Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE


@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Excerpt from “The Globalisation of the Afrikaner”

White Power, The Rise and Fall of the National PartyChristi van der Westhuizen’s White Power: the Rise and Fall of the National Party has enjoyed quite a bit of exposure in the media recently.

In the latest review, Fred de Vries of The Weekender was impressed by the author’s portrait of the National Party’s machinations and ultimate decline, but questioned van der Westhuizen’s approach in her final chapter, which treats the legacy the party left the people it once claimed to represent in toto, touching on phenomena like the De la Rey song’s explosive popularity.

We thought it would be a useful exercise to run a section from this chapter, in which van der Westhuizen looks at Afrikaner ethnic mobilisation as a reaction to loss of power, and laments what she calls the “paucity of ideas” aiding creative adjustment to inclusive democracy.

The book is essential reading for those who wish to acquaint themselves with the on-the-ground Afrikaans politics causing ructions today (see, for instance, another article in The Weekender, “Student leaders plead for aparthed”). We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

(NB: Footnotes not included!)

* * * * * * * *

from Chapter 8, “The Globalisation of the Afrikaner”

Memory and forgetting – and capitalism

Milan Kundera says ‘the struggle of man is the struggle of memory against forgetting’. Making sense of what had happened in the name of Afrikaners – building an understanding individually and collectively – would to a great extent determine Afrikaners’ participation as citizens in a country grappling with demo-cratic consolidation. The majority of Afrikaners rejected ‘self-determination’ as a political goal, seen in the far right wing’s low polling figures. They also rejected the party of Afrikaner nationalism – the National Party. Yet many of them voted for a fear-mongering DA that had combined minimum liberal values with the rhetoric of self-righteousness and denial.

Even more worrying was the growing stayaway vote in 1999 and thereafter, including more than one million whites. While illegal activities aimed at promoting white supremacy were limited to small groups such as the Boeremag, the non-participation of white people in legitimate processes did not augur well. Nevertheless, in the first half of the 2000s a few transparent efforts to reacti-vate Afrikaner nationalism failed, most notably Dan Roodt’s Pro-Afrikaanse Aksiegroep (PRAAG) and the Groep van 63.

Roodt hoped to utilise Die Taal to catapult himself into a volksleier position. His ideas, throwbacks to nineteenth-century ‘science of race’ delusions, alienated all but the extreme far-right fringe. Similarly, the Groep van 63 never took off. One of its main proponents, Johann Rossouw, was hoping to tap into communi-tarian sentiments reacting against the universalising forces of globalisation. The Groep van 63 floundered when prominent Afrikaner intellectuals withdrew as they realised its nationalist aims. Rossouw and his ally, academic Danie Goosen, then staged a takeover of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (FAK), the old Broederbond front organisation, which they appropriated in a search for a revamped Afrikaner nationalism. Rossouw’s FAK publication Die Vrye Afrikaan adopted a critical position towards neo-liberal globalisation. Both PRAAG and the FAK/Vrye Afrikaan initiative attempted to capitalise on percep-tions of white embattlement in a democratic South Africa. However, the DA was already tapping into this emotion and providing a political outlet. The trade union Solidarity had also offered more by providing a vehicle for white workers’ interests. Moreover, Rossouw’s ideological position contradicted that of the majority of middle-class Afrikaners. As the miniscule interest in far-right-wing parties or the secessionist settlement of Orania showed, Afrikaners were not attracted by promises of isolation from Western decadence and black people. Rather, they embraced global values such as materialism and consumerism with abandon.

Indeed, such capitalist values proved far more attractive to Afrikaners riding, as most of them were, on an ANC-sponsored wave of increased affluence. The rise of the middle class unstitched the multi-classed Afrikaner nationalist alliance. This was the legacy of the verligtes. Attempts by PRAAG, the Groep van 63 and the FAK to reactivate the old machine could not trump the security and headiness of increased wealth and material success. In a sense, the ANC’s adoption of a predominantly neo-liberal economic policy framework was the best possible antidote to Afrikaner ethnic mobilisation. As a disgruntled resident from Orania wrote in a letter to Rapport:

In South Africa today, Afrikaners suffer daily under race-based transform-ation and affirmative action, farm murders, high crime rates, an education system that alienates Afrikaans children from their own culture as if it is a plague, harsh, race-based land reform and black economic empowerment, race-based sport administration, blatant disarming, changes to Afrikaans place names, phasing out of the Afrikaans language in state departments and institutions funded by the state, and so on. But we do not complain. We are enjoying economic prosperity and our welfare allows us to endure the punches and slaps.83

While the Afrikaner middle class, among others, reaped the benefits of finance minister Trevor Manuel’s neo-liberal tax cuts and the increasing ability to move ever-larger sums of capital out of the country, the Afrikaner and English- speaking capitalist classes went from strength to strength. Long gone were the days of an economy stunted by isolation and apartheid-imposed domestic market limitations. Companies were allowed to move their headquarters abroad and corporate taxes were lowered while disinvestment continued, sometimes facilitated by government approval of deals or restructuring.84

The ANC government’s economic policy addressed the crisis in capital accumulation. After excruciatingly slow average economic growth of 2.77 per cent between 1990 and 2003 – in contrast to the government’s GEAR prediction of 6 per cent – the property, construction, media, financial services and retail sectors were booming in the mid-2000s. In spite of the ANC’s original intention in Ready to Govern to ‘curb monopolies [and] the continued domination of the economy by a minority within the white minority’,85 ANC government decisions in the banking, fisheries, retail clothing, diamond and retail pharmaceutical sectors entrenched the power of large companies to the detriment of small players. Despite the continuing dearth of skilled labour, economic growth levels squeezed past 5 per cent by the second half of the 2000s and the country enjoyed its longest economic growth period since the Second World War. The Johannes-burg Stock Exchange’s share index rose to record-breaking levels.

No longer the pariah, South Africa also benefited from access to the rest of the continent. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a continent-wide structural adjustment programme piloted by President Thabo Mbeki, was criticised by academics from the rest of Africa as a transparent attempt at ‘economic imperialism’. This described the reach of South African companies into the continent. Afrikaner capital in particular benefited from these developments as Naspers, Shoprite and Pepkor moved into African states and across the world. By the late 1990s, the highest growth in shares on the JSE was among those in Afrikaner, not black, hands.

The ANC’s economic policies continued the patterns created under the NP in its last years of rule. The emphasis remained on a capital-intensive growth path, and economic policies exacerbated unemployment rather than mitigating it. Unemployment had become structural – 72 per cent of those without jobs in 2002 were under the age of 35.86 Unemployment reached 40 per cent in the 2000s, according to Statistics South Africa’s expanded definition, which included jobless people who had stopped looking for work. The ANC expanded social grants and instituted a public works programme but, in adherence to the neo-liberal dictum, remained hostile to a basic income grant. By the beginning of the 2000s, according to the Human Sciences Research Council, 57 per cent of South Africans were still living below the poverty line of R1 290 per family of four per month. Indeed, by 2000 the richest 20 per cent of the population was receiving 65 per cent of the national income, compared to the poorest 50 per cent of the population, receiving 9.7 per cent. The income of the poorest 60 per cent of the population dropped by 15 per cent between 1995 and 2000.87 One result was that the pre-valence of undernourished children grew from 9.3 per cent to 10.3 per cent during the late 1990s, while stunted growth in children aged from one to six remained at more than 22 per cent between 1994 and 1999.88 In 2002, 30 per cent of households reported that children were receiving inadequate nutrition because of a lack of food.89 As one might expect, these figures had a distinct racial dimension. By 2000, according to Statistics SA, the average black household income had dropped by 19 per cent since 1995, while that of whites had increased by 15 per cent. A study by economist Servaas van den Bergh at the University of Stellenbosch showed that, in 2000, the average white South African still earned eight times more than his or her black counterpart.90

But, due to the bias in ANC government economic policies, the elite and upper middle classes had been deracialised. The upper classes became increasingly racially representative, while intra-racial inequality worsened. The white proportion of the top income group moved from 73 per cent in 1995 to between 61 and 55 per cent in 2000, while the black component increased from 18 per cent in 1995 to 31 per cent in 2000. In the second highest income group, blacks accounted for 61 per cent by 2000, up from 46 per cent in 1995. Whites had moved from 38 to 17 per cent over the same period.91 Overall, inequality worsened, especially within racial groups, as opposed to between white and black. This trend of deracialising the upper echelons had started under the NP, as the white population’s share of national income dropped from 71 per cent in 1970 to 52 per cent in 1996.92 These shifts were the result of the NP’s attempts to create a co-opted black middle class and working class and thereby obviate the need for a transfer of power. The process of creating a black middle class accelerated under the ANC, with the eager assistance of white capital.

Class convergence was particularly noticeable at the elite level, as deracial-isation of the apex of the class structure picked up after 1994.93 The verligte agenda came to fruition. Sanlam, the NP’s primary capital partner since the 1910s, activated the first black economic empowerment (BEE) deal in 1993 through which New Africa Investment Limited was created. In its submission to the TRC in 1997, Sanlam acknowledged its ‘special relationship’ with the NP government. In answer to a question, managing director Desmond Smith admitted that Sanlam had the ‘best of both worlds’ – apartheid South Africa and democratic South Africa. ‘I really am delighted that we have been able also with the new ANC government to establish a very warm relationship,’ he said.94

The NP’s other staunch traditional ally, Nasionale Pers, was the largest media company on the African continent by the 2000s. It had extended its interests to China, India, Brazil, Greece, Cyprus, the Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the US. Its annual revenues were R14 billion, while the market capitalisation of the group’s network of companies stood at more than R34 billion in 2005. Group MD Koos Bekker’s shareholding was valued at almost half a billion rand in 2007.95

And, as a final symbol that the goal of the second Ekonomiese Volkskongres of October 1950 – consolidation of Afrikaner big business – had been achieved, Sanlam’s small mining subsidiary, Federale Mynbou, which was boosted by Anglo American’s gift of General Mining in 1964, had grown to become Gencor in the 1980s and BHP Billiton by the 2000s – the largest mining company in the world.

The Ruperts of Remgro and Richemont (Rembrandt) had by the mid-1990s been included on the Forbes list of the 500 richest people in the world. They were the second wealthiest South African family after the Oppenheimers (and the fifth wealthiest family in Switzerland). The Ruperts had slightly narrowed the gap between themselves and the Oppenheimers, jumping from $1.6 billion in assets in 1996 to $4.3 billion in 2007, compared to the Oppenheimers’ $2.5 billion in 1996 and $5 billion in 2007.96

The total market capitalisation of companies in which the Ruperts held shares was $14 billion by 2002, in sectors ranging from luxury goods, tobacco and wine to gold mining, banks and telecommunications. By 2006, the Rupert family empire spanned thirty-five countries on six continents. When family patriarch Anton Rupert died that same year, Thabo Mbeki ‘hailed’ him not only as a great Afrikaner, but ‘a great South African’. It demonstrated the coming together of the black political elite with the Afrikaner economic elite.

Rupert had publicly stated during the apartheid era that continued white prosperity was in danger while black people struggled at a subsistence level,97 but he had also ‘managed to avoid confrontations [with the NP government] that may have threatened his business interests’.

In the political heat of the late 1980s, the Ruperts – somewhat unpatriotically – created Richemont in the financial haven of Geneva as an ‘overseas investment vehicle’.98 In other words, the Ruperts behaved like many other pre-1994 South African capitalists. But Mbeki stressed Rupert’s role in ‘supporting and initiating significant transformation of South Africa’s business’.99

With the ANC’s political and legislative BEE efforts, business transformation was at the top of its government agenda. Capital played its role by selling shares to black companies through empowerment deals with special provisions built in. While some of the deals contained ‘broad-based’ aspects that included employees or communities, the largest chunks went to the same names. Most of these multiple BEE beneficiaries were ANC-connected, and by the second half of the 2000s, Patrice Motsepe had moved into fourth place on the Who Owns Whom? list of richest company directors, partly thanks to a Sanlam empowerment deal. Ahead of him were London-based Lakshmi Mittal of Mittal Steel South Africa (formerly Iscor until the NP privatised it), Anglo American’s Nicky Oppenheimer and Rembrandt’s Johann Rupert. In 2007, two new names were added to the list: Liberty Group/Standard Bank non-executive director Saki Macozoma, and Shanduka chairperson and former ANC chief negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa, both members of the ANC’s national executive council. Tokyo Sexwale, a former NEC member and erstwhile Gauteng premier, was already on the list.100

In another initiative, academic Willie Esterhuyse, who was involved in the initial brokering of contact between the National Intelligence Service and Thabo Mbeki in the late 1980s, had set up a group of Afrikaans business represen- tatives and academics who regularly met with Mbeki for discussions, details of which remained largely undisclosed. Members included Ton Vosloo (Naspers); Christo Wiese (Pepkor); Thys du Toit (Coronation Fund); GT Ferreira and Laurie Dippenaar (Rand Merchant Bank).101 One result was a pilot project to support emergent black farmers in the northern Free State.

After 1994, verligte notions about coloured Afrikaans-speakers found support in the Afrikaans media’s promotion of so-called ‘Afrikaanses’, meaning all who speak Afrikaans, as opposed to ‘Afrikaners’. The drive even included coloured leaders who had made their name in the ANC, such as Jakes Gerwel and Franklin Sonn. The former was made a Naspers director and began writing a regular column in Rapport, while the latter became head of the overhauled business association, the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut. While to some extent the inclusion of coloureds in Afrikaner ranks was the result of duress imposed by laws such as those on affirmative action, it also seems to have been part of a calculated attempt to boost both Afrikaner demographics and political clout.

Verligte politicians such as Pik Botha and Roelf Meyer had joined the ANC by 2000 and 2006 respectively. In a further strengthening of cross-elite alliances, Meyer’s association with his former ANC negotiating counterpart, Cyril Rama-phosa, deepened as he was made a director in a global management consultancy co-owned by Ramaphosa’s Shanduka and AT Kearny.102

While those of verligte ilk embraced ANC capitalists and spread their corporate wings across the globe, a closing of the Afrikaner mind could be detected by the mid-2000s. After the fluidity of thought and expression brought about by the relatively peaceful dawn of democracy, there was a backlash. The socio-economic inheritance of apartheid seemed insurmountable to many, but most Afrikaners could financially afford to insulate themselves from these bitter facts. Making sense of the social destabilisation wrought by political change proved daunting. Poet Herman Engelbrecht captured the feeling of alienation:

One door after another that slams in your face.

A country full of nowhere to go.

Here it feels as if not even God

wants to understand Afrikaans any longer.103

Despite verligte godfather and Afrikaner intellectual Willem de Klerk’s pleas to the contrary,104 parochialism, saturated with indignation and even self-pity, became evident. In many cases this was accompanied by privatisation of a rabid (even by apartheid standards) form of racism in homes and the workplace, which sometimes resulted in criminal prosecution and thus reached the public domain. The likes of Willem de Klerk became the target of resentment, as in the Boetman is die bliksem in open letter by former anti-apartheid journalist Chris Louw. Another father figure was given the boot. As a result, De Klerk’s introspective discoveries, which had led to his final letting go of apartheid in all its permutations, as seen in his 2000 book Afrikaners – Kroes, Kras, Kordaat, were disqualified as a possible new direction.

In the book, De Klerk attempted to propound a revised Afrikanerness that acknowledged guilt over apartheid, but also accepted saambestaan (co-existence), inclusiveness and colour blindness. He argued that ‘if we can triumph over the offensiveness of our exclusivity, we will become part of the greater whole, without losing or having to give up our identity. Then there will not be a demand that Afrikanership has to be sacrificed.’ But, he admitted, most Afrikaners would reject his suggestion. For De Klerk, Afrikaner identity meant that ‘you are at the same time African, South African, Afrikaner and an Afrikaans person, who is part of the Afrikaans community. Instead of one excluding the other, they complement one another.’105

Could Afrikaners be all these identities and also Afrikaners? The ‘De La Rey’ phenomenon provided some clues. It reinforced attempts by neo-Afrikaner nationalist groupings to mobilise Afrikaners on an ethnic basis. By the mid-2000s, the ground seemed more fertile for these moves than when PRAAG and the Groep van 63 appeared on the scene. Superficial individualism oiled by rampant materialism and consumerism seemed to provide only a temporary panacea. The heightened civil society activity around ‘De La Rey’, led by Solidarity and spurred on by Rapport, along with pop singer Steve Hofmeyr’s new incarnation as an ‘activist’ fighting for Afrikaner interests, signalled another phase in the search for a legitimate Afrikaner identity.

De Klerk’s call for an inclusive identity incorporating both African-ness and Afrikaner-ness suggested how complicated the process of rehabilitating Afrikaner identity could be. Statements by ‘De La Rey’ singer Bok van Blerk highlighted some of the contradictions inherent in the process. According to him, ‘You say “Boer” and everyone immediately asks, “who are you talking about?” People form ideas and pictures in their heads … that a Boer is a far right-winger in khaki clothes who wants to murder black people.’ His words held the promise of a renewal of Afrikaner identity that accepted the legal limits of democracy, while rejecting the extreme racist abuse of the past. Van Blerk expressed his opposition to the use of apartheid or old Afrikaner nationalist symbols such as the Oranje-blanje-blou and Vierkleur flags, or the singing of the old anthem ‘Die Stem’, but added: ‘We are one of those rainbow colours [of the rainbow nation]. When you sit around a table with a Zulu, Xhosa and Englishman, you have to know who you are.’

Van Blerk was thus holding on to apartheid’s ethnic divisions as a basis for an Afrikaner identity. While the persistence of Afrikaner group consciousness was to be expected, Afrikaner history offered little to draw on ideologically that could enrich it. The NP had successfully extinguished ideological alternatives among white people. The clampdown on communism and liberalism in the 1950s and 1960s was so thorough that it had created an Afrikaner nationalist ideological hegemony by the mid-1960s. While the capitalist drive necessitated ideological change within the NP, capitalism is not synonymous with democracy. The most obvious examples of this in the 1990s and 2000s were China and the mass disengagement of voters in the so-called mature liberal democracy of the United States.

In the realm of ideas, Afrikaners were left with a meagre inheritance. As political scientist André du Toit wrote in 1985: ‘as is well known, there is … no strong liberal tradition in Afrikaner history and politics – to say nothing of an Afrikaner socialist tradition …’106 Thus Afrikaners have almost no tradition of philosophical commitment to equality or social justice. Indeed, some opinion-makers were still unable to distinguish between social democracy and socialism by the 2000s. Former Die Burger editor Ebbe Dommisse and Mbeki ally Willie Esterhuyse slated ‘increasingly socialist’ Stellenbosch economist Sampie Terreblanche in their 2005 biography of Anton Rupert. They condemned Terreblanche for shedding Afrikaner nationalism and criticising the ANC for ‘not doing enough for the poor’ in his 2002 book.107 In fact, while employing a class analysis, Terreblanche was contrasting the liberal capitalism of Britain and the US with the social-democratic capitalism of Western Europe, advocating pursuance of the latter by South Africa to address inequality. For him, that translated into a thriving private sector, and even partnerships between the state and business, but also state intervention to correct market outcomes detrimentally affecting social welfare108 – a far cry from socialism. What seemingly irked Dommisse and Esterhuyse was Terreblanche’s suggestion that ‘market forces’ not be left to their own devices.

The paucity of ideas did not bode well for a group in the throes of an identity crisis in a country where the extreme disparity in wealth represented a volcano on the verge of eruption. Relative to where South Africans had come from, a number of enormous, essential and life-changing steps had been taken. But to entrench democracy, all South Africans – including Afrikaners – had to actively claim their rights as citizens. The transition was a state of grace – assumptions were dangerous. Would Afrikaners have the courage to understand and to act accordingly? Could they imagine themselves differently?

* * * * * * * *

Book Details