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Van Riebeeck - Father of Conflict?

10 January 2012, 07:57

The conflict and discord, between blacks and whites in this country, is frequently said to have started with Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape. Were our cultures really all that different? Have things changed since then?

 

First, let us look at Johan Anthoniszoon “Jan” van Riebeeck the man; viewed by many Afrikaners as the founding father of their nation. His main task was to set up a halfway-station to provide fresh provisions for the VOC fleets sailing between the Dutch Republic and Batavia. He had to establish a Fruit & Veg outlet, so to speak.

 

Although Jan had lovely long hair – similar in length to reggae legend Bob Marley, he didn’t conceal cocaine in it. Even if he had wanted to, dreadlocks were not in fashion at the time and he would have stood out like a whitey at a taxi rank in Soweto. So here we have a big difference; the hairstyles of our cultures. But let us not belabour the point; this could lead to conflict.

 

Let’s rather strive towards similarities and conciliation.

 

Jan was accompanied by 82 men and 8 women. King Mswati of Swaziland has 14 wives (at the last count); his father, king Sobhuza, had 70 wives. Our own “showara wa re sokodisa” has three or four wives. So, the gender imbalance issue is nothing new.

 

There are some truly remarkable parallels in our cultures:

 

King Sobhuza, of Swaziland, had approximately 210 children; van Riebeeck had a brood of 7 or 9, depending on your source of reference. Our president has a litter of more or less 20. Again, an amazing similarity – large amounts of offspring, but the exact numbers are unknown.

 

Jan’s Dutchmen tried to obtain meat provisions through trade with the natives. Malema wants to farm with cattle to supply the meat market. Thus both our cultures are driven by supply and demand.

 

Van Riebeeck opened South Africa for white settlement; thousands of blacks now live in settlements – also known as squatter camps. This demonstrates the shared craving for settlements by both races.

 

The initial fort, named Fort de Goede Hoop, was made of mud and clay; the same materials that were used by the original inhabitants, to build their dwellings.

 

Van Riebeeck wanted honest, reliable domestic workers; Malema also wants these white domestic workers to work for him.

 

One of the locals, Herry*, served as the official interpreter for van Riebeeck. Today, every corrupt ANC official has such an assistant; called a spokesperson, or spin-doctor.

 

Van Riebeeck banished Herry after he committed several misdemeanours – like stealing cattle and barter goods. Nowadays dishonest officials, when caught “mismanaging funds,” are still banished – to serve as ambassadors in exotic countries.

 

After a couple of years Herry was allowed back in the Cape; he was not punished for his former misdemeanours. These days criminals are not punished either. Instead, they are declared to be terminally ill, and forced to spend the rest of their lives playing golf.

 

The first settlers traded (bartered) with the natives; giving them copper wire and copper plates in return for cattle. Today copper in still in great demand. Some of the natives are doing a roaring trade in stolen copper cables; exporting it via scrap-metal merchants, to China.

 

Not that old “Van” had such an untainted record himself. His most important position was that of head of the VOC trading post in Tonkin, Vietnam. However, he was called back from this post when it was discovered that he was illegally trading for his own account.  This is just like South Africa's ambassador to Indonesia, Norman Mashabane, who was recalled after having been found guilty at disciplinary hearings on 22 charges of sexual harassment, following allegations of sexual misconduct.

 

One of van Riebeeck’s sons, Abraham van Riebeeck, born at the Cape, later became Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Nepotism is still alive and prevalent in our present government.

 

Van Riebeeck had the first vineyard planted in the Company's garden; resulting in fine wines. Meanwhile, the locals were brewing their own version of beer in the shade behind Table Mountain. This clearly shows that we all had forefathers who shared the fondness of booze.

 

Lastly, Herry murdered the cattle-herd David Jansz, and took off with almost the whole of the settlers' herd of cattle. He was pursued but not captured. A major similarity here: If this event had to take place today, the cops would also have been unable to make an arrest – and even if they did manage to catch him, the docket would have been lost, or Herry would only have had to pay a small bribe.

 

So there you have it my fellow citizens – we are more similar than you thought. Now let’s get over the racism poefies, try to get along, and stop blaming one another.

  

*Note: Autshumao was known to the English as 'Harry' and to the Dutch as 'Herry'.

 

Another remarkable similarity: The names “Autshumao” and “Anthoniszoon” both begin with the first letter of the alphabet, the letter “A.” Both Autshumao and Anthoniszoon were men, and both had nicknames, i.e. Herry and Jan. Both had hair. Uncanny, isn’t it?

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