Newsmaker – I’m an African with a light complexion

2011-09-17 16:44

Kallie Kriel chuckles dryly when asked if he’s a bitter racist and anti-ANC rightwinger angered by Afrikaners’ loss of political power in 1994.

“The easiest thing for someone when they don’t agree with what you’re doing is not to address the argument but simply to say it’s a lunatic, right-wing fringe organisation,” says Kriel, speaking from his Pretoria office.

“I’m an African with a light ­complexion and I’m not ­going to leave the country. I’m not going to Australia. I’ve only been to Europe once and it felt quite strange.”

The ANC Youth League has suggested in many attacks against AfriForum that it’s an organisation with racist, right-wing tendencies whose aim is to stifle the economic emancipation of black people.

The youth league has been ­involved in a public spat with ­AfriForum after the lobby group laid corruption charges against its president, Julius Malema, and took him to court for singing the struggle song Dubula ibhunu.

This week Judge Colin Lamont ruled that singing Dubula ibhunu constituted hate speech, and the words of the song undermined ­Afrikaners’ dignity, and were discriminatory and harmful. The ANC is appealing the ruling.

Kriel says the judgment augurs well for democracy, and looking on the bright side, the publicity ­garnered by the court action against Malema has helped AfriForum’s membership grow threefold, from 10 000 to almost 30 000.

“It seems Malema’s contribution to democracy is to make civil society strong, but it’s definitely an unintended consequence,” he says.

Kriel’s a likeable fellow who laughs nervously while pausing to ponder and craft his words, ­perhaps gaining time to translate his thoughts from his mother tongue, Afrikaans, to English.

Photos of a leaner Kriel taking part in sporting events, ­including two Comrades marathons and swimming competitions, occupy pride of place alongside those of his family on a wall in his office.

He’s married with four children – aged 13, 10, six and four – and one of the reasons he took on ­Malema over Dubula ibhunu is to make sure they don’t grow up wondering why anyone would want to shoot them.

He coaches a junior soccer team his eldest son plays for and doesn’t miss the opportunity to stress that it has black players.

Kriel says he saw the need for a group like AfriForum ­because, after 1994, most Afrikaners realised they were not going to win any ­election. So they quit politics, went into business, emigrated or ­resorted to “destructive” practices like those of the ­Boeremag.

“They’re the exact opposite of what we stand for,” says Kriel about the Boeremag.

They have been criticised in the right-wing ­Afrikaans newspaper Die Afrikaner for “sucking up” to the ANC by issuing a statement in Setswana backing the Springboks.

“The problem in this country is that people don’t necessarily look at what you do, but rather at who’s doing it. I think we like stereotypes. People would rather see us as people who just drink brandy and Coke, and only watch rugby.”

He says while there was ­widespread support for the non-governmental organisation Sonke Gender Justice Network when it took Malema to court for statements he made against the woman who’d laid charges of rape against President Jacob Zuma, AfriForum has been vilified for going to court.

Kriel says AfriForum is equally opposed to the actions and statements of right-wing groups like the Boeremag as it is to ­Malema’s singing of Dubula ­ibhunu.

“The problem with someone like Julius Malema and all these rightwing groups is that they romanticise war. Sometimes you hear right-wing groups saying, ‘shoot! shoot! shoot!’” he says.

“But you know, when you shoot people, they shoot back and it’s not nice. And I think Julius Malema should also learn that. When you go into war, it’s ugly and it’s not in anyone’s interest.”

What of the ANC’s argument that the hate speech ruling amounts to an eradication of the struggle heritage, and whether it was really necessary to take Malema to court?

The old flag might hold fond memories of his childhood, but it would be “unfair” to hoist it in ­public as it “represents the apartheid legacy to some and how the system violated rights”.

“The big danger is that if you ignore this, you open the door to fringe right-wing groups. They use the false argument that if they use the k-word it isn’t ­derogatory as its meaning in Arabic refers to a non-religious person.

“But of course we know the connotations of the word. You can’t say it’s my culture, we’ve been using it for 50 years.

You have to get it out of your system.”

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