by Dan Roodt dan[at]praag.org
Ever since Britain started getting seriously interested in South Africa after the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1866, there have been at least two conflicting views of the country. Throughout the twentieth century too, South Africa has borne the brunt of the Western ideological revolutions, all the way from colonialism and so-called “white supremacy” to contemporary political correctness. In fact, in the aftermath of the Mandela funeral, one could almost speak of the West’s religious devotion to black Africans who are being endowed with all the capricious amoral innocence of Greek gods.
More precisely, South Africa has been the theatre of an “epistemic war” if I could be excused such a French-sounding term. Apart from the very palpable shifts in demographic, political, economic and military power towards South African blacks, locals are also acutely aware of how the Western world view is no longer the dominant one in South Africa.
A few years ago I spoke to a liberal, anglophone, Jewish woman who lived in Johannesburg but who had some connection to the huge Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, one of the proud achievements of the former Afrikaner-led government. Within the Afrikaner mind, blacks had wanted not real political power but hospitals, schools, universities and jobs which is why they put so much effort into constructing such public institutions. Those institutions are currently being derided as having been entirely useless and a sop, or an insult to blacks, especically to the divine black leaders such as Mandela.
The point is, however, that since the black takeover in the country “they have changed the frame of reference” as my liberal Jewish friend put it. But she wasn’t really speaking in general terms, referring to the broad sweep of history and politics. First and foremost, she was speaking in medical terms. What she was saying, was that with the new order had come a new way of looking at healthcare, at patients and the function of a hospital. In short, the age-old belief systems of Africans have been reasserting themselves and “success” is no longer measured in white or European terms. That is why, when whites decry the deterioration of the state hospital system, as well as standards of professionalism and hygiene there, blacks are quick to retort with the ubiquitous cry of “racism”. After all, blacks are now in charge and they make the rules and set the standards against which a hospital, a school, a university or even a government will be measured.
It is really hard to understand the hullabaloo over President Zuma’s expenditure on what amounts to a private Zulu homestead or kraal at Nkandla. Compared to the billions being frittered away in corruption and unauthorised expenditure, the R240 million (about $20 million) involved seems almost paltry.
It is a truism of historians and philosophers alike, that one’s assessment of a situation – any situation – depends on one’s perspective. Not so long ago I read a paragraph by French political philosopher Alain de Benoist wherein he said:
… I am not fighting for the white race. I am not fighting for France. I am fighting for a world view. I am a philosopher, a theoretician, and I fight to explain my world view. And in this world view, Europe, race, culture, and identity all have roles. They are not excluded. But mainly I am working in defense of a world view. Of course, I am very interested in the future and destiny of my own nation, race, and culture, but I am also interested in the future of every other group.
That all sounds very interesting, but somewhat abstract. To the Afrikaner farmer who is being attacked in his or her home by a group of blacks who had imbibed some form of “medicine” or muti to make them invincible, the quesion is one, not of philosophy but of survival.
At a more mundane or political level, the clash is one of perspectives, even a traditional fight between the left and the right. In South Africa, any statement expressing concern over the future of whites or their well-being is almost always characterised as “right-wing”. Blacks are simply too good-natured and inherently moral ever to commit evil on a significant scale against whites.
This is also the foreign perspective. A Marxist theologian in Germany or a pro-white militant in America would concur that whites “have no place in South Africa, at the southern tip of a black continent”. On the other hand, the Afrikaner perspective is quite the opposite. They feel deeply rooted in South Africa and reject the “black supremacism” of both the foreign whites and the anglicised, superficially Westernised blacks who see them as being “not indigenous” to the country or the continent.
For most of the twentieth century, there has been a perspectival war around the notion of whether Afrikaners or whites really “belong” in South Africa or not. Once, I was shocked to see the former leader of the opposition, Tony Leon, being bluntly told by a BBC announcer on the programme Hard Talk that he was a “white politician” and that South Africa had always been “their country” – meaning that of the blacks – even in former centuries when their numbers were limited to about a million, nomadically drifting through parts of a mostly unpopulated territory twice the size of France.
History, as the ruling ANC politicians usually put it in their quasi-communist way, is “a terrain of ideological struggle”. Needless to say, whites have lost that ideological struggle – or the perspectival war over the past – hands down. It is now better to kiss the feet of Mandela’s bronze colosssus than to voice your own opinions or interpretation of history.
Faulkner, that strange author from the American South who uses the “N word” in his novels but depicts his own Southern whites with relentless cynicism, once wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” So there will always be a feud over history, everyone’s history.
But looking at the future of South Africa, or even our present safety in a physical sense, it also depends on one’s perspective. To foreigners and overseas correspondents in South Africa, this is Mandelatopia, a liberal democracy with same-sex marriages and universal suffrage – although cannabis is not yet quite legal. According to this view, which is based on a very superficial “multicultural” reading, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”, as it is stated in our incongruous constitution, replete with rancour and affirmative-action clauses.
Many whites, especially women, have a sense of impending doom. The crime, corruption and general sense of lawlessness portend worse to come. Usually, they are not arguing against the dominant ideology with its illusions of democratic bliss. Rather, they intuit some kind of typically African implosion or civil war during which whites will be punished for all the evil they have wrought in their zeal to “uplift” and “civlise” blacks, admittedly ridiculous notions within the present context.
To the pessimist or the more intuitive analyst, South Africa’s future represents the “chronicle of a death foretold”, or many deaths, if you will pardon my paraphrasing the fetching title of Gabriel Márquez’s little novel. It will be Zimbabwe on a much vaster scale, and much bloodier. It is already much bloodier, and ultimately the country will be ethnically cleansed of its Caucasian undesirables, probably to universal acclaim.
Depending on one’s point of view, South Africa is either a “problem that has been happily solved” or a disaster in the making. Looking at the past, especially the nineteenth century when indigenous whites were as weak as they are now and were regularly massacred by blacks, as well as the history of postcolonial Africa, I am not macho enough to cast all caution to the winds and believe in the foreign male fantasy of a South Africa that is some kind of Switzerland or Singapore, clean, tolerant and law-abiding.
There being no common ground in this war of perspectives, no rational debate will take place either. I am inclined to trust those “womanly” truths that are as unspeakable as they are likely to come to pass.