On the prejudices of ‘progressives’


by Dan Roodt

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My first question upon reading this sorry little ego trip from a Daily Maverick columnist who obviously thinks she deserves the Nobel prize for literature in a few days, is: Why don’t you go back to the UK where you spent 14 halcyon years? Why return to this backward country where English is mostly a second language to everyone – even to people like you who are hardly on the English peerage list – and therefore in various states of creolisation, pidginisation, etc.?

Many sub-editors and journalists at English-language newspapers in this country are actually Afrikaners. Maybe you should go on a campaign and get them fired and replaced by born-and-bred Englishmen?

Recently the Coloured champion of English and anglicisation in South Africa, Jonathan Jansen, claimed that “English will unite us”, where Afrikaans divided us, or some such lunatic fallacy. The truth is that English, like any language, unites as well as divides. In the UK, the British class system has created almost two worlds, an upper class gossiped about in the tabloid press and an anomic, drug-ridden white underclass whose children pass out in public places as reported here.

In the USA, which until recently used to be an English-speaking country, there is the Mason-Dixon line which no longer exists politically, but which still defines two cultures. The New York Times regards Southern identity with the same suspicion as a Soviet commissar would look upon stirrings of nationalism in any satellite state. We Afrikaners have a lot in common with Southern Americans, having lost an important war in the nineteenth century but also being puritans and Calvinists. The other day I read a comment by the Austrian intellectual Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn describing American folk music, especially country, as Calvinist and I must admit, he is right! The contemptuous American-liberal view of “red-state fascism” corresponds very much to the Johannesburg leftist’s supercilious “interest in the oddities of post-Apartheid whiteness”, as Nicky Falkof puts it.

To me English is also a foreign language, like French. But I really love reading books in French and even sometimes, more rarely, in English. When a black taxi knocked me over on my bicycle in DF Malan Drive a few years ago, I lost a lot of what Falkof would call my white skin, and spent a week immobile on my side. To ease the pain and discomfort, I read three Jean Echenoz novels and I think his quirky, ironic prose anaesthetised me a little and took my mind away from my immediate inability to even get up and go to the toilet without help.

I have never come across a Frenchman or -woman who held me in contempt because I was not a mother-tongue writer of French. Yet, Nicky Falkof, this is what you seem to be doing: you despise people who do not happen to be “to the manner born”, to quote J.P. Donleavy. I gather you were raised in some deep corner of Houghton where anglophilia was part of your noble upbringing.

By implication you are also saying that Afrikaners like Sunette Bridges and others are foreigners because they do not speak or write British English properly. The theme of alienation, becoming-foreign in the land of one’s birth – my forebears only came here in 1701 so I have not been properly naturalised as a “South African” – is one that really interests me. We named most of the country’s towns and cities, yet we are now seen as strangers. Farm murders are also an expression of xenophobia because, at least since the revolution, Afrikaners are considered foreigners or settlers, as Thabo Mbeki, Ruth First and many others have assured us.

That said, and being a foreigner/stranger, an “étranger” – if you know the famous novella by Albert Camus bearing that title, you will understand the existential alienation concomitant with being “not of this place”, the RSA, which is now oh so English – I cannot say that I know too much about your exalted language.

Yet the one thing I do know about South African English is that it is really horrible, lacking in aesthetic sense and coherence. Even mother-tongue speakers – although that might be a contradiction in terms – make lots of mistakes all the time and of course spelling and grammar have fallen by the wayside since the revolution and Kader Asmal importing something called “outcomes-based education”. Have you heard how blacks speak English? Have you seen how some of them write it, even ones with university degrees? Because it is not their own language, but also because since 1994 they have had sub-Bantu education. Maybe you should apply some of your heart-felt linguistic snobbery there?

Or is it not politically correct to put blacks down on account of their English style, but in relation to those local whites who object to being killed, tortured and raped, it is almost de rigueur?

Your other concern, that these hapless non-English are not amenable to being manhandled and executed by Foucauldian freedom fighters, and are actually usurping the register of genteel leftist diction, might be more problematic than you think. You describe it as “a ham-fisted attempt at adopting progressive discourse”.

First of all, I regard as ham-fisted the attempts by English people such as yourself to adopt some kind of local identity. Why does Woolworths sell boerewors and koeksisters? Why are you not proud to say that you are English, hoist the Union Jack or preferably the St. George’s Cross, and leave us in our benighted enjoyment of sosaties and pap, dubious Afrikaans poetry and popular songs, including Steve Hofmeyr, much like British peers on a visit to Africa would gaze from a distance at the dancing natives in colonial times?

At its simplest level: why do you want to correct our grammar? Lately, you or your underlings have even taken to correcting Afrikaans grammar, something about which you know absolutely nothing.

At a more theoretical level – and this might be another primitive display of non-English mores, as we are straying from “common sense” now – what you call “progressive discourse” probably means some variation of Marxism. To the extent that Karl Marx used Hegel and German indealism to construct his little dogma of the class struggle, we “naive people of the veld” could level exactly the same accusation at you “progressives”: Why did you pollute Hegel with your quasi-religious social eschatology? Progressivism in itself stands revealed as a perverted – more precisely perverse, even in a sexual sense – form of idealism.

By the way, the expression “naive people of the veld” is derived from a statement made by Gillian Slovo, the daughter of South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo who characterised all of Afrikaans culture, everything from Eugène Marais to Mimi Coertse or Arnold van Wyk, I suppose, as “the naive culture of the veld”. Gillian Slovo is English enough to remain in London and I sometimes wonder when all you “progressives” will follow her example.

Being “naive people of the veld”, we find some things difficult to understand. The cognitive limitations of the proverbial “dumb Dutchman”… One is the depths of sadism that the freedom fighters stoop to in their orgies of killing in rural areas, but sometimes in the cities too. The mutilation of the victim’s body is supposed to be a sign of clinical sadism, so we are not being semantically naive in referring to it as sadism.

The second conundrum is the depths of “progressive” contempt for our “naive culture of the veld”, our language, music, architecture, cuisine, art, literature, place names, and so on. How do we explain that contempt, even apart from the “progressive” penchant for everything British and colonial?

Is there some innate or structural connection between the sadism of the “natural born killers” stalking the countryside and the “progressive” need for humiliating, putting down and ultimately affirming a cultural and perhaps even racial superiority on the part of the cultural-Marxist nobility that rules the roost in South Africa, particularly in the media and the universities?

A phenomenon of which, needless to say, Nicky Falkof has just given us an exemplary demonstration.

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