Stirrings in the heart of ‘Die Volk’

2010-03-13 00:00

DETRIBALISED, marginalised and satirised. The Afrikaner, conventional wisdom has it, is no longer a factor in South African politics.

Hermann Giliomee, author of The Afrikaners: Biography of a People, takes a contrary view. He wrote in Beeld that while working on the second edition of his magisterial history, it became apparent that there is a “stirring” within the volk.

Afrikaners are learning that it is possible to mobilise from a minority position, especially in defence of cultural and language rights. He cites the alliance of Afrikaner groups that forced the government’s withdrawal of the controversial Expropriation Bill.

One reason for this stirring is that the boere can no longer hitch their wagons and head off in search of new pastures, as was their wont. The second great trek — heading overseas and elsewhere in Africa — has been stymied by the global downturn.

“With the escape valve of emigration mostly closed and with an inefficient and vacillating president, South Africa could become a very interesting place in the next five years. Minorities … could be in a position to assert themselves again. The Afrikaners’ last chapter is a long way from being written,” asserts Giliomee.

His predictions evoke mixed feelings in this particular, happily detribalised, Afrikaner. There is an unattractive streak of self-pity in the Afrikaner character and, when it is combined with inflated self-regard, it is unbearable. Not to forget how negating Afrikanerdom has been of others. Ask the Jews, Catholics, gays, English-speakers and blacks.

Afrikaners admittedly also have admirable strengths. There is a scary ability to endure hardship and take on vastly superior forces, in the unshakeable belief that they will overcome. And then there is their unquenchable love of this land.

So if Afrikaners are shaking off their political torpor, on balance it’s good news. While one cannot but stifle a snigger at their new fondness for constitutional checks and balances, one can take consolation in the fact that everyone will benefit if they pursue democracy with the same doggedness that they advanced apartheid.

After all, someone needs to stand up to the African National Congress and the legendary pugnacity of the Afrikaner makes them well suited to the task. Let’s face it, Anglophone South Africans of all races are too mobile internationally and instinctively freethinking even to begin to stand together.

This is aggravated by a honed instinct for appeasement. Look at the craven head-bobbing from business at the first sign of government displeasure, as when FNB backed off from its anti-crime crusade a few years ago.

Not that Afrikaners are immune. Giliomee previously bemoaned the constant attempts by the Jewish and Afrikaner elite to placate the government at any cost: “The implicit argument is that interracial and interethnic peace is quite fragile and needs regular gestures … of goodwill by white communities.”

The problem with Giliomee’s prediction of a “stirring” is the decline of Afrikaner cohesiveness. Their schools and universities are becoming anglicised, both through government pressure and through the voluntary embrace by many of the English language because of the doors it opens. The only instantly identifiable Afrikaner leaders are defunct (FW de Klerk), defected (Marthinus van Schalkwyk), or deranged (Eugene Terre’Blanche). Their churches have lost their moral and cultural choke hold and the Broederbond — once a feared illuminati — has morphed into a benevolent boere equivalent of Rotary.

Afrikaners are divided and distracted, apolitical and apathetic. One must hope then that the ANC makes the same mistake that the colonial British government did. Goad them until they are really gatvol. Then the boere might bestir their comfortable lard-arses and actually do something.

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