The Afrikaners are restive

Stanley Uys on the political reawakening of the white African minority

Afrikaners are experiencing a reawakening. They are being urged to stand up for their rights and confront the ANC if necessary. Support appears to be building up for the withholding of taxes. This follows 15 years of relative silence among Afrikaners since the ANC take-over in 1994, and it is a disturbing development for the ANC government.

In an article in Die Beeld, the historian, Professor Hermann Giliomee, writes: "Opinion polls indicate that Afrikaners have a significantly greater need for political solidarity and sense of belonging than exists among white English-speakers. Until recently they were not aware how from a minority position they could mobilise against attack on their rights and in support of their language and culture. This is changing rapidly."

Giliomee refers to a fed-up factor among Afrikaners (also known as the keelvol or gatvol factor).  He says that "among northern Afrikaners (it) has increased so much that in a recent opinion poll...more than half indicated they would prefer to live in a homeland" (a separate state).

"With the exit gap of emigration mostly closed and with an incompetent, wavering president in the power position, South Africa in the next five years can become a very interesting place where minorities, including Afrikaners, can regroup and renew themselves.  The final chapter on the Afrikaners has by no means been written yet."

Giliomee has written two new chapters for his 2003 book The Afrikaners. He draws on this new material for his latest comments.

Clearly uneasy over the new mood among the now unpredictable Afrikaners, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has invited Die Beeld to "facilitate a live debate...with the aim of enabling greater understanding and reduced suspicions among us as a people." Mantashe (also chairman of the SACP) promises that "I, personally, commit to such an engagement."

In an article in Die Beeld, Mantashe accuses Giliomee of "inciting" Afrikaners and of being "economical with the facts." He says Giliomee wants to put the clock back to 1994 and restore privileges Afrikaners enjoyed "during the 86 (sic) years of apartheid nationalist rule". (Apartheid in fact prevailed from 1948 to 1994 - 46 years).

President Zuma, too, is in conciliatory mood. He held a private dinner last week for Afrikaner leaders at which among other matters the unrestrained statements of ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, were discussed.

Giliomee is by no means alone in his encouragement of a reawakening among Afrikaners. He believes language marginalisation and poverty go hand-in-hand, and addressing a conference on poverty organised by the trade union Solidarity (to which many white workers belong) he called on churches and schools to play their  part. He said Afrikaners should recapture their political will and self-trust if they wanted to deal with poverty in their communities.

The conference was attended by 300 delegates representing 66 organisations. Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front Plus and the Afrikanerbond are mobilising opposition to the ANC mooting possible legislation to declare agricultural land a "national asset" - an expropriation threat.

In the 2009 elections, Afrikaners were as united as they were in 1966 when 82% of them voted for the Democratic Alliance.  Yet with the ANC power elite steadily downgrading the importance  of Parliament, the minorities have been looking to sites of opposition to government.

Like the English-speaking white middle class, the Afrikaner middle class are groaning under a heavy tax burden and escalating prices. Giliomee notes:  "Johan van Zyl, managing director of Sanlam, declares that the middle class are under intense financial pressure as is evident from the increase in insurance policies for which the premiums cannot be paid.

"Nevertheless, the government is planning a compulsory national health scheme which, according to Professor Harms of Pretoria University, will cause the tax rates to increase by two thirds".

In a recent article in these columns, Dave Steward, executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation (writing under the headline White Disaffection in South Africa), said many members of South Africa's minorities "feel themselves less and less represented in the institutions of their country. The glow of the initial years of the ‘rainbow nation' has, unfortunately, faded...Instead, there is a growing sense of alienation.

"The most potent form of Afrikaner resistance to the authorities is the non-payment  of rates and other forms of local taxes until service delivery improves. Blacks have also mounted various form of protest action, including violent protests against poor services."

"As a group of approximately three million spread over the country, the Afrikaners dominated most of the city councils and municipalities before the transition in 1994. Afrikaans-speaking skilled personnel were the first to be displaced by the new-government's ill-conceived transformation policy".

Meanwhile, the Risk Unit Analysis of the SA Institute of Race Relations has just issued the follow warning: "Protest action against the Government and the ANC has escalated over the past 24 months. This is a new phenomenon and its implications for future stability in South Africa are serious. The Unit has identified the risk of a new grass roots political movement growing out of local government protests as perhaps the greatest political threat to the political hegemony of the ANC. "

Addressing a conference of the Solidarity trade union, which includes many of the country's white civil servants among its members, Giliomee touched on the issue of taxation of whites.  Giliomee said: "South Africa has one of the strangest systems in the world: those with political power have no economic power and those with economic power have no political power. The Economist wrote that the ANC's Achilles' heel was the white taxpayers, while the late Chris Louw remarked that the influence of Afrikaners reduced to its demographic proportions was: a meagre 6%.

Beeld's editor, Tim du Plessis, believes there is a revival among Afrikaners. "People, communities, minorities...are standing up and saying: enough is enough. Now we are taking our rights back." They resist the "stifling ANC hegemony of the past 10 years", are fighting for their city's name (Pretoria), and withholding service taxes in protest. "Perhaps garages which refuse franchises to minority groups should be boycotted."

The ANC's National Democratic Revolution, says Du Plessis, still aims to dominate every nook and cranny of South Africa, but everywhere it is being forced into reverse - "everywhere, except at Stellenbosch University, where the opposite is happening - the right word is abdication".

Du Plessis said someone should tell the "transformers" at Stellenbosch that the battle between verligtes and verkramptes was over. "Verlig has won; mission accomplished."

Beeld's sister newspaper in Cape Town, Die Burger, taking the opposite view, says the refusal of householders to pay service taxes is an absurdity (onding). The editor Henry Jeffreys (himself coloured) writes: "The ‘white' taxpayers have the means to withhold and invest it in a quasi-trust fund...this is unlawful...Withholding taxes ultimately is the civilised and sophisticated face of anarchy."

Among the angry responses, a reader wrote: "Neglecting to check his facts shows that Jeffreys is not a good journalist. It is time for him to be promoted to something like the Mitchells Plein Edvertaaiser." For the first time, Die Burger has lashed out at Giliomee in a front-page report. Yet, in Beeld, Du Plessis backs him to the hilt.

Continuing his Beeld article, Giliomee wrote: "The three most important developments of the last five years have been the renewal of the ANC Alliance's policy document, the National Democratic Revolution, the weakening belief in the Constitution to protect minority rights, and the ways in which the Afrikaners have repositioned themselves".

The NDR to which Giliomee refers requires the state to control all levers of power, public and private. The NDR, says Giliomee, has a long history, but was given fresh life by the SACP 1962 policy document, The Road to South African Freedom.

Giliomee doubts whether Zuma personally endorses the NDR as the ANC's directive philosophy, but by having to accommodate it to other policy priorities, he has landed himself in an "ideological muddle" which increasingly characterizes the Zuma-ANC. "Without the NDR," says Giliomee, "Julius Malema's present role would not have been possible."

Giliomee makes other points concerning Afrikaners: (a) loss of faith in the 1990-1996 settlement between the ANC and whites: whereas Afrikaners accepted it as a binding contract, the ANC saw it as just a stepping stone in the revolutionary process; Afrikaners split, but regrouped - with their more affluent members identifying themselves with the cosmopolitan English-speakers; while at the lower level most Afrikaners just struggled for survival.

At the Solidarity conference, Dr Danie Langner, executive director of the Solidarity Helping Hand, said it was necessary to talk about poverty because there are "about 430,000 Afrikaners who have to exist in squatters' camps, corrugated iron shacks, caravans, tents and even pigsties. It's a quiet poverty today about which people are afraid and ashamed to talk for fear of another political slap in the face...But it is no less intense than the poverty after the Anglo-Boer war and the 1930s."

For an academic's overview of the current debate among Afrikaners, readers can turn to "Suid-Afrika op soek na ‘n opvolgskikking," by Prof. Pierre du Toit of the Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch. Opvolgskikking can be translated as a renegotiation of the agreement reached between the National Party government and the ANC in the early 1990s, but Follow-up Settlement perhaps is better.

Du Toit asks whether the 1990-1993 negotiations took place in good faith, and whether there was ever underlying unanimity that the negotiations did not mean the armed struggle would continue simply as "war by other means"?

Other questions raised by Du Toit are whether the negotiators ever thrashed out among themselves the nature and essence of the democratic concept; whether the question was ever settled of the opposition's role - to confront, or to help, the government; and whether civil society should include only those who had suffered under apartheid.  Du Toit lists various differences which, he says, "persist... and keep the present settlement under continuous pressure".

An academic paper such as Du Toit's (with its subtle handling of a "reawakening" among the Afrikaners) cannot be given proper attention in a short article such as this one. Crisp and lucid, it merits detailed study.

It offers this succinct comment:  "A ruling party based on imposing a hegemony of ideas offers by definition no space in which the talent of all South Africans can be harnessed in a free-ranging way. Creative thinking cannot be constrained by ideological conditions. Such an ideology, with its inherent demand for hegemonic control over everything from the internet to mineral rights, is a debilitating mind-set, wholly inadequate for the necessary problem-resolving capacity".

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter