The rainbow blues of “De la Rey”

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The storm that has broken loose about Bok van Blerk’s rock song “De la Rey” might be an indication that the smoke is starting to come out of the South African volcano again, signifying that the transformation of society after the rainbow revolution was not all just magic. The scars of the past are still there and the process of transformation has definitely not been concluded.

It is understandable that after the many years of violence and coming very close to the edge of a civil war, South Africans needed the magic of the moment after the demise of apartheid – something almost utopian for a new beginning. The concept of the “rainbow nation” carried the message that the storm has passed and that the sun was shining again. President Mandela was a good rainmaker with plenty of rainbows to rejoice. But the rainbow started fading a number of paces down the alley of transformation. And for some time now, the film of the camera seems to have turned almost imperceptibly into the black-and-white mode again. Democracy in South Africa is fragile, still suffering from the past as it tries to stride the road forward.

Way back in 1990, when Breyten Breytenbach, the prophet who was not without honour save in his own country, returned, he said, “South Africa’s dominant culture is one of co-optation. There are still too many zones of silence, of accessory muteness, of reciprocal moral blackmailing living on hereditary guilt and the need to be humiliated. We don’t take each other on, we don’t even feel each other up, we prefer to handle and to manipulate one another.”[1] That seems to be changing. South Africa is obviously revving up for a new phase of transformation, whatever that might bring.

I have just returned from South Africa and noticed a lot of shifts in society compared with my last visit about three years ago. My visits are always like slow motion in paradise: I notice things that have changed perhaps more profoundly due to my absences. So let me start by giving you a brief jot on that.

I found that a lot of the forced, almost stilted political correctness that was still very much part of South African society three years ago, has gone. People are now much more relaxed in their interaction with one another, and generally I could sense an increase of genuine goodwill among people. At the same time, however, I also noticed an increasing tendency to use derogatory remarks about the “other” to express frustration about specific things such as the high crime rate and incompetence of specific state departments in certain areas of the state administration. Stereotyping has definitely started resurfacing.

I also noticed a very specific change of attitudes in the use of Afrikaans. In big shopping centres like Tyger Valley, shopkeepers and people selling things often addressed me in Afrikaans. In the high days of Afrikaner protest and directly after the tables of political power were turned, most of them would not easily have spoken their mother tongue in public places. Three years ago, people might have served you in Afrikaans if you addressed them in Afrikaans, but in many Afrikaans urban areas they would first have addressed you in English. Afrikaans speakers are no longer ashamed to use their language in public places. A new consciousness can, therefore, definitely be perceived with regard to the use of Afrikaans. It would seem that the stigma that still clung to Afrikaans as the “language of the oppressor” in the 1990s has ebbed off to a large extent. People to whom I spoke about it confirmed the trend and related their experiences in other parts of the country.

A year ago some Afrikaners were still seriously worried about the “symbolic misery” of the Afrikaner elite and that Afrikaners might be on a plane with annihilation as their destiny.[2] The new language warriors were already foreseeing the demise of Afrikaans.

Then, almost overnight, Bok van Blerk’s cult song rocked them into a new Boere Consciousness.

What happened?

For some time before that I had been expecting something like the De la Rey phenomenon to come from the younger generation of Afrikaners, but not quite in this form. It caught people totally off guard. Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya referred to it as a “new wave of Afrikaner siege mentality” and called the song “struggle-orientated”.[3] Someone else referred to it as a “liedership crisis”.[4] Bok van Blerk’s song even made headlines in the New York Times.[5] In London youngsters are rocking to the beat of Bok’s concert, but have turned down his plea to return home.

One may rightly wonder why this song has struck the right chord. And why specifically now, more than ten years into the new democracy?

The immense popularity of the song and the behaviour of its fans are hotly debated in the Afrikaans newspapers, on radio and internet chatrooms. A number of accurate analyses have pinned down very diverse aspects of the cult around “De la Rey”. Some of them have been really funny. However, having read Andries Bezuidenhout’s excellent and probing contribution on LitNet, I would like to respond to some points he made, and pick up on a few remarks from others as well. I will refrain from recapping the whole debate. The song seems to be ebbing off anyway – somebody has already referred to it as “De la Holrug-geRey”.

I want to focus on a few things that have not been raised and might still be of interest to understand the dynamics of the forces at work.

First, I want to have a look at rock music as a medium of mass protest. Secondly, I want to draw attention to the strange “Ossi syndrome”, a very peculiar state of depression that surfaced massively amongst East Germans after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which seems to correlate with a sense of being lost, even embittered, amongst many Afrikaners in the post-apartheid era. Thirdly, I want to give a brief overview of the process of cultural transformation under normal circumstances and contrast that with curves of transformation after a cultural break in the process of stabilising collective identity again. Fourthly, I want to focus on the malaise peak of such transformation projects and draw readers' attention to the weird “Wessi-effect” of political transformation in Germany. Finally, I want to concentrate on the trans-generational effect of trauma and the epigenetic impact on later generations, as well as a fear culture through commemoration of traumatic events, and how this impacts on nation-building.

Let us therefore look at some things that might offer an understanding of what “De la Rey” is doing to the soul of Afrikaners and, perhaps, why this has happened at this point in time. My attempt is certainly not the last word on it; I am probably just scratching the surface of it all.

For many years my research focused on how best to protect human rights, and how to curb the power of the state effectively. However, somewhere along the road, I turned around and started looking down the barrel of the gun in the opposite direction, with my eye not on the state, but on the people. After all, they are the ones who could make or break any state (except perhaps, a totalitarian one, once the structures are in place).

I Rock music as a medium of mass protest

Afrikaans artists are very intense and their styles vary from anarchistic to funky and alternative or plain mainstream. At the height of the repressive states of emergency in the mid-1980s, the Voëlvry movement slaughtered the holy cows of the Afrikaner establishment with a vengeance. Voëlvry in Afrikaans literally means that they declared themselves willing to be shot off – not outlawed, but somehow a law unto themselves. They were angry about the bush war and brute force in the townships; they were angry with the Dutch Reformed Church’s brand of Calvinism, which stifled their moral and ethical perspective on life; and they were kicking in the walls of xenophobic paranoia cultured by the politicians and securocrats.

Voëlvry, with the backing of Max du Preez’s fuzzy and hardegat Afrikaans weekly, Die Vrye Weekblad, channelled their energy to defuse the “total response” of the security establishment and the “total onslaught” of the “armed struggle”. It is tempting to overemphasise the political impact of Voëlvry, but it definitely contributed significantly to having Afrikaners accept the end of apartheid and a negotiated solution by 1994.[6] In contrast with the struggle of diverse groups associated with the UDF/ANC who were fighting for black political empowerment, Voëlvry as a struggle movement concentrated on debunking xenophobia. Both were necessary to make a democratic solution possible.

This was struggle music aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afrikaners for a common future with other groups in South Africa and it was very effective. Voëlvry and the Gereformeerde Blues Band rocked the country up and down with “Sit dit af, sit dit af", “Boer in beton” and “Hou my vas Korporaal”. Rock music is a powerful medium for struggle songs, as has been illustrated in America as well.

Long before Voëlvry appeared on the scene, Coenie de Villiers was already singing pretty tough songs loaded with social critique, like “Soldier’s Return” and “Prisoners of war” (lyrics by David Kramer). Many of his first albums were banned and songs like “Die Hofsaak”, “Die Geur van Gom”, “Icarus” and “Calvyn de Wet van Zyl” got lost. He was recording songs with Jonathan Butler from the Cape Flats long before it became fashionable to join forces in the struggle. In the early 1980s you could hear the refrain “Verlig, verkramp, verknog/ Verwoerd, verward, verwaand” of “Bliksoldaat” everywhere. The images of soldiers having to be heroic with their guns becoming their mistresses remind one starkly of Stanley Kubric’s movie Full Metal Jacket, which depicts the loss of humanness of US Marines during their training before they were packed off to Vietnam. The “Tagtigers” picked up the same theme, and Etienne van Heerden’s My Kubaan brilliantly portrays what the militarisation of society was doing to the souls of young soldiers.

All this prepared the ground for Voëlvry, but Coenie’s songs never had the same broad societal impact as the songs of Voëlvry on the collective consciousness of Afrikaners. This might have to do with brain wave frequencies activated by music. Rock music activates specific types of brain wave frequencies, which differ substantially from those of the chanson. Whereas Coenie’s refrains haunted you and encouraged self-critique and introspection, rock music is much more raw and brazen.

Music can alter our brain waves. Beta waves, in particular, are important with regard to the effect of music on our brain wave frequency in this context. Neurophysiologists distinguish between “good” and “bad” beta waves, depending on how they affect people. The “good” frequencies typical of Baroque music correspond to a state of mind that enables great clarity. “Bad” beta wave frequencies, on the other hand, can trigger hyperactive behaviour or an agitated mindset. A specific type of music can, therefore, be used to speed up our heart rate, to stir passion or to enhance activity, and this is exactly what rock music does. Rock music can also mask pain and cover up unpleasant noises. It has the power to create dissonance, stress or even physical pain. The reason rock music is so successful with regard to mass mobilisation in the case of anti-war or struggle songs may be that it strikes an emotional and passionate chord by activating specific brain wave frequencies.

Albert Grundling and Sandra Swart espoused the opinion that Bok van Blerk’s song is definitely not a catalyst for the revitalisation of the far right. They pointed to the social context of Bok van Blerk’s other songs which capture the lived experience of working-class Afrikaner men, like “Girls in bikinis”, “Vodka en OJ”, and his song about rugby which flatters the "coloured" wing Bryan Habana, and concluded that this is hardly the work of a Boeremag songwriter. There is also no sinister intent in the choice of Koos de la Rey as a hero, as he is quite a “legitimate” choice in today’s politically correct terms – “a gallant loser, a chivalric ‘victim’ with a dashing beard and a dream”. Moreover, De la Rey’s name is “lyrical, almost onomatopoeic”, and in the final analysis, De la Rey’s name was probably chosen because it rhymes with “lei”.[7]

As far as these arguments are concerned, I can agree with them, but not with their conclusion that no song is that convincing ideologically that it can actually start a social revolution. Maybe it cannot start a social revolution, but it can definitely impact on politics. It does not depend on an ideology necessarily, but on brain wave frequencies that are triggered in combination with a specific emotional push factor like passion or agitation. This is exactly what Voëlvry did. And I believe “De la Rey” is doing it as well.

They conceded that a song can take on a life of its own after it is released, and referred to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. However, the context in which they referred to it, is not really what impacted on American society. They mentioned that Reagan tried to hijack the song “even though nobody sang more furiously than Springsteen about the working-class victims of Reaganomics”. “Born in the USA”, however, was not a social critique of Reaganomics, but an anti-war song. It dealt with the trauma of American soldiers in Vietnam and became one of the greatest cult songs ever in America. Springsteen sang about his buddies who were sent to the Vietnam War, some of whom never came back. It was also a tribute to the hardship Vietnam veterans faced upon their return from the war on a psychological, bomb shock level. They were regarded as “heroes” but then exploited for nationalistic aggrandisement.

The song was indeed widely misinterpreted on release as being “nationalistic”. Both Reagan and Mondale, who were running for president at the time, tried to co-opt Springsteen for their election campaigns, but he turned them down. I happened to be studying in the USA at the time and saw the effect of the song on people. What they were really angry about was the Reagan administration’s clandestine and illegal counter-insurgency involvement in Nicaragua, trying to destabilise Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista regime. They feared that this might become a second Vietnam to America. The song therefore triggered the fear of reliving a traumatic experience in a different context. Moreover, it mobilised enough political pressure to force the Reagan administration to drop its destabilising activities in central America.

As in the case of Springsteen’s anti-war song, Bok van Blerk’s “De la Rey" also projects a particular trauma on to another situation. The theme of the song is the unfinished business of the Boer War and the concentration camps, but this trauma is projected on to perceptions that Afrikaners have been hard done by in post-apartheid South Africa. When Bok sings about “’n nasie wat weer op sal staan”, this does refer to the Afrikaners a hundred years ago, but also to the future of Afrikaners in the new South Africa.

Max du Preez’s response seems to me to be more spot-on when he says that “De la Rey” is not new nationalism but that it is alarming. This search for legitimacy is a “flashing red light” for South Africa.[8] Bok van Blerk has definitely struck a chord. If you compare his fans with those of Voëlvry in the 1980s, they are not only youngsters, but mainstream Afrikaners. You find both the far right and Afrikaner yuppies amongst his fans. Most Afrikaner dissidents of old have not even distanced themselves in clear terms from Bok or his song. This should make us think.

“De la Rey” indeed seems to be “struggle-oriented”. The question is whether this is political dynamite. I would take a more conservative view, saying that it does not go that far. The democracy of post-apartheid South Africa is a one-party dominant system with a weak opposition.[9] This constellation does not leave Afrikaners much scope to voice their concerns effectively and rock music is just another medium to keep the political debate open.

Another aspect to consider is that this song comes from the younger generation – in other words, that privileged generation born into the New South Africa. It seems that neither the “tribal drum” nor “injured pride” fully explains the De la Rey phenomenon. But there might be a combination of several factors.

II The “Ossi syndrome”

The fall of the Berlin Wall was comparable to FW de Klerk's taking the gap with his memorable speech on 2 February 1990 announcing the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC. In both instances an authoritarian regime imploded. The spirits were high – Germans were set on the track of reunification and South Africans on that of national reconciliation.

West Germans poured billions into East Germany, and with their knack for perfectionism they have succeeded in doing the near impossible by narrowing the gap between a rotten, run-down economy and a highly potent first-world economy within 15 years. The two economies are still not on the same level, but the progress is astonishing.[10] The whole effort did not come without a price, though. The West German economy took a serious knock – so much so that the enthusiasm of South Koreans, who initially also toyed with the idea of reunifying with North Korea, waned as they watched West Germans striding the road. Living standards of Germans have dropped considerably, and they have been overtaken by many other European countries. The economy has just been picking up in the past year again.[11]

Despite all these endeavours, the “Ossis” (East Germans) have been moaning and groaning. About four years ago a new kind of depression was diagnosed amongst East Germans who were suffering from a kind of burn-out syndrome; it was characterised by embitteredness following a loss of status, low self-sufficiency expectations due to long-term unemployment, and pessimism stemming from difficulties of being integrated into the labour market and to adapt to the new circumstances.

This “Ossi syndrome” is also characterised by demoralisation. The people feel their living space has been “colonised” by West Germans. To use the words of Bärbel Bohley, a prominent peace activist at the time of the Leipzig Monday demonstrations: “They wanted justice, but got the rule of law instead.” For forty years a totalitarian state with more than 15 000 Stasi spies shaped their society, stifling individualism and every sign of overt regime critique. They wanted Honecker and the Stasi brought to justice, but this did not happen. The negotiated reunification meant, de facto, that East Germans were absorbed into a constitutional state with a capitalist market economy. All of a sudden they had to learn to take responsibility for their own lives. They had to think for themselves. The SED party bosses were no longer there taking the lead.

But there is another factor too. East Germans did not really bargain on getting the baggage of the Nazis on top of their Stasi past. The Communists had conveniently placed all the evils of the Nazis at the door of West Germans and hidden behind their "anti-faschistische Schutzwall" (anti-fascist protection wall), as they referred to the Berlin Wall. In the meantime West Germans have painfully worked through that, but the East Germans have not. So they were faced by a double burden. The surfacing of neo-Nazi sentiments in East Germany clearly depicts the dilemma.

It is only human that the Ossis would whine about this burden – not because they wanted the Honecker’s regime back, but because they had to adapt on the fast track on so many fronts and this caused them a lot of stress. Life changed dramatically for them. Goodbye Lenin depicts this in a touching manner. They were so much better off now, but were still suffering on a psychological level. A little annoyed, Wessis often refer to them as “Jammer-Ossis” – sulking East Germans.

Such psychosocial stress can actually make people ill. In 2005 Heidelberg medical researchers scientifically proved that psychosocial stress changes the molecular structure of cells and affects the immune system of a person. They established that the immune system fights psychostress in the same way it fights germs, viruses and bacteria.[12] In Graz, Austria, an interdisciplinary group of researchers found that constant stress not only affects the psyche but can cause metabolic diseases. Stress therefore causes not only psychological but also organic illness.[13]

Something similar to this “Ossi syndrome” seems to have been experienced by many Afrikaners in post-apartheid South Africa. Afrikaners went through a difficult patch, giving up power in 1990 and living through the revelations before the TRC. This really rocked their self-esteem at the time and some analysts even diagnosed a collective identity crisis. They were no longer ruling the country and were reduced to the minority status that they always feared. Moreover, they wanted a democratic transition but did not quite bargain on the price they would have to pay for it. They lost a lot of their privileges which they had as “first-flush” civil servants. White Afrikaner men in particular who were retrenched to free up the way for blacks in top positions suffered from substantial psychological stress. They suffered a loss of status, which was closely linked to the positions they held. Many were disillusioned, if not embittered, if they were replaced by less qualified or inexperienced persons. In the meantime, however, the bulk of them seem to have transformed into well-to-do entrepreneurs and are coping better with the situation.

In East Germany the youth were affected in quite a pronounced manner. Their disillusionment had to do with difficulties of being integrated into the democratic political system and the capitalist labour market. Many retrained or simply migrated to West Germany. In the time following the fall of the Berlin Wall roughly one million East Germans moved over to West Germany. Once they made friends and got good jobs, the depression many suffered from ebbed off. However, it is still not easy for young people to make a living in East Germany, and a long-term study of the East German youth that started in 1989 with 16–17-year-olds found that they were doubly disappointed – first by the SED and then by how the reunification turned out. The most recent survey of them – now aged about 30 – showed that fewer than 50 percent were satisfied with the economic system and more than 50 percent still endorse socialist ideals even though socialism itself has collapsed. Characteristic of them is a double identity – they still feel themselves to be East Germans, but are moving towards becoming citizens of the reunified Germany.[14]

In South Africa, it seems that “Mandela's and Mbeki’s children” are having difficulties on a similar level, except that a large portion of the labour market has been closed off to whites due to affirmative action, not only in the public sector but also in the private sector. When Afrikaners came to power in 1948 they also practised affirmative action, albeit at a slower pace, and they focused on the public sector. So, unlike the East German youth, who had opportunities available once they retrained, this is not necessarily the case in South Africa and might have serious consequences in the long run for the efficiency of the labour market, both public and private – not only economically but also socio-politically. The DA has started a drive for a three-year moratorium on affirmative action in areas suffering from a skills shortage. This might contribute to providing young white graduates with a perspective for the future and give them the feeling that they are part of the new democracy, not just a sidelined minority.[15]

If one looks at the background of Louis Pepler (Bok van Blerk) it is a textbook case of what has been described above. Louis's father, a former director of the National Institute for Productivity, was laid off as a consequence of affirmative action. Pepler himself proved that he could make it in the new South Africa, as he chose to qualify in a field where there are massive job opportunities – the building sector. As a first-year student he was the only white student of his peer group who got a Group Five scholarship to study civil construction. He obtained a degree in construction management and was the youngest ever building constructor for Group Five.[16] In other words, he made his way despite the odds. However, many of his friends might not have been so lucky. Many young, highly qualified whites are still leaving the country simply because they are not finding any jobs. This brain drain is not really something South Africa can afford at a time when the demands of global economy are starting to impact on the South African economy as it is suffering from a skills shortage. The debate on affirmative action is heating up, and some are arguing that in terms of the ILO Convention affirmative action is justifiable only as long as it is enforced as a temporary measure to redress the imbalances of the past, but not as a permanent measure.[17]

III Cultural transformation and collective identity

As I indicated at the outset, I had been expecting something like the De la Rey phenomenon, but not quite in this form. The reason is that I did not expect a convergence of the stabilisation of cultural identity by the third generation after the initiation of apartheid with xenophobia resurfacing in this form in the fourth generation after the Boer War concentration camps, and, on top of that, that it would coincide with the “Wessi” effect. But let me explain these points one at a time.

In a short opinion piece in Vrye Afrikaan last year I indicated that it is actually quite a normal process that Afrikaners are working through to fill the identity vacuum that came about after the demise of apartheid and their relinquishing power.[18] In recent years the focus of cultural studies has been on the interdependence of communicative memory, collective memory and cultural memory in the creation of cultural identity. Communicative memory is based on individual experiences and is relatively short-lived and subject to a lot of change. A first selection from communicative memory is then referred to as collective memory. It is more stable and not subject to great modification. Cultural memory is the most stable form of memory and seldom changes. The latter has a great influence on what we regard as “history”. Under “normal" circumstances cultural memory covers a span of about 80–120 years, whereas collective memory has a lifespan of about 30–40 years.[19] These processes are continually “under construction”. Usually we will not even be aware of it but things do change – the language we use, fashion and music trends, and political perspectives adapt to new circumstances and that all influences who and what we are as a cultural group.

But traumatic experiences can impact to such an extent on a society that the relative stability of the members' cultural identity is severely rocked. Social scientists in Germany, like Jörn Rüsen and Aleida Assmann, have identified the end of WW II as a radical cut in the collective identity of Germans.[20] When the horrors of the holocaust emerged, that pulled the carpet from under their feet. They could not built their future identity on the Nazis’ brand of fervent and radical nationalism. This was a cut-off point where they had to start all over again. They analysed how different generations dealt with the dilemma.

The first generation was the generation that voted the Nazis into power and created the fiasco. They include those that went to war and the flakhelpers who were brainwashed in the Hitlerjugend, and there is little doubt that they were the hardest hit by the collective identity crisis. Yet they were the link between the past and the future and had the burden to establish cultural continuity. The way they did it was by exterritorialising the problem and distancing themselves from National Socialism. A large number of older Germans reacted to the past with historical revisionism or with silence, busying themselves with the Wirtschaftswunder.

The second generation, the generation of the 1968 student revolts, rebelled against this and reintegrated the National Socialist era as an integral part of their history. But this caused problems on a different plane. Their identity was based on negative building-blocks of identity – they distanced themselves from that traumatic episode of their past and from negating the human dignity of others. In other words, they knew what they were not, but did not fill the collective or cultural identity of post-war Germans with positive content. This was to be the task of the third generation after the war. They are the first generation that have reintegrated patriotism (not nationalism) as part of German collective identity. They stabilised the cultural identity of Germans again. The Soccer World Cup 2006 illustrated this brilliantly.

After reunification a new brand of German patriotism evolved to fill the identity vacuum. There seems to be a trend, however, to refrain from using the word nationalism in this context because it has painful connotations for Germans who had their fill of revolutionary nationalism during the Third Reich. This new patriotism that Germans feel has a cultural heartbeat, but is also centred in civil society, being proud of having realised the essence of what a republic is truly about – a free democratic order. It differs from nationalism in that it does not espouse the idea of national chauvinism, attempting to be better than others. Whereas Habermas’s idea of “constitutional patriotism” was a bit like a heart bypass, this heart is throbbing quite normally again.

With some adaptation you can also identify this pattern with regard to Afrikaners in the manner they faced the past of the apartheid era. I tried to do so last year in the opinion piece I've referred to above. Bok van Blerk belongs to that third generation of Afrikaners who are reintegrating the apartheid history as part of the collective memory of Afrikaners, making their peace with it, and forging a new Afrikaner identity with positive content. Whereas the Voëlvry and Vrye Weekblad generation based their identity primarily on what they were not, the tide of cultural transformation is starting to return to “normality” again with this generation. One should be careful, however, to equate normal cultural patriotism with “new nationalism” in the sense of a resurrection of apartheid-style “Afrikaner nationalism”.[21]

But this is only part of the picture. The reality of Afrikaners is complex and very different from that of Germans. They live in a multicultural and economically interdependent society. Moreover, the rainbow revolution of 1990 cannot be compared with the cut-off date of 1945. In fact, the end of apartheid shows more similarities with the velvet revolution of 1989 in Germany than with the cut-off date of a war lost in 1945. That is what Afrikaners experienced in 1902, with the exception that they did not commit a genocide but were the victims of something comparable to a genocide. In 1990 Afrikaners were not defeated, they handed over power voluntarily and were instrumental in bringing about the implosion of apartheid. They negotiated a new constitution and identify themselves with a new inclusive democracy and the rule of law. Yet the break with the apartheid era was very definite and the leaders of the NP fell from grace.

The majority of Afrikaners voted for the DA in post-apartheid South Africa and had no problem accepting a liberal Jew as their spokesman. In his "Eish" column Andrew Donaldson of the Sunday Times suggested that "De la Rey" reflects a “liedership crisis”. The call on the mythical general De la Rey to come and lead the Boers might be interpreted in a way that Afrikaners are longing for untarnished heroes like General De la Rey of old, but it could just as well be a reflection on the quality of leadership as raised by Archbishop Tutu.[22] Crime and corruption have reached crisis proportions and they do not see their leaders tackling that crisis effectively. Instead, the reaction has been one of denial and putting the blame on “white perspectives”.[23]

IV The “Wessi Effect”

One might find similarities between South Africa and Germany with regard to transformation since the reunification or reconciliation on another plane as well.

In 2004 a Forsa poll done for the magazine Stern shocked the German political landscape as well as the international community. The poll showed that a fifth of all Germans wanted the Wall back. Interestingly enough, only one in eight East Germans longed to have the Wall back, whereas every fourth West German longed for it.[24] Of course, none of them really wanted the Cold War back, as the British daily The Independent found after it enquired about that with some consternation. But the initial euphoria of reunification had definitely made place for a “sceptical distance” between Ossis and Wessis. The reality of transformation 15 years down the road had not lived up to the expectations of either group and they were airing their views. West Germans were fed-up with the “sulking” East Germans; they had had enough of money transfers and having to pay extra taxation levies to still be helping rebuild East Germany.[25] The poll indicated that the Wessis wanted a measure of recognition from Ossis for what they were doing for them and that the Ossis should get their act together.

The Forsa poll also reflected the widespread German malaise – a feeling of inadequacy in mastering the problems facing their society. Germany was in the middle of a serious crisis over restructuring the welfare state and social security systems to ensure sustainable economics, and they had to cope with the legacy of East Germany on top of it.

In 2005 this trend continued. A poll of the Allensbach Institute indicated that 62 percent of the population believed that the problems facing Germany were just getting worse; 82 percent felt that Germany was in a serious crisis and that something had to be done urgently; and 76 percent were sure that things were going to get even worse. The SPD presented ever new schemes for reform and politicians were having more talk shows on TV rather than actually doing their job. This considerably increased the desperation of the people and their view of political ineptitude. Only four percent of the population indicated that they still trusted politicians at that stage.

Then came Merkel, the talk shows stopped, and the Grand Coalition got down to some serious work on these problems. The World Cup 2006 gave German self-esteem a generous boost. The next poll showed a remarkable change in perception. The very latest data (March 2007) reflects that now only 49 percent of the population believe that things are getting worse (a drop of 13 percent); and even better, a mere 48 percent still feel that Germany is facing a serious crisis (a drop of 34 percent). That times are getting more difficult is also seen less dramatically, with the figure dropping to 64 percent. A spectacular 38 percent, compared with only 25 percent two years ago, now believe that even though Germany faces many difficulties, they can definitely handle them. The perspectives are still dampened on the issue of whether a new era is dawning, but at least the figures have doubled (15 percent in 2007 compared with nine percent in 2005).[26]

It would seem to me that South Africa is now at a similar turning point to the one Germany was at about two years ago. German unification officially took place on 3 October 1990, and South African negotiations on a future dispensation were only concluded with the Record of Understanding two years later on 26 September, 1992, which might explain the time difference.

South Africans are also facing new elections and the voters are a bit tired of constant reforms. Right now public opinion has reached low levels on the government’s ability to deal effectively with both crime and corruption and to tackle poverty at grassroots level. The instability of the security branch, however, is not a result of blacks taking over power, but the result of a previously repressive system that started liberalising. To put it differently, these problems already started during the regime of PW Botha, and were inherited by De Klerk, Mandela and Mbeki. When a regime moves from repression to democracy it becomes weaker. The institutions that once supported a repressive regime – courts, prisons, police and defence – themselves have to go through a process of transformation before they can adequately sustain a new democratic regime – if they ever can.[27]

South Africa has not done badly in trying to cope with this, but like a typical one-party dominant system it is also suffering from high levels of corruption.[28] Right after the transfer of power the government of national unity targeted reconciliation as its top priority, which certainly benefited the country immensely. With hindsight, one is always more clever, but it might have been wise if the whole security sector had been upgraded and retrained then as well. As the problem of crime and corruption has intensified, the government has taken flight in denial, arguing that there isn’t really a crime crisis, and that it only depends on “white perceptions”. Charles Nqakula, a cabinet minister, even told whites that if it does not suit them, they could leave the country. This does not exactly create trust in government’s ability to master the task of public security.

Brazil faced a similar problem of crime and corruption and started to utilise their better trained and less corrupt army specifically to target this problem. In the beginning the army was very sceptical and said it was not its job. But then, as a precedent, it was sent into the Amazon where gold diggers were committing genocide against ethnic Indians living there. The army effectively blocked off the gold diggers, getting them out of the area by cutting off their supplies of aeroplane fuel at the few places where they could fuel up to get into the jungle. This broke the ice. After that, both Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo province were put under temporary military administration because the governors also had their fingers in the tills of crime of corruption.

This option is a last option, though, especially on a continent like Africa, where military rule has not been benevolent, and in a country like South Africa, where the army was abused in the past to suppress legitimate political aspirations of the majority. This must be weighed up against political stability. Unfortunately South Africa is also paying the price for a culture of lawlessness that resulted from making the townships ungovernable during the 1980s.

The protagonists can either continue to blame each other for it, or they can tackle the problem. The police in South Africa have always been notoriously badly trained, understaffed, underpaid and overworked. They may not be able to get the crisis under control. Today, ordinary police officers do not even seem to be able to distinguish between criminal and private law any more. If somebody was involved in an accident or robbed, it is often reported that the police refused to file charges against the culprits “because the insurance is going to pay”. They see no point in pressing criminal charges to create public security. A temporary solution of a section of the army joining of forces with the police may, therefore, be a solution to upgrade the quality of personal security in South Africa.

This decision may be easier to take with a view to also providing proper security to visitors during the Soccer World Cup in 2010. Millions of people worldwide will be focusing their eyes on South Africa and we simply cannot afford to mess up such a major public relations event. Maybe the time is right for some brave and courageous constitutional creativity for tackling the problem – something like “Skrik vir Niks”.[29]

In a sense Afrikaners have been doubly disappointed in similar way to the East Germans: firstly, by the old system that crumbled and lost legitimacy for many of them long before their leaders were willing to face the truth; and secondly, when they embraced the idea of the rainbow democracy they had to learn that everything that goes wrong in the new democracy is blamed on them. The popularity of "De la Rey" is probably largely the reaction of Afrikaners who feel they have had enough of Afrikaner-bashing. As one Afrikaner put it in a Sunday Times response to the editor’s column: “We are not under siege, Sir. We are de moer in.” A liberal "Soutie" finds himself identifying with the “siege mentality" of Afrikaners and states that he voted for change and has nothing against majority rule, but finds himself longing for the security of the apartheid era. Still another one finds that blaming Afrikaners for everything that goes wrong robs them of their dignity.[30]

One should not lose sight of the other side of the coin, however. Blacks were under tremendous pressure to prove not only that they could run a country and are fit for a democracy, moving beyond a liberation movement, but also that they could deliver on their promises. The expectations were high, perhaps too high, as it created a massive crisis of delivery as far as essential services are concerned.

However, there is an emerging ideological fault-line beginning to superimpose itself on the crisis of delivery within the ANC: market-driven growth versus populist redistribution. This is the age-old clash between socialists and capitalists, which Andre Kostolany once described as follows: Socialists believe you should cut up a small cake very justly, leaving everybody with a tiny piece of cake or just a few crumbs, whereas capitalists believe everybody should do their utmost to contribute to baking a bigger cake so that everyone can have a decent piece.

But like the East Germans, the ANC is still clinging a bit to idealistic perceptions of socialism even though they have, in fact, been absorbed into a capitalist economy and are doing pretty well at it. This explains the constant change of direction in policy matters. The government has changed their reform plans almost as often as the SPD under Gerhard Schröder did – first RDP, then GEAR and now ASGISA. With regard to affirmative action, BEE has been exchanged for BBBEE in order to redistribute wealth on a broader basis. Apparently there are new plans for social security as well.

However, too many different schemes make voters insecure. At the outset of the new constitutional dispensation whites were quite co-operative to help the previously disadvantaged by giving them a head start and to support black economic empowerment. As it turned out, a small black elite got extremely rich, whereas the problem of poverty itself did not receive enough attention. Fifteen years down the road they are asking themselves how many more social engineering projects are still going to be initiated, and whether these will actually be successful in reaching the envisaged goals. There is also no end in sight for affirmative action, as one of President Mbeki’s ministers has stated in clear terms, even though the ANC has been accused of abusing it as a system of “jobs for pals”.[31] Tito Mboweni, Governor of the SA Reserve Bank, a former labour minister and a respected figure in ANC circles, has taken the lead in endorsing a more pragmatic stance. He says he is “okay with his Afrikaners” as they do not engage in job-hopping and are reliable and competent workers.[32]

The problem with most social engineering projects is that they distort the market. Verwoerd had all sorts of social engineering schemes to alleviate the poor white problem when the economy was still growing at a rate of six percent per year, but the chickens came home to roost in Vorster’s time when the economy practically came to a standstill.

The electorate in South Africa are increasingly suffering from ideological fatigue. They want action, not more fancy talk and promises.[33] In a nutshell, South Africa seems to be suffering pretty much from the same kind of reform malaise that Germany was suffering from two years ago. Taxes in South Africa, as in Germany, are already very high and so extra financial burdens for an indefinite period are obviously not very popular.

The question arises, therefore, whether there are not equally efficient methods to reach the same policy targets. Instead of focusing on redistribution of wealth, the focus could shift to tax breaks for development projects, for instance. Affirmative action could be dropped in fields where there is a skills shortage. Maybe the government should also weigh up the amount of tax revenue it lost over the past ten years from roughly one million whites who left the country, mainly as a result of the high crime rate. If a hard-nosed cost and benefit account were to be opened, it might turn out that a lot of lost revenue could have been invested to great advantage in the improvement of public schools in previously disadvantaged areas, in the training of illiterate people to help them become self-sufficient, and to catch up with the backlog in affordable housing for the poor. Or simply to have built up a decent and capable public security force and system.

V Transgenerational and epigenetic effects of trauma

However, there is something more fundamental to "De la Rey" that is worth delving deeper into. I would like to suggest that one of the primary reasons this song triggered such a wave of “Boere Consciousness” as Max du Preez refers to it, is that it links back into the collective memory of trauma suffered in the notorious concentration camps of the Boer War. The song is a rather crude glorification of how brave Boers fought the mighty British Empire and how unfair the methods were that the British used to win that war. What is interesting, though, is that in all corners of South Africa, but especially in the areas which once made up the old Boer republics, the song is being played over and over by groups of mostly young Afrikaner males singing along loudly with fervour in their eyes and their right hands over their hearts.[34]

One might wonder why this is still coming up four generations after the concentration camps. The reasons for this can be found on both a psychosomatic transgenerational level and an epigenetic level. It has long been observed that mothers who suffered severe trauma during their pregnancy pass a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on to their babies. This was observed during WW II and more recently again in the case of the World Trade Centre attacks.[35]

A post-traumatic stress reaction can be a normal reaction to abnormal events. This may explain some trends which researchers picked up in connection with violent crime in South Africa. Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at ISS, stated that although both whites and blacks are victims of crime, the attackers are mostly young black men. The statistics largely reflects the demographic population distribution of the country, but also have to do with high unemployment rates and dire social conditions. [36] However, another trend has crystallised which shows an increasing willingness in attackers to use violence and even torture, which was not the case a few years ago. If one recalls the violence in townships during the 1980s, it is possible that some of that traumatic stress was passed on to babies who are now the next young generation. Their mothers lived under conditions where vigilantes often took the law into their own hands to such an extent that a human life did not have any value. How many women faced necklace murders or became the victims of violence? Maybe this is acting itself out now on another level. Obviously there are other factors as well. Crime and corruption is big business and very lucrative.

This transgenerational effect of PTSD on a psychosomatic plane is often under-estimated. If one looks at the movers and shakers of the apartheid era's security establishment, an understanding of the transgenerational effect of PTSD might explain their paranoia. PW Botha restructured the security apparatus with a formidable intertwining of the Security Police, National Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Intelligence. Why did he have this obsession with the survival of the Afrikaner?

Maybe this can put us on track: PW Botha was born as the only son of Pieter Willem and Hendrina de Wet on 12 January 1916 – shortly after the 1914 Rebellion. His mother was interned in a concentration camp during the Anglo-Boer War, where two of her children died, and his father was a "bittereinder". Forcing Boers to fight on the side of England in WW I, and when they rebelled, crushing the rebellion in 1914, was probably one of the gravest political mistakes ever made by the eager reconciliationists of the time – Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. Instead of bringing Afrikaners and Englishmen together, it separated them even more and created a new antagonism. PW’s mother was related to General Christiaan de Wet, who was charged with high treason after the rebellion.

The children born during this time probably showed a high incidence of PTSD. It is no wonder, then, that when South Africa again went to war, siding with England in WW II, these were the guys who were ready for resistance – either in student politics or by being active with the Ossewa Brandwag (OB) and the paramilitary Stormjaers. John Vorster, also born shortly after the 1914 Rebellion, became a hardliner in politics and it was during his time as minister of justice in Verwoerd’s cabinet that the Sabotage Act, 1962 was passed in reaction to Sharpeville and Rivonia. They were geared towards resistance and survival.

Such trauma can be enhanced through commemoration. The era around 1938, when Smuts took South Africa to war again, is therefore quite interesting from this perspective. The OB, which was founded in 1938, emphasised national unity (volkseenheid) and was committed to a republican and nationalist outlook, drawing on Afrikaner culture in the aftermath of having lost their independence. The movement got its impetus largely from the symbolic ox wagon trek in 1938. The Great Trek, however, had taken place over more than a decade from 1835 to 1848, so why did they choose a date in the middle of this huge Boer migration for purposes of commemoration?[37] Although the symbolic ox wagon trek professed to commemorate the centenary of the Great Trek, it was actually commemorating the Battle of Blood River. This act of commemoration reinforced the trauma suffered at Blood River three generations before by creating a tight symbiosis of surviving another genocidal experience – that of the Boer War concentration camps.

The “struggle” mindset of many Afrikaners who participated in the symbolic ox wagon trek may, therefore, have had more to do with the trauma caused by the Boer War and the Battle of Blood River than with myths created for the sake of forging Afrikaner nationalism, as is often suggested. At the height of the OB as a mass movement in 1939, they had between 300 000 and 400 000 supporters and were organising mass rallies rejecting South Africa’s participation in WW II. At that stage the OB was more of a populist movement, not committing itself to any definite goals, and bringing together very diverse interest groups. When the OB started to develop its own ideology from the middle of 1941 onwards, openly espousing fascism, its membership rapidly dwindled.[38]

In South Africa one could probably say that fortunately the liberal tradition of Westminster and traditional Dutch republicanism prevailed, but the security network that came about in the times of Vorster and Botha put a severe strain on democracy and the rule of law. Once these structures were legally in place, South Africa became increasingly more authoritarian.[39] The impact these guys, who probably suffered trauma on a psychosomatic level (PTSD), passed on from one generation to the next, played a dramatic and tragic role in the history of South Africa.

But this still does not explain why Bok van Blerk’s song succeeded in rousing such feelings amongst Afrikaners across the board, and that coming from the fourth generation after the concentration camps.

I think I may have found the missing piece of the puzzle.

Last year Swiss scientists of the Miescher Institute in Basel made a remarkable breakthrough. Professor Barbara Hohn, now a retired botanist, found that when plants were traumatised by ultraviolet light, the mother plants were able to heal the “wounds” of molecular cell destruction, and although their offspring showed no indentured DNA structure, the epigenetic memory of the trauma could be measured up to four generations later.[40] I was reading a tiny little report on their research in Der Spiegel and immediately realised that if this is true for human beings as well, it might actually explain why many societies that suffered major trauma, such as a genocide, take generations to overcome that. I do not know of any studies in the field of epigenetics focusing on trauma passed on by victims of extreme traumatic experiences like genocides or concentration camps, but the same phenomenon has empirically been observed. The concentration camps of the Boer War were a very traumatic experience for Afrikaners. Despite the fact that the English referred to these camps as “refugee camps”, and that strictly speaking this was not a genocide, the trauma it caused can hardly be distinguished from that of a “real” genocide. Some 5 000 Boers died in the fighting or in commando, and nearly 27 000 Boer women and children lost their lives in the camps. This meant roughly ten percent of the Boer population in the republics perished.[41]

I made another fascinating discovery last year as I got entangled in a brawl with Dan Roodt, who tried to launch a victim myth that 35 percent of all Boer women were raped during the Boer war.[42] This turned out to be a fallacy, nothing more than a clever piece of memory politics (but nevertheless cherished among the far right). What was more interesting to me was that I stumbled upon numerous concentration camp websites of young Afrikaners living in the diaspora in England. They took issue with the English and confronted them with the inhumanity and injustices of that war. Many of the webmasters were obviously youngsters, the fourth generation after the Boer War, I would say. Usually they posted pictures of relatives who either died in concentration camps or who barely survived. And now comes the interesting part. Very often these websites were censored by the British Press Club (I think this was what it was called). It made the websites “unreadable” and posted a note that it was not advisable to read the contents of these websites due to their containing hate speech. Of course I was intrigued by this and wanted to know what it was about. I googled “concentrations camps” and “Boer War” and got “censored due to hate speech”. So I tried a couple of tricks and one of them worked. I clicked on “print preview” and voilá, I could read the censored websites. It turned out to be just the usual stuff, nothing spectacular. What was disconcerting, though, was that the English chose rather to sweep the matter under the carpet by censoring the websites instead of finally trying to deal with the issue.

Trauma does not happen in a social vacuum, nor does it heal apart from ongoing social processes. Unfortunately there was no Truth and Reconciliation Commission that could help people deal with this trauma after the Boer War. So the trauma not only remains embedded in the collective memory of Afrikaners, but is was also passed on at an epigenetic level. The memory keeps popping up – even four generations later. Bok van Blerk’s song has just proved it. The lyrics call up the visual images of the dread and coldness – “the mud and blood” – that live on in the hearts of the survivor generations:

Op ’n berg in die nag
lê ons en wag;
in die modder en bloed, lê ek koud,
’n streepsak en reën kleef teen my;
en my huis en my plaas,
tot kole verbrand;
sodat hulle ons kan vang
maar daai vlamme en vuur,
brand nou diep, diep binne my.

As Andries “Roof” Bezuidenhout and Max du Preez have observed, when audiences stand up and sing this song with their hands over their hearts, they are not only thinking of the Boer War, they are also projecting this trauma on to a government that they perceive to be hostile to Afrikaners. Many black columnists and even President Mbeki have reacted with perplexity to this, especially since the TRC tried to address the atrocities from the apartheid past and to create a new sense of nationhood.[43]

However, the trauma of Blood River and the Boer War concentration camps have been a symbiosis, like twins, for a long time. So even if Afrikaners try to say, “We are sorry about what happened during the apartheid era”, there is often a little addendum: “… but we were victims too.” As Breyten would put it, they are wallowing in self-pity. All experience becomes frozen.[44]

But it has also become frozen for the other side. Mandela vividly describes the impact Blood River had on blacks, how that mountain of 3 000 corpses on the banks of the Ncome River turned its water red with the blood of the slain. This was the reason why 16 December was chosen to launch the armed struggle against apartheid more than a century later.[45]

Fear and resentment are very closely related, and often the victim turns perpetrator, and the perpetrator in turn becomes the victim. So the cycles of violence continue, and very often the groups involved will hardly be able to separate clearly one traumatic experience from the other. This captures the essence of xenophobia.

Maybe the time has come to destigmatise xenophobia and to look at it in a more differentiated and humane manner in order to understand the dynamics of what is happening. The word xenophobia comes from the Greek words ξ?νος (xenos), meaning "foreigner" or "stranger", and φ?βος (phobos), meaning "fear". A phobia transcends normal forms of fear. It is a strong fear, dislike, or aversion. More specifically, it indicates a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous. In the clinical meaning of the term, phobias are the most common form of anxiety disorders.

Evans and Newnham define xenophobia as a “fear, dislike, distrust or intolerance of foreigners either as individuals or groups. It is closely associated with extreme forms of nationalism and ethnocentrism and often manifests itself in expressions of hostility towards outsiders … It is often linked with isolation”.[46]

This is one aspect of it. Recent xenophobia research in South Africa has focused more on xenophobia of South African blacks towards black immigrants. At the heart of the harassment or even killing of foreigners is a competition for scarce resources. South African blacks feel that they have struggled against apartheid and deserve the spoils of the new democracy. These newcomers therefore have no right to "take their jobs away”.[47] All of these definitions portray xenophobia as something bad – either as intolerance, a negative fear of others, or a greedy competition for scarce resources.

None of these definitions takes cognisance of the salient factors inherent in xenophobia, like psychosomatic fear, the effect of transgenerational PTSD or even epigenetic memory of major trauma suffered by previous generations. Xenophobia, therefore, needs not even manifest itself in a perceptible manner in order to exist. It can also exist on a subconscious level of epigenetic memory passed on to later generations.

The interaction of the environment, human behaviour and the human genome is much more complex than envisaged even by Dawkins. A new science called Epigenetics has discovered that onboard systems accompanying the DNA strings of genes play a huge role in determining who we are. Genes are not rigid, but can be influenced on a lifelong basis. In other words, we have the power to control the epigenetic factors influencing our life and to pass that on to later generations[48]

That might help us to devise a xenophobia barometer to keep itchy themes in South Africa in the “sunny and bright weather” zone instead of letting them slip into the “overcast and cloudy” or, worse even, “heavy thunderstorms” zone. Not only Afrikaners are latently or potentially xenophobic – practically all groups in South Africa are. This is part of the legacy of the past and it is long overdue to learn how to deal with it more consciously and constructively for the sake of future generations.

Cognitive linguistics can provide valuable tools for recognising fear and resentment in a xenophobic context. Hanlie Retief’s recent Rapport interview with Pallo Jordan, minister of culture and arts, on Afrikaans schools and the changing of Afrikaans place names is a prime example.[49] The tone was so frosty and aggressive. This definitely indicates that the barometer has moved into the “overcast” zone with regard to handling these topics. Surely, friction in this regard can be handled in a more diplomatic and conciliatory manner. Hardly any Afrikaners care about “apartheid heroes” retaining a place in the public domain, but they do care about their heritage in general. Maybe a joint commission could work out an agreement that would be to the satisfaction of all parties without causing unnecessary polarisation.

The Sunday Times responses I referred to earlier are also revealing expositions of xenophobia. I want to pick one example in particular because of its prophetic relation to the real De la Rey.

During the Boer War, Siener (Seer) van Rensburg was a close companion of General Koos de la Rey. He had visions of the concentration camps and the scorched earth policy of the British and also correctly prophesied the death of De la Rey himself.[50] Siener often had his visions in symbols, and during his lifetime he himself often realised the true meaning of a vision only after a specific incident had happened. Adriaan Snyman, a Siener biographer, has set out to decipher the symbols from the visions that he collected, and as one reads the biography, one gets the definite impression that Snyman has added a lot of his own interpretations to give the visions a bit of flavour. Siener’s prophecies à la Snyman have been the inspiration for most of the right-wing fanatics who have surfaced in South Africa in recent years, including those involved in the Boeremag coup.[51]

According to Snyman, Siener prophesied that a large-scale massacre of whites will take place in Johannesburg seven days after the death of Nelson Mandela and that Afrikaners will again come to power some time in the future.[52] Many Afrikaners are aware of these prophecies, but most of them don’t take them very seriously. In fact, I have the definite impression that the right-wing are willing to act out Snyman’s interpretation of Siener’s visions even if they are not fulfilled.

But now comes the nasty part: blacks also know about these prophecies (as Snyman has interpreted them) and exploit them with relish. They chant things like, “When Mandela dies, we will kill you like flies.” Another favourite is “One settler, one bullet”. These chants are quite effective to propel race relations from the normal “sunny and warm” on the xenophobia barometer right into the zone of “overcast with heavy thunderstorms”. Rapport, true to form, was very quick to pacify its readers recently that Mr Mandela was still well and alive despite rumours that he had died.[53] It is utterly unfair and childish to hold former President Mandela hostage for the survival of Afrikaners!

But whites are no angels either. Only recently President Mbeki again expressed his concern about racism in the work place. Some Afrikaners still refer to blacks with the derogatory term kaffir.[54] It would seem, therefore, that it might be appropriate to declare this type of hate speech and racial blackmailing a no-go area in order to give effect to the spirit of the Constitution.

What has saddened me most about the "De la Rey" song is that it has once again dragged the trauma of the concentration camps into the public domain, focusing on suffering and deprivation. Our English-speaking compatriots have really not deserved this. Half of the members of Voëlvry, who helped Afrikaners break through the barriers of xenophobia, weren’t even Afrikaners – they were Boere "Souties", or Afrikaner-Poms. Voëlvry helped a great deal to tear down the Boerewors curtain that has separated Afrikaners and English-speaking South Africans since the Anglo-Boer War. And now this.

Third- or fourth-generation English speakers are not responsible for what their forefathers did to Afrikaners a century ago. They have played a valuable and often under-estimated role in mediating between Afrikaners and blacks and helped to bring about the peaceful transition. At the very least they deserve respect, if not gratitude, for it. I cannot stand this emotional blackmailing of them. One of the respondents to the Sunday Times column shared his experience in this regard:

As an English-speaking South African I was subjected to continual abuse about what my forefathers had done to Afrikaans forefathers. This included several physical beatings. Today I have two highly educated sons working in the diaspora. One, the doctor, cannot return as all specialist posts are reserved for people of colour. Together with this, I wait for the new government to confirm that they regard me as a South African, notwithstanding my colour and the fact that I am third generation. I do not identify with the weak 'De la Rey' pop song. However, I do sympathise with the angst that Afrikaners feel being regarded as non-South African.

What a mess. Why doesn’t Rapport do something useful for a change and ask Tony Blair if he cannot please come and say that the British are sorry about the concentration camps of a century ago? I’m pretty sure this is what rank-and-file Afrikaners want. Then the Boere-Poms and Afrikaner-Souties can finally live in peace. They have been held hostage for long enough now. Rapport could even sponsor South Africa’s most famous ambassador, Evita Bezuidenhout, to make a really nice event of laying down wreaths at the War Memorial in Bloemfontein. She is the best ever ambassador we've had and has enough sensitivity and panache to handle the matter with delicacy. The Queen won’t come, but Helen Mirren is such an excellent double that nobody would even notice the difference! Since Steve Hofmeyr is so revved up lately, he may sing his “angels” song. And Afrikaners can have a national referendum about whether they should allow Bok van Blerk to have a final show singing "De la Rey".

I do think that if one were to ask nicely, the British Prime Minister would come. He and other Royals have done their rounds in Australia, smoking peace pipes with the Aborigines for the genocide they committed, and they have apologised to the Indians for a massacre.[55] Why can’t they come to South Africa and get this thing with the concentration camps over and done with? I will personally go and lobby the Swedes to award him a Nobel Prize for Peace of he does so.

VII So, what now?

A number of very diverse strands of developments are converging right now in the process of transformation. The situation is not dissimilar to that of 1914 and it is certainly enhanced by uncertainties regarding the succession struggle within the ANC.

It should be obvious that “building a nation” is not simply a matter of using extravagant and conciliatory rhetoric such as the term rainbow nation, or waiting for the glow of national solidarity that flows from sporting achievements to percolate through to the masses. Neither does it depend on the clerical injunctions for "healing" and "forgiveness" that accompanied sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[56] But it plays a role nevertheless. It is the germinating seed of the ideal of non-racialism and tolerance and this is a formula for peace and prosperity.

In Anatomy of a Miracle, Patty Waldmeir creates the impression that Afrikaners “gave it all away” because they preferred material wealth (double garages and swimming pools) over political power. President Mbeki even wondered in the aftermath whether it was necessary to have accommodated Afrikaners with the “sunset clauses”, for they fell in with the new South Africa in such a “docile manner”, being such “meek followers”.[57]

These views seem to overlook something important: Afrikaners have always regarded republicanism as central. The Dutch were the first to create a modern republic in Europe in 1579, and Afrikaners brought this tradition with them. There are many reasons why the Westminster system failed in South Africa, but one of them is that the British version of liberal democracy is based on a class system[58] and that Afrikaners were relegated to the ranking of a “lower class”. True, all the republics that Afrikaners founded in South Africa (and there must have been some 30 to 40 of them) were racially exclusive. In so far the negotiated deal which culminated in the new constitutional dispensation is novel. However, Afrikaners were taken along step by step with referendum after referendum, where they endorsed that they were ready and willing to accept majority rule. Once they did that, the full consequences of 400 years of republicanism forced them to give their allegiance to this new state, and to accept that blacks and whites are equal. This did not automatically erase racism and prejudice from the hearts and minds of all Afrikaners. But likewise, not all blacks embraced Afrikaners or dropped their prejudices. These are things that will probably only change over time, the more people come to accept one another, and in this regard I have no doubt about the general goodwill of people in their interaction with one another.

As I said right in the beginning, it seems as if the rainbow has dimmed to black and white again. Maybe this was an important transitory phase for collective identities to settle and stabilise again. For a long time the ANC has subscribed to the ideal of non-racialism.

What is interesting, therefore, is that the ANC made an exception to this rule during the rule of President Mbeki. He started fostering the idea of “African consciousness” within the context of an African Renaissance. He even got a lot of flack for launching the African Club, because this was seen as a “Black Broederbond”.

And now something else has popped up: “Boere consciousness”. Is this a cause for concern?

I don’t think so. You have a similar phenomenon of “double identity” in East Germany, as I pointed out earlier, and this is no cause for concern. In fact, it would seem as if these “double identities” are simply reflecting “healed” collective identities, enabling people to move on.

A lot of the problems South Africa has suffered from during the past century resulted from Smuts’s forcing of a premature single nationhood for whites. The same applies now: one wrong move like that of Smuts and you can bugger it all up. Maybe the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will be there, four peaceful generations from now. If all South Africans abide by the golden rule of respecting the human dignity of another, the dream of one nation might be realised by then. It may happen without anybody even noticing it, simply because ordinary people tried to be good human beings and to honour their fellow South Africans. Then South Africans will truly have become a “rainbow nation”. But the potential is already there, now.

Having said that, there is a definite upward trend in Afrikaans mobilisation, but this is not inspired by new nationalism or any grand illusions of exercising exclusive state power. Way back in 1994 a number of Afrikaans performing artists started out on a daring project to free Afrikaans from the stigma of being the “language of the oppressor”. This was the birth of the Klein Karoo Arts Festival. These arts festivals have multiplied explosively in the meantime. There is a new patriotism based on a love for Afrikaans, the only Indo-European language that developed outside Europe and is a truly indigenous South African language on top of that. Afrikaans has become more inclusive, also embracing the "coloured" people who were shunned and pushed aside by apartheid. This too is work in progress, and it would be wise of the government to let it take it course.

This upsurge of an Afrikaans identity marks a new trend of self-empowerment. But it is not turning out the way Adriaan Snyman has interpreted the visions of Siener van Rensburg. Afrikaners have set out to capture something quite different. They want a Nobel Prize for Literature in one of the world’s youngest and most creative languages within a century from the date that the first spelling rules were drafted. They have eight years left.

Good luck!


[1] Breyten Breytenbach, "Fragments from a Growing Awareness of Unfinished Truths", in: The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, 24 at 26 (1996) – original lecture held in Stellenbosch, August 1990.


[2] See the lead artikel of Die Vrye Afrikaan’s editor Johann Rossouw, "Simboliese ellende: Hoe Afrikaners se simboliese produsente hulle faal", in Die Vrye Afrikaan, 16 January 2006, accessible under The whole edition of that Vrye Afrikaan, however, was dedicated to the “simboliese ellende” of the Afrikaner. The word ellende in Afrikaans denotes more than just misery, however; it also alludes to distress and wretchedness.


[3] Mondli Makhanya, "We must delve deeper into new wave of Afrikaner siege mentality", Sunday Times, 26 February 2007.


[4] Andrew Donaldson, "Nation in grip of a liedership crisis", Sunday Times, 4 March 2007.


[5] Michael Wines, "Song Awakens Injured Pride of Afrikaners", New York Times, 27 February 2007.


[6] See Pat Hopkins, Voëlvry – The Movement that Rocked South Africa (2006).


[7] “De la Rey – no cause for alarm,” says Sandra Swart, LitNet Mini-seminar on "De la Rey", 20 February 2007, accessible under here.


[8] Max du Preez, "This search for legitimacy is a flashing red light for South Africa", Cape Argus, 14 February 2007, 21.


[9] Heribert Adam, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Kogila Moodley, Comrades in Business, 64 (1997).


[10] "Ostdeutschland – Keine blühende Landschaften in Sicht“, FAZ, 21 March 2007. Although the ratio of their income to their productivity vastly increased from 52:34 in 1991 to 80:67 in 2005, they still lag behind West Germans. Living conditions in East Germany have improved dramatically, but unemployment is still twice as high as in West Germany. East German federal states are also more prone to overspending. The exodus from East Germany continues. Economic experts talk about a second “mezzogiorno”, as the economic divergence between West and East Germany very much resembles that between northern and southern Italy.


[11] See IfW: "Deutsche Wirtschaft wächst 2007 noch schneller - BIP Prognosen der Forschungsinstitute für Deutschland", FAZ 12 March 2007. Despite the increase of VAT by 3%, the economy is expected to grow by 2,8% with the deficit simultaneously being reduced to 0,7%.


[12] The research results was published by the Institute for Medicine and Health Caring, Medizin Aspekte, vol 2(2) 2005, accessible under


[13] For a report on their research, see


[14] P Förster, "Junge Ostdeutsche heute: doppelt enttäuscht. Ergebnisse einer Längschnittstudie zum Mentalitätswandel zwischen 1978 und 2002", Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, vol 15 (2003) 6–17; link;  see also Matthias Bisskupek, "Gibt es einen spezifischen Ost-Patriotismus?", Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 1-2/2007, 13–18.


[15] "DA slams govt’s use of affirmative action", Mail & Guardian, 8 March 2007.


[16] See the interview with Pepler by Hanlie Retief, "Hy’s ’n Bok vir die Boere", Rapport, 28 January 2007.


[17] "Affirmative Action 'a new form of apartheid’", Mail & Guardian, 6 March 2007; "Affirmative Action debate heats up", Sunday Times, 8 March 2007; David Bullard, "Affirmative Action an insult to black talent", Sunday Times, 11 March 2007.


[18] "Simboliese ellende en kollektiewe identiteitskrisis –’n kulturele fiasko of normale transformasie?", Vrye Afrikaan, 15 March 2006, accessible under


[19] Aleida Assmann, Erinnerungsräume. Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (1999).


[20] Jörn Rüsen, "Holocaust-Erfahrung und deutsche Identität – historische Überlegungen zum Generationswandel im Umgang mit der Vergangenheit", 71–84, in: Liliane Opher-Cohn et al, Das Ende der Sprachlosigkeit – Auswirkungen traumatischer Holocaust-Erfahrungen über mehrere Generationen, (2000); Aleida Assmann, Geschichtsvergessenheit-Geschichtsversessenheit. Vom Umgang mit deutschen Vergangenheiten nach 1945 (1999).


[21] See eg Flip Buys: "Só word Afrikaner weer ’n faktor", Rapport, 17 March 2007. I doubt whether one could speak of “Afrikaner unity” the way Buys interprets it. The gap in political perspectives between progressive urban Afrikaners and conservative rural Afrikaners has not been bridged by a rise in common cultural identity. Buys, like many others, does not distinguish between old-style “nationalism” in a political sense and cultural identity (patriotism).


[22] See Max du Preez reporting on former Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comments: “On leadership and Vigilance”, Mail & Guardian, 26 August 2006; see also "Mbeki has lost the plot", Sunday Times, 18 March 2007.


[23] See Vicky Robinson & Stefaans Brümmer, "SA Democracy Incorporated – Corporate fronts and political funding", ISS Paper 129, November 2006; "The ANC’s new funding front", Mail & Guardian, 10 November 2006; "The oligarch, the ANC and the manganese deal", Mail & Guardian, 10 November 2006; "Gauteng is ‘mafia’ turf", Sunday Times, 19 November 2006; Jon Qwelane, "The real state of the nation", News 24, 12 February 2007.


[24] "West-Ost-Umfrage: Jede fünfte Deutsche wünscht sich die Mauer zurück", Stern, 8 September 2004; "Neue Sehnsucht nach der alten Mauer. Es wächst nicht zusammen, was zusammen gehört." 3sat Kulturzeit, 10 September 2004.


[25] 31% of East Germans found that the financial input for restructuring was far too little, whereas only 9% of West Germans shared this view. The big majority, however, found that it was sufficient (East 46%, West 44%).


[26] Elizabeth Noelle & Thomas Petersen, "Zeitgeist in Deutschland. Optimistisch und intolerant". FAZ,21 March 2007.


[27] Adam, Slabbert & Moodley, Comrades in Business, 84 (1997).


[28] Jo Beall, Stephen Gelb & Shireen Hassim, "Fragile Stability: State and Society in Democratic South Africa", Journal of Southern African Studies, 31 (2005) 681–70.


[29] In 1987 a group of 40 progressive civil servants mainly from Chris Heunis’s Department of Constitutional Development and Planning drafted a very daring and courageous plan to free Nelson Mandela and unban the ANC to counter the escalation of violence and to negotiate a democratic solution, accepting majority rule. Roelf Meyer, then Deputy Minister, and Neil Barnard, head of NIS, torpedoed the project because they were not willing to accept majority rule and thought they could outsmart blacks with some form of “minority rights” veto. Five years later, exactly what “Skrik vir Niks” advocated was accepted, and both Roelf Meyer and Neil Barnard were taught a lesson or two by Cyril Ramaphosa and Thabo Mbeki. For an overview, see Mail & Guardian, 11–17 October 1996. The tragedy of this was twofold: it could have saved many innocent lives; and the transformation of the civil service and security forces could probably have been managed in a better way to stabilise the new democracy.


[30] See the responses to Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya’s column, eg “Deon Rood delves deeper into the debate”, “John King writes about apartheid, Afrikaners and Koos de la Rey”, “Grant Turnbull identifies with the 'siege mentality'" and Kassie Kasselman’s response.


[31] Membathisi Mdladlana: "Affirmative action here to stay", Mail & Guardian, 4 March 2007.


[32] "Mboweni OK with his Afrikaners", FinNews 24, 5 October 2006.


[33] See Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, The Other Side of History, 157 (2006).


[34] Max du Preez, "This search for legitimacy is a flashing red light for SA", Cape Argus, 14 February 2007, 21.


[35] See Rachel Jehuda et al, "Transgenerational Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Babies of Mothers Exposed to the World Trade Center Attacks during pregnancy", Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 90(7), July 2005, at 4115–8.


[36] "Mbeki kap wittes", Rapport, 17 March 2007.


[37] See WB Cloete (ed), The History of the Great Boer Trek and the Origin of the South African Republics, 3rd ed (London, 1900). The first edition was published in Cape Town in 1856.


[38] Christoph Marx, "The Ossewabrandwag as a Mass Movement", 1939–41, Journal of Southern African Studies, 20(2), (1994) 216-8; also C Marx, Im Zeichen des Ochsenwagens (1998).


[39] For an analysis see, eg, JD van der Vyver, "Depriving Westminster of its Moral Contraints: A Survey of Constitutional Development in South Africa", Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review, (1985), vol. 20 at 291ff and JD van der Vyver, "Parliamentary Sovereignty, Fundamental Freedoms and a Bill of Rights", South African Law Journal (1982), vol 99, 557ff.


[40] Barbara Hohn, "Transgenerational Memory of Stress in Plants", Nature, 6 August 2006.


[41] Hermann Giliomee, The Afrikaners, 204 (2003).


[42] Loammi Wolf, "Die rol van geskiedskrywing by ‘memory politics’ en versoening", opinion piece on LitNet, accessible in the old LitNet archives under, posted 14 March 2006. This is a comparison of Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilhelm Vallentin’s writings on the rape of Boer women during the Anglo-Boer War and how they practised memory politics for the protagonists of the war.


[43] Eg Mondli Makhanya, "Afrikaner Siege Mentality", Sunday Times, 25 February 2005, and also President Mbeki, cited by the Sunday Times, "Mbeki has lost the plot", 18 March 2007, saying, “The problem is that entrenched racism dictates that justification must be found for the persisting white fears of ‘die swart gevaar’ [black danger]. All incidents of crime, preferably broadcast as loudly as possible, provide such justification,” he wrote.


[44] Breyten Breytenbach, The Memory of Birds in times of Revolution, 39 (1996).


[45] Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 337 (1994).


[46] G Evans and J Newnham, The Dictionary of World Politics: A Reference Guide to Concepts, Ideas and Institutions (1990).


[47] Chantal Dwyer, Immigration and Intolerance in South Africa, 1990–2001 (M Phil in Political management, University of Stellenbosch, 2003) 18ff; H Kotze & L Hill, "Emergent Migration Policy in a Democratic South Africa", International Migration Quarterly Review, 35 (1997) 5–36; H Solomon, "Contemplating the Impact of Illegal Immigration on the Republic of South Africa", Journal of Contemporary History, 26 (2001) 1–29.


[48] For more detail, see eg Christian Schwägert, "Ein Dogma fällt", GEO 04/2007, 152–3; also Ethan Watters, "Der Über-Code", GEO 04/2007, 154–66.


[49] Rapport, 25 February 2007.


[50] See Max du Preez, "The Boer Nostradamus" in Of warriors, lovers and prophets – unusual stories from South Africa’s past, 143–55 (2004).


[51] Martin Schönteich and Henri Boshoff, Rise of the Boeremag: A Case Study – 'Volk' Faith and Fatherland The Security Threat Posed by the White Right, ISS Monograph no 81, March 2003.


[52] Adriaan Snyman, Siener van Rensburg – Booskapper van God (1995).


[53] Sonja Carstens, "Madiba springlewendig, ondanks gerugte oor sy dood", Rapport, 24 February 2007.


[54] ANC Today, 16 March 2007.


[55] "Friedenspfeife", FAZ, 23 November 2006.


[56] Adam, Slabbert & Moodley, Comrades in Business, 96 (1997).


[57] Patti Waldmeir, Anatomy of a Miracle, 213, 222, 231–3 (1997).


[58] After the English civil war of 1642–9, during which Charles II was beheaded, Cromwell proclaimed a republic. However, after his death, a compromise was struck with the Glorious Revolution of 1688–9 to marry republicanism with a constitutional monarchy, still accepting the validity of class differences. The Dutch Republic came about on the basis of the Union of Utrecht (1579) and was administered by the States-General, over which the stadtholder presided. Although the stadtholder came to be usually drawn from the House of Orange this was not always the case because it was not a hereditary monarchy. The Dutch society was also defeudalised much earlier than the rest of Europe and this gave them a head start during Golden Age with regard to arts, science, philosophy and the prosperity of their citizens.

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