Dear President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa
Last Thursday you gave a very reasonable speech to the Afrikanerbond in Cape Town. It was a breath of fresh air to listen to you. I sincerely hope that the call for unity and cooperation will lead to action and that it will not cause further mistrust in our government.
I am an Afrikaner that grew up during the 1990s in a time of enormous change in our society. South Africa is a multi-cultural, -ethnic, -tribal and –linguistic society that always has the risk of falling back into tyranny. Very often this risk does not appear because of deliberate government policies, but rather because of a failure to act. This has been my assessment of the ANC in the last eight years. I hope that your leadership will not be a repetition. South Africa simply cannot afford another Jacob Zuma.
You were right last night to cite the Broederbond as the essential vehicle that the Afrikaners used to uplift themselves after the scourge of the Anglo-Boer War. You were right to mention that the Afrikaner elites at the time did not want to give black South Africans the same rights that they demanded from the British. You were also right to mention that the Broederbond laid the essential philosophic ideas behind Apartheid and that they were eventually forced to give it up during the 1980s.
You asked us to reflect on our history and the Broederbond as an organisation. I hope to do so with this letter. I hope to start a dialogue.
Much has been said in South Africa about the minds of the oppressed people, but few words have been written about the minds of the oppressor. Why can human beings be swept up by emotion, into nationalism, and eventually commit atrocities while remaining good people? A reflective insight into our own human nature is needed for all South Africans if we are ever going to draw any conclusions from our complex and difficult history. Afrikaners, as you said, in particular, have to reflect on their past, but I hold that all South Africans should listen.
We need to understand that oppression is not committed by evil men, rather by good men who believe sincerely in bad ideas. Oppression is often supported by powerful quasi-religious benevolent ideologies. The Nazis, for example, had a view of a final solution, the British carried a white man’s burden, the French were on a mission to civilize the natives, the Russians wanted an egalitarians society, America is spreading democracy in the Middle East, China is spreading development throughout the world, and the Afrikaners imposed Apartheid as a tool to give self-determination to all South Africa’s tribes while priding themselves on their victory against British colonialism. Atrocities of this nature are almost always committed by a victim mentality and as late as the 1990s when I was in school you should see how the painful memory of the Anglo-Boer War was still used to further nationalistic ideals.
This was how the Afrikaner elites tried to justify their policy to their people. The Broederbond used high school teachers, the Dutch Reformed Church, the universities and all institutions of authority to further their indoctrination. The ideology of Apartheid was a powerful one that still carries its ramifications in modern South Africa. Segregation was not a unique experience to South Africa, but the doctrine of Apartheid was a form of segregation of a particular kind – a segregation of the minds of South Africans. It was a social engineering that affected our society on a deep psychological level. The mind is the most power tool that humans have and very often, as Steve Biko said, it is the tool of oppression. Today, most Afrikaners will admit that Apartheid was morally wrong, but in retrospect, I probably would have supported it had I been subjected to the same strong indoctrination of the Broederbond.
Since the days of the Frontier Wars, the Afrikaners have always seen themselves as a persecuted minority and this group psychology is what has influenced the decisions of its leaders. It was, therefore, no coincidence that the Afrikaners selected those who they did during the Apartheid era. It was a response to the decision of the colonial government to take them to fight for Britain in the 1st and 2nd World Wars, to put down the Rand Rebellion, the memory of the concentration camps, Amajuba, the Great Trek, Slagtersnek and, yes, it was also furthered by a belief in racial superiority combined with a deep Calvinist religion and a global fear of communism. Combine this with the reality of how whites were chased out of post-colonial Kenya, Mozambique, Angola and later Rhodesia and you have the perfect recipe for strong ideologies to take hold. I should be very clear that an explanation for Apartheid cannot ever justify its crimes and the injustices that non-white South Africans and blacks in particular faced.
The Afrikaners throughout our history have had essentially two fears, as Alan Paton described it: The fear of the native and the fear of the British. To put in in modern terms, the Afrikaners are scared of losing their land and their language. If the ANC does not take these legitimate fears into account, then they will find even more resentment from the Afrikaners.
The Afrikaners’ strategy to deal with these matters has always been to go into the laager mentality. This was the symbolism at Blood River. This is the strategy behind Solidariteit and AfriForum. It explains why Afrikaner students will fight tooth and nail to not have Afrikaans removed from universities. Or why they are so angry when their monuments are vandalised, their history criminalized, or when there is a perception of unequal application of the law. Many Afrikaners held these sentiments to one degree or another during the last 24 years. If we make a cynical extrapolation from these events, then it is not difficult to see how some Afrikaners can still see themselves as victims despite having economic success.
This is not a unique to Afrikaners. Most minorities in the world will have this phenomenon to some degree, be it the Kurds in Turkey and Iran, the Jews in Israel, Catalans in Spain, the Scots in the UK or the Pashtos in Afghanistan. Put a minority under stress and you will always find a tribal laager reaction. It is a group survival mechanism. This is why a movement like Solidariteit exists. They have almost half a million members at this stage, and it will only grow if the ANC does not negotiate.
The Afrikanerbond no longer plays a meaningful role in our society. They lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the Afrikaners in 1994. The reason for this is not so obvious among the Afrikanerbond and the NG Kerk. They are still living in denial of their own irrelevance. Most Afrikaners of my father’s era have deep resentment for the Broederbond. They essentially asked his generation to serve South Africa by implementing conscription. Their own sons were sent to safe locations in the country or had the opportunity to study overseas and thus avoiding military service all together. You will find few names of Broederbond soldiers written at the Border War memorials at the Voortrekker Monument. The soldiers on the wall are from families who had no significant political influence. They are often poor and from working-class white areas. After 1994, the Broederbond apologized to black South Africans for the crimes of Apartheid, but they, until today, never had the guts to look their own people in the eyes and tell them that they misled them. You can see the resentment by looking at how the numbers of the Dutch Reformed Church has declined.
My suggestion is that you negotiate with Solidariteit. The Secretary General, Flip Buys, is a decent and reasonable human being. The existence of Solidariteit did not simply come into play by accident. They came from a labour movement of poor and lower-middle class Afrikaners who were replaced as the government pursued their transformation goals. The organisation is well-positioned today in most sectors of Afrikaner society. They might also have the recipe for black South Africans to get out of the dying and unsustainable poverty that they find themselves in.
Since 1994, the life of many Afrikaners has significantly changed. Many Afrikaners are well-off and all estimates show that our wealth has skyrocketed after 1994. Afrikaner kids are no longer encouraged to go into the military or public service. They are, instead, encouraged to go out and start their own businesses, study mathematics and science or to get experience outside of South Africa. They are encouraged to work hard to not be a victim of BEE and as a result entrepreneurial ventures have sprung up.
Yet, despite the wealth, we are still complaining ‘met ‘n witbrood onder die arm’. The reason is that Afrikaners feel culturally isolated from South Africa. They feel that the government does not give them recognition for their contribution to building up the country. This is especially true when city names are changed, history books are written and recognition is given by government only for individual achievements. In short, the Afrikaners feel left out of the national narrative. The Afrikaners have, like most South Africans, a culture of honour – they value recognition. The ANC is quick to rightfully point out black achievement, but it constantly debates away white achievement as nothing more than ‘privilege’. Is it no surprise then that white South Africans and Afrikaners in particular do not want to cooperate with the government?
On the economic front, the Afrikaners do not need any special treatment from the government; all that they are asking for is fair treatment in theory and in practice. If the Afrikaners are honest to ourselves then we will admit that Transnet, Iscor, Sasol, the Post Office and even the old Defence Force were essentially affirmative action schemes to advance Afrikaners during the last century. These were never wealth-creating professions, but they did offer protection against the deep cracks of our society. Black South Africans deserve the same, but they need to realize that true wealth creation will only occur once we get a scientific, mathematical and business culture going. This is where most of our energy should be going to.
The Afrikaans language was part of the vehicle that led to the technological development of many Afrikaners. It made the scientific and mathematical terms culturally relevant and took the culture from essential poverty in the beginning of the last century to a culture that developed nuclear weapons and petrochemicals within just one generation. The ANC has to reflect on their attitude to language. It has been the elephant in the room when it comes to South Africa’s bad mathematical and scientific results during the past 24 years. We can’t have all 11 languages at our universities, but a solid foundation in the home language, based on scientific and not ideological reasoning is required to develop the culture. Black South Africans have a rightful and justified fear that language can be used to segregate society, but the benefits of mother tongue education during the foundational phase remains scientifically valid. They owe it to their children.
Many Afrikaners are prepared to acknowledge that our wealth came about as a result of Apartheid and that black people were unjustly excluded from many endeavours of life, but I cannot personally accept the principle that the benefit of one necessarily has to come at the cost of another. The annals of history have shown that this can only lead to moral mutual destruction. We cannot leave our children to inherent a country where the history of another generation will be written in the bloody ink of our own spite.
I am not opposed to affirmative action if it is done in a non-racial and decent way. You will find much support among Afrikaners for it. Many of them are prepared to use their skills to contribute to the upliftment of black South Africans, but they would want for it to be done in the right way. They do not want future policies to exclude their children from active participation in society. The current approach does.
My view is influenced by that the late Dr. Neville Alexander who spent time with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. He held that the reason why Rwanda spiraled into genocide was because they essentially continued classifying people in the same fashion as their colonial masters did. He warned that South Africa’s then-affirmative action policy will create divisions and that it had ‘genocide potential’. This view is also held by Judge Chris Greenland of Zimbabwe, who was the first black judge in all of Southern Africa, and a personal friend. I recommend that you also hear his views on land reform. He is prepared to assist South Africa with a legal model so that we can prevent the calamity that destroyed his home country.
There are other historical examples of where classification-based policies can rip a country apart. The most notable examples are the high support for Hitler in the Sudetenland when Czech citizens were offered beneficial treatment in then-Czechoslovakia, the inequality in Malaysia between the Chinese and Malay, the treatment of the Ibos in Nigeria, the situation of the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria and, of course, the genocide of Rwanda. I can even add Donald Trump’s rise in America to the list. In all these examples, the victim mentality arrived with people who were economically better off. They felt targeted by race-based policies, even as inequality grew in their favour.
The idea that the whole society can be divided into four categories was at the heart of the Apartheid ideology and the ANC has in the last 25 years perpetuated this notion. Namibia, a country that also experienced Apartheid, has far fewer racial problems than we do, because they decided to get rid of this unjust categorisation from the onset of their democracy. France, my country of residence, outlaws raced-based categories in in their constitution and so does Germany. Their children are raised as Namibian, French and German respectively – regardless of their skin colour. It is not that racism doesn’t exist in these societies; it is simply that government policies take a principled stance against classification while it can still implement affirmative action.
Forcing black, Indian, Coloured and white South Africans to classify themselves is simply morally wrong. It is an injustice that might even have legal grounds in our constitution and, more importantly, it is perpetuated through the ANC’s vision for South Africa.
My request to your, Mr. President, is that you also reflect deeply on the ANC’s fanatical pursuit of transformation, and ask if it is not at the heart of the failings of our government and social services, mainly because it is based on the premise that redress can only be done by using the same categorisation that Apartheid policy was built on. We owe it to our children to find another more humane way.
If dialogue leads to action and if our policies are based on humanistic, reasonable and scientific principles, then I can assure you that you will find support from even the most conservative Afrikaners. I am also prepared to talk to you as we go into the next election cycle. You opened the door to a historical opportunity; let’s walk through it together.