Lauren said, “So are you going to the Afrikaner meeting?”
I said if the Afrikaners were meeting, I didn’t know about it. So she sent me a picture of the lamppost with the poster.
The Volksraadverkiesingskomitee was calling a meeting. In English they suggest that they be called the “Electoral Commission for the Election of a Boer-Afrikaner People’s Assembly”.
If you showed me this two years ago, I would have laughed. A year ago, I would have run away and hidden under something, terrified of what is happening to the Afrikaners, this group of people with whose past I identify so strongly and whose politics today drive me to utter despair.
This year, because I believe that God is inviting me to come to terms with every aspect of my identity, I said: “Let’s go.”
So Lauren and Lweendo thought about it. We all read up about the VVK at http://www.vvk.co.za, and they sort of chickened out, but I said I’m going whether they join me or not. And so we went.
It is difficult to be objective when I tell you of that evening. How can three young friends, who would all have been housed in different areas under Apartheid, be objective about a meeting of 40 odd Afrikaners who want self-determination? We’ve had a lot of discussions since that night and we’re still reeling a bit. But in light of what happened the next morning, we decided we should try to tell you what we saw. Lauren and Lweendo added their comments at the end. They might be the only people who don’t fit the demographic who have witnessed a meeting like this, and I might be the only “volksgenoot” who was there as a traitor instead of a potential registered and paid-up member.
There is one more thing I want to say before I start. If you are tempted to ridicule and belittle these people, I want you to realise that you have now met the limits of your own open-mindedness and compassion. If you cannot regard these people as your fellow human beings and worthy of some respect, you do not espouse the spirit of reconciliation upon which this nation was born, any more than they do.
We walked up to the door slowly, wondering what we would find. We had decided not to speak at the meeting, not wanting to get involved in long debates. We wanted to observe. But would we be allowed to? Were these guys actually dangerous or just radical? Lauren, whose parents raised her in English like many other “coloured” parents of their generation, arranged with me that I will translate words for her if necessary. We took a deep breath and strode inside.
The first thing you noticed was the flags. There were no Old South Africa flags, if you were wondering. I don’t think the VVK really liked the Old South Africa, founded as it was after the loss of the Boer republics in the Anglo-Boer War. Instead, the Vierkleur van Transvaal forms part of the VVK’s logo.
We picked a row about midway through the room. There was one young man sitting about six seats into the row, and we took up the three at the end, he suddenly stood up with conviction and asked that we please get up and let him pass so that he can switch to the row behind us.
Two men seemed kind of amused by us and they held their video camera on us for a long time, grinning. We shrugged and grinned back and speculated what they’d use the footage for.
I was kind of enjoying the attention. People, mostly my parents’ age, were glancing at us and then looking away, talking. Twice, people came up to us and asked whether we knew what the meeting was about and whether we were in the right place. A young man behind us leaned over and said, “Julle weet hierdie hele vergadering gaan in Afrikaans wees, nè?” I replied: “Ja, dis nie ‘n probleem nie,” and he said “Wel, miskien nie vir jou nie.” Lweendo turned around and said, practically without accent: “Ja, ek verstaan!” Growing up as the daughter of a Zambian doctor, on the white side Krugersdorp, will do that!
We also noticed the little copper busts on the front desk. Afrikaner heroes, presumably. I thought I saw Paul Kruger. There was also a female bust and we wondered who that could be. Lweendo guessed Emily Hobhouse; I guess Racheltjie de Beer. Then I had to tell Lweendo about Racheltjie de Beer.
The meeting was opened “op die gepaste manier” with scripture reading and prayer. The speaker read the story of Gideon from Judges 7, telling the audience that it is clear from the Bible that God can use even a small group of people to do His will, and that the Afrikaners must not get downhearted because God will help them to fulfil their God-given mission. He prayed, saying: “We know we as a people have sinned and that this is why you have punished us by taking away our freedom”.
Then a man introduced himself as Paul Kruger, a lawyer from Pretoria. He serves as the chairperson of the Volksraad Verkiesingskommissie and addressed the meeting as “Volksgenote”. The word “volk”, used also in Hitler’s National Socialism, cannot be translated and means something like an ethnic nation. He was thus calling the audience “fellow members of the nation”.
I will not repeat Mr Kruger’s introduction, because he basically explained what the VVK is about as it is set out on their website. You can read their statement in English if you scroll down on this page http://www.vvk.co.za/8927.html. If you understand Afrikaans, you can also scan through their legal argument here http://www.vvk.co.za/33519/60530.html. At this meeting, which is part of a national tour, some of the nominees for the Volksraad would have a chance to address us.
There were only four nominees present, as most of them reside in Gauteng and could not take leave from work. The four addressed the audience in turn, each one’s CV first being read by Mr Kruger. Mr Kruger expressed great pride at the fact that there are close to 20 nominations. He said it encouraged him to have proof such as this that those Afrikaners who said the volk has no more leaders anymore are wrong.
The four nominees present were all male, and I wondered if there were no women running, but I see on the website that there is one woman among them. The meeting was also predominantly attended by men, but some married couples attended. The CVs of the four nominees were so composed as to convince voters of their involvement with ethnic/cultural organisations, their commitment to family and church, and the successes of their careers. Some of the organisations that they belong to or have belonged to included: Die GHA, the Herstigte Nasionale Party, die Voortrekkers, die Rapportryerskorps, die Majuba Boeretrust, the Oranje Sake-instituut, die Geloftefees Herdenkingskomitee, Projek 2010, Suiderland Media, die Oraniabeweging. They all belonged either to the APK (Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk) or Dutch Reformed (NG) Church.
I can now relay some of the arguments to you, although I must emphasise that I may have misunderstood them in some ways.
A key element in the ideology of this group is that white people and especially Afrikaners are under siege in South Africa. They speak of how white people’s numbers are dwindling and how the insufficient policing of our borders conveniently allows even more black Africans into the country to outnumber whites. Black-on-white violence, according to them, amounts to genocide. I think any one of them would say that they live in constant fear, for themselves and their families. Especially in the case of brutal farm murders, where they emphasise that the motive is not always even theft. The song “Dubun’ ibunu” / Shoot the Boer is often mentioned, with the implication that black South Africans are being officially encouraged to commit these acts of hatred. I say “black” South Africans but it seemed to me that the speakers did not have a very nuanced conception of the Other that they believe themselves to be up against. They also often spoke of “strangers” (vreemdes) instead of giving a description of their enemy. One of them has laid a claim at an international genocide watchdog.
They also clearly believe that the Afrikaner’s mission in Africa is God-given. They see their quest as a continuation of the Battle of Blood River and the religiously inspired narrative of the Afrikaners, identifying strongly with the Old Testament. They did not explicitly state that Afrikaners are superior to other races. They did not mention how Afrikaners benefit Africa.
There is also a pervasive denial of guilt. One speaker went so far as to insist that Afrikaners never took away the hartland of any other volk; that in fact, others were given additional “lewensruimte” by the Afrikaners – referring here to the Apartheid homeland policy. Afrikaners were too nice to the volksvreemdes, and this kindness has turned around to bite them. One nominee also emphasised that Afrikaners have a juridical, moral, and historical right to self-determination.
Finally there was a deep disgust at the current government – not only because they feel inadequately protected, but because of corruption, of which all black leaders are indiscriminately accused. In fact I think it is safe to say that the current government of South Africa enjoys no legitimacy with the speakers at this meeting, except in so far as they consider their mission potentially justified by Article 235 of the Constitution.
But they would not use these negative themes to describe themselves. Instead, maybe they would talk about a hope at a better future for their children. Many of the speakers that evening – all men – spoke of their responsibility towards their families, who cower in fear in their homes at night. These men feel it their duty to be able to tell their wives, daughters and sons that they are working towards securing a country for them where their enemies cannot harm them.
Maybe they would tell you that they are merely struggling for their own freedom – that they are freedom fighters in their own right, committed to the cause of the freedom of their people from the legal, physical and intellectual oppression of those who wish them ill.
Or maybe they would tell you of their deep faith in God. But I find it so difficult to reconcile my Christian faith to theirs that I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about that.
Abel Malan’s speech was the most radical. He wholeheartedly agreed with what the others said, he simply turned up the heat several degrees. He said that white people are a dwindling minority in South Africa. There is only one possibility for survival: to occupy some small area (possibly one obtained through negotiations with the ANC government) and to re-populate it. And then, to begin to re-conquer the old, white South Africa. The Afrikaners are a minority, but must make themselves unmissable, he said.
Malan also lashed out the most aggressively against volksgenote who have forsaken their Godly calling to aspire to self-determination; those who are so naïve to believe that they have any future in the so-called new South Africa. Also those who, like prof Anton van Niekerk, dare to tell other Afrikaners that they should be humble and feel guilty about the Bush War – a war that they won! “Humility!” he repeated with disgust. The Afrikaner has never been humble, he insisted. It is not what the Afrikaner does. He said that Afrikaners do not mix with others, nor do they “humbly” let others step all over them. He was outraged, he said, that they are up against enemies not only outside their ranks, but also from people like this professor, who should be on their side! But, he told us, he had made an appointment with this professor for the following morning, to discuss the article.
Upon hearing this, my friends and I were not really concerned. I actually thought it would be quite a good idea for Malan to speak to the professor face to face. I thought it quite mature. That’s before I found out that Malan evidently subscribes to the proverb: As hy nie wil hoor nie, moet hy voel.
Mr Kruger often interjected throughout the evening, offering information and opinions, and as far as we could see, he has done his legal homework properly. He said it was crucial that the VVK leaders, once elected, at least attempt to obtain a Volkstaat through the legal channels. One of the nominees – the only one from the Western Cape – beseeched the others not to make any more enemies, but to maintain the moral high ground and to win the sympathy of the international community. Many of them spoke enthusiastically of strategies to get their message out: they have 30 000 registered members, but believed that many more would join their cause if word could reach them. All of them, except Abel Malan, seemed willing to keep the peace by letting Afrikaans white South Africans like me, who have absolutely no desire to live in an Afrikaner volkstaat, enjoy our place in the sun. In a way, I walked out with respect for them. Respect, and concern. We left after about two and a half hours, when they were about to share their financial situation with the group.
Lauren continues the story:
As we discussed the bizarre way we spent our evening, several things came to light. Lauren was quite happy to sign off on a decision to give them their own boertjie homeland, after all it seemed that the VVK was legally entitled to it. However, the more interesting part that Lauren was interested in was to see whether they would ever be able to legally plead for state resources given that they had seceded from the Republic. In general, we discussed how an economic model of a Volkstaat might work in a globalised economy. Mostly we also discussed how the VVK could not seem to think that anyone else in South Africa – besides their volk – was also angry at the levels of crime and corruption. In this vein, Lweendo mentioned that her mom’s white friends were very surprised to hear that crime happens to black people too.
Since hearing of the assault of Prof. van Niekerk, it will be interesting to see whether the VVK distances themselves from the actions of Abel Malan. If not, then whatever individual amounts of democratic respect and tolerance we held for them that night in Stellenbosch have quickly dissipated.
Sitting discussing the meeting as an intellectual exercise was all well and good but reading about the assault of Prof. van Niekerk the next morning made our experience all the more poignant. Often when it comes to these issues we sit outside and judge these ideologies. But we sat in that meeting, we heard those men speak. We saw them for what they are, fellow South Africans looking for an identity.
Please note – below, some of the most notable Afrikaans comments have been translated by Cara, including one by a VVK nominee.