As a language, Afrikaans is one of the world’s youngest, developed during the 18th and 19th centuries and finally recognized in an official manner by the South African parliament in 1925. While its roots and those of the people go deeper into the past, back to Holland and more importantly through two wars against the premier world superpower of the late 19th and early 20th century, Great Britain, it and the people are relatively new, unlike the Kurds or Basques whom they resemble in the amount of suffering caused by dispossession and lack of statehood.
It is a reflection of the people, being difficult to learn at first, sounds harsh, yet upon comprehension reveals amazing earthiness and an ability to swear far greater than that of English, making it a wonderfully descriptive and flavorful language. When asked by Afrikaners if I speak their language, I often reply “Meneer/mevrou, ek kan nie Die Taal baie lekker praat nie, maar ek weet net so ‘n klein bietjie (gesture by putting thumb and forefinger about half an inch apart). Ek was in die weermag, en alles wat ek weet is die pa se een ding en die ma se ander ding…”
Translated, it means “Sir/ma’am, I don’t speak The Language (Afrikaans is often referred to as Die Taal, or The Language) very well, but I know just a little bit. I was in the army, so all I know is the father’s one thing and the mother’s other thing…”
Whenever they hear that, Afrikaners usually smile if they’re of the more restrained type, but often double over with laughter at the humor, after which they look at me as one of those rare foreigners who cared enough about the country to serve in its army, and when they hear that I volunteered, well, things go even better after that…
This is important, because Afrikaners have learned over the years that nearly everything they do, they usually have to do alone, and to be wary of foreigners because all they really want is to take their country one coin at a time. Very little has ever disabused them of that notion and most of it is part of their history. By far, the first act of dispossession Afrikaners experienced as a people happened in the 1800s, when they climbed on their wagons and began the Great Trek due to English pressure and interference in the Cape province. Evidence of their travels and travails is often found in the names of towns and villages, many of which end with “rus”, like Odendaalsrus. The word means “rest” and it happened every 30 kilometers or so, because that’s usually how far the Afrikaners could travel in a day. It’s where they circled the wagons, then deployed sentries against everything ranging from lions to hostile tribes, all the way to what was called Transvaal and these days is Gauteng Province, or as a South African pilot once put it (this made the news, accompanied by ANC outrage), Gangsters’ Paradise.
Just getting to what today are Johannesburg, Pretoria, Vereeniging and other places cost blood and quite a few gray hairs, leaving an indelible mark which defined Afrikaners as a people forged in hardship and battle. That was nothing, because not long afterwards, a poor guy found a diamond on a farm in what is today Kimberley and some dude came across gold ore in what soon became Johannesburg- and that’s how two wars of near-annihilation started. Until those fateful moments the British couldn’t have cared less about a few Dutch settlers trying to eke out a living from the arid soil of Transvaal and the Northern Cape, but things changed when word spread about gold and diamonds.
All the early Afrikaners wanted was to be left alone with their language, culture and hard way of life. Unfortunately for them, British interest morphed from merely seeking a safe harbor in the Cape to refit ships and crews bound for India, to maneuvering to grab what were for a long time the biggest precious mineral deposits in the world. Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic and probably greatest political leader in Afrikaner history, knew hell was coming his people’s way and he got ready for battle. While he talked and furiously wrote in an attempt to stop increasing British interest, he also bought weapons and formed an army. Thus, when the Brits saw their backdoor attempts to get in weren’t going to work, Paul Kruger and his people were reasonably ready to take on their early raids and give the English quite a bloody nose while they were at it. Eventually, they got worn down, crippled by sanctions and lack of outside help due to enormous British royal connections to the ruling houses of Europe, and the two Anglo-Boer wars which followed left deeper scars and more hardened attitudes than the Great Trek.
Those wars also entrenched something else- a sense of culture and common purpose, and having once had land to call their own, a dreamy lust for it ever afterwards.
Forced by the fortunes of war and probably British policy, Afrikaners spread throughout the land. This would serve them well when South Africa got its independence in 1961, because they had people everywhere and could run the country, but it also had a drawback the leaders of those days apparently hadn’t foreseen- by no longer being together in a defined geographical area, it became impossible to form a Volkstaat (People’s State) and while vibrant, their culture became so diverse that a united voice (especially after the advent of democracy in 1994) was difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
Nevertheless, the dream was always there, haunting the souls of many. After the 1994 elections, some of what was ordered by apartheid era leaders came out at Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings. In my opinion, there was little truth and even less reconciliation that came out of it, because the vast majority of the commission’s efforts were aimed at Afrikaner and white man bashing. Unfortunately, those hearings also served another important purpose- to expose the failures and corrupt foibles of many white political leaders and thereby alienate them from their constituencies in order to leave white South Africans without leadership, and thus heavily dependent upon the decreasing goodwill of the increasingly corrupt and black supremacist ANC-led government, which is more a bunglement than anything else.
Although the commission meant well and attempted to provide some cathartic release for the victims and perpetrators who testified there, it failed to arrive at a grand unifying truth by assigning responsibility where it was supposed to be (with the leaders) and as a consequence it also failed to reconcile people from all sides of the conflict. How could it be otherwise, when F.W. de Klerk ducked responsibility for covert hit squads (most prominently C1, C10 or as it later came to be called, Vlakplaas) even when that unit’s last commander said under oath that he personally briefed him and showed video footage of the unit’s activities in order to justify its budget? How else could it be when admirals and generals who until recently used to give Recce (SADF’s Special Forces) and Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB, a civilian-military hybrid) units orders to “make a plan” (from the Afrikaans expression “maak ‘n plan”, meaning to come up with a solution- a final one in terms of assassination) about specific members of the ANC and other movements which troubled them, only to later sit in front of the TRC and attempt to hide behind the dictionary definition of the word “disruption”? How else could it be, when pretty much only former SAP (apartheid-era South African Police) colonel Eugene de Kock had the Vlakplaas killings hung around his neck, as if a mere colonel could decide on targets and government policy?
Let’s be realistic here. Government strategy and policy are decided by the president and cabinet members in conjunction with input from parliament, and assassination as a tool of statecraft is no exception. After all, bureaucrats are the same all over- when it comes to making big decisions, they send them upstairs, so the truth is assassination was made an acceptable policy at the highest levels of those days’ South African state and orders (often verbal) to kill came down from there until they landed on the laps of those who carried them out. Therefore nobody with two brain cells to rub together is going to believe a mere SAP colonel with glasses as thick as Coke bottles is going to start an assassination unit on his own (actually, colonel Dirk Coetzee who was the first commander of Vlakplaas before he defected to the ANC), appropriate funds and operate domestically as well as overseas without the knowledge and blessing (not to mention orders) of everybody from his brigadier all the way up the SAP chain of command and through the civilian side, up to the president’s desk. However, creating that impression would shield senior politicians from blame and strengthen the immunity deals they’d made with the ANC at the CODESA negotiations until the present day, as well as erode the trust between those leaders and the constituencies which they left to carry such cans of worms at a national level over the last 23 years.
Taking the above and more besides into account, it’s no wonder ordinary Afrikaners feel betrayed and given how they’ve been treated by the (mis)ruling ANC for more than two decades, want to have less and less to do with South African society. After all, only those who are into S&M would tolerate the insults, jibes, petty and gross harassments, denigration, torture and murder of farmers and their families and so on indefinitely, because at some point somebody will say “Enough!” and so will others, until they form a group and begin to pool resources to buy a piece of land and declare themselves independent of South African government laws.
This has happened three times or thereabouts since 27 April 1994, the most prominent (or notorious, if you’re in the ANC) example being Orania. Apparently in that enclave everybody from the street sweeper to the mayor is a white, Christian Afrikaner. They have their own laws, identity documents and even currency, the Ora. As I understand it, it’s also the last Afrikaner self-determined territory which the ANC will allow because the worst nightmare they have is the Afrikaners’ dream of a Volkstaat…
Alright, if a Volkstaat isn’t going to happen, what else can or should Afrikaners do? My advice to them whenever the subject came up, was to quietly buy land in the middle of nowhere and turn it into an Afrikaner economic and social powerhouse, with education facilities, residential areas, laboratories and high-tech invention hubs, all kept homogenous through the clever use of existing South African laws by only selling or buying land from Afrikaners- all without any blatant declarations of de jure statehood or such intentions, but everything like that in a de facto fashion. Just think of it as an Afrikaans Ivy League and Silicon Valley mixed with Hong Kong-style commerce during British rule days, and you’ll get the idea. By doing this and making themselves extremely useful to the faltering South African state, they’d have a pretty good chance of being regarded as a goose which lays so many golden eggs that nobody in their right minds would mess with them, and while they’re at it, begin to concentrate in a defined geographical area which can be used as a springboard to independent nationhood.
Sadly, they haven’t gone about it this way. Instead some of the more excited among them announce to all and sundry that they’re buying a big piece of land somewhere for that purpose and find themselves immediately under media, social media and government attack, stifled before they even have a chance to begin. While some neighborhoods in big cities (there’s one in Pretoria) have kept themselves Afrikaans for quite a while (and somehow managed to refuse entry to black South African cops without getting arrested), the latest and clearest failure has been Willowmore. This is an area 100 kilometers or so outside Port Elizabeth, where a group of Afrikaners decided to buy a big farm and establish an Afrikaner-only enclave. They mistakenly let word get out very quickly through Facebook, so at least one English language newspaper (The Herald, South Africa’s oldest newspaper) tore the hell out of them in a scathing editorial and not to be outdone, the government began to look for pretexts to stop the sale by invoking environmental impact assessments (the farm adjoined a nature reserve) and all sorts of other things until the farmer decided not to sell and people in the group began to ask for their money back.
For my part, I understood what drove those Afrikaners to bid a less than fond farewell to South African society and encouraged people who seemingly had no clue (or more likely didn’t want to get one) to ask those people what it was about the post-1994 South African society they disliked so much that they were desperately willing to leave it. As usual, what follows below is a letter I wrote to The Herald newspaper after it published that anti-Willowmore editorial, which I titled “Why Willowmore?”. It was never published, probably because I posed questions most liberal South Africans and media don’t like to ask and once again as an English-speaking South African citizen of foreign extraction, attempted to defend and treat with dignity people who these days are increasingly marginalized by the society which doesn’t want them, but also doesn’t want to let them go…
“When I became a citizen of South Africa, I also inherited its history. If I’m gonna be blamed for it, then I might as well learn what I’m being blamed for”. This is what I told my favorite South African politician once upon a time. Romania, the land of my birth, is what I like to call “a beautiful country with a lot of ugly memories”, and like with millions of other people, it gave me plenty of reasons to leave. After 24 years and 11 months in South Africa, I have more than enough reasons to leave here too, and yet…And yet I am almost inextricably joined to this country by time, love, life, spilled blood, death, faith and hate, unable to say “I don’t care anymore, I’m leaving”.
So I learned to understand all sorts of people, make peace with and find friends among my former bitter enemies, the Afrikaners. Driven by my understanding of their history and mine, I can look beyond the ridicule and condemnation heaped upon the group which wants to create a “whites only” enclave outside of Willowmore to ask a compound question unasked by so many others for so many reasons- if these people want to be with “their own kind”, away from government, social influence and legislation, what is it about the “new” South Africa that pushed them so far as to want to have nothing to do with it and us, and what can we do to convince them otherwise?
Our land has lost over 300.000 citizens to emigration since 1994, among them thousands of farmers who’ve gone to feed more appreciative countries (so now we import food), actresses Embeth Davidtz and Charlize Theron, musicians Dave Matthews and Dan Patlansky (the latter to a certain extent), along with famed entrepreneur Elon Musk.
How many more people is this country going to lose before we ask why and do something a lot more constructive than heaping scorn upon those who opt out?