Growing pains: A Sisulu and a Verwoerd walk into a bar?.?.?.

2013-03-31 10:00

Driving down one of the town’s main roads into the morning brightness, I felt as if I had taken somewhat of a step back into time.

Passing authentic Cape Dutch-style buildings and the old bank that still had Eerste Nationale Bank pinned up on the wall, my little time travel ended on the steps of the local art museum.

I was in Stellenbosch, the last bastion of Afrikaner might.

I got a sense of this when the first item that caught my eye in the museum was a massive painting of the Battle of Ncome River, or as the boere would say “Bloed Rivier”.

The day of their vow.

I grew up knowing this day to be MK Day, the day the liberation struggle became the armed struggle. Interesting how differently we see the same things, isn’t it?

So how do the children of the heroes of the apartheid regime see the world?

Having long wondered how the other half lives, I relished meeting the grandsons of Hendrik Verwoerd and John Verwoerd at Woordfees, Stellenbosch’s annual Afrikaans Literary Festival.

Carel Boshoff Jr – grandson of Verwoerd and son of Carel Boshoff, the founder of Orania – John Vorster Jr and I were on a panel talking about our views of South Africa’s future.

The entire discussion was to take place in Afrikaans in front of an audience of about 120 largely retirees and be broadcast live on RSG. Oh my, what was I in for?

Surprises, I was in for surprises.

The first time came when I was invited to participate in the first place.

The late Mandy Rossouw introduced Rapport (City Press’ sister paper) editor designate Waldimar Pelser and I.

Pelser, surprisingly, was as internationally urbane as his name is deeply Afrikaans.

Shockingly, I found myself nodding at many of the comments that my fellow panellists were making.

Not only did those dreaded Afrikaans classes eventually come in handy, but I actually found myself in agreement with these chaps from time to time.

Carel, who is president of the Orania Movement, made a compelling case for self-directed investment in our different national groups.

I could feel the “hear hear” from my inner Bikoist.

But he is still a separatist, which to me is decidedly monastic – most of us don’t have the option of dropping out to get ahead in life.

It was in response to a comment from an octogenarian about leaving apartheid in the past that the young Vorster caught my attention.

He spoke of our need to address the past.

Even more astonishing was the audience’s reception when I shared the hard truth: if we don’t take the pain of dealing with the decisions of our ancestors now, we bequeath it to our own kids.

They listened.

It seemed that here was not the community of embittered, angry, hateful verkramptes holed up in hidden privilege that I had secretly expected.

Here were South Africans, concerned and interested in how to win together as a nation.

How unexpected.

Later, in a private chat with Vorster Jr, he speaks about meeting the family of the Iranian Shah in London and the conversations they had about being on the wrong side of history.

He eschews his grandfather’s outlook on race, as does his sister, who remarkably embraced her right to marry an Indian man this past Human Right’s Day.

The Shah’s family, while accepting that history judges their scion, had noted that the current administration wasn’t covering itself in glory and that one day history may in fact revise its opinion – and demonise the Shah.

Was this possible here? I wondered. John Vorster Jr, the last male in his grandfather’s line, smiles before responding.

“No, African liberation movements will be proven right by the economic growth that the continent is about to experience.”

An Afro-optimist?! And I had to come deep into the boer’s lair to find him.

Perhaps that best explains what growing up is about – looking past our expectations, and forward to?our­?inspirations.

Happy Easter.

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