she not perhaps stretching and challenging our set ways of speaking or wrestling with these issues ? (justasking)

  4. cobus Says:

    Regarding Krog, I agree with the poet thing. Therefore saying that just because we can break it, doesn’t mean it’s broken. We cannot say that it’s not allowable to measure according to theological of philosophical canons, but I believe we can say that after we have done that, even should she have came up short in this measurement, on another level, what you call the poetic, what I called the emotional, she has value.

    I cannot say that I’d beg to be that Afrikaner, that I must simply be. But it’s becoming the Afrikaner in relation that I’d get closest to begging for. Because that I can’t become on my own, I need to be allowed to become an inter-related South Africa, I need others to become this Afrikaner.

    I acknowledge that Afrikaner is not an innocent concept (referring to your comment on Steve’s post), but it’s one I have to work with. The easy way out will be to disengage with that heritage, to easily become something other than Afrikaner.

  5. Marius Says:

    I haven’t visited your blog for a while, but looked at Steve’s blog as well today and Reggie’s comments here and there.

    To a large extent I agree with Reggie’s view that the danger of trying to reconstruct or reclaim the title ‘Afrikaner’ is that it assumes it is the “rock-bottom” or “real” identity that helps you be you. That is problematic.

    I find it more helpful to see all these categories of identity – Afrikaner, male, African, white, European, Christian, Dutch Deformed (couldn’t resist that), etc. – as discourses or conversations. They are not you, but are ways of thinking and speaking (and as such, always under construction and deconstruction) that help you make sense of your place in the world in relation to other people. Of course one gets rather attached to them, but the danger is that the become idols – especially if you feel you have to choose one that ‘really’ says who you are.

    In other words, in some contexts calling yourself an Afrikaner may still be helpful (e.g. when you are differentiating your language, culture and history from that of English speaking South Africans) but in most contexts in SA at the moment it is not helpful. Too much baggage.

    I have found this approach far more liberating than trying to decide whether I actually am an Afrikaner anymore, or not.

  6. […] to work through the emotions and thoughts that I currently experience as a white man in Africa working to become a white African. Posted by cobus Filed in Books, Dutch Reformed Church, Kameeldrif, Religion, South Africa […]

  7. […] In the above mentioned post I tried to find positive implications from the Afrikaner myth which I could use in my own self-understanding. In the months and years after this post, my talk about the Afrikaner myth and the vow focused more on how the vow was part of the myth which explained why Apartheid was to be accepted, since God chose the white people over-and-above the black people of South Africa. I became less positive about this Afrikaner myth of meaning. Although I have continued my talk of being Afrikaner, maybe bet summarized in a recent post titled “I’ll just be that other white African, an Afrikaner“. […]

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