Volkstaat (Afrikaans for "People's state") is a proposal for the establishment of a homeland for Afrikaners. Outside a possible use of force, the South African Constitution and International Legislation present certain possibilities for the establishment of such a state. The South African regime declared that they would not support a Volkstaat, but "would do everything they could to ensure the protection of the Afrikaner language and culture". What a fine job they are doing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Afrikaans literature in the rainbow nation

At present the novel Na die geliefde land (To the beloved country) by Karel Schoeman, one of the most prominent contemporary prose writers in Afrikaans literature, is being turned into a movie in South Africa. Schoeman’s science fiction novel was published in 1972.

The events take place in a post-revolutionary South Africa. The white government has been replaced. George, the main character, grew up and still resides in Switzerland. His father was a diplomatic representative of the old regime. After the death of his mother he travels to South Africa with the intention of selling the family farm. The Hattinghs, an Afrikaner family who live near his mother's old farm, offer him accommodation. Like all Afrikaners they have to endure hardship and poverty.

During his short stay George discovers that the world of the Hattinghs is completely different from his own. He only has the Afrikaans language in common with them. As a result he remains a complete outsider. His trip, undertaken as a pilgrimage, has not instilled any sympathy for his people in him. On the contrary, George empathizes with the two children of the Hattingh family, Carla and Paultjie, who reject the values the Afrikaner community holds dear. Only they are not ridiculed. The author makes it plain that the alternative of Carla, namely to fully commit herself to the new society, offers the only hope for the future.

The other members of the Hattingh family are plotting against the new rulers. They idealise the past and want to bring about a return to the old order. However, they are fighting for a lost cause. The novel makes it plain that the Afrikaners should put their past behind them and join forces with the blacks in the building of a new South Africa.

The reactions of the reviewers when Schoeman's novel first appeared were not unanimously favourable as Henriette Roos points out: "Die bekendste kritici het die striemende uitbeelding, wat in 'n tipiese koel Schoemanstyl gedoen is, op literêre vlak probeer afkraak, waartydens hulle politieke afkeur moeilik verborge kon bly. Van dié verhaal wat lees asof dit gebaseer is op die koerantberigte van vroeg-1994, sê Botha in 1974 dat "die boek 'n verre, vae sprokiesagtigheid behou ... en dat daar geen sprake is (nie) van 'n Suid-Afrikaanse ... aktualiteit ... (V)an fantasie het die boek veel, … van profesie is daar geen sprake nie"" (Roos 1998: 68) (The most well-known critics have tried to slate the cutting depiction, which is done in a typically cool Schoeman style, during which they could scarcely hide their political antipathy. Of this plot, which reads as if it were based on newspaper stories from early 1994, Botha says in 1974 "that the book retains a distant, vague fairytale like character … South African reality is completely absent … The book is filled with fantasy … it has nothing at all to do with prophesy*).

From the vantage point of 2002 Na die geliefde land is much closer to science than to fiction. Reality has caught up with what was for most critics an all too imaginary plot. In 1972 Afrikaner power was in its heyday; its crumbling was for most white South Africans quite inconceivable. What interpretation will the film put on the novel? Will it highlight the Afrikaners' unwillingness to accept black rule or will it propagate the need for foresaking the old tribal ties and hence for forging new bonds across the colour divide?

More than twenty years later Elsa Joubert addressed the same theme in the short story ‘Volkstaat’ (White homeland) (1993). Once again the setting is an undetermined future. Most Afrikaners live in the townships near the cities where they eke out a meagre existence. Some live in an impoverished homeland. The whites have become the new underclass. They are the victims of a reverse apartheid system: they have to carry out the unskilled jobs once done by the blacks; they are subjected to the same humiliations the blacks had to undergo; their lives are a continuous struggle for survival. Joubert’s message cannot be misunderstood: do not do to others what you do not want to have done to yourself. When the Dansmaat (Dancing partner) collection, of which ‘Volkstaat’ is a part, appeared, the political transformation process was already well under way. Joubert’s short story therefore did not create the same stir as the publication of Na die geliefde land twenty years earlier.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century the momentum for political change became unstoppable. The democratic elections of 1994 were a watershed in South African history. The result of the popular vote was an overwhelming victory for the ANC and the installation of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. The general election was the last stage in the liberation struggle of the black peoples. Since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 South African history has been characterised by interracial and intraracial conflict. Not only did whites fight blacks but blacks also fought against blacks and whites against other whites.

The Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902), the election victory of the National Party in 1948 and the 1994 general election are the three pivotal events in twentieth century South African history. All three are closely intertwined. The loss of the Anglo-Boer war was a bitter blow to the Afrikaner people. The Afrikaners reacted by developing a strategy aimed at wresting political control from the English. It resulted in the 1948 victory of the National Party and subsequently, in order to lock their hold on power, in the gradual institutionalisation of racial segregation in the apartheid system. A deeply divided society came into being. Growing polarisation, spreading disenchantment and outright revolt were the inevitable consequences. The liberation struggle ultimately led to the downfall of the National Party regime. The first democratic elections of 27 April 1994 brought the blacks equality and political power.



At 6:31 PM, Blogger Yzerfontein said...

You're probably right about the pivotal events, a lesser known event was the 18th of June 1918, Nelson Mandela was born...


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