I have been asked many times to write a column about Afrikaner identity. It`s a task I have always dreaded, for it will need to also involve examining questions like: can an atheist be an Afrikaner? Similarly, can an English-speaking white South African be an Afrikaner? Can Afrikaner political parties not supporting self-determination still be called “Afrikaner”? Or even: can non-whites be Afrikaners? Any honest elucidation of (the) Afrikaner identity must also include the less savoury aspects of said people. But then; nobody is perfect. That said, here goes…
Afrikaner identity, like all others, is comprised of three distinct, yet intimately intertwined aspects: the individual, the collective and the nation.
The individual sustains the collective which, in turn, sustains the nation… and vice versa. Meaning that it is the primary responsibility of the individual to contribute to the collective in such a way that his/her collective – in this case, the Afrikaner collective – takes precedence over all other collectives. The collective is comprised of various sub-collectives. For example, (the individual) Naas Botha – the famous ex-Springbok rugby player – has recently stated that he is in favour of race-quotas in rugby. This means that he, as an individual, does not support the Afrikaner sub-collective (Afrikaner rugby players, in this case), ergo, he is not sustaining the collective. Hence, he is a “South African”, not an Afrikaner. This obviously also applies to individuals like Dr Piet Croucamp, Fransie Cronje, Tim du Plessis, Anton van Niekerk, etc.
Moving to the collective/s; aforesaid has the primary responsibility to sustain the interests of the individual, be it as welfare organisation, church, academic institution, etc. For example, Stellenbosch University (as a collective) supports discrimination against Afrikaner students. This means it is not Afrikaner anymore… it is “South African”.
Moving to the nation; if a sub-collective is primarily involved in politics (e.g. the Freedom Front political party) its main responsibility is to strive for nationhood. The aforesaid can only be sustained if it dominates physical territory. It is possible to be a people (i.e. a collective) without physical territory. But one only has to look at the history of the Jewish People – arguably the most successful in terms of survival – in order to realise that dominance over a physical territory is the only sure-fire guarantee of/for progressive survival. This means that the (traditionally Afrikaner) Freedom Front party is not Afrikaner anymore, because it has forsaken its primary responsibility… self-determination in/on a physical territory dominated by Afrikaners.
To the tricky questions; e.g. can an atheist be an Afrikaner? Yes, but only if s/he sustains the “default” of the collective which, in the case of the Afrikaner (identity), is Christian. Meaning that as long as atheists put the well-being of the Christian Afrikaner collective above their individual well-being as atheists, they can be 100% Afrikaners. Ditto for English-speaking white South Africans – or any other white person, for that matter – in terms of language. Afrikaans is, and therefore must stay, the default. The same could be said for non-whites wanting to be Afrikaners. But this, in itself, would be self-contradictory and, ultimately, irrational. For in order to sustain the Afrikaner default identity (which is white, in terms of race), non-whites would have to forsake any and all attempts at demographic dominance.
The above-explained dynamics are also being played out in traditional Western countries with, hitherto, distinct identities. Just think about the American identity when, in 2060, white English-speaking (and mostly Christian) “Americans” will be demographically swamped by Spanish-speaking Hispanics. In short; (the) American identity will no longer be “American”.
To the specifics of (the) Afrikaner identity; we are the most inherently pharmaconian people on the planet. I derived the adjective pharmaconian from the Greek root pharmacon… meaning to heal or to kill. Afrikaners like to fight and to heal. We make the best soldiers and the best doctors. We, as a people, are absolutely unique in this regard! In terms of the former, there is no need to blow our own trumpet – others do it for us, with aplomb…
The Americans fight for a free world. The English mostly for honor glory and medals. The French and Canadians decide too late that they have to participate. The Italians are too scared to fight. The Russians have no choice. The Germans for the Fatherland. The Boers? Those sons of bitches fight for the hell of it! – American General George “Guts and Glory” Patton
Give me 20 divisions American soldiers and I will beach Europe. Give me 15 consisting of Englishmen, and I will advance to the borders of Berlin. Give me two divisions of those marvellous fighting Boers and I will remove Germany from the face of the earth. – Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery (Commander Allied forces WWII)
It is therefore no wonder that we love rugby so much. It has become a substitute for our warrior-like psyche. An opium, unfortunately.
In terms of our passion for healing, we can only look at incredible doctors like Christiaan Barnard, or the fact that we had one of the very few defence forces in the world with a separate medical services arm. This pharmaconian essence of the Afrikaner also has its drawbacks. In terms of liking to fight; we tend toward bullying behaviour, especially because of our big physical size – inherited from the Dutch. This bad characteristic has always necessitated a very strong (mostly patriarchal) hierarchy… to keep the boys in line, so to speak.
The above characteristic was, in my opinion, the main reason why nearly the whole Afrikaner society collapsed after 1994, for when our leaders jumped ship, all the power structures collapsed like a house of cards. The main bullies then turned on their own people, selling them out like flies at the TRC, and in nearly every Afrikaner sphere imaginable. This thuggish behaviour is (now) exemplified by people like Piet Croucamp, Max du Preez, Pik Botha, Anton Van Niekerk, Pierre de Vos, etc.
Our passion for healing was, in my opinion, also the main motor behind the majority Yes vote in the referendum in 1992. Many Afrikaners thought that being “nice” (like e.g. the Swedes) was the only way out of all the fighting. I.e. many Afrikaners wanted to “heal” the bad relationship they had with blacks. The only problem is that this innate propensity to heal is not suited for African conditions… for here the Rule of the Jungle is still very much prevalent. And hell, what do the Swedes know about Africa in any case?!
Be that as it may; we share identity characteristics with other people that are also unique. We, like the Bushman, are in awe of Nature. No wonder the Afrikaners and the Bushmen get along so well, especially during the Angolan War. We established nature reserves long before it became cool to like the natural environment. Unlike our European peers, our art and literature is mainly devoted to the admiration of nature in connection with existential deliberations, e.g. Eugène N. Marais`s Die siel van die mier. (Eng title: The soul of the ant.)
We, as a people, prefer to spend every free minute in nature, be it camping, hunting, or visiting game/nature reserves. This also has its drawbacks. You`d hardly see an Afrikaner family going to a museum or art gallery on the weekend. This has, unfortunately, seen us lag behind our European peers.in terms of sustained “intellectuality”. But then, we live in the most beautiful country in the world… and we have been forced to fight for our continued survival as a unique people ever since we landed here 350 years ago.
Last, but definitely not least; if it were up to me, I’d change the word history to herstory when it comes to summarising the history of the Afrikaner, for the Afrikaner woman is the most unique woman on the planet. They know exactly what they want, and will go through hell and high water to get it… even if it means whipping their men all the way there.
In conclusion: I think that, given our absolutely unique pharmaconian character, the identity of the Afrikaner can best be summed up in the (moral) imperative of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger; sein lassen.
This idea/l, letting be, is a battle-cry to consciously demand and strive for an independent Lebensraum for yourself, as a unique people… as well as for all other things unique, be it other people, races, cultures, beliefs, or nature herself. Even during Apartheid, warped as it was, the Afrikaner promoted the independence of the various unique black peoples of South Africa. It is certainly not the Afrikaner’s fault that the latter did not stay true to their own identities… something they now yearn for with all their (identity-less) soul.
A discussion about the difference between the Boer and the Afrikaner is conspicuous by its absence in this column. In my opinion, the Boer is just a much hardier version of the Afrikaner – true grit… best summed up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Take a community of Dutchman of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world.Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots, who gave up their name and left their country forever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon the face of the earth. Take these formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances in which no weakling could survive; place them so that they acquire skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is immanently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman and the rider. Then, finally, put a fine temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism.Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual and you have the modern Boer.
That said; the very survival of the Afrikaner is now at stake. At the heart of this war is the battle for his identity. It is now up to the Afrikaner to decide his own fate… for letting others be definitely does not imply forsaking your own right to be!