Max du Preez

The 'New South Africa' needs an upgrade

2015-04-14 09:12

Max du Preez

It was FW de Klerk’s famous “quantum leap” in 1989 that saved white South Africans from a civil war and certain economic catastrophe.

Perhaps it is time for a new quantum leap.

The rise of more radical movements such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and the breakaway trade unions Numsa and Amcu the last year, the daily protests in townships as well as the recent conflict around symbols make it abundantly clear that the New South Africa of 1994 is a model that urgently needs upgrading.

As was the case in the late 1980s, the minorities in South Africa are again faced with the choice to resist change and then pay a heavy price, or to become part of the process of creating a new, more just order.

It cannot be denied that the present anger at the status quo is in no small measure due to the poor performance and misdirected policies of the ANC governments since 1994.

Gestures of reconciliation

But this argument is not very effective to defuse black frustrations and resentments. White privilege and economic and social inequality remain the foremost target.

This time round there isn’t a white president backed by the power of the state who can make a dramatic speech on behalf of white people that would change the course of history.

The gestures of reconciliation and acknowledgement that we as a nation are not where we should have been after two decades of democracy, will thus have to come from a range of political, business and community leaders and organisations – and from ordinary white citizens.

The polarised and heated debate around statues and monuments is a good place to start.

Instead of gathering khaki-clad racists to “defend” the statues and singing the old apartheid anthem, white people should use this crisis to show their goodwill and to explain who they really are and how their history should be understood.

They should explain that the Afrikaners’ diverse forbears (Dutch, French and German with some slaves and Khoikhoi) never served a foreign power and turned their backs on Europe within a generation of arriving at the Cape in 1652.

Traumatic periods

They were slave owners and occupied other groups’ land, yes, but they can hardly be seen as colonialists. Perhaps you think they’re a tribe with a cruel history, but they’re still a local tribe rather than a group of foreigners.

Just as black groups went through a traumatic period of nation forming during the late Eighteen and early Nineteenth Centuries with figures such as Shaka of the Zulu, Moshoeshoe of the Sotho, Mzilikazi of the Ndebele, Sobhuza of the Swazi and Sekwato of the Pedi, so there was a process during which Afrikaners and English speaking whites were formed as groups.

Afrikaners actually only became a group with that name after the middle of the 19th century. Afrikaner nationalism was not a reaction to an anti-black sentiment. It was fuelled by a deep resentment of British colonialism.

The era of the Boer republics and the devastating war against the British Empire of 1899 – 1901 was the Afrikaners’ version of the Difaqane. Figures such as Paul Kruger should thus be compared with Shaka and Moshoeshoe rather than with Cecil John Rhodes.

I would love to see groups representing many whites such as AfriForum, Solidarity, the Afrikaans churches, the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV), the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut and others propose that all colonial symbols and everything reminding us today of the apartheid era be moved to museums and history parks, but that the symbols remembering the first white settlers, the Great Trek and the Boer Republics be respected.

But they should also realise that some of these symbols are in the wrong places or create the impression of white triumphalism.

I would like to see a proposal coming from white interest groups that Paul Kruger be moved from Church Square to the Voortrekker Monument and be replaced by a fountain similar to the one that was there before the Kruger statue.

General Louis Botha’s statue shouldn’t be trashed, but there should be a recognition that his prominent position at the entrance to parliament sends a wrong message.

Jan Smuts was a great intellectual and famous international statesman, but he was part of the decision to exclude black South Africans from full citizenship when South Africa became a state in 1910.

What a great move it would be if we erected a statue of his contemporary and intellectual equal, Pixley ka-Isaka Seme, right next to him at the top of Adderley Street in Cape Town. (Google him.)

Respecting monuments

Jan van Riebeek was an employee of the Dutch East Indian Company and not a man of great intellect or talent. He only spent ten years at the Cape and didn’t leave any offspring here. Most Afrikaners view the statue of him in Cape Town not as hero-worshipping this mediocre clerk, but as a reminder of the arrival of the first permanent settlers from Europe.

But the Van Riebeek statue’s position on Cape Town’s Foreshore does not recognise that when he arrived in April 1652, he found an indigenous people with a rich culture and spirituality that had been there for millennia. What a good gesture it would be if some white business concern offered to commission a statue for the Khoikhoi leader in the peninsula in 1652, Autshomato, right next to Van Riebeek.

These moves would give legitimacy to a request that the Voortrekker Monument, already contextualised by Freedom Park right next door, and monuments such as the 1820 Settlers Monument in Grahamstown, a monument to the ancestors of many English speakers rather than to British imperialism, be respected.

I would love to see a proposal coming from the white community that the verses from Die Stem be removed from our national anthem and be replaced by verses in Afrikaans and English following the same melody as the rest of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

These gestures could set the table for an energetic, ambitious and innovative toenadering from the part of whites that could help to change the over-heated, polarised political climate in this country.
The alternative could be instability and more insecurity.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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