I’m busy reading Knowledge in the Blood, and Jansen’s exploration of the knowledge of the post-Apartheid Afrikaner children had me thinking at one point that we really need more popular arts to help in the remembrance and and memories of Apartheid. Maybe it was Invictus that also got me thinking. I didn’t really follow the conversation about Skin until I went to watch it, but this exactly the kind of films that we need.

It tells the story of a girl, Sandra Laing, born of white parents, but of polygenic inheritance; meaning that there was black blood in their line, and although it didn’t show in her parents, it reappeared with her. She was a nobody. Officially white, but the older the got, the more she appeared coloured. Times Online has a good article on her story.

The film depicts the complexities of Afrikaner people trying to make sense of the laws which at times simply doesn’t work. It beautifully show how kids were indoctrinated at school, and the culture that taught white kids that only white people require respect. And it shows how powerful political voices can ruin the life of children. It also points out how some Afrikaner people started realizing that they were wrong, in this case the official that was responsible for Sandra’s reclassification from white to coloured.

The school from which Sandra got expelled was Piet Retief primary. The school that I attended as a child. A place that I really loved. The town that rejected her, was my beloved hometown, Piet Retief. The church that didn’t stand up for the voiceless, was the congregation that formed my faith maybe more than any other. Suddenly the perpetrators of Apartheid is no longer people by the names of Botha, Vlok, Malan. But a headmaster from this small school. That not only did what he had to do, but took the initiative to get rid of this kid with her dark skin. I know people who was living in this town at that time, I know a number of people who had to be kids in this school at the time this happened. These people were our friends, people I looked up to, and still look up to. This reality have me want to take the Klopjag route, simply trying to forget that Apartheid ever happened, because the reality of how my own people participated, is just to grave. This is the stories that we would need to work through if we are to develop healthy post-Apartheid cultures.

One thing that I believe the film beautifully portrays, and that I haven’t read anywhere, is the role of gender. Apartheid is a white-man’s system, and the battles are between white men and black men. The woman seem to find ways of overcoming their differences, even in these difficult circumstances, which men find impossible. Sandra and her mother can work on their relationship after she ran away with Petrus, but her father cannot accept this, and rejects his daughter. When the struggle gets bad in the 80’s Petrus continues to blame Sandra, even though she has totally become part of the black culture. But Petrus’ mother, a gogo to Sandra, can keep the relationship open. All over the story woman find ways of building relationships much more effectively than men. Even in the way Sandra two children react to the situation. The importance of woman’s voices in reconciliation is still underestimated! And the importance of woman’s voices in politics, economics and society, to help us in preventing similar atrocities, is still under-appreciated.

Recently a group of black theological students of the URCSA studying at UP visited the Hector Peterson memorial in Soweto together with some fellow theological students from the DRC and some visiting students from the USA. Some time after the visit, the students said (in a discussion) that the Hector Peterson memorial “is not a place to visit with white people” since “it only makes you angry”. What had made them angry was that the white students said at the memorial: “We were not even born when this happened”, without any acknowledgement of their connectedness with their parents and grandparents who had been  born at the time and without owning up to the fact that they had benefited from their “whiteness”, even though they were never in the position to support or perpetrate apartheid. The unwillingness or inability to acknowledge white privilege flowing from the apartheid system is a serious obstacle to reconciliation in South Africa, and it will have to be addressed in a reconciling mission praxis.

From a paper entitled “RECONCILING ENCOUNTERS IN LUKE-ACTS” delivered by Prof Klippies Kritzenger at a conference in Stellenbosch, May 2009.

More than once I talked about the Afrikaner tribe in a series of posts on Afrikaner identity written after Amahoro 2009. I’ve been thinking about a number of Afrikaans songs for years now, and the song which probably best formulate the thoughts of many young white South Africans is that of  “Nie langer” (“not any more”) by Klopjag, that shouts out that we won’t be saying sorry any more. It’s been bothering me ever since I first heard it.

The reason can partly be found in the paragraph above: it’s not acknowledging the fact that we benefited from being white, since we are connected to our parents and grandparents. But my discomfort has been growing ever deeper, and it’s more than simply the fact that we benefited from the past. What bothers me is the fact that we actually disconnect ourselves from our own history with this song, with these words. The URCSA students maybe have a much more natural understanding of belonging to a group, to a culture, to a tribe.

My thoughts on this found special meaning in an experience at Amahoro, really a conversion experience, where my Afrikaner identity suddenly found meaning for Africa, where I believe I became an African theologian in my own eyes. Not by forgetting the past. Not by disconnecting from it in the way that the story above tells. But exactly by connecting, by remembering, by saying sorry (not out of emotions of guilt, because I honestly can’t say I experience these emotions, but in a process of reconciliation), by admitting that my tribe was wrong.

My call to Christian Afrikaners is to join your tribe. Not in opposition to the South Africa of which you are part. Not on Loftus at a Curry Cup final. But by embracing your connectedness to the past. By visiting the Hector Peterson memorial and not distancing yourself from what it says, but by connecting, working through the pain and the hurt (and my non-Afrikaner and non-white readers must hear this, embracing the connectness is a really hurtful process!), so that we can find the reconciliation on the other side. Also, to find, as a white man, liberation within Africa:

After telling our story, the story of our people, proud at times, standing guilty at times, one of my new Kenyan friends said these words: “You need to come to Kenya and come tell your story! Our people need to hear that someone can admit that they were wrong.” Those must have been some of the most liberating words I’ve ever heard!

Quoted from How one Afrikaner became an African theologian

(and on a side-note, I was part of the group that visited the Hector Peterson museum from the story above)

It’s been another great day. The best days of my life is when I meet with people who truly stretch my thought, and today has been one of them. But I blog my thoughts with some discomfort, it remain a difficult topic…

I was born in 1984. I think I got my Afrikaner blood from my mothers side, although my father is also an Afrikaner. My mother maiden name was Odendaal, it is told that during the Anglo-Boer war the English wanted to take the horses of a number of Odendaal brothers. The one chased his horses into the hills, climb up the mountain, sat behind a rock and shot the British soldiers who came looking for him. Later, he found out that his brothers gave their horses to the English, so he changed his surname to Odendal. But we are part of the double-“a” Odendaal’s.

The first known use of the word Afrikaner is that of Hendrik Biebouw, ik ben een Afrikaander, al slaat die landdrost mijn dood, of al setten hij mijn in the tronk, ik sal, nog wil niet swygen (I shall not leave, I am an Afrikaander, even it the landdrost beats me to death, or puts me in jail. I shall not, nor will be silent – Gilliomee 2003:22).

Afrikaner identity: Where do we find it?

I’m an Afrikaner. Yes, it was us who took part in the Great Trek, who fought the local people of the Transvaal and Natal, who slaughterer many, and many of us were killed. Yes, it was we Afrikaners who fought in the Anglo-Boer war, and yes, if you wondered, we still think we would have won if it weren’t for the Scorched Earth idea, and the English taking our woman and children and putting them in concentration camps. Yes, I for one still get mad from time to time. Yes, we became nationalistic after that, and we made some terrible mistakes. The whole world hated us for Apartheid (may I add that racism in other parts of the world wasn’t always so much better in these times!). This is the Afrikaners.

Where in this can we find identity? We’re not European anymore. Although we’d sometimes like to be Africans, we still struggle to become Africans again. It’s not politically correct to talk about the Anglo-Boer war, and fin identity in that, since we screwed up worse, and since that caused nationalism. Never should you find identity in Apartheid. So we end up with Braaivleis, Boerewors and Rugby… is this our identity?

Actually, I don’t find the word Afrikaner used that much, it seems to go with the word “Boer”, a term used by the conservatives and neo-nationalists, not something we nice politically correct and liberal white Afrikaans speaking people should do.

It was Mary’s questions today who got me thinking, our conversation also made it a worthwhile day. Thanks Mary! Mary from Scotland and doing a masters on us Afrikaners and the Dutch Reformed Church, I’ll be sure to link to her work when she is done. So, what do we call ourselves? Where do we find identity?

The post is getting long, so let me make my point. Klopjag sang the song nie langer, which talked about the fact that we young Afrikaans people had nothing to do with Apartheid, so we won’t say sorry, and won’t accept responsibility. The well-known De La Rey searched for Afrikaner identity by linking back to the Anglo-Boer war. The one broke with our history, the other chose to link us with that which preceded nationalism and Apartheid.

“Ik ben een Afrikaander”, Biebouw said. And with that he stated that he has broken from his European roots, and his now a child of this continent. But Afrikaner also distinguished me from an African, calling myself an Afrikaner links me to a long tradition, which is also a Western tradition. I choose to remain an Afrikaner. Both Beyers Naudé and PW Botha is part of my history, and as in every tradition, there is those you are proud, and those you’re are not proud of. I am from this continent, but I must admit that I’m also Western.

But by acknowledging this, I hope to come to the table of South Africa, because I’m fully South African, and totally committed. And maybe some would then call me an African, as Mary’s friend Wayne, himself an African, has, or Sibetiwe once saying: “You have a black heart”, but this is a label which I will not take liberty to assign to myself…

youth in South Africa

August 10, 2007

I spent some time with one of my friends yesterday. It’s someone I’ve met 5 years ago at a camp, she is 5 years younger than I am, and since then we have been taking part in each others journeys in some of the most interesting ways. It has been one of those very interesting journeys where we started out in a kind of mentoring relationship (she was in a team of which I was a leader), but journeyed to the point where it cannot be described as anything other than being friends, with no obvious role division.

We haven’t been seeing each other that often, about 3-4 times a year, when I’m visiting my home-town. So yesterday we were talking again, and we started taling politics, talking about the situation in South Africa, but especially talking about the perception of people of their age (about 18) on the situation in South Africa.

So, here is some things that I learned:

  • There is a general fear that they will struggle to get jobs, and their kids even more
  • They feel that their parents, who was part of Apartheid, is not carrying any of the consequences, but that they will be carrying the consequences (affirmative action)
  • They fear that affirmative action will just be getting worse, having a more serious effect on white people
  • They fear that we will see an ethnical war in South Africa, I’m not really sure if they fear it will be started by younger black leaders, or by white youth from the “De La Rey”-generation
  • They don’t really like Afrikaner history, and feel no real connection to it, but love the Afrikaans language, their Afrikaner identity are based on their Afrikaans language and not Afrikaner history (Listen to Klopjag – Sal nie langer jammer sê nie)
  • Sad thing… they fear the future

OK, this was simply the perception of one person on what those currently finishing school are thinking, or maybe more important, what they are percieving because of experiences. Obviously what I heard might be wrong, and many might have other perceptions. So I would like to hear from anyone, what are you hearing from the generation now finishing school. And if you are part of that generation, I would really like to hear from you !