Bullies and nice people

2010-10-21 00:00

THE anonymous writer* of “Not the Afrikaners I know” (The Witness, October 11) challenges some of the statements made by Merrick Hawthorn in his article titled “Racism or nationalism?” and in doing so reveals a quaint inno­cence.

He asks whether the statement “we kept well away from our Afrikaans school neighbours for fear of being beaten up” is really true.

I can vouch for the veracity of that statement. It most definitely is true. I didn’t have the privilege of having an English school to attend on Koegas Asbestos mine in the Bo Karoo in the mid-fifties. All three of us Engelse had to attend Koegasbrug Laerskool, and I was the only Soutstring to ride in the bus from Westerberg over the Orange River via the Riley Bridge to school at Koegas, and back, every day. And get beaten up regularly for Boer War crimes against Afrikaans humanity. How does a parent answer a bloodied and tearful five-year-old’s question after his first day on the bus? “Mommy, what is the Boer War?”

“Did they beat you up for being English-speaking or where they just being bullies?” the writer asks.

Of course they were bullies. And as to whether they would have done the same had I been English, Afrikaans or Zulu-speaking, the answer is: English-speaking? Yes. They were taught by their parents to hate the English.

Afrikaans? Of course not. The only time I ever recall them making a half-hearted attempt at beating up a fellow Afrikaner was when Christo Snyman, a newcomer to the mine who had become my friend during the holidays, had the traitorous audacity to stand over my cowering body and demand to know what the devil they were doing. Had they gone mad?

Zulu-speaking? Don’t make jokes. (It would’ve been Griqua- Afrikaans or Sotho in those parts.) Any non-white who had the misfortune to be found outnumbered by those hyenas would have been lucky to have got away with their lives.

“Where were your parents?” you ask. Certainly not on the school bus or in the playground. They did complain to the headmaster and to the parents, but I’m sure the head pleaded ignorance and the parents laughed in their faces.

Certainly there were other people bullying in the forties (in Hawthorn’s case, the fifties in mine). I found that out when I got to boarding school in Kimberley at the age of eight, but it was the occasional case of a bigger guy beating up a younger or weaker one and it wasn’t tolerated by the older pupils or the teachers. It wasn’t the mass bullying based on prejudice and egged on by bystanders, parents and teachers alike. One would never have the case of a group of Standard 3 and Standard 4 boys dragging a Sub B boy out of the classroom at break — in the teacher’s presence — to beat him up for “all the women and children who were murdered in the concentration camps” and roll him in dog faeces, and then have the teacher laugh and tell this distraught child not to “be a baby”.

Maybe not in Natal, my friend, but in the Transvaal, Vrystaat and Northern Cape, all the time. The Power of One was not completely fictional.

I’m glad your business is doing well, sir. And, yes, there are nice Afrikaners — Christo is one as was my neighbour, Hercules van Heerden (who would vanish when the fights began) and my loyal friend, Henry, and many others, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there was, and still is in some places, a big divide between Afrikaans and English speakers.

Incidentally, my heroes were, and are, the Boer generals (the honourable men, not the Ossewa scum like Robey Leibbrandt and Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster). What’s the Eighth Army and who’s King George VI anyway?


* The writer was Niel Bruwer. His byline was deleted from the page due to a printing error. — Features Editor.

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