Friday, April 6, 2012

The Afrikaaners (Pale Natives) of South Africa

Pale Native - "Memories of a Renegade Reporter"  Excerpts from a book by
Max Du Preez who reviews the history of his Afrikanns ancestors

In 1834 when slavery was abolished in South Africa there were 36,169 slaves in the country.  That represented a large chunk of the total population living in the Cape Colony in that period.  Between 1652 and 1807 about 60,000 slaves were brought to the Cape.   Hermann Gilimomee records in “The Afrikaners, Biography of a People: “Negative views of blacks. . . were part of the identity map of burghers (Afrikaaners)  well before they met the blacks on the frontier... Before they met the Xhosa.  Isolation on farms produced a phobia against blacks.”

George W. Bush while visiting Goree Island said during his African tour in July 2003: “At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold.  Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return.  One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history.”

Most white men in the colony owned slaves: two-thirds of the burghers in Cape Town and three-quarters of the farmers in the districts of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein owned slaves by 1795.  It was the custom to have slave women wet-nurse the white babies.  Giliomee reports speculation that this intimate relationship between white boys and slave women, ‘could in later life, find expression in [white men] being more at ease with black women and even preferring sex with them than with white women.’

The first documented marriage between a white man and a Khoikhoi woman took place in 1664.  A Danish soldier and medic employed by the Dutch East India Company who arrived in the Cape in 1695 married Eva, a Khoi woman who spoke Dutch and Portuguese.

In 1669 Arnoldus Willemxz married Angela of Bengal. (Black women only had one name.)   She became the matriarch of all Bassdons in South Africa and many other Afrikaans families.  There are also marriage between freed slaves and white women on record.  Marrying a white man was the easiest way for a slave woman to obtain her freedom and improve her social and material position.  But she had to become a Christian first.  Intermarriages can also be traced through the registers of christened children.  Jan Herfst (Herbst) baptized his son Johannes in 1685.  The mother was an African slave, Celilia of Angola.  He later had another child with Lijsbeth of Bengal, whose mother was an African slave from Guinea.  All these descendants became part of white society.

Armosyn Claasz of the Cape (slaves born in the Cape were referred to as ‘van de Caap’) was born in 1661 in VOC’s slave lodge.  Her mother was an African slave.  In 1688 she had a son, Claas Jonasz.  Most of his descendants became part of the white society – the Afrikaner families Brits, Van Deventer, Slabbert, Fischer and Carstens count among them.

One reason for the unexpectedly high number of marriages between white settlers and slaves was that there was a serious shortage of white women at  in those early years.   Apart from the French Huguenots in Holland and Germany, whites who arrived from 1688 came from poor, struggling families and were not highly educated.  Membership in a Christian church made assimilation into European society much easier. However Muslims and Hindus were shunned.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the pattern was firmly established in the Cape Colony: white meant dominant and prosperous, dark meant inferior and poor.  This pattern was strengthened even more under British rule, and remained valid in the whole of South Africa  for two centuries.

Hypocrisy became a pattern that stuck.  Just after 1700, a group of Stellenbosh farmers complained to the authorities that they felt threatened by the non-white groups in the colony.  They stated in a petition: Khoikhoi would attack ‘the Christians’ at the slightest opportunity and expressed their disgust at the number of racially mixed marriages concluding that ‘Ham’s blood was not to be trusted.'  One of the petitioners was Willem Mensing who could not keep his hands of black Tryntije, and even had a baby with her.  Another was father Marguerite, a prominent Huguenot, who at that stage was already the grandfather of several ‘mestico’children.’

Professor Hesse found that there were more than 1,200 marriages between white and black or people of mixed blood between 1652 and 1800.  He calculates that Afrikaners have at least 7.2 percent ‘non-white’ blood in their veins.  His breakdown of Afrikaner genes by 1837 looks like this: Dutch 35.5 per cent; German 34.4; French 13.9; Asian/African/Kihoi 7.2; British 2.6%.

It is easy to demonstrate how supremely ridiculous race is as a way of separating people.  Culture and language make sense, yes, but race is nonsense . . . We should also remember that our ancestors arrived in the Cape 350 years or so ago with the views on race and class prevalent in Europe at that time.  The Afrikaners did not invent racism; they just perfected it.

The French and German parts of my family lost their mother tongue within two generations, and soon they were speaking a simplified, creole version of Dutch that had developed among the slaves and servants, later called Afrikaans. My Du Preez, Saayman and Kruger forefathers were among those who became freeburghers, [frontier farmers] and most of them moved toward the eastern Cape as agricultural land in the district around Cape Town became scarcer.  They resented the Dutch Colonial authorities; after 1795 they hated the British colonial authorities even more.

The land was beautiful and the land was good.  Returning to Europe never even entered their minds.  They had no sense that they were invading other nations’ land, and it never occurred to them that perhaps they had no right to be there.  This was the way of the world in the eighteenth century.  They saw themselves as frontiersmen, as pioneers taming a  new corner of the world. .  The Khoikhoi could muster very little resistance, and the Bushmen who did, simply got shot.  The Xhosa people saw a strange, pale people who showed no respect but had firearms and who came to steal the land they had used for centuries.  They did not understand each other, so they feared each other.  The next few decades saw incessant conflicts between the two groups, then known as the Kaffir Wars, today called the Frontier Wars.  The scene was now set for the conflict between white and black that has still not been resolved completely.

Around 1835 many of the white farmers on the eastern frontier decided to escape the jurisdiction of the British and seek greener pastures.  They trekked north and east, into the land of the Zulu, the Sotho, the Tswana, the Pedi and the Venda, conquering and occupying land as far as they went.  They did not see themselves as colonists, but as indigenous people expanding their sphere of influence and economic activity.  The black groups saw them simply as foreign invaders.

The Great Trek became a migration of a violent boorish group of white supremacists who refused to accept the efforts of the British colonial authorities to curtail their abuse of the indigenous people.  They stole land as far as they went and subjugated every tribe they came across, in the process destabilizing ancient cultures and populations.  However oversimplified that is, and however offensive that may sound to my Afrikaner ears, there is some truth to it.  The men who planned the Trek certainly did not have any grand ideas about nationalism or the founding of a new nation.

They were indeed racist: they saw themselves as the carriers of a superior, Western Christian culture and the local people as primitive heathens.  And yes, they did despise the British, believing that they favored the Koikhoi, the slaves and the Xhosa over the trekboers.  They were angry that slavery had been abolished, and yes, they stole all the land they could get their hands on.

As an Afrikaner, I have to face all these facts about my forefathers.  At this point in history, I cannot merely justify their actions as the behavior of a strange group of pale-faced people who came from Europe.  Their sins are being visited upon me still today. . . Perhaps, in mitigation, I should plead that this was the mid-nineteenth century, not the twenty-first.  Shaka and Mzilikazi and other African chiefs and kings of the time were an equally rough bunch, land grabbing and cattle theft were the order of the day.. .

On 19 August 1953 South African high commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr. Al Geyer declared: ‘South Africa is no more the original home of its black African’s, the Bantu, than of its white Africans.  Both races went there as colonists and, what is more, as practically contemporary colonists.  In some part the Bantu arrived first, in other parts the Europeans were first comers.”

South Africa today is a living miracle. A hundred, two hundred years from now history students will be amazed at how a society had managed to overcome an ideology as vicious as apartheid without fighting a civil war, and building a stable society on its ashes.  I feel blessed to have experienced  how my nation successfully overthrew a race-based autocracy, replacing it with a proper democracy and with a magnificent constitution.  I feel privileged to have been an actor in the grand play that was the creation of the New South Africa.

I sometimes worry about the terrible poverty so many of our people still suffer, and about the naked greed and self-indulgence of our new rulers and our new elite.  I worry about violent crime and corruption, and old and new racism.  I’ve been called many names in my life.  I call myself a native of Africa: pale, but no less native.

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