Zuma: Afrikaners true S Africans
Johannesburg - ANC president Jacob Zuma called Afrikaners the only true South Africans among whites, during a meeting with representatives of Afrikaner groups in Sandton on Thursday.
"Of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word," Zuma said.
The representatives of various Afrikaner agricultural, women's and cultural organisations listened intently after Zuma broke the ice by trying to speak Afrikaans.
"I won't go very far in Afrikaans. As you know I grew up in Natal... and in Natal we are more English than anything.. So that's why ek praat nie mooi Afrikaans nie (I don't speak good Afrikaans)," he said, letting out a long belly laugh.
With the audience leaning forward in their seats, he said: "Up to this day, they (the Afrikaners) don't carry two passports, they carry one. They are here to stay."
Some of the representatives tried to applaud, but stopped to listen as he continued.
He said since the Afrikaners embarked on the Great Trek from the Cape to the north, they had made many contributions to the country and encounters with Afrikaners had been both friendly and hostile over the centuries.
Afrikaners were part of the discovery of the riches of the country, they helped shaped a union out of separate republics and they made an immense contribution to military history.
"General de la Rey invented things that got adapted by the world today as some of the best things to do if you fight a war," he said of the Boer general Koos de la Rey, who holds icon status among some Afrikaners.
He broached the apartheid era delicately and with a touch of humour.
He said the Afrikaners were "innovative" in their approach to complaints about apartheid, giving it new names, like "separate development", whenever there was a grievance.
"If you want freedom, here's your homeland," he laughed.
But, he said, "whether you like their politics or what they did, is a different matter, but it was part of the process of making South Africa what it is today".
He said the Afrikaners were also part of the negotiations towards democracy.
"They have been there, in whatever twists and turns this country went through."
White tribe in black continent
Drawing his audience in further, Zuma said: "It is the only white tribe in a black continent or outside of Europe which is truly African, the Afrikaner."
Zuma said that after the advent of South Africa's first democratic elections, Afrikaners withdrew because the blame for apartheid "was being placed squarely on the Afrikaners, on the National Party".
They sat back for a long time, but eventually decided they were "of an African tribe" and could not sit back forever.
They were searching for a leader, which was evident in the song De La Rey, Zuma said, speaking off the cuff.
"De la Rey, come and lead us, they are saying, 'we need a leader'."
He understood this because if he was feeling the same, he would be casting around for a new Shaka.
It was good that Afrikaners were trying to see how they could play a role, and dialogues such as Thursday's were important.
He appreciated the Afrikaner's honesty.
"When the Afrikaner says you are my friend, they mean it. When they say you are my enemy, they mean it," he said of the talks that would be closed to the media.
"We need to talk... it's the best thing we can do."
Zuma said he was heartened by what he saw at the private Afrikaner ranch Orania in the Northern Cape.
"If all communities could organise themselves like Orania, we will fight poverty," he said, with Orania leader Carel Boshoff in the room.
A conference organiser said Zuma's opening speech was expected to be "fuzzy" but a later address at 15:30 after talks with the Afrikaans leaders, would get down to business.