Reshaping Remembrance ~ A Coloured Expert’s Coloured

‘I am hoping fervently and in faith that the divine resides in every living being; that  nobody is anybody’s superior or boss […] give us the strength to become South Africans’ – Jan Rabie[i]

One may indeed ask: with friends such as Jakes Gerwel, Allan Boesak, Hein Willemse and Neville Alexander, does the Afrikaner really need more enemies?’ – Dan Roodt[ii]

1.
In 1983, a Minister’s wife made the following off-the-record remarks during a campaign speech:
But traditionally the Coloureds have no history of nationhood. They’re a different group, i.e. all different types of people.

Between us and [our] small group when the press aren’t present. You know, they’re a separate group. The definition of a Coloured in the population register is of someone who is not a Black, and not an Indian, in other words a non-person. He is not … not … not. They’re leftovers.

They’re people who were left over after the nations were sorted out. They’re the rest. When Ida [?] had the Cape Corps here in Vereeniging last week or two weeks ago, I looked at them and my heart bled because not one of them had the same facial features.

You know we all at least look European, but they … some looked Indian, some looked Chinese, some looked white, some looked black. And that is their dilemma. They have no binding power.

Their binding power lies in the fact that they speak Afrikaans, that they’re members of the [Dutch Reformed] Church. That is their binding power.

The Indians are a small group, also a splinter group of a nation somewhere in Africa (sic) and, between us, […] they need a bit of supervision. And the supervision [and] our authority (baasskap)[iii] of the white [man] are built in the whole system.[iv]

The person who expressed her self so categorically was Mrs Marike de Klerk (1937–2001) – for what it is worth, a Miss Willemse – the first wife of F.W. de Klerk, former Minister of Internal Affairs and later State President. Her remarks were made during a referendum campaign speech to persuade white women to vote for the National Party’s 1983 policy reform that entailed the creation of a tricameral parliament to accommodate people classified as ‘Coloureds’ or ‘Indians’. Fifteen years later, she described her motivation for the speech as a plea for ‘the acceptance of the Coloureds who, for so many ears, had been marginalised, humiliated and excluded by an unjust system of racial classification’. By the end of the 1980s, and again during 1993 when these marks surfaced again De Klerk endured much public criticism. Her defence was that the version, transcribed from a secret tape recording, contradicted her intentions; that her intended ‘nuances were lost’ and that she ‘was struggling desperately to convince friend and foe that I intended the opposite.’[v]

In 1993, the office of the State President issued a statement in which Marike de Klerk declared that there existed ‘a warm and cordial co-operation between [myself] and the coloured community’; that as a consequence of ‘our close cultural bonds I – as an Afrikaans-speaking South African – have a special appreciation of the contribution by the Coloured community to South African society.’[vi] In a separate declaration, F.W. de Klerk, as the State President, indicated that his wife fought a titanic struggle against the negative and narrow-minded racism of the far right in white politics. From every platform she promotes the concept of reform and renewal.’ About her use of the nonperson’ notion, he said that she used this concept with respect to the Population Registration Act 30 of 1950 in which Coloureds are described in negative terms as nonblacks and non-white and therefore ‘in quotation marks and by definition non-person’. She had, according to the statement, ‘in no way reflected negative opinion, feeling or attitude towards coloureds as a population group. Anybody who so alleges is malicious and attaches an inaccurate interpretation to my wife’s comments.’[vii]

Even if one accepts that Mrs de Klerk’s sympathetic nuance was lost or that the excerpt was taken out of context – and I have no reason to doubt her sincerity – she presented to her intimate gathering – ‘among us and [our] small group’ – a reflection of deep-seated ideological opinions. Views that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, had gained social acceptability in South Africa, and views that still persist in our current discourses on South African identities and social differences. Especially her inelegant and awkward formulation, free from the subterfuge of Party Speak, points to how deeply apartheid patterns of thinking were entrenched in popular thought. Despite the vehement criticism levelled at De Klerk, particularly from the ranks of English language and leftist Afrikaans newspapers, she – clumsily – articulated views that were at the core of social relationships in South Africa. Read more

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ Bantu: From Abantu To Ubuntu

To speak about ‘the other’ is not a matter of course. Just as ‘us’ usually carries a positive meaning, the affective value of ‘them’ is usually less optimistic. We experience this sharply when outsiders write or speak about us in a manner that hurts. Afrikaansspeakers are sensitive to the use of terms such as ‘Afrikaners’, ‘blankes’ (whites), ‘kleurlinge’ (coloureds) and ‘Boere’ (farmers). A racist video, made at the Reitz residence of the University of the Free State, recently caused quite a stir. The stereotyping in the media of white Afrikaans-speakers as racists was a painful experience to many who felt ‘ons is nie almal so nie’ (we are not all the same). Terms referring to people, especially terminology of social categories, are political instruments and not merely objective labels in the same class as the taxonomies of fishes or stars. The notion of ‘Bantu’ is a good example of the way in which a label for a social category follows social practice, in contrast to the assumption underlying the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (that practice follows language). Over time, a term such as this one accretes various meanings, some of which may be linked to strongly divergent emotions. The term ‘Bantu’ contains, similar to ‘Afrikaner’, positive and negative meanings in Afrikaans and in other languages in South Africa, depending on the historical moment, the social positionality and experience of the users.

‘Bantu’ as a term went through a number of important shifts in meaning. It originated as a linguistic term that denoted the kinship links between a large number of indigenous languages and this meaning was retained in the field of African languages. The term was subsequently also used to refer to the people that spoke these languages, e.g. in anthropology. The notion became naturalised in the everyday languages of South Africans and attained official status in government policy and legislation. In the second half of the 20th century the notion became entangled with the apartheid policy as it referred to black people and their inferior political position. It is this connotation that gave the term a strong negative emotional content among the opponents of apartheid. As the apartheid policy was increasingly debunked, the negative connotation grew and made the term itself unacceptable. Especially the freedom struggle and the global rejection of apartheid had an effect on the use of the term in South Africa. From the 1980s onwards the use of the term decreased and was ultimately replaced by ‘black’. Today, the term is seldom used outside its reference to African languages, although one can still hear it among conservative whites and coloureds.

My argument about the use of the term ‘Bantu’ is that the notion was created in a specific social context and that it evoked strong resistance due to its negative associations. As the resistance changed the context, the use of the term had to adapt and this process eventually led to the demise of the term, especially since people experienced it as oppressive and undemocratic. The term ‘Bantu’ is in this sense one of a lineage of terms that became unacceptable, starting with ‘Kaffir’, followed by ‘native’, then ‘Bantu’. More recently, ‘black’ and ‘African’ became the politically correct terms. The social and political use of the term ‘Bantu’ in South Africa is permanently tied to the divide-and-rule politics of both the British imperial and the Afrikaner regimes. The notion was therefore rejected, together with white supremacy. Concepts usually exist in sets and their meanings imply boundaries with contrasting ideas. The terms ‘blanke’ and ‘Afrikaner’ with their racial connotations developed as opposites to ‘Bantu’ and ‘non-white’ but also in relation to these terms. These terms may disappear in future if Afrikaans-speakers reject the racial element as negative baggage. The problem with any labelling of a social category is that it is an attempt to generalise by using a term that assumes a social classification. A term denoting a group or social category easily leads to negative stereotyping and essentialism. This means that one characteristic is taken to determine the identity of every member of the social category. In this essay I briefly look at the origin and development of the term ‘Bantu’ in order to explain its changing meanings with reference to the various contexts in which it existed. Ultimately, the question is: why did these shifts occur and what do they tell us? Read more

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ Thandi, Katrina, Meisie, Maria, ou-Johanna, Christina, ou-Lina, Jane And Cecilia

Dit was dus ons gesin; maar daar was ook nog ou Dulsie, van wie ek amper vergeet het, soos mens maar geneig is om van die bediendes te vergeet, alhoewel sy by ons was so lank soos wat ek kan onthou. […] daardie gedurige aanwesigheid waaraan ek skaars nog name of gesigte kan koppel. Dulsie in die huis […] so onthou ek my kinderjare.

[That was our family; but then there was also old Dulcie, whom I almost forgot to mention, as people tend to do with servants, although she was with us for as long as I can remember. […] that pervasive presence to which I can hardly put a name or a face. Dulcie in the house […] that is how I remember my childhood years.][i]

1.
Many women’s names were never used in the contact zones of South African kitchens. Together with their small caps and aprons, black women working in white South African households were often given new names that were easier for white people to pronounce than, for example, Noluvyo, Nokubonga or Nomahobe. These ama-Xhosa names mean Joy, Thank you God and Dove. Sometimes black parents took the initiative and named their children Beauty, Patience or Perseverance, in the hope that their daughters would meet with success in the white working environment. Sometimes employers themselves gave ‘well-known’ names to their servants, and I suspect that most of the names in the title of this chapter belonged to this category. All of these women, from Thandi to Cecilia Magadlela are women who have been important in my life for no other reason than that I was fortunate enough to belong to the class which employed these women as servants.

As Richard Elphick writes in Kraal and castle: Khoikoi and the founding of white South Africa,[ii] it was customary, right from the start, for young indigenous women to be trained to work as serving maids in white households at the Dutch settlement of the Cape. Once slavery began, they were increasingly replaced by women from East India who had greater culinary and household skills. The real name of one of the first South African women to work in a white household in the Cape was Krotoa (approximately 1642-1674). This Khoi-woman of the Goringhaiqua group was called Eva by Jan van Riebeeck and his wife. Thanks to the novels of Dalene Matthee and Dan Sleigh, among others, many post-apartheid South Africans know that, aside from being a maid servant, she was also Van Riebeeck’s most important interpreter who, through her marriage to a Danish ship’s doctor, also became the ancestor of quite a number of white families. No one could have anticipated that, three hundred and fifty years later, a maid bearing the same name would become a much loved cartoon character. However, this Eve would no longer be referred to as a childminder or ‘maid’, but as a ‘domestic maintenance assistant’ and would be given a ‘western’ first name – probably because of its combination with Madam, a play on Adam – but also a surname: Sisulu. In most of these sharp, witty Madam & Eve cartoons, she has the last word. All the characters in this cartoon have become icons in a changing South Africa where, although equality is still a distant dream, the way Eve triumphs is transformative despite the stereotypical roles that are played out. Read more

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ Rugby

1.
Only very few Afrikaner males have not been confronted with rugby at school, in some way or another. Interest in this sport is often carried over from father to son and it is particularly in this intimate process of transfer that commonalities are shared and that the game acquires one of its remembrance characteristics. This, however, is only one aspect of a much more dynamic and broader process that some commentators describe with a degree of irony as an elevated transcendental experience. Johann Symington, director of communication in the Dutch Reformed Church, describes rugby as far more than merely a national sport:
It is rather more like a religion with its own pantheon of gods and sacred traditions. It is true that players do not kneel or pray in the passageways of the stadiums, but the absolute dedication to the game and the team, the symbolic changing of clothing and the face painted to look like totem figures reveals something of the immanent religious status of the sport.[i]

In an extreme identification in 1970, Gert Yssel, a teacher and lay preacher in the then Western Transvaal, made the bizarre statement that God made the Springboks lose a test because young women in South Africa, according to him, wore indecent mini-dresses.[ii] Yssel’s logic with regard to cause and effect may have been suspect, but there can be no doubt about the central place that rugby occupied in his world as well as in his philosophy of life.

In the greater Afrikaner circles, the genealogy of the game goes beyond one or two generations and has a bearing on the identification of particular historical emotional values. At the time of the 75th anniversary of the South African Rugby Board, the renowned rugby administrator Danie Craven revealed something of the depth and intensity of the game’s remembrance matter in his official message. It was a ‘festive occasion’ of the game that ‘belonged to everyone’ and although there had been troubled times through the years, these had only strengthened rugby supporters so that they could enjoy the good times together. It had ‘bound them together historically’ as nothing else had ever done, and had created a feeling of ‘belonging’ that few people had the good fortune to enjoy.[iii]

To understand the remembrance dimensions of this sport, one needs to take note of the way in which rugby became popular with Afrikaners. The role of the University of Stellenbosch is in this regard one of the keys to understanding the connection. Since the late nineteenth century generations of young Afrikaner males turned to the ‘people’s university’ and it was within the context of the ‘people’ that the sons of the elite could revel in the game. When a number of young men in a state of hormonal aggression gathered within a demarcated space, the ideal breeding ground was created for a game such as rugby. But the game also formed part of the broader Afrikaner culture. Read more

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ The Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal

1.
For the average language user, a dictionary is something that you do not argue with, that you rely on with varying levels of success to regain lost knowledge, for help with crossword puzzles and that you sometimes, very successfully, use to press flowers or as a doorstop. But despite the nature of the use of a dictionary – whether it is in fulfilling its genuine purpose or not – the typical user sees the dictionary as an authoritative container of grammatical and other information that provides the holy truth. That’s why in spoken language people do not refer to ‘a dictionary’ but to ‘the dictionary’ – almost like The Bible. Not everybody is aware of the existence of a variety of dictionary types, each having to comply with its own typological criteria and help a specific target user group in a particular way to meet their specific needs in accordance with their research skills. One particular dictionary can’t be everything for everybody – that is something that dictionary users often have to be reminded of. The fact that each specific dictionary has a distinct role in the recording and reproduction of language is also seldom emphasised. Moreover, the fact that between the wealth of dictionaries there is one which can be seen as the crown jewel of the dictionary family is also not always recognised. This jewel is the comprehensive explanatory dictionary, and in Afrikaans this typological place is occupied by the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language), commonly known as the WAT.

The WAT as comprehensive dictionary is a source of information – as supplement, as affirmation and often also as reminder. But as Afrikaans source of reminding it is not only the content of the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal that is relevant, but the history of this dictionary as well that calls one’s attention to numerous places of remembrance. As far as the content of the WAT is concerned, one must take note of the fact that a comprehensive dictionary typically consists of multiple volumes compiled over decades – for example, it took 148 years to complete the comprehensive Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (The Dictionary of the Dutch Language). The comprehensiveness of such a dictionary lies in its choice of items included for treatment, in the variety of data types that are treated in the dictionary as well as the nature and the extent of their treatment. The comprehensiveness with regard to the choice of words brings about the fact that such a dictionary includes a lot of words and phrases for treatment and in that way makes the user aware of various old and lesserknown language forms. The dictionary becomes a recollection of bygone and less ordinary language use; this is what the WAT is par excellence. In his reaction to a very negative discussion of his Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of 1961 in Life magazine, a discussion which, like many others, condemned this dictionary for not being prescriptive enough, the American lexicographer Philip Gove said the following:
The responsibility of a dictionary is to record language, not set its style. For us to attempt to prescribe language would be like Life reporting the news as its editors would prefer it to happen.
Read more

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Colonial Film Database ~ Moving Images of the British Empire

Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.

The Colonial Film project united universities (Birkbeck and University College London) and archives (British Film Institute, Imperial War Museum and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum) to create a new catalogue of films relating to the British Empire. The ambition of this website is to allow both colonizers and colonized to understand better the truths of Empire.

Take a look: http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/home

 

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