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Archive for the tag “whiteness”

Racism and Race Relations in South Africa

Earlier this morning someone asked a question on Quora, which I found interesting, and thought it worth trying to answer. I’ve posted the question here, but have expanded my answer a bit, because I think it is an important issue, amnd it has been bothering me recently.

How has the race relations in South Africa been? And how is it now? And where does it seem like it’s heading? Are there any pressing issues not covered in the general media?

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes, former Senior editor and junior lecturer at University of South Africa (1986-1999)

And here’s my answer, modified and expanded for this blog post.

You can click this link to Quora to see my original answer.

After the first democratic elections in 1994 race relations improved, as the ANC sought to establish its goal of a democratic non-racial society. White people who had been taught to despise and fear black people discovered that the sky did not fall if they socialised with black people. One saw black and white children playing in the streets, or socialising in malls, which would have been unthinkable in the apartheid time. The importance of race gradually diminished in many people’s minds.

After about 2005, however, things changed again. There was a gradual increase in racial rhetoric, some of it imported from the USA. During apartheid race was seen to be very important, and after a drop between 1994 and 1999 it began to pick up again. Some white people, influenced by current thinking in the USA, began emphasising “whiteness” again, and promoted “whiteness studies”. They denigrated the ANC goal of non-racial democracy, and promoted racism while claiming to be anti-racist.

During the apartheid people white people were indoctrinated by the government with the idea that whiteness was the most important thing about them, and after 1994 many white people were being disabused of that notion. It therefore seemed very odd to me when people who called themselves “antiracist” began trying to resuscitate that decaying corpse. See here for more.

At about the same time, or soon afterwards, a different group gained control of the ANC, which had lost the vision of the struggle leaders, who were old and retiring from public life or had already died — people like Oliver and Adelaide Tambo , Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela. There was a new generation, led by Jacob Zuma, who were more interested in what their country could do for them than in what they could do for their country (to misquote J.F. Kennedy).

They teamed up with some crooked businessmen, the Guptas, who hired a British public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, to promote their cause, and Bell Pottinger’s strategy was a massive campaign to increase racist rhetoric by promoting anti-white racist slogans on social media. They paid large numbers of people to propagate these racist messages with an effectiveness that the Nat propagandists of the 1950s probably never even dreamed of.

Right-wing white organisations like Afriforum have run similar racist propaganda campaigns to promote the narrative of white victimhood, with stories of “white genocide” which they promote all over the world. Again, the theme of “whiteness” comes to the fore. When a farmer is murdered in an armed robbery, it is the whiteness of the farmer that is the most important thing in the message. Whiteness is everything. The obsession with whiteness is like a dog returning to its vomit.

And then there is this op-ed piece by Mondli Makhanya in last Sunday’s City Press, about how black people too are becoming Obsessed with Whiteness.

Along with this, we’ve been exposed to a lot of talk about “white privilege”, though I’m not sure what the point of it is. The place where we associate most with white people is a thing called TGIF, which happens early on Friday mornings. Someone speaks about a topic for 45 minutes, there are 15 minutes for questions and discussion, and it’s over by 7:30 so people have time to get to work. We enjoy it because we usually find the talks stimulating and its a way of being exposed to different ideas in one’s retirement. But quite a lot of the talks have been about “white privilege”.

I suppose I first became aware of white privilege at the age of 7, when the Nats came to power and apartheid was nothing more than an election promise that had yet to be implemented. My father, a chemist, got a new job in Germiston, which entailed a move. We had sold our house in Westville, near Durban, and so my mother and I spent two months at a hotel at Ingogo, about midway between, until we could find somewhere to live. As a result, I missed two months of School. I was in Standard 1 (Grade 3). The hotel was run by a cousin of my father’s, and their daughter Gillian was 8. I don’t know why she wasn’t at school, but we wandered the countryside and fished in the river. There is more about that in another blog post here.

On a few occasions Gillian and I visited a farm school held in a rusty corrugated iron church about a mile from the hotel. All the kids were black, and were probably children of farm labourers. The teacher welcomed us, but she was teaching several different classes in the same room. She asked questions, and my cousin and I were first with the answers.Why? White privilege.

When we lived at Westville I went to kindergarten. It wasn’t just any kindergartend; one of the neighbours had a governess for their daughter, Annabelle Dougal, and several other kids were invited to join her for lessons. As a result when, in the following year, I went to Class I at Westville Government School I was there for a month or two, and then promoted to Class II, which had a different teacher. White children had separate well-equipped classrooms with a teacher for each class, the black children at the farm school had Grades 1-5 in the same room, taught by the same teacher, with poor equipment. And if they reached Grade 5 most of them would go no further. So naturally we white kids knew the answers to questions we were asked in our own language, while the black kids were having to answer in a language they were still trying to learn. The sums the teacher was writing on the board were things I had learned two years earlier from Annabelle Dougal’s governess.

At the age of 7 some aspects of white privilege were obvious to me, others were not. The poorly equipped classroom, the teacher having to deal with different classes were obvious. That these were reasons that we white kids could answer questions more promptly only became apparent later. And what I only became aware of much later still was the class factor — that the children of chemists are likely to have better educational opportunities than the children of farm labourers.

How did my father become a chemist? He went to Durban High School and Natal Technicon, where he studied organic chermistry. His father, my grandfather, was a stockbroker and a mine secretary. My grandfather’s father was a builder and later a hotel keeper. My great grandfather’s father was a carpenter and then became a building contractor. And his father was… a farm labourer. The class privilege built up over six generations. The race factor was superficial and obvious, the class factor less so.

So what good does the obsession with whiteness and white privilege do? I can’t go back 70 years, and tell my parents no, I’m not going to the Witwatersrand with you, I’m staying here in Ingogo, and will complete my education at this farm school. Yes, I do believe that history is important. If we can understand where we have come from we can plot a different course for the future. And in 1948 the Nats had just come to power and immediately revved up the obsession with race. We know what that led to, so why are we doing it all over again? When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president he said “Never again” and he’s hardly been in his grave for five years and here we are doing it all over again.

But 70 years seems to be a kind of magic figure. In 1906 Alfred Lord Milner was trying to force Afrikaans-speaking children to learn in English after the Anglo-Boer War, and 70 years later Andries Treurnicht and Ferdi Hartzenberg, who were surely not unaware of the toxic resentment that that had caused, tried to do exactly the same thing by forcing black kids to learn in Afrikaans. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But twenty years after Milner, Afrikaans became an official language of South Africa.

And 20 years after apartheid began Christian theologians rejected it as a heresy and a false gospel when they said,

… we are being taught that our racial identity is the final and all important determining factor in the lives of men. As a result of this faith in racial identity, a tragic insecurity and helplessness afflicts those whose racial classification is in doubt. Without racial identity, it appears, we can do nothing: he who has racial identity has life; he who has not racial identity has not life. This amounts to a denial of the central statements of the Gospel. It is opposed to the Christian understanding of man and community. It, in practice, severely restricts the ability of Christian brothers to serve and know each other, and even to give each other simple hospitality. It arbitrarily limits the ability of a person to obey the Gospel’s command to love his neighbour as himself.[1]

We we still persist in talking about race as if racial identity was the most important thing about us.

We are not alone in this obsession with race, however.

When I look at questions on Quora, about half of them seem to be about race, and about two-thirds of those seem to make racist assumptions.

So racist rhetoric seems to be making a comeback, driven by different sectors of society with different agendas, but the same general goal — to promote racism. And to some extent they seem to be succeeding.

Where it will lead to, who knows? But I think South Africa will be a lot more racist in 2019 than it was in 1999.

Notes and References

[1] A Message to the People of South Africa published by the South African Council of Churches and the Christian Institute of South Africa, August 1968.


Six pictures worth 60000 words

I came across this little cartoon strip on Facebook, and “shared” it there, but I think it deserves more than that. It’s about black-white relations in the USA, but is in many ways just as applicable to South Africa.

And it reminds me of an American trade union song I learnt many years ago (sung to the tune of The battle hymn of the republic also known as John Brown’s body)

It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the factories, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving mid the wonders we have made
But union makes us strong.

Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
The union makes us strong.

Viva Vavi!

Whiteness revisited — Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl

I recently discovered a new academic discipline, or pseudo-discipline, called “Whiteness Studies”, through some friends who appear to take it seriously.

From what I’ve been able to see, it this discipline proposes to cure racism by encouraging racist thinking, which, it seems to me, is a bit like an alcoholic thinking that the cure for his craving is another drink.

If any of this interests you, I’ve written a series of four blog posts on it, here:

Comments welcome, there or here.

I thought I’d written enough on it, but someone posted something on Facebook that made me change my mind: Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa:

Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa

Male and female circumcision collide in Foreskin Man #3 when America’s most controversial superhero attempts a daring rescue in the jungles of Kenya.

That looks like a rather good candidate for #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture | Stuff White People Like, though with a somewhat different slant on it. That seems to be the essence of Whiteness, as defined by the American discipline of Whiteness Studies.

But I’m getting ahead of the story, which begins here, in a web article someone recommended to me, about Racism 2.0, which is the racism practised by white liberals in the USA Tim Wise | With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left. And, it seems to me, the comic book Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa seems to be a good example of Racism 2.0 as practised by white liberals in America. The gallant white superhero, representing enlightened Western values, sets out to rescue the barbaric Africans from their darkness. The cover of the comic says it all.

One of the things that human beings seem to do a lot is modify their bodies. The way they do this varies with different cultures, and as time passes cultures change, and bodily modifications fall in and out of fashion. One such fashion in the USA has been male circumcision. Another, common in the Western world, has been female ear piercing, and in some sub-cultures in the West piercing other parts of the body and sticking safety pins and other objects in the holes. A southern African varient of earpearcing, about 70-80 years ago, involved putting wooden cotton reels in holes in one’s earlobes.

Other such practices are knocking out front teeth, tattooing, and lengthening necks and penises. In China there was the practice of foot-binding of girls, because small feet on women were fashionable.

Another thing about this is that bodily modifications that one culture regards as normal seem bizarre and barbaric to people from other cultures.

In the 19th and early 20th century Christian missionaries travelled from Western Europe and North America in large numbers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other continents, and they came across many cultural practices that they found strange, and some that they found abhorrent. Among the ones they found abhorrent ones were foot-binding and female circumcision.

In China it was Christian missionaries who founded the Natural Foot Society, to discourage the practice of foot-binding. And in parts of Africa missionaries, who were associated with colonial governments, discouraged female circumcision. In Kenya, where, in the 1920s, all schools were controlled by various religious bodies, some missionaries, led by the Church of Scotland, insisted that all teachers in the schools should take an oath against female circumcision, which was practised by the Kikuyu (Agikuyu) people. This led to the formation of independent African-led educational associations, and eventually contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Kenya (see Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

The policy of demanding oaths came back to bite the colonialist missionaries, however, when, about 20 years later, the Mau Mau movement began getting their members to take oaths to fight against the British colonial regime. Suddenly “oath-taking ceremonies” were made illegal, and suspicion that someone had participated in one became sufficient cause for detention without trial. All Kenyan Orthodox clergy were detained.

White Western secular liberals have often been quite vociferous in condemning the way in which Christian missionaries “destroy indigenous culture”, but are not averse to doing exactly the same thing when other people’s cultural values conflict with their own, and using neocolonial powers to put the squeeze on people who resist.

In a way, I can empathise with those who object to female circumcision. I can still recall the shock and revulsion I felt when I read about it as a teenage schoolboy in a book called Blanket boy’s moon by Peter Lanham and A.S. Mopeli-Paulus, which described the practice in Lesotho:

The first night of the (circumcision) school is known as the Marallo, the secret night. This night is spent outside the village in the dongas, where ritual dances are taught and new code names are given to the girls — so that they can afterwards challenge the claim of any woman who states that she is circumcised.

At Marallo, too, the Khokhobisa-tsoene, or “Hiding-of-the-monkey” is encompassed. The girls are cut with a blade in their outer sexual organs, and a flap of flesh is drawn down to cover that mischievous “monkey” which can be the source of much pleasure to uncircumcised girls. The performance of this rite tends to encourage chastity among the women, for a circumcised girl can know little of the joys and passions of physical love. During this ceremony when the blood flows from the wounded flesh, black magic medicine is rubbed in as a protection against bewitchment.

It can perhaps be said that the circumcision of women not only denies the girl great pleasure and joy in the sexual act, but must in consequence lessen the happiness and exaltation of the man, and thus shut out any upliftment of the spirit — lying with a woman, then, becomes a selfish rather than a mutual pleasure. Here in the very homeland, in this circumcision of women, lie the seeds of the physical love of man for man, which is brought to flower in the living conditions imposed on African mine workers by the white man.

As a schoolboy I found that more scary even than a description of a ritual murder elsewhere in the book.

But an interesting thing is that though the protest against the Protestant missionaries’ attempt to suppress female circumcision was one of the factors that helped the Orthodox Church to grow in Kenya, very few, if any, Orthodox Christians practise female circumcision today, not because of high-handed colonial or neocolonial suppression, but rather as a result of people seeing no need for it within a Christian worldview.

Western cultural imperialism hasn’t changed very much. Whether practised by Protestant missionaries or liberal secularists, it looks much the same. And I won’t say it doesn’t exist in South Africa. There are signs of it, for example when you get white suburbanites objecting to their black neighbours next door ritually sacrificing a goat, but generally I think white racism in South Africa takes different forms from that in North America. The North American version, with Foreskin Man going out to deal with the black savages in far-away places, is perhaps typical of the American version. And Foreskin Man doesn’t seem to be interested in rescuing the people his fellow-countrymen drop bombs on, in places like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they lose a great deal more than their foreskins.

Apart from anything else, to me Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl sound utterly kitsch. But that’s probably just my cultural prejudice speaking.

Whiteness just isn’t what it used to be – book review

Whiteness Just Isn't What It Used to BeWhiteness Just Isn’t What It Used to Be”: White Identity in a Changing South Africa (Suny Series, Interruptions: Border Testimony by Melissa E. Steyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite recently that there was an academic discipline called “Whiteness Studies” my immediate reaction was negative. Some of my blogging friends assured me that they had found it useful, and this was one of the books they recommended, and since it was based on stories told by people I found it in the library and began reading it.

Melissa Steyn collected stories from 59 white people in South Africa and divided the narratives into different categories, and commented on the various approaches. This book is the result.

The first chapter is a kind of potted history of “Whiteness Studies” and the various view its practitioners have taken to the phenomenon of “whiteness” in a global sense. In part it deals with the fairly well-known phenomenon of Western modernity, where Westerners (mainly from Western Europe and North America) thought that their society was central and normative, and others quaint and peculiar and exotic. So, for example, Western anthropologists confined their studies to non-Western cultures (and often did so in the service of colonial rulers). The proponents of Whiteness Studies call this kind of cultural chauvinism “whiteness”. But even after reading Steyn’s book, I am not convinced of the adequacy of the description, and I find that Steyn herself falls into the same cultural chauvinist trap by not disclosing where she is coming from, and pretending to be “objective”, even when she is aware of the dangers of that approach.

The main manifestation of this in the book is that, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the the analysis of people’s responses to Steyn’s questionnaire, the questions that elicited those responses are not revealed to the reader. If this forms the bulk of the book, then surely the questions themselves could have been put in an appendix. Apart from anything else, that might give readera a chance to try to answer the questions too, and try to analyse their own responses.

In addition, while Steyn collected 59 narratives, these narrators are not really allowed to tell their own story. Steyn is the only narrator, setting the scene, telling the story, and pulling a quotation, sometimes as short as a single sentence, to illustrate the point in her story. So I get the impression of a stage magician, displaying tricks to an audience, with the quotations from the stories being pulled out like a rabbit from a hat or a coin from the sleeve at the appropriate moment, with only Steyn really knowing what is going on behind the scenes.

For instance, there is this:

Such is the fear of being perceived to be aligned with what is morally reproachable that even to talk about “race” could implicate one in racism. The topic is a no-no:

“Whites can never know how blacks were affected by Apartheid. [computer analyst] “

At first sight, this seems to be a complete non-sequitur. It certainly doesn’t seem to be an instance of race being a “no–no”, because it mentions race (“whites”, “blacks”) and the relations between them (“Apartheid”). Either Steyn is misrepresenting the narrator, or she is interpreting it in the light of its context, which she has failed to quote, and this is withheld from the reader.

Taken on its own, the sentence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, of which the most likely (it seems to me), is that since, because of Apartheid, whites were separated from blacks, they could not know how blacks were affected by apartheid because they were kept isolated, and whites could not see what was happening, and their was little comparable in their experience. For instance, if a black man died in town, his wife and children, if they were allowed to live in the town at all, would be endorsed out to a “homeland” because they became surplus to the labour requirements of white society. Much of this was invisible to most whites, and so they did not know and could not know the extent to which this took place, nor what it was like do be endorsed out and forced to go and live in a rural area where you knew no one.

Maybe the context shows that the narrator meant something different, but Steyn does not show us the context.

Similarly, Steyn castigates those she regards as adopting a liberal “colourblind” approach, saying that they are “in denial”, yet when, in another section of the book, she cites an example of that approach, she praises it.

The Apartheid system tried to make me think about “white” in a certain way and about “black” in another way. I strive to define my own reality and I try to avoid being hamstrung by other people’s projections. [lecturer]

Steyn says “Whatever whiteness may have meant in the past, this narrative perks up in tone when it considers what may develop now that whiteness has lost its power to dominate.”

Yet elsewhere she says that to claim that whiteness has lost its power to dominate is to be in denial. The difference, if any, isd hidden behind the stage magician’s black cloth that she pulls away to reveal the rabbit in the hat.

One of the narratives, however, I could identify with:

I have discovered that, despite apartheid, I have more in common with black South Africans than with other whites, be they British, Dutch, French or American… When I first went overseas in 1986 I thought because of my colonial British background I would find Britain home. Instead I became increasingly aware that I was not British, and that I was African. This is how I came to see myself as a white African. [lecturer]

I wrote something very similar in a blog post at What is African? Race and identity | Khanya long before I had ever heard of “whiteness studies”.

Steyn summarises the argument of the Introduction in her conclusion

In the Introduction, whiteness has been theorized as the racial norm, the invisible center that deflects attention from itself by racializing the margins, and constructing them as the problem. Whiteness then believes in its own homogeneous neutrality. Whites are then described [in the Introduction – STH] as generally unaware of their own racialization, unconscious of their privilege, or of how their implicit assumptions of white entitlement are a consequence of certain historical relations, not something essential about whiteness itself.

I’d go along with that, especially where North America is concerned (and Steyn wrote the book while living in North America). South Africa, however, is somewhat different. Whiteness was anything but unconscious.

But it appears that Steyn was also suffering from the same disease.

On page 26, writing of English-speaking South Africans’ attitudes towards poor rural Afrikaners, she writes, “Like ethnic working class whites and partially racialized groups in America, Afrikaners had to ‘fight’ for the status of first class citizens.”

“Ethnic working class” what are they? Just as “whiteness” is invisible to the dominant white group in America, so is ethnicity. “Ethnic” whites are the “other”, the “them”. And Steyn uses that terminology without batting an eyelid, withouit scare quotes, without even the almost obligatory [sic] used in some academic writing when politically incorrect language comes up. But Steyn is not quoting, she is using the terminology herself, thus identifying with those who believe they have no ethnicity, and manifesting “ethnic blindness”.

Perhaps I might have read this book differently if I had read it before engaging in a discussion on whiteness studies with some others (see Whiteness, whiteliness and White Studies | Khanya).

And one of the biggest problems I have with this book is that it seems to be saying that even if we have deconstructed whiteness, and dumped it, we must now reconstruct it in order to deconstruct it again, like Sisyphus. It’s a bit like a child being told by its mother, “You must have a bath tonight, whether you need it or not.” And the proponents of whiteness studies seem to be saying “You must have an identity crisis, whether you need one or not.”

One thing I will say, though. I didn’t find it boring. It was a page-turner.

View all my reviews

Beyond the Boerewors Curtain: Identity and white English South Africans

In his blog Beyond the Boerewors Curtain Roger Saner asks an interesting question about Identity and white English South Africans

What also interests me about Apartheid is the white English role. Most English people in SA seem unaware that the British concentration camps were responsible for the deaths of 26,000 Afrikaner women and children. This is not a legacy to be lightly skipped over, and one that ties directly into one of the most thorny issues for English South Africans: identity. Who are we? We’re not British, although many of us hold British passports (or can get ancestral visas, or flee to the UK when we get the chance). We’re not Afrikaans, so therefore we’re not responsible for Apartheid (so I’ve heard from many English people). ‘Apartheid was something which the Afrikaners were responsible for, not us. We had no say. In all levels of government the only people who were employed were Afrikaans.’ So we withdrew from the public sphere and happily existed in the neutral space between oppression and oppressed, mirroring the behaviour of everyone else.

The last sentence rather begs the question. What do you mean “we”, white man? Just who is “everyone”?

In his book Ah big yaws? Rawbone Malong described the language, pronunciation and usage of White Urban English-speaking South Africans, WUESAs, or Woozers for short.

In a post on my other blog I queried the usage and assumptions of a certain school of church historians who have written about “the English-speaking churches” in South Africa. Is there such a thing as a Woozer identity?

I suppose that in a sense I’m a Woozer. I’m white, speak English as my first language, was born in South Africa and have lived in cities most of my life. But does that define my identity? In the year I was born a man called G.H. Calpin published a book called There are no South Africans. He was a nasty right-wing racist (I was later called upon to review one of this other books, which made that very clear).

I’ve been faced with the question at several significant moments of my life. I’ll describe some of them, going backwards in time

One was 25 years ago, during the referendum of the tri-cameral parliament, in 1983. I was visited by a National Party canvasser, who tried to convince me that the proposed tri-cameral parliament was a good thing. He stayed most of the afternoon. My objections were different from most of those he encountered, and it took most of the afternoon for him to grasp what I was getting at. Most objections he encountered were from people who did not like the idea of having Coloureds and Asians in parliament, even in separate houses. What he found difficult to grasp was that I rejected two principles that he regarded as so axiomatic that he could not conceive of the possibility of anyone questioning them: group rights and “own affairs”. And that related to one of the fundamental contradictions of apartheid.

Afrikaner nationalists liked to point out that nationalism was a good thing, and that it simply meant “love of one’s own” — and that is where “own affairs” came in. The problem for me was, what was my “own”? The “white group”? But what was it? One should have “own affairs” which meant one’s own schools, language, religion, culture and so on. But Nat policy was to have separate English and Afrikaans schools. If the theory of apartheid were to be consistent, then there should have been an “English” homeland, which ran its own affairs. But there wasn’t, of course. If there were, then the “white” group would be split, and could not outnumber the Coloureds and Indians, and the tri-cameral parliament would no longer serve its purpose of maintaining white Afrikaner Nationalist hegemony. For the same reason there could not be a “black” house fo parliament, because that would outnumber the whites, so the blacks had to be divided into Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana etc homelands. It was the old policy of divide and rule. As long as Afrikaner nationalists outnumbered all other whites (English, Portuguese, Greek etc), they could be coopted to boost the numbers of the white parliament, which Afrikaner nationalists would control. The moment one of the black groups outnumbered the white conglomerate, the racial arithmetic no longer worked. Chris Heunis resigned as Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and apartheid’s days were numbered.

But to the Nat canvasser it was inconceivable that I should not see my identity as primarily white. I didn’t want a tri-cameral parliament, I wanted one parliament, with one man, one vote. He said “But that has never worked anywhere.” I said “Look west”. That required more explanations. On our western border was Botswana, which in 1983 was the most democratic country in Africa. Admittedly it was a much more homogeneous population than South Africa. But I didn’t see why it shouldn’t work in a multicultural country like South Africa, and thought it was a lot better than having people of one culture telling all the others what groups they belonged to and what their culture ought to be. “Own affairs” was a farce, because the attitude of the Nat government was that “you will look after your own affairs, and we will tell you what your own affairs are”.

An earlier defining moment was the publication of A message to the people of South Africa by the South African Council of Churches, in 1968.

In the past various Christian groups had criticised apartheid on the ground of its unjust implementation. The Message, however, attacked not merely the implementation and practice of apartheid, but its theory and ideology. It said that apartheid was far worse than a heresy, it was a pseudogospel.

Apartheid was a false gospel because it encouraged people to find their security in racial identity instead of in Christ, and it was therefore, from a Christian point of view, a form of idolatry. It set up racial identity as an idol. Christians therefore opposed apartheid not merely because it was bad in practice, it was bad in principle. It was based on principles and assumptions that could never be acceptable from a Christian point of view.

For me personally, that was not something new. The Message to the people of South Africa simply articulated something I already knew. It helped to clarify and reinforce things by finding terminology to describe them. Many people had believed that apartheid was a heresy. The Message went further, and said it was a pseudogospel, and explained why. It was a moment like the one when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. It challenged South Africa: if Christ is God, serve him; but don’t pretend to serve him when your real god is the idol of racial identity.

For me personally the defining moment came in 1960/61, when there was another referendum, on whether South Africa should become a “republic”, and did become a republic outside the Commonwealth.

It made me think about what it meant to be a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. The propaganda of the Republicans was that it would “unite South Africa”. They said that the Afrikaners put South Africa first, while the “English” had divided loyalties, with one foot in Britain, which many Woozers still spoke of as “home”, even if their ancestors had lived in Slouth Africa for generations. The Afrikaans word for Woozers was “souties”, derived from “soutpiel” — if one had one foot in South Africa and one in Britain, then another part of the body (in the case of males) must be dangling in the salty waters of the ocean in between.

But all this talk of “uniting” South Africa was going on simultaneously with talk of dividing it up into “homelands”. And what was a homeland? A putative place of origin that black people (but not whites) were told they belonged to, and could be sent “back” to. So what did it mean to be a citizen of the Republic of South Africa? That you should have no other homeland (if you were white), but that you must have another homeland, if you were black. Clearly, the Republic of South Africa was going to be a Mickey Mouse country, with an elastic definition of citizenship that could mean anything but actually meant nothing.

And at the same time I read the New Testament, where St Paul said “our citizenship, our homeland, is in heaven” (Philippians 3:30). So it appeared to me that it was a toss-up between citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven and citizenship of the Republic of South Africa, and I opted for the former. Baptism, it appeared to me, was a naturalisation ceremony for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

So what the National Party was urging me to do was (in the words of Leon Bloy) the renunciation of my heavenly birthright for the pottage of this sinful world.

Because I was baptised, I had more in common with a baptised black person than with an unbaptised white one. The National Party tried to deny the truth of that, and to say that skin colour was more important than what God had done in baptism, that Babel could not be overruled by Pentecost.

And for the same reason, I couldn’t get particularly particularly excited about being a Woozer, or see that as the core of my identity.

For a while I lived in Namibia, when apartheid was at its height, and many cities in Namibia had black “locations”. In terms of the apartheid ideology blacks had no permanent homes in the cities, and were forced to go and live outside the city, beyond the town limits. Many did not want to move, and in Windhoek the Hereros were told that they could even give the new location a name, if only they could go and live there, and so they called it “Katutura” which means “We don’t live here”. And every new location outside every Namibian town was called Katutura, even if the government called it something else.

In Herero, “tura” means to live in a place as a homeland, to have a home in a place. Yet this was a metaphor for the Christian life. Hebrews 13:12-14 shows that Jesus was in Katutura, not Windhoek, because it was to precisely such a place that the world pushed him, and as his followers, that is where we are. We are pariki, the Greek word from which the English word “parishioners” is derived, we live beside the house, not in it. In Afrikaans, we are bywoners, squatters, sojourners. This is not our homeland: katutura, we don’t live here.

Apartheid may be dead in South Africa, but the struggle against the pseudogospel still continues. I joined the Orthodox Church, and in South Africa, as an English-speaking Orthodox Christian, I’m in the minority. Greek-speakers, or people of Greek heritage, are in the majority, and from some of them one sometimes hears the same racist sentiments that we heard so often in the apartheid years. One woman once said, “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.” Non-Greeks are xeni. Hey, ho, I was born in South Africa, but I get called a xenos by a Greek immigrant. That puts me in my place. But actually it causes me to reflect that for both of us we are where we are in the church not because of birth or parentage, language or culture, not because of where we were born, or to whom we were born, but by a second birth of water and the spirit that makes us citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

Yes, racism is alive and well in the Orthodox Church. In 1985, when the first English-speaking priest was ordained in an Orthodox Church in Johannesburg, people came from other parishes, from far and wide, to shout “anaxios” (unworthy) because the Archbishop had dared to ordain a non-Greek, a xenos. Xenophobia rules, but it’s not OK.

Some mouth the racist slogan “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”, which is not merely a heresy, but apostasy. The Orthodox Church pronounced apartheid, or racism, to he a heresy back in 1872 (under the Greek name phyletism), but it still persists. Hellenism was anathema to Orthodox Christians from the time of the early church fathers. Hellenism today is the product of the secular nationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is also a term for a neopagan religion. It has never been identified with Orthodoxy.

As an English-speaking Orthodox Christian, I like to worship in English, but I don’t want to see an “English” Orthodox Church, in the sense that there are Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. I want to see a South African Orthodox Church. I do sometimes get a bit annoyed when Greek-speaking clergy insist that I must use bad English translations of liturgical texts, because, being Greek, they know what is good for the English. But I’ve known that sort of thing all my life, when Afrikaner nationalists told me what was my “own” and insisted on giving me an “own affair”. Most Sundays I worship with congregations that speak North Sotho (which seems to be one of the most difficult languages to learn: you can get courses in Greek, Russian, Zulu and Xhosa in bookshops, but not North Sotho). I enjoy the Liturgy in Afrikaans, often even more than in English, because there are not 25 different translations floating about, as there are with English.

But is there an “English-speaking” South African culture, a Woozer culture?

Not really. Not enough to form the basis of a distinct ethnic identity. Language and culture are linked, but English is a multicultural language. It is shared by many cultures throughout the world, and not only in South Africa. There was never enough of a cohesive Woozer culture in South Africa to demand a homeland. There was never enough of a group identity to which “group rights” could be applied. Rather, English-speaking South Africans belong to a whole range of overlapping cultural groups and circles, based on church, school, family, interest. Woozers who live next door to each other can find that they have nothing in common but language and geographical proximity. They have different friends, different interests, and might never meet and greet each other except casually and in passing. Woozers have never been a “volk”.

While some were chauvinist (my Cornish great grandmother insisted on calling her Afrikaans son-in-law Botes “Boats”), and despised Afrikaners and kept aloof from “natives” others were more laid-back about such things and even made up satirical songs about them:

When I’m walking down the street I must be careful not to greet
people of a different pigmentation
Lest the government suspect or the Special Branch detect
a dark affiliation
to a communist organisation.
(sung to the tune of The wayward wind)

Perhaps this Woozer rootlessness made it easier for me to let worldly allegiances sit lightly, as I’ve described above. It may have made it easier for some others, I don’t know. Since I was in my late teens I was aware of being a pilgrim, a stranger, a sojourner in the world, and am still reminded of it every time someone refers to me as a xenos.

And there is still the heresy, the pseudogospel, the apostasy of apartheid, racism, phyletism. A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort. The struggle continues.

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