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.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Restitution in South Africa and the Accommodation of an Afrikaner Ethnic Minority

Hendrik W. van der Merwe and Thomas J. Johnson

Afrikaners under Siege in the New South Africa

The only white political grouping which used to focus on ethnicity as a key issue in the old South Africa was the right wing, chiefly represented by the Conservative Party (CP) but including a number of smaller far-right parties and less conservative groupings as well. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe boosted the morale of the Conservative Party and its allies, who pointed to the failure of a superpower to contain ethnic fragmentation and to suppress the struggle of different groups for self-determination. In light of the recent Eastern European experience, they argued cogently in favor of political independence and autonomy for their ethnic group.

Self-determination of the "volk," nationalism and group identity have been key concepts in traditional Afrikaner thought. In the transition process towards a new democratic South Africa, such concepts have been repudiated in many Afrikaner circles. However, in others the isolationist mentality of old has been reinforced by the real threat of being swamped and reduced to an insignificant minority. A search for secure foundations has led a number of Afrikaners to believe that only an Afrikaner homeland (volkstaat) will ensure their survival as a distinct group, preserving their language, culture and religion.

These homelanders or volkstaaters viewed themselves as Boere or "ethnic" Afrikaners, unlike those "renegade" Afrikaners who were willing to be absorbed into the new multiracial South Africa. The latter, were somewhat derogatorily termed "Alternative Afrikaners" who no longer constituted an exclusive "volk," but merely one group among many others. Comparison has been made with "bittereinders" who fought until the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), as opposed to the "ehnsoppers" who gave up and joined the British. There was an intense feeling in right-wing circles that the National Party had betrayed the Afrikaner by aligning itself with the Afrikaner's traditional enemies: black liberation movements, communism, English and Jewish capitalism, and the international community. These enemies of the Afrikaner were seen as attacking his church, his religion, his beliefs, his sense of history, his culture, traditions and customs. The perception was that these enemies plan to destroy the unity of the Afrikaner people so that Afrikaners become individuals who can be swallowed up by the so-called New South Africa, becoming subordinates and facing extinction. Right-wingers believed that the only alternative was for Afrikaners to unite and become a free nation in an independent Afrikaner homeland.

Afrikaner Homeland as Evolving Symbol

The best known and most detailed proposal was that of the Afrikaner-Vryheidstigting (Afrikaner Freedom Foundation, Avstig), headed by Professor Carel Boshoff (son-in-law of the late Dr. H. F. Verwoerd), which grew out of the cultural movement, the Afrikaner-Volkswag. Until mid-1991, Avstig, like the Conservative Party, believed that there was little room for compromise. They insisted on complete political independence as a precondition for negotiations and refused to participate in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) where the new dispensation for South Africa was being negotiated.

In due course, a group of Avstig leaders realized that they were becoming isolated and would have no impact on the formation of the new South Africa. Because of their "racist" reputation, no leading black politicians were willing to talk to them. At this stage, these leaders asked the principal author of this paper to act as mediator between them and the ANC. During a series of meetings over a period of more than one year, an ever-widening number of regional and national leaders from both sides established close contact and developed relationships of respect and trust. During this period Avstig announced several major policy shifts.

Instead of propagating a white homeland, a racist concept, they now advocated an Afrikaner homeland (in Orania in the Northern Cape Province), a cultural concept: a homeland for Afrikaans speakers regardless of race or color. They also decided to participate in the negotiation process without rigid preconditions (Van der Merwe, 1993:4; Lombard, 1993:5).

In discussions between Avstig and ANC leaders, the latter emphasizes that ethnicity could never be acceptable as long as there was any trace of "baasskap" (domination) associated with it. Ethnicity could be acknowledged once there was a guarantee that "baasskap" had been finally done away with (Sachs, 1993:5,16) On 2 March 1993, two delegations led by Nelson Mandela and Professor Carel Boshoff met in Johannesburg. Following his meeting with Boshoff, Mandela made a public statement in which he expressed his sympathy with the wish of the Afrikaners to retain their language and culture and invited them to participate in the multi-party negotiations and to submit their case for a homeland for Afrikaans-speakers.

In contrast to numerous cases elsewhere (especially Yugoslavia, see for instance, Denitch, 1994), ethnicity in this particular case - thanks to wise cultural and political leadership - shows itself amenable to depoliticization in the sense that this culture does not claim sovereignty "but relativizes itself on behalf of constitutionalism" (Bekker, 1993:106). South Africa has fared better than most other countries on most propositions listed by David Welsh in a global review (1993:79).

With the establishment of the new government in 1994, provision was made for formal consideration of an Afrikaner homeland by a clause in the new constitution in terms of which a Volkstaat Council was established. The task of this Council is to advise the government about the advisability and practical implementation of an Afrikaner homeland. Even though this Council produced no meaningful results by the beginning of 1996, it was included as part of the final constitution which was adopted in May 1996.

Avstig (the Afrikaner Freedom Foundation,) advocating an Afrikaner homeland in the Northern Cape, became an important partner in the Freedom Front, the major political party representing "right-wing" or "ethnic" Afrikaners in Parliament. The Volkstaat Council, unfortunately, was dominated by ultra-conservative members who still cling to views of a white homeland in the northern part of the country. The Council therefore failed to reach agreement on the geographic location of the proposed homeland.

The retention of the Volkstaat Council in the new constitution is evidence of the prevailing spirit of conciliation and a commitment to negotiation especially between the ANC and the Freedom Front. It is to be expected that this Council will gradually acquire primarily a symbolic role. The idea of an independent state is unacceptable to black leadership. The prospects of an Afrikaner homeland as a geographic and economically viable unit is questionable, but the symbolic importance of an Afrikaner "heartland" is obvious. A symbolic ethnic Afrikaner heartland could be accommodated in the new South Africa. Symbols, often everyday familiar names and images, possess connotations that extend beyond their conventional meaning. As Carl Jung argued (1964:20-21): "Thus a word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider unconscious aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason."

Because symbols provide a link between the visible world and the supra-sensible world, where the most deeply-felt aspirations of humanity reside, they are powerful forces for either unity or division. In the transitional process towards a new South Africa, symbols are undergoing substantial reevaluation. Sectarian symbols that are associated with historical and often violent and destructive divisions in the past are no longer acceptable.

The increasing concern about the future of Afrikaans in the new South Africa reflects the importance of sacred symbols in a time of change and conflict. Afrikaans and English are both official languages, but differ greatly in many respects. Because Afrikaans was the language of the government, it is also seen as the symbol of the National Party and apartheid. This symbolism has political repercussions. The extent to which the new South African flag, however, was widely and enthusiastically accepted by all population groups, speaks well for the spirit of conciliation prevailing at present.



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