It is surprisingly easy to fail at being an Afrikaner. Behave the wrong kind of badly in Stellenbosch and the decision is final: the tribe has spoken.
Stellenbosch inhabits a special misty-eyed place in the Afrikaner psyche. Like so many Boland towns, it is disturbingly picturesque. But its clout sets it apart. Unlike Franschhoek or Paarl, it has free-thinking academics, freeloading students and achingly rich Afrikaners who may not be from there, but love calling it home.
If you want to leave South Africa, Stellenbosch is a great place to go. The town constitutes a melange of pastoral Europe and apartheid. Coming from the N1, you pass between Kayamandi’s corrugated iron and Cloetesville’s ganglands until you reach a bridge over an undeveloped buffer zone between the poor and some light industry. But keep making your way down Bird Street and, by the time you’ve passed Pep, you are leaving all that unpleasantness behind. You have reached the Stellenbosch that rich people mean when they say “Stellenbosch”.
To get to the really, really good part of town, you need to take a left, drive through the university campus and carry on a bit to the stately homes beyond. That’s an ideal place to view some of the capitalists who captured the university.
If I had an entirely different personality, I could have been a white with monopoly capital. I matriculated from the Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch; I studied at the university; I have met the capitalists and, more extensively, their children. At school, they were almost exclusively bullies, making them particularly suited for monopoly capitalism.
Maybe it would have been different if I played rugby. That in itself validates my decision not to play rugby. Along with the fact that I don’t like being mauled on lawns by muscle men.
The Stellenbosch Mafia is a loose and loosely unfair name for the Afrikaner-industrial complex seated in the town. Its members include Johann Rupert and Jannie Durand from Remgro; Dr Edwin Hertzog from Mediclinic International; Jannie Mouton of PSG; and the now embattled figures of Christo Wiese, Whitey Basson and Markus Jooste. (For full effect, I encourage you to read their names in an Afrikaans accent. The disgraced former chief executive officer of Steinhoff is not called “Marcus”.)
Disgrace in the dorp
The biggest tumble from grace has been for Wiese, his son Jakob and his protégé Jooste. The scandal at Steinhoff grows every time you go to the loo. Last week, Jooste left in disgrace. On Thursday night, it was Wiese’s turn to be humiliated. Steinhoff said he “offered to resign” as chairperson. It was all his call, Steinhoff’s board appeared to insist, as if it ever insisted on anything else.
I do not allege any criminality on the part of Bekker, Wiese, Stellenbosch or any other names or places I might mention. Some of the sharpest minds at the National Prosecuting Authority will decide that for themselves should they become available again.
More interesting, to me, is the reputational collapse of the dynasties that cast their malevolence across swathes of my youth. Born and bred secure in comfort, they form less a mafia than a Broederbond 2.0 – leaner than the legacy ware and optimised for a captured South Africa.
Of rugby and residences
Broeders 2.0, of course, are just the latest incarnation of Stellenbosch’s long line of cynical nobility. From the time Simon van der Stel founded the second white settlement of a freshly colonised South Africa, the town has been ruled by a clique of Dutch-Afrikaans folk who understand the Stellenbosch sleight of hand. The town’s beauty and academic rigour mask the machinations of an entitled, patriarchal clan that have captured so much of South Africa’s riches.
They got away with it for so long because it all seemed so legit. They got their capital under apartheid, but South Africa’s re-entry into the world after 1994 would truly make their capital take flight.
It really did soften the blow of losing the country.
Besides, who needs South Africa if you can have Stellenbosch? It has always had the infrastructure to recruit and deploy the Super Afrikaners.
How do they do it? Residences and rugby. Maybe Steinhoff only became widely known once it fell into disrepute, but not in Stellenbosch. Go to Maties rugby matches on Saturdays at Coetzenburg Stadium and you’re in for a Steingasm. Not only does Steinhoff sponsor the university’s rugby team and all other sporting codes, it sponsors every single residence’s rugby team too. Any given Saturday, you might see Steinhoff Dagbreek take on Steinhoff Wilgenhof. The winners will take on Steinhoff Eendrag, who trounced Steinhoff Huis Marais for a place in the finals.
I have no idea whether these examples represent plausible rugby outcomes. I understand more of string theory than I understand of rugby, and I do not understand anything about string theory.
If you wish to become an Afrikaner capitalist, missing the rugby at Coetzenburg is not a good idea. It’s your choice venue to meet the captains of Afrikanerdom. Apparently. I never went because it sounds dull, but I take other people’s word for both the existence of rugby at Coetzenburg and the concomitant presence of the Super Afrikaners.
It’s not like otherwise you would run into Christo Wiese in Woolworths. Although, I am told, there’s a good reason for that. Wiese’s household can not be seen buying groceries from somewhere that isn’t Checkers. What is a monopoly capitalist to do when he craves that smoked snoek pâté that only Woolies makes just right?
You make Woolies close late for you. You can buy all the spreads you want when the public is not standing by to judge you or pâté from Checkers.
I like to think I am a detribalised Afrikaner, but I suspect the Afrikaners divorced me long before I realised it. Here’s how the incubator works: Privileged Afrikaner men from across the nation arrive in Stellenbosch after matric. They go straight into residence to get subsumed by “koshuis kultuur”, which essentially consists of rugby and bullying, ensuring only the fittest survive for national selection.
The koshuis boys don’t need to be told that rugby matters more than the Old Testament. They grew up Afrikaans: they know. And so they start wearing Steinhoff jerseys and, with it, get to cosy up to the capitalists at Coetzenburg.
How to survive in Stellenbosch
It is Stellenbosch’s salvation that its dominant patriarchal culture has spawned a glorious counterculture. It largely consists of humanities students and their lecturers, and it makes the town entirely bearable.
Big up to my homies in Stellenbosch – enlightened, progressive people who describe the Broeder Bullies in words too harsh to be acceptable at a Steinhoff board meeting, unless, obviously, Christo Wiese said them first, then it’s his call.
If you become a student next year, you will be faced with one of life’s great choices. Will you choose to be idealistic or complicit? I would urge idealism, which is the word complicit people use to refer to ethics.
You don’t have to be a doos to live in Stellenbosch. But if you are determined to be a Super Afrikaner, please follow these guidelines:
- Do not be gay. If you are gay, don’t be. No touching of other penises, ever.
- Go to koshuis. Lots of gay things happen there, but it doesn’t make you gay. What happens in Dagbreek, stays in Dagbreek.
- Play rugby, watch rugby, be the rugby.
- Lad it up. Alpha males make the Broeder Bullies weak at the knees.
- Lap it up. Accept invitations to all the right parties. If you are not invited to the right parties, they do not want you there. Move on.
Disgrace of the broeders
Christo Wiese, accepting a lifetime achievement award at 2015’s Sunday Times Top 100 Companies gala, bristled at suggestions that business has a purpose beyond profit.
“We are business people, not politicians,” the now deposed Wiese said at the event. “Or, put differently, the business of business is business. On that basis, we should engage with government not in ideological debates. Those are debates for politicians. We should, however, speak out with respect and constraint on issues that are nonideological and that require pragmatic and practical solutions.”
Pragmatic, practical solutions. How neatly that phrase would come to apply to corporate governance at Steinhoff – and lately at MultiChoice.
The disgrace of the Broeders is a Christmas gift to all progressive Afrikaans people. When we encounter racists at a braai, they can no longer tell us it’s the blacks and three Indians involved in all the mischief. Check this out, oom en tannie. If you can’t trust someone called Christo or Markus, there clearly is no Afrikaner superiority. We’re a nation of Rainbow Monopoly Capital, as Carlos Amato dubbed us in the Sunday Times. It is all South Africans against a handful of rainbow capturers.
From the cooled interiors of their stately homes, the Broeder Bullies still survey their precious town. But in the dying days of 2017, a sleight of hand was called out and an illusion was shattered. The Super Afrikaners have lost their tended veneer of invincibility and respectability.
I left town 17 years ago, but I still wonder what an uncaptured Stellenbosch might look like. If it ever starts raining there again, it would not be the worst place to call home.
Wiggett is founder and creative director of Fairly Famous