Lessons from the Afrikaner nationalists

Mugabe Ratshikuni reflects on Pieter du Toit's book, "The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside the Billionaires Club"

Exploring Afrikaner Nationalism as a development model

17 March 2020

I spent the past weekend reading Pieter du Toit’s book, The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside the Billionaires Club, a wonderful read which gives one even more perspective and respect for great apartheid-era Afrikaner industrialists such as Rupert and Hertzog.

There are some fascinating insights from the book, which are germane for us as contemporary South Africans trying to chart an inclusive development path going forward. The idea of “volkskapitalisme” (people’s capitalism) is one such intriguing insight, which is worth exploring from a developmental perspective for black South Africans, who remain the most economically disempowered in the current dispensation.

I know my socialist mates from the Alliance partners of the ANC will be livid with me for even making such a suggestion, but contrary to the “comfortable ignorance” of most people on this platform, who automatically brand anything and everyone ANC as “commie/leftie”, we are not all Marxists in the ANC folks.

I know, it is a bit difficult for some to stomach this truth, but yeah, we are truly a “broad church” as the ANC. These are the kinds of nuances that people who are still stuck in a 1980s era “rooigevaar/swartgevaar”, binary mode, will never appreciate, so I won’t even try convincing you any further.

Du Toit’s book is brilliant because it makes you appreciate the genius of the Afrikaner industrialists who took the Afrikaner nation out of poverty, whilst not overlooking and ignoring the historical context within which this happened. He makes the point that Afrikaners controlled no major industrial enterprises at the beginning of the 20th century and constituted a large part of the “poor white problem” in the country, despite dominating the political space. In fact, as Du Toit highlights, Afrikaners played almost no part in the emerging, modernising economy of South Africa at the time. An interesting parallel can be drawn between that and contemporary realities in South Africa.

Also, of great interest to me, is the assertion by Du Toit that Afrikaners at that time, with their nationalist sentiments, were very suspicious of capitalism and capital, something which they of course overcame through time as state-led development facilitated their empowerment and integration into the mainstream economy. Interesting, given those who keep knocking the new dispensation and its perceived “anti-capital” sentiment.

Maybe there is something to be said here about this being a necessary phase of a people’s struggle towards economic emancipation, but that’s just me with my “limited or non-existent” thinking and critical reasoning capacity, as many readers on this platform have seemingly concluded, attempting to “think out loud”, so maybe just dismiss that attempt at a thought.

Du Toit also argues that Afrikaner business has actually flourished more after being unshackled from apartheid, citing the post 94 successes of the likes of Naspers, Sanlam and the emergence of new enterprises such as Jannie Mouton’s PSG as pertinent examples. He quotes renowned scenario planner and futurist Clem Sunter, who said, “the Afrikaners were liberated by the creation of a level playing field. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Entitlement shackles it.”

He argues further, using Sunter as a refence point, that Afrikaners were the real beneficiaries of the democratic dispensation (I know, this is complete rubbish from where you are sitting right?) because democracy meant that Afrikaners lost their privileged position in society and were forced to fend for themselves as they were no longer able to rely on the state and its networks to succeed.

Methinks there might be a huge lesson there for black South Africans, in the struggle for economic participation and emancipation but again, what do I know, being an “entitled, corrupt, lazy, inept” deployed ANC cadre right?

In pursuit of economic emancipation, Afrikaners founded key institutions such as die Federale Volksbeleggings, which provided venture capital for Afrikaner businesspeople and actually extended a loan to Dr Anton Rupert to establish die Voorbrand Tobacco Company, upon which the Rupert empire was built. As Du Toit highlights, the state at the time created a protected environment for Afrikaner enterprises to grow and flourish.

Afrikaners also developed their own world class educational institutions, such as Stellenbosch, and through that, they were able to develop Afrikaans, a beautifully expressive, rich African language (I can already hear you say, jeepers, is this the same “racist cadre” writing here, but I can’t be held responsible for your parochial reception and interpretation of my views, based on the political party I proudly belong to) into a language of academia and commerce, an important aspect in the economic migration of any people.

Hence, as I have stated in public before, I see no wrong with Afrikaners looking to build their own schools and institutions in the current dispensation in order to preserve their language and culture. After all, it is this rich diversity and heritage, which, when celebrated within a nation-building context, makes South Africa a beautiful rainbow. It is this “plurality of centres” as Ngugi waThiong’o writes about, which will make of South Africa a winning nation.

There is a lesson here for black South Africans, who are looking to integrate and participate meaningfully and significantly within the mainstream South African economy. The challenge for government in our day, is to encourage the development of other languages and cultures through native language schools and universities, which will enable those languages and cultures to also become languages of academia and commerce, an important evolution in terms of looking to participate meaningfully in the value chains of any economy as a people.

The other thing the Du Toit highlights, is the fact that Afrikaners were looking to grow and develop their own businesses to compete with established English monopolies. They were not looking to take over existing English businesses as part of some “empowerment” scheme. Again, a massive lesson for black business, the likes of the Black Business Council and the Black Management Forum as well as government’s much maligned Black Industrialist scheme, come to mind here.

A final thought that came to mind, was the part where Du Toit highlights how Nelson Mandela, whilst in prison, actually took time to study the Afrikaner people and their psyche. There was much about the Afrikaner nation that he admired as a result of that, without in anyway of course, condoning the evils of the system that they imposed on South Africa.

So, you can learn from and have admiration for certain traits that your “adversary” possesses, without in anyway embracing and endorsing their warped ideology. This sheds some light on Mcebo Freedom Dlamini’s infamous comments, by the way, but I digress and don’t want to spoil a good story (entrenched narrative) by highlighting some simple facts.

I mean, for me to say that I think Hendrik Verwoerd was a brilliant mind (I do, by the way), a historical fact, is not to endorse the evil ideology that he promulgated. Verwoerd was an academic achiever, a very gifted fellow, which is admirable and noteworthy, just a pity that he didn’t use that brilliant mind of his to contribute towards the building of a better South Africa for all, but again, this is just a side issue, which I will end on.

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; he is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.