When Afrikaans Imploded

2016-02-25 11:45

On the 22nd of February 2016 the NMMU Madibaz were playing the UFS Shimlas at a Varsity Cup match in Bloemfontein. During half-time a group of protesters walked onto the rugby field, formed a circle and began to sing struggle songs. They had been protesting in support of workers for a few days to end outsourcing and to demand the reinstatement of Trevor Shaku. According to reports the protesting students were trying to get the attention of UFS VC Prof. Jonathan Jansen, who at this point was inside the sports precinct watching the match along with a large, mostly white crowd of Afrikaners. The move to occupy the rugby field was an attempt at forcing the Prof. to acknowledge the protesters. 

This strategy did not go down well. These students had invaded the sanctity of rugby which has become so entrenched in the Afrikaner culture that it has become one of the defining symbols of Afrikanerdom. We are told the protesters were peaceful. On one of the samples of footage released online, we can clearly hear one of the male protestors speaking into a loudhailer saying, “Comrades, we are not here to fight.” This is a clear declaration of peaceful intentions. However, the Afrikaans players and spectators perceived this as a provocation. 

Within moments a sea of white rushed towards the protesters and began to attack them. We see black men and women thrown to the ground, kicked and beaten. The protesters scream and run en mass in the direction of the exit. The sea of white continues in pursuit and claims a few more victims for before the footage runs out. My eyes fill with tears, but I’m not crying. My stomach feels like it has been turned inside out, and I am ill and ice-cold. I sit motionless, feeling repulsed and powerless. The visuals of white Afrikaners, my people, behaving in this way fell into me like an atomic bomb that obliterated any sense of confidence I had in my tribe.  

I'm an Afrikaner. And I am very proud of my language. It’s one of the most beautiful languages in the world, and it lends itself to the most exquisite poetry and metaphor. Used decorously by the poets, authors and songbirds of Afrikanerdom the words have the power to reach right into your being and restore your soul. Afrikaans rhythm is hypnotic as it oscillates between guttural consonants and creamy vowels. That, and more, is my language. My heritage? Well, that's another story. In South Africa the Afrikaner has an inexpugnable history of great significance. Unfortunately, this is for the wrong reasons. Afrikaner heritage is tarnished by the cumbersome weight of being the oppressor. The National Party of South Africa was the bastion of Afrikanerdom and managed to subjugate and dehumanise the black people of South Africa. No matter which way you look at it, this is an inescapable truth. 

Yet whiteness reigns supreme…or does it?

The whiteness squad, who nowadays sits in their armchairs and carelessly tweets condemnation and outrage from the comfort of their serenely white living spaces, is doing a great deal of damage to our national morale. Their constant ignorant dismissal of protesters in our country is myopic at best. I understand that for a white normative society the visuals coming from the protests are hard to digest. To many whites, the protests epitomise a violation of western structures and ideology. My feeling is that western ideology has begun to stagnate, complacent in its perceived superiority. A superiority complex that was developed through the process of violent suppression and conquering.  

Many of the most renowned and influential western philosophers were seen as separatist cretins in their day. Yet we know very well that our society can only flourish if we consistently employ introspection to assess our strengths and weaknesses. If we see ourselves as morally and industrially flawless we run the risk of ensuring our own dogmatic demise. We're already seeing that pervasive dogmatism playing out in society, online and off. It’s easy to turn around now and take the moral high ground, conveniently forgetting the heinous past of the west. It’s easy to point to technological advancement as evidence of superiority, but this is not always accurate, and it also doesn’t guarantee emotional progress. The west is battling a growing sense of emotional regression, which is clearly evident in examples like Donald Trump’s unfathomable rise to political power, which shows that our emotional intelligence is diminishing by the minute - and that is precisely what may, in time, clinch our demise.

The contemptuous gaze of the west frowns upon protests. 

Resolving the issues which fuel protests involves a multifaceted approach, which must be underpinned by emotional maturity and empathy. In South Africa, when black people protest, there seems to be very little regard for their plight. When the miners were striking for a mere R12 500 a month salary, white people rolled their eyes and lamented, “not another strike”. Cue Marikana, which was one of the most brutal symbols of our failing humanity. More recently the Lily mine collapsed, and three human beings, Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyerende and Yvonne Mnisi, were sucked into the earth and haven’t yet been found. They went to work in the morning fantasising about spending time with their families that evening, when suddenly the earth opened up and dragged them down into an impenetrable prison of rock. The risk and undesirable conditions miners are forced to work in demand a reasonable compensation. R12 500 a month seems hardly enough. 

Do any of the detractors think about these, and other factors when they dismiss protestors as criminals and hooligans? 

Of course, as with any expression of civil dissatisfaction, we will see the emergence of vigilantes. But we cannot conflate these vigilantes with the valid motivations of protesters in an attempt to invalidate the entire cause. At the UFS rugby event we saw one of the protestors beat a white girl on her head with a loudhailer - this is wrong, and it must be condemned with equal vehemence. I do not, however, believe that this was reason enough to cause the events that transpired thereafter. Nothing can excuse that gross abuse of power. 

The power dynamics in SA are still so skewed that it enables white superiority to shake its head and denounce the legitimate pain and frustration of the poor masses. Yet, in my view, when black protestors walk onto a rugby field and invade the sanctity of white Afrikaner sports culture it is not a provocation, but rather a brave and immensely powerful statement of discontent. When students burn the paintings of perceived colonial masters it is a symbolic cleansing of that which they feel works against them. And now I hear many of you shouting about the burning of buildings. Yes, the burning of buildings and vehicles is counter productive, but once again I stress the importance of trying to see things from the other perspective. It’s impossible to imagine what is going through the minds of those students because we have never lived the lives they have always been living. Therefore it’s not our place to hurl insults at them when they express their anger. 

Dear protesting students, do not let right-wing detractors derail your efforts!

There is a large right-wing faction within Afrikanerdom. This is a group of people so patriotic that it has become all consuming to the point of self-destruction. The implosion of these Afrikaners is releasing shrapnel and boulders that are hurtling towards the pillars of our democracy, threatening to irreparably damage the structural integrity of our nation. Unfortunately this right-wing, racist faction is the loudest and most vocal of all the Afrikaners, protected and amplified by unprogressive organisations like AfriForum. Incidentally, the total membership of Solidariteit, the parent company of AfriForum, amounts to about 300 000 people. That’s a mere 0.55% of South Africa’s total population. They are vandalising Afrikaner culture, while promoting isolation and separation, which is the same divisive tactic the Apartheid government used to segmentalise South Africa. 

These right-wing Afrikaners, as well as some English right-wingers, blame all the turmoil in our country on the failings of the majority ANC government. At the same time they accuse black people of blaming everything on Apartheid. They fail to see that the legacy of Apartheid is lingering in the structures of exclusion that continue to prevent poor people from getting ahead. They claim to be victims of crime, in a way that inappropriately elevates them to an exclusive statistic. The concerns about farm murders, for example, are legitimate, as the statistics prove that there is an annual increase in farm attacks. It’s important to note, however, that this does not constitute a genocide, as many are claiming. Murder effects everyone in South Africa, and thousands more black people are killed each year, sometimes even by our very own police. Afrikaans people forget that they still enjoy a monumental amount of privilege, from vast wealth to much of the land. They refuse to do any introspection in an attempt to identify their own failings as a group of people. Instead, they invade social media to spew vitriol and racism so vulgar it’s almost mythical in its attempt to sow hatred. Most of them are completely anonymous hiding behind ridiculous avatars and false names - the epitome of utter cowardice. 

#AfrikaansMustFall

By removing Afrikaans as a language of instruction we are moving towards an equitable education policy that doesn’t favour one culture over another. English is a globally accepted language of economics, entertainment and social discourse. At the same time, the arguments for expanding the curriculum to include all 11 official languages is disingenuous. It would be administrative suicide for any tertiary institution to try and offer course material, student support and lectures in 11 different languages. Lastly, removing Afrikaans as a language of instruction doesn’t remove Afrikaans as an official language of the country, as many right-wingers have suggested. It’s vital that we remain level-headed and desist from turning valid arguments on the part of protestors into inflammatory attacks. 

Incredibly adroit, robust and well-researched rebuttals are constantly offered to the ludicrous questions asked by the right-wing Afrikaners. The only sad fact is that many of them are unable to absorb these wisdoms for they are too consumed with hatred and wilful myopia. True Afrikaner pride would be to recognise that things have changed and to embrace that change fully, with all its difficulties, while realising that many of the difficulties are remnants of Afrikaner Nationalism and Apartheid which have to be challenged. 

Of course, as with anything in life, there is a duality in my heritage which is paradoxical at best. I say this because there is also much goodness in the Afrikaner. Most of the Afrikaans people I know personally are wonderful people - warm, kind, generous and not right-wing. Our dark history has also produced a few names and legacies of humanitarian Afrikaners who risked everything and went against the Apartheid regime; many are still alive today. At the opening of the first democratic parliament in 1994 Nelson Mandela said, "The certainties that come with age tell me that among these [anti-Apartheid activists] we shall find an Afrikaner woman who transcended a particular experience and became a South African, an African and a citizen of the world. Her name is Ingrid Jonker. She was both a poet and a South African. She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both an artist and a human being.” That is the kind of Afrikaner I want to be.

I implore the brave students to remain dedicated to their various causes. Know that however divergent specifics of these causes may be, in essence they are all about the same thing - equality, fairness, freedom, inclusivity and a future that belongs to everyone. Know that even though it may seem like all the whites are against you, this is not the case. There are very many who support you and are concerned for your wellbeing and future. Many of us don’t want to become too involved for fear of dictating your process, because this is your process, not ours - but we salute you. Try to avoid violence at all costs, but do not be afraid to assert your power. This is your movement. This is your time. A luta continua!

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