The ConCourt vs Afrikaners: A reply to Ernst Roets

Richard Mamabolo says Afrikaans can't be allowed to obstruct progress towards building a non-racial society

Response to Afriforum’s Ernst Roets

15 January 2018

Last week on the 9th of January 2018, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Afriforum, Mr Ernst Roets wrote a piece tilted ‘What does the ConCourt have against Afrikaners?’

As has been the case with many other issues relating to racial relations in all its forms and manifestations within our 24-year old democracy in South Africa, he therein attempts to question the logic put forth by the ConCourt’s ruling on the University of Free State’s (UFS’s) language policy which was adopted in March 2016 by way of replacing Afrikaans and English as parallel mediums of instruction, and therefore making English the primary medium.

In his judgement on the 5th of January 2018, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng denied Afriforum’s application for leave to appeal a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling from March last year, which was also in favour of this new policy.

It should at this point be noted that the university’s main reason for departing from the parallel-medium policy was that it had the unintended consequence of segregating the white Afrikaans-speaking students from black students who had chosen to study in English, which had by then led to racial tensions, as well as staff and student complaints.

In his verdict, the Chief Justice indicated that “the university is in effect saying that the use of Afrikaans has unintentionally become a facilitator of ethnic or cultural separation and racial tension. Its continued use would leave the results of white supremacy not being redressed but being kept alive and well. It is for that reason that a policy revision or intervention has since become necessary.”

From a generalised point of view, or through a layman’s understanding, this might seem an honest and unsuspicious viewpoint raising a genuine apprehension from a concerned young Afrikaner rightfully eager to defend and preserve the legacy of his language and culture.

It is for this purpose that before going into the content of his argument, we must first have a clear but brief understanding of the pre-democratic and post-apartheid South African society insofar as race and economic relations are concerned, and the location of each within these two successive spheres. I believe this will give us the context within which these continued race debates are borne, and will further give us the much needed understanding of the broader aims and objectivities attained within the very Afrikaner nationalist organisational interests Mr Roets so passionately seeks to champion. 

Without simply casting off his long-held views, we must firstly understand and accept that the organisation he affiliates to was founded in 2006 as a way to continue with the promotion and protection of Afrikaner culture. It is rooted within Solidarity Movement, which grew out of the Mynwerkersunie, an all-white union established after the South African war of 1899-1902. Among what this Mynwerkersunie was popularly known for was its divisive acts in and between the exploited black and white workers, which has since then lost its essence as a genuine union on the very basis that it organised labour along racial lines.

During the Rand Revolt of 1922 in Johannesburg, in which miners revolted against the Chamber of Mines and the Jan Smuts government, about 25 000 white miners went on a strike because the Chamber had proposed to dismiss 2000 of them after the ratio of white to black miners had previously been about one to ten. For mine bosses it made profitable sense because whites were getting far better salaries than their black counterparts, and for the same amount, the mines could hire more cheap black labour and generate more profits.

The Smuts government was very repressive on these miners and many were arrested and sentenced to death. The Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) at the time supported their plight, but fervently distanced itself from their racist slogan “Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa.”

It was only in the 1990s that its leader, Flip Buys, changed its name to Solidariteit after new labour legislation made the existence of an all-white union impossible, yet its mandate remains very much intact.

Just as in the case of the Mynwerkersunie back then, Afriforum claims it is an organisation nominally committed to the preservation of minority rights, but in reality it is solely focused on the rights of Afrikaners, particularly language, cultural and safety and regularly conducts campaigns to this end, as in the recent case of what was termed ‘Black Monday”, filled with hateful display of pre-democratic South African era where blacks were oppressed.

Just a few months ago, its CEO Kalie Kriel defended Afrikaner people’s right to display the old apartheid flag privately, and said it was okay to do so as it would not offend anyone. In essence, he was arguing that racism and the cherishment of all that has been wrong for South Africa should continue being celebrated, so long as no one outside the Afrikaner can see them. Mind you, these are the very things that don’t advance the notion of nation-building, social cohesion or reconciliation.

How then, do we expect an organisation that endorses people to privately practice racism while publicly pretending to be in the same boat to openly and genuinely support the transformative agenda in building social cohesion?

We cannot turn a blind eye on the point that Afriforum is deep-rooted in Afrikaner nationalism, which was the primary driver that, in 1948 when the National Party under Daniel Francois Malan took power, immediately fought on the issue of the separation of races and immediately implemented the policy of racial segregation known as apartheid, designed to ensure the political and social superiority of whites over non-whites.

The final step in this segregation of the races was taken in 1951 with the creation of the first Bantustan, a separate homeland for black South Africans. This Afrikaner nationalism grew until 1978 when mounting internal and external pressures led to the recognition that Afrikaner nationalism could not suppress African nationalism and that power had to be shared. This led to the apartheid system being finally dismantled in 1992 by the Afrikaner President F. W. de Klerk, who was left with no choice after all.

Here forth, we will demonstrate that the same behavioural patterns that can be traced back to that era are to this day still characteristic of this organ, and though under democratic circumstances, failure or the unwillingness to transform in the process of national unity remains an issue.

In his piece, Mr Roets conveniently interprets differently the context within which the Chief Justice’s arguments are based; firstly to suit his own appeal that bears the hallmarks of deep-rooted frustrations and secondly, that simply ignores or disregard the truth that the redress of particular social relations should be a pre-condition for nation-building measures which should in effect be cherished by the constitution.

To the world, the rainbow metaphor might project the image of different racial, ethnic and cultural groups being united and living in harmony, and thus representing a symbol of unity among the diverse population of our country, but in actual fact, there are such organs like Afriforum and individuals like Mr Roets who are hell-bent on seeing this noble objective fading into nothingness.

In defence of his and Afriforum’s recent failed court bid, Mr Roets makes, among others, the following grounds, specifically targeted at the Chief Justice’s remarks, and against which he believes the ConCourt fails to appreciate or recognise;

1. Approach to the case

Mr Roets argues, in summary, that there are two folds to the ConCourt rulings; one being that which follows the sequential legality framework, ensuring that there is abidance with the prescripts therein.

This mostly has to do with the outright decisions that when someone or something is considered to have been done outside the edicts of the law (legislative decisions, corruption for example), then the ConCourt rules against such decisions, we all praise it for keeping the authorities that be in check, something which we all appreciate. In actual fact, most of these judgements are seen as an expression of the independence of the judiciary by many observers.

On the other fold, he argues that the ConCourt is part of the ruling elite, interpreting the Constitution in a manner that is consistently in line with the ruling elite’s progressive ideas about the Constitution, and further terming these ideas ‘leftist’.

In essence, his contention is on the active interpretation of the substantive conditions of the Constitution. He is basically of the view, by implication of his utterances, that there is no need to change the status quo, we should continue with life and accept the conditions that are remnants of a diabolic system which disadvantaged and isolated the majority from economic and social participation, despite the fact that there is overwhelming evidence of instances where racial tensions and economic isolation in most of South African life have been and continue to be witnessed.

What kind of democracy would that be when supremacists want their continued legacy unscathed and in place?

I am convinced it would be the maintenance of the very apartheid which many sacrificed their lives to fight against, and it would be deviant to the hard-won unity and cohesion we seek to achieve as a diverse nation.

It cannot therefore be that when dealing with a matter such as the one being discussed, Mr Roets then turns a blind eye on the previous and continuing related matters where not only language, but ill-gotten privileges had and continue to be utilised as a tool to undermine and demonise others.

This is by no way to suggest that the Afrikaans language should not be defended and preserved, but merely to point out that if it, or any other language is utilised as a tool to disregard not only other languages and cultures, but the common objective of building a non-racist society, more needs to give. A common democratic effort to unite all South Africans can simply not be realisable when others use their language and culture to disregard others by way of imposing their language as superior.

The organisation Mr Roets represents can equally not claim innocence on the approach the courts have taken as it is based on the substantive realities that have demonstrated to occur throughout society, and their own version on the approach towards unity building in South Africa has been a rather sour pill to swallow as it promotes Afrikaner nationalism within the confines of a country that seeks unity and cohesion by all.

2. Political Slip

Again, Mr Roets starts off his explanation of a political slip from a faulty presumption, which always leads to faulty assumptions. This he does by projecting the Chief Justice’s comments as loosely translating to suggest that Afrikaans is phased out as a result of the execution of a constitutionally-inspired transformation agenda, therefore suggesting that it is the underlying values of the constitution that necessitates that students of UFS may no longer study in Afrikaans.

From this we can simply pick up that in Mr Roets we are dealing with a phenomenon that rejects the observation of reasonable and objective solution to a crisis of proportional delay or damage to social cohesion.

The very unintended consequence of segregating the white Afrikaans-speaking students from black students who prefer studying in English have demonstrated to threated racial harmony and promote racial supremacy at the university, hence it was the university in the first instance which changed its language policy, and therefore conditions which suit all who utilise the services of the university had to be met.

Mr Roets’ aims are revealing themselves in that his arguments border around driving a wedge between Afrikaans-speaking students by suggesting that they are viewed with suspicion when they ask to study in their own language, yet he says nothing of the black students who should also have a right to study in a language of their preference. This lack of objectivity again stems from the traceable fact that in its nature, Afriforum is driven by the need to raise white fears around the transformation agenda, exclusive self-determination within the republic.

When looking at their litigations to courts of law in recent times, as in the case with the one against the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, restraining the removal of old street names and bringing back those which had been removed, there was sheer disregard for the victims of the crimes and atrocities engineered by most of the people whose names hung around the corners of that city.

Just as the old South African flag is adopted by some white South Africans as being a symbol of Afrikaner heritage and history, it represents the oppression that the majority suffered under apartheid, and along with the old street names should belong in the past. Unfortunately Afriforum sees these as souvenirs of their conquest and subjugation.

Another aspect that contributes to these attitudes of racism is that there is a huge gap between the wealth of black people and white people in South Africa. Racism is a problem, but economic inequality and poor governance creates that problem as well. 

With this organisation referring to apartheid as a “so-called historical injustice and a “wooly concept”, it just goes to demonstrate they view it as a past necessity that should have never perished. They need to confront the fact that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

Through working together with Gerrie Nel, it has become clear that they aim to target and litigate anything progressive out of government, but also to directly confront those who might seem a threat to their dominance.

In a country where the levels of women and child abuse have been of great worrisome, they specifically opted to assist the young lady who was allegedly assaulted by the former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe. This was not because they had her interests at heart, but because she could be used as a pawn to get close proximity in dealing with Mugabe.

Such many instances should be seen for what they are; selectively fighting societal challenges that only affect whites without care as to how their black counterparts navigate through past and present challenges which are dominantly remnants of the apartheid policies and legacy.

Afriforum and the views that they represent are partial in that they only seek to place white Afrikaners at the centre-stage of all forms of dialogue and economic activity in preserving the gains made through the implementation of apartheid, and are using all means available to them to defend these privileges.

Richard Mamabolo is POPCRU's Media and Communications Officer.