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Although today’s revisionists may argue differently, being a South African newspaper editor in the 1980s was tough. The Apartheid State brooked no opposition and used every legal lever in its possession – and many that weren’t – to impose its will. Wilf Nussey was in the heat of that fire much of the time, serving in the top team at The Star before editing The Pretoria News for five of the country’s most turbulent years (1982 – 1987). Since becoming a full-time author he has written a succession of books, and produced the occasional blog – including this one which he has updated for our re-publication. Nussey’s writing remains as sharp, brave and insightful as newspaper readers of a different era will remember. – Alec Hogg
By Wilf Nussey*
I’ll say it again: I am not an Afrikaner. I am not a European. I am not an Englishman. Nor am I a Zulu, Koi, Venda, Xhosa, Tswana or any other insular racial group. Yet all of those are part of me and I am part of them because I too am African.
I am a South African, white because of genes, history and geography. I am exceedingly proud of all those things that comprise the ephemeral though very real South African character: its entrancing peoples, its superb environment, its tangled history. Together they make a unique nation rich with diversity, creativity, cultures and achievements.
But with dwindling hope. Our national body is being ravaged by a lethal resurgence of the cancer we hoped we had killed or at least sent into remission with the 1994 general election. It is racism, ironically now being deliberately resuscitated by some of the very people who were its target during the 42 wasted years of apartheid – those whose skins are not white, among them some of today’s most influential and powerful leaders.
I have been watching with growing dismay for months as these fellow countrymen I depend upon, instead of celebrating and promoting all of our society, are systematically trying to destroy vital elements of it purely for political power and the financial gains they get with it.
They attack anything to do with our past and present that is not specifically black. Shaka murdered many thousands but he is great. Helen Suzman murdered nobody and fought for the lives of millions but she is scorned, both as white and Jewish. Nor are brown and coloured people spared from this racist tirade.
In short if it’s black it’s good; if it’s not, it’s bad. It is a crude, blind, self-destructive election ploy devised by our so-called “national” leaders suddenly panicked by the prospect of losing votes in the coming local government elections.
The first real manifestation of this insanity was in March last year when a 30-year-old township fanatic named Chumani Maxwele threw excrement over the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, asserting that a monument to the sometimes ruthless coloniser was an insult to blacks. Maxwele was not a total non-entity: five years earlier he gave the finger to a Zuma blue-light motorcade, was arrested then exonerated when he exercised his right to free speech.
Granted, Rhodes was a greedy, ruthlessly ambitious, unconscionable capitalist but he is ineradicably a part of our history, no less than the equally ambitious and ruthless Dingiswayo and Shaka.
Granted also that the statue of him at the University of Cape Town was perchance sited where it could offend black students. But to express disapproval by drenching it in human faeces is an exercise in disgust which should rightly earn its practitioners expulsion from the civilised community.
That was only a beginning. It spread rapidly to other universities: Wits, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Western Cape, University of the North, Rhodes. It grew excrementally, at some the ordure orgy was repeated.
The trend raises the question whether such people are psychologically equipped to fit into ordinary society. It is not merely pointless but profoundly stupid, the actions of youths whose immaturity makes them unfit for university and to become politicians who would be disastrous in the seats of power.
It expanded into the ridiculous demands for all Rhodes links to be eradicated at Oriel college, Oxford, then Cambridge and then, weirdly, the universities of Edinburgh and California – all sensibly rejected. This was followed by some lunatic and rightly ignored extremes such as removing Jan van Riebeeck’s statue.
Next will come a campaign for the destruction of the Rhodes Memorial and name changes for Rhodes University and Rhodes scholarships (although the source of the funds will not be questioned).
Nobody – not even university heads like Max Price – appears to have made the point that without our historical giants there would be no South Africa. And without Rhodes scholars the world would be a worse place.
Like it or not, it was largely Rhodes’ manipulations which led via the Boer War to the birth of South Africa. Taking his excision from our past to an illogical conclusion would see the fanatics destroying the Voortrekker Monument and statues of Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and other notables right back to those of Jan van Riebeeck. Plus what the fanatics make full use of today, from the Union Buildings, Durban docks and the wheat lands to the railroads and highways linking everything.
Britain is full of statues of past figures who would have been jailed today for what they did, among them such notables as Henry VIII, Cromwell and Richard 111. Nobody wants to knock them down or hide them, they are part of life. The same goes for many other countries.
The entire wreck-and-ruin campaign may have been engineered in the hidden chambers of ANC power. But it seems more likely to have been the brainwave of a handful of student activists seeking infamy and fortune and then seized upon by politicians like Tony Ehrenreich and Marius Fransman who were fast losing influence in the DA-dominated Western Cape.
Most distressing is the ferocious attack on all things Afrikaans, most conspicuously the University of Stellenbosch. Now the ANC Youth League – not a body noted for its rationality or objectivity – is trying to make the university ungovernable to shake up what it says is embedded Afrikaner culture.
It accuses the university of “anti-transformation” practices and incidents of racism. If so there are more positive ways of correction than deliberately wrecking the stability of a renowned high-class pillar of education.
And why should Afrikaner culture not be embedded there? It is, after all, an Afrikaner institution initially created to raise the calibre of Afrikaner society up to international levels and preserve Afrikaner culture, and now it serves everybody. A model perhaps for others to follow.
Every modern democracy has institutions specifically serving the interests of specific cultural, ethnic, religious and other groups and they respect each others’ right to exist.
The university’s right to be a fundamentally Afrikaans institution is no different to that many Cabinet ministers claim while demanding protection and advancement for their own home languages and cultures. If our youthful bigots dislike the environment there, they have a broad choice of other universities.
This ISIS-like form of iconoclasm is breeding precisely what icons like Mandela and Tutu set out to crush in our newly free nation: racism. It is diametrically contrary to the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is an extremist tactic by a menacingly growing group driven by the ANC to gain political popularity and power regardless of the damage they do in the process, supported by self-seeking non-entities like Ehrenreich and Fransman.
They cannot wipe out history but in trying they can cause gulfs of estrangement and enmity that will bedevil our society for generations.
In their obsessive drive to impose their control the destroyers of the past forget that during the 42 years of apartheid Afrikaners were among its strongest opponents. Most of our leading minds were Afrikaners: Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, Jannie Hofmeyr, Beyers Naude, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Sol Plaatjies … the list is very long.
Our rebellious students need mental disciplining, to be taught that the way to earn a respected place in society and history is by treating their fellow countrymen with respect, not by hurling ordure.
In our so-called democracy (it has not yet earned that status and risks losing it altogether) the government is supposed to be protecting the majority against minorities. To win its democratic spurs it should put a stop to this nonsense and reverse the trend before its momentum becomes too strong to stop.
- Wilf Nussey, educated at Potch Boys High, had a career in newspapers with the Argus Group before becoming a full-time author. His books are available on Amazon.com.
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