During the tumult of the 80′s Koos Kombuis released a seminal album called Niemandsland (No man’s land). The work was part of the opening up in Afrikaans culture: the so-called the Voëlvry movement. The content of the record was considered worse than liberal, it was downright subversief!
But the album title itself was incendiary. To many Afrikaner Nationalists it was literally an article of faith that all of South Africa had been given by God to Afrikaners.
I was reminded of how things have changed this week with the outrage that greeted Afrikaner politician Pieter Mulder, who proclaimed in parliament:
Africans never in the past lived in the whole of South Africa. The Bantu-speaking people moved from the equator down while the white people moved from the Cape up, to meet each other at the Kei River.
Now. First things first. I’m not sure the last word on this subject has been spoken by researchers. But what do we know now? On the face of it, that statement is more or less correct. By the time the first whites settled in the Cape, Nguni and other tribes (Bantu tribes) were indeed already settled in what today is known as Natal and the Eastern Cape, but not in the region known as Boland.
So 1 – 0 to Mulder? Yeah, a hollow victory mind.
Cape Town and surrounds was empty? Nope, certainly not. These areas were settled by the hunter gatherer Khoi and the San. And these people’s were on occasion massacred, and yes Giliomee says the word hunted would not be out of place.
Mulder is technically right though, they were not Bantu. And if academics are to be believed the Khoi and San were squeezed and exterminated by both the Bantu in the North and the whites in the South. Tragic.
South Africans should look at the bright side however. Implicit in Mulder’s statement is a worldview that colonisation is bad. This worldview is by and large not shared in the same way or acknowledged by whites in the US or Australia (to name but a few). The answer for this is rather simple. The many run-ins Afrikaners had with the two ton truck that was the British Empire, have instilled a group consciousness – a dim view of taking other people’s land by way of violence. Afrikaners’ literature, poetry and songs echo to this anti-colonial strain, over and over again.
Responsible politicians should aim to harness this worldview as an asset, rather than exploit or for that matter – ignore it.
Picture description – Members of New Zealand’s Sixth Contingent burn a Boer farm, 1901.
This photograph was possibly taken by Private William Raynes.
During the second phase of the war Boer farms were often cleared of their inhabitants: houses and possessions were burned and the livestock either taken by the British or destroyed. As a result of this method, more than 30,000 farms were burnt and up to 3.6 million sheep were destroyed.
Miserable scenes are to be seen on the travel, at farm houses men, women & children are to be seen almost starving, I have seen women & children crying terribly when we would burn down their wagons & take away everything that would be of use to the enemy, you cannot think what a horrible thing war is unless you have seen it with your own eyes, but the brutes still hold out.
Private Frank Swanwick, Fourth Contingent, in Gavin McLean, Ian McGibbon & Kynan Gentry (eds), The Penguin Book of New Zealanders at War (2009)