Max du Preez

Homeland 'a pipe dream'

2010-01-20 14:26

Oh dear, that old "white homeland" chestnut is with us again.

The Johannesburg Afrikaans newspaper Beeld did a (rather unscientific) opinion poll among its readers about the volkstaat concept last week and was shocked to find most readers supported it.

Since then angry letter writers to the newspapers have savaged journalists who wrote negatively about a Boerestan.

The editor, Tim du Plessis, observed in an opinion piece that there has recently been a shift to the right among Afrikaners who are fed up with what they regard as the ANC's misrule.

I read the letters on the paper's website with growing surprise - how can so many seemingly sane people believe that a separate state for Afrikaners/whites inside the borders of present-day South Africa is even a remote possibility without a drawn-out civil war?

How can they not accept that the only effort at establishing a volkstaat so far, Orania, has failed to grow beyond a few hundred families after all these years?

But I don't want to argue the practical impossibilities of this pipe dream here today. I want to tell those people about my experiences of the past week that reminded me of why I love to live inside a multi-racial South Africa so much.

I'm part of an American documentary on our transition to democracy. On Saturday we filmed at the Boer War concentration camp cemetery in my home town of Kroonstad; on Sunday we filmed on top of Thaba Bosiu, home of the legendary founder and king of the Basotho, Moshoeshoe; on Monday we were in Soweto; and yesterday we visited the Voortrekker Monument and Vlakplaas outside Pretoria, former base of the SAP's death squad.

Just four days, but representing huge chunks of our rich, fascinating history and heritage.

I was deeply moved at the Kroonstad concentration camp monument. My grandmother was imprisoned there - her mother and several of her sisters were among the about two thousand women and children who died in the camp under the most appalling circumstances.

My relationship with that great injustice more than a century ago is a direct one - my grandmother, who helped bring me up, told me many stories about her experiences in the camp.

On Sunday I proudly introduced the American filmmaker to one of the most spectacular statesmen in the world of the early 19th century, King Moshoeshoe. During the most traumatic time for central South Africa, the mfecane, he stabilised the region and with extraordinary wisdom and diplomacy gathered refugees on his mountain top and so forged the Basotho nation.

On Monday I took the cameras to Protea police station and to Orlando West High and Morris Isaacson High, where I was a witness in June 1976 of very brave young people standing up to the mighty machinery of the apartheid state. They changed our history forever.

I ate delicious mieliepap and lamb stew at a restaurant near Nelson Mandela's old house in Orlando, and listened to a talented young woman entertaining the lunch guests with some of Miriam Makeba's most beautiful songs.

On Monday I told the interviewer of the meaning of the rough, freedom-loving Boers who took part in the Great Trek and formed the two Boer republics that were later involved in a proud but hugely uneven war with the British Empire. The Voortrekker Monument was built to honour these Voortrekkers.

There are many, many other facets to our nation and to our shared history, but these four days helped me realise once again what a privilege it is for me to have been born in this country during this era.

There are some really depressing things going on in our country - like the shocking, criminal neglect by the corrupt and inept ANC-controlled municipality of Kroonstad. But what kind of person would prefer to turn his/her back on this rich human tapestry to go and live in a bloodless, sanitised and isolated little laager where only white Afrikaners are welcome?

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