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General De la Rey, peace or war icon? Image: Mhambi, Green background: Peet Pienaar, Hat: Ernesto Che Guavarra.
There is much debate about what Bok van Blerk's the De la Rey song could mean. Is the song a call to war? Is the song treacherous? Is De la Rey an icon of the right?
Mhambi thinks not. The right might want to appropriate him - but it won't stick. De la Rey was an anti-colonial freedom fighter. And a reluctant fighter at that. He opposed war and anti-immigration policies.
What is clear - whatever the intentions of the songs writers - is that the De la Rey phenomena is a search for and a reassertion of Afrikaner identity. To some that makes it right wing.
Mhambi disagrees. A key part of that identity is a struggle for justice. De la Rey represents an era when the Afrikaners were the heroes of a global struggle for justice against colonialism. When Mhambi was young I turned against Afrikaner Nationalism because it was clearly incompatible with what I was taught Afrikaners had stood for.
Mhambi finds it very weird how perceptions, pronouncements and reality diverge, especially in South Africa.
Even the legacy of the Nationalists need to be reappraised. Your having a laugh I hear you say.
Nope. Ask yourself why do people like Guardian reporter Rory Carrol call South Africa a 'boot camp for progressive ideals'.
For all their overt institutional racism the Nationalists were in practice economically left of the ANC in many key respects. They were hands on, never laissez faire. They favoured regulation as opposed to a rampant free market.
Afrikaners know that government can make a difference to poverty and inequality, because they tried it and it worked.
It is a somewhat astounding fact that the Nats during their rule, consistently decreased economic inequality amongst and between all South Africans, something the ANC has failed to do so far. First they lacked the intention, dumping the redistributive RDP plan for the growth of Gear policy. Now they profess the will to adress poverty through Asgi-sa, but seem unable to make it happen.
The Nats built local industry to move South Africa away from being only a supplier of commodities to the West. It is indeed ironic that without the Hertzog government's efforts to build the local economy and industry in particular, there would in all probability not have been a big and mighty trade Union like Cosatu.
Crucially the Nationalists were anti-bling and ostentatious displays of wealth. Were their moto was Suid-Afrika eerste (South Africa first) , the ANC seems to have a very different one: Me, me, me. The Nats valued unselfish public service, rare in a continent blighted by predatory elites. Corruption, what Francois Bayart and his colleagues describe as "the privatisation of public resources" is spreading.
The ANC has so-far presided over an ever increasing gap in economic inequality. It has presided over de-industrialisation. It has allowed mining companies like Anglo-American to list in London, while the English language South African press acquiesced. Would the Nationalists have allowed this capital flight?
The Afrikaners launched Africa's largest body of literature, covering the whole gambit of human experiences, including feminist, and even gay literature. Allot of it severely self critical. The one dimensional stereo types just don't do Afrikaners justice.
It's time for a major reassessment of the Afrikaner's role on the continent. They are the ghostly vanguard of the Thabu Mbeki's "African Renaissance". But now Africa's largest skilled force of effective and loyal public servants are not only not given their due recognition, they are also being shunned.
Afrikaners themselves need to see where their formative roots lie, when the likes of De la Rey were anti-colonial freedom fighters - and champions of the poor and oppressed. They should understand and admit the tragic impact of apartheid and they should work towards making a symbolic gesture of contrition - a la Germany's Willie Brandt.
The ANC needs to recognise that without harnessing the Afrikaners, culturally, socially and in the public sector - all of South Africa will be poorer.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
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