Book review – Insight into a champion of Afrikaner nationalism

2014-04-28 08:00

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DF Malan and the Rise of Afrikaner

Nationalism by Lindie Koorts


496 pages

R276 at

What I hated most about DF Malan and the Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism was that the author drills so effectively into her subject that you end up identifying with apartheid’s founding father. It’s like that guilty feeling you get while watching a movie and the villain’s character has been so well scripted and brilliantly ­acted that you are drawn to them.

This exceptional biography succeeds in doing just that.

Not because Lindie Koorts has painted a favourable or ­sympathetic picture of Malan, but ­because her research and writing give you a complete frame of the man.

On the pages, you follow the development of ­Malan from a shy and lonely youngster on the Cape farmlands to his ascension to the highest office in the land at the age of 74.

You get insight into the influences that shaped his belief system and drove his almost prophet-like zeal to forge an Afrikaner nation, free his people from the yoke of British control and entrench their supremacy over other races.

Koorts gives you the complete Malan: his family life, his personal relationships, his hates and likes, weaknesses and ­anguish, and his thought processes and strategies.

And of course his love of God.

Through letters and records of ­meetings, you get behind-the-scenes ­accounts of Afrikaner politics in the late 19th and early 20th century.

These also give you a strong sense of the other players with whom Malan shaped history.

In popular lore, it is HF Verwoerd and PW Botha, Malan’s successors, who are apartheid’s poster boys.

But it was, in fact, Malan who played the most pivotal role in developing the philosophical and religious underpinnings of apartheid.

And it was he who drove the implementation of the ideology when he became prime minister after the ousting of Jan Smuts in the watershed 1948 elections.

A deeply religious man, Malan’s initial ambition was just to serve God. As Koorts puts it: “Malan wanted to be like Elijah, a man of principle who was not interested in temporal rewards, but ­only in the eternal, even if it meant that he would not see the fruits of his labour in his own lifetime.”

As he morphed from Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), or Dutch Reformed Church, minister to newspaper editor to politician, Malan had no doubt that his mission was blessed by God. It was largely due to his role in church and politics that the NGK played such a big part in the politics of the ­National Party, and vice versa, during the 46 years of National Party power.

As a politician, Malan was a ­contradiction: patient and rushed, ­accommodating but hard-nosed, open to new ideas but resolute when it came to the primacy of his people’s cause. ­

According to his world-view, segregation was necessary for the preservation of white civilisation in South Africa.

But at the same time, he believed “the Kaffir” or “Native” needed to be ­evangelised, educated and civilised in his own area because to “leave him to his own devices” would pose a threat to whites. We now know what the ­devastating result of that was.

After reading the book, I could not help but compare it with Hermann Giliomee’s thoroughly researched but disgustingly sympathetic The Last Afrikaner Leaders, which in effect justifies apartheid as a sound policy with bad results.

DF Malan and the Rise of AfrikanerNationalism is an illuminating account of the life and times, and thinking, of a man who – other than Nelson Mandela – had the greatest impact on the ­direction of the country.

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