On Thursday 30 August 2018, the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, hosted the launch of the book, Whiteness, Afrikaans and Afrikaners: Addressing Post-Apartheid Legacies, Privileges and Burdens. The book follows research into nation formation and identity in post-apartheid South Africa, drawing on inputs delivered at a roundtable held in November 2015.
Bobby Godsell, Christi van der Westhuizen, Xhanti Payi, Mathatha Tsedu and Andries Oliphant all formed part of the panel of speakers, facilitated by Barry Gilder.* The fascinating conversation brought to light some of the contradictions or misunderstandings about the history of white people, Afrikaners and the Afrikaans language.
Van der Westhuizen urged more nuance in understanding the diversity of Afrikaner identity. Afrikaner identity is not homogenous and she argued that it is a selective grouping of people who identify as Afrikaners who have reinvented their racism as inherent in Afrikaner culture.
She further argued that the calls to get rid of Afrikaans as a language are misguided and disregard a rich history of a language that was originally spoken and developed by black people and other people of colour. To get rid of the language would mean an erasure of the contributions of the amazing intellectuals of the 19th century. However, Tsedu contended that the politics of language remain a huge problem in South Africa and the country remains an English and Afrikaans country because of the continued dominance of these two languages stemming from a violent past.
Payi posed the important question of how to achieve transformation that is truly inclusive of black people, noting that dispossession took away more than land; it also arguably dispossessed people of skill sets, and the various forms of capital necessary for industrialisation.
He argued that history outlines shifts toward industrialisation, but fails to make explicit that black people were not a part of these shifts, not because they were incapable, but rather because they were not allowed to participate. This exclusion has had implications for the country’s industrialisation prospects, as black economic empowerment (BEE) policies alone are inadequate. Therefore, post-apartheid South Africa needs to think more creatively to find solutions.
In touching on one of the most pressing questions in contemporary South Africa, Godsell noted that the patterns of land ownership right now are a consequence of 300 years of conquest and there is no doubt that that this needs to be reversed. Land restitution, redistribution and land tenure rights need to be prioritised if we are to move forward as a country. He went on to state that the difficulties around communal land need to be resolved and solutions towards the best use of the beneficiation of land need to be implemented seriously and with urgency.
The idea of the kind of redress that is needed to be an inclusive society moved the conversation towards the question of justice. Tsedu and Oliphant highlighted how the 1994 transition had not resulted in meaningful justice and led to a false linking with reconciliation.
The conversation was intense and uncomfortable, but it demonstrated the progress that is being made towards deeper conversations on race and identity and the meaning of being South African.
* The all-South African panel comprised: retired businessman Bobby Godsell; academic and author Christi van der Westhuizen; consulting economist Xhanti Payi; journalist and acting South African National Editors' Forum executive director Mathatha Tsedu; and academic Andries Oliphant. Facilitator Barry Gilder is Director Operations at MISTRA.