This morning a man passed me
with a T-shirt that says, “Praat Afrikaans of hou jou bek!” – “Speak Afrikaans
or shut up!” As I passed the man I
wondered what would motivate someone to proclaim something like that? This reminded me, once again, that
South Africans are diverse; that there are no monolithic definitions for the
different groupings in our country.
The man who passed me fits a
certain stereotype of Afrikaner men.
And maybe even that is not true – he might wear this T-shirt as a form
of sarcasm. In “Knowledge of the
blood” Jonathan Jansen points out that in South Africa,
“It would be a mistake,
however, to cast all whites (or for that matter all Afrikaners) as expressing a
monolithic response to defeat.
Among Afrikaners, there are at least three responses to history,
transition, and the future.”
happened – now get over it!
- Terrible things
The first group believes
that apartheid wasn’t bad. That it
was an experiment that had its good – and a few bad points. For this group, “What whites achieved was on the basis of
their own hard work in a barren land through superior skills”
The second group knows that
something was bad about apartheid.
Yet, they think that the hype about it is exaggerated and therefore to
dwell on the past should stop.
This group, therefore, find it absolutely incomprehensible to revisit
the apartheid era’s stories. “Let
is just move on – democracy is here and the playing field is now level” is one
of the sentiments in this group.
The third group is
subdivided into another three groups.
Those who believe something terrible has happened can be described as
activists, gradualists and confessionalists.
The activists are those who actively opposed the apartheid regime. “In this group there is immediate
concession of privilege, that what they have is a direct result of being
treated differently as whites, and a consequence of the dispossession meted out
against blacks. This group of whites does not need to be told that something
happened; it readily owns up to a terrible past.”
The gradualists are those who, after 1994, came to the realization what
happened under the apartheid era.
“This is a group that does not want to speak about the past; its members
are quiet but acknowledging of the terrible past. They will often work determinedly to correct wrongs, advance
affirmative policies for the excluded, defend practices that include others,
and even demonstrate considerable sensitivity towards blacks as they grasp the
enormity of the terrible things that happened.”
The confessionalists are
those who can remember direct incidents of how their racism caused pain. This group “want to talk”, “they want
to talk, in order to confront the demons within themselves and settle and
reconcile with those whom they hurt and despised not long ago.” Adriaan Vlok is a prime example of
someone in the confessionalist group.
A few weeks ago, after a
particularly tough session in our interracial group, Jacques wrote a blog post
in which he verbalized some of his own frustrations of being cast into a
monolithic stereotype of an “Afrikaner”.
I don’t want to be
stereotyped, dismissed, ignored, burdened with the tons of baggage simply
because I’m part of a particular group. In essence, and here’s the kicker, I
don’t want to be treated the way we have treated blacks for decades.
Jansen’s descriptions help to differentiate. I find this
helpful and hopeful. My question
for the day: “where do you think followers of Jesus should fall in the above
- Nothing happened.
- Something happened – so let’s get on?
- Something terrible happened? (Activist, Gradualist, Confessionalist)?
- A combination?
I would highly recommend Alexander Venter and Trevor Ntlhola’s book “doing Reconciliation” on this topic. In Chapter 4 they discuss “Facing our Apartheid history.”
They note the following on “saying sorry”,
“How did the churches respond to the TRC? In June 1997 a handful ecumenical and evangelical leaders, including a few respected Afrikaners, sent an Open Letter to 12 000 pastors and leaders of Christian organizations in SA. It was a general letter of confession for pastors and churches to acknowledge their failure during the apartheid era. Only 610 signed and returned it, and this was submitted to the TRC on 15 November 1997. This poor response must be put into context. Thirty four official submissions were made to the TRC by denominations and Christian organizations, many obviously speaking for thousands of individual pastors and congregations. This must in turn be seen against the backdrop of the 1800 church denominations in SA, excluding Christian organisations. The church’s response was disappointing.p.119
Emmanuel Katongole, Introduction and Chapter 1 …
I’m currently in the United States and just arrived in San Antonio for a Renovare conference. This is my first time in Texas (outside of an airport) and I can tell you that it’s hot here!
Nevertheless, I’m currently reading a fantastic book entitled “A future for Africa” by Emmanuel Katongole. [It would be great to start a group that interacts on the content of this book - drop me a note if you're interested]
The book consists of essays by Emmanuel. He is an Ugandan who currently teaches at Duke. In the book’s introduction he talks about the challenge of developing a social ethic that is descriptive before it becomes prescriptive. Or to use a computer analogy … before you download funky applications you need to understand the operating system. You cannot load Mac software onto a PC (though you can load PC software on a Mac, but I digress).
He contends that a lot of ethics in Africa aim at telling Africans what to do, he states that, “by focusing on recommendations, Christian ethics does not fully and critically engage the reality of politics in Africa, especially the fact that politics involves the formation of identities. A preoccupation with prescriptions does not, therefore, highlight the specific type of identities formed within post-colonial politics.”
The problems in Africa, therefore does not garner quick fixes, because they, “are wired within the imaginative landscape of Africa”p.xi. These landscapes are wired into our collective memories and are embodied in our daily rhythms. Because it runs in the background of society, these scripts (or operating systems) are taken for granted and it is precisely this memory that has to be discovered and “unlearned”p.23.
In Chapter 1 cleverly titled , “Remembering Idi Amin: On Violence, Ethics and social memory in Africa” – Katongole explore the importance of memory. This memory include historical facts but is much more than just the factual. The task of memory,
“ … is in fact a conversation about the present. It involves taking a closer look at who we are in the present – our current responses, reactions, and patterns of life – and trying to situate that within a narrative of social/political history” p.19
Here are some of my thoughts on this …
- It is disconcerting to me how fast white South Africans want to move past the memories of Apartheid. This kind of amnesia that is prevalent in the talk of the beneficiaries of oppression serves a particular agenda; to keep the status quo.
- This task of remembering is very urgent given, “the current modes of social ethic, most of which is involves a calculated forgetfulness of the past and a naïve optimism and invitation to “move on.”p.21.
- Though Katongole urges us to move beyond factual memories, I think most white South Africans haven’t explored the memories of our country. Therefore, I would propose that any church should strongly encourage their membership to explore our country’s history. Visit the Apartheid museum, talk to the previous perpetrators of Apartheid, talk to the victims, read on people who resisted (Tutu, Beyers Naude, Biko), repent, forgive, reconcile [remembering that prescriptive actions like that last sentence should follow descriptive exploration].
- Personally I’m thinking that at Claypot, membership should be dependent upon a process of remembering.
- Katongole states that one of the reasons we need to remember is that the oppressed who are liberated can easily become just like the oppressors. That’s why God continually tells Israel to remember their slavery and by implications their taskmasters. When we forget we become what we despised. For white South Africans this can pertain to our accusatory stance towards our parents – if we only show a finger the chances are that we will make the same kind of mistakes.
“ … unless we are, as individuals and as communities, able to examine our present patterns of life and choices, and locate them within a comprehensive narrative of social history, we are neither able to understand who we are in the present nor clearly able to see the alternatives that might be available to us. Only by confronting the past, which still somehow lives on in the present, are we able to envision or imagine meaningful and viable alternatives for the future.” p.7
`Forgiveness’ is a word that easily trips off our tongues, especially if we are not the victims of oppression and injustice. It is easy for us who are not victims to tell them to forgive their enemies; it is also relatively easy for oppressors to ask for forgiveness. The problem is that forgiveness can be manipulated by the dominant in such a way that it strengthens their position and weakens that of the victim. Forgiveness thus becomes a tool in the manipulation of power relations, making the oppressed even more a victim of injustice. John de Grunchy
Wednesday evening was special. A group of friends from the Diepsloot squatter camp drove to the suburbs to be with us. We had a vey good time together. Together we decided to do questions and answers. Claypot asked a question followed by an answer from Diepsloot and then a question from Diepsloot was followed by an answer from the Pot. It was fun and we all learnt a lot.
Eddie and I were censored (for we talk a lot) even though Eddie cleverly sneaked in a question by posing as a Claypot member – he asked “As a Claypot member I would like to know why you would like to fellowship with us?” We all had a good laugh at his subversive tactics.
The answer to Eddie’s question left me with an intense struggle for the last few days. One of the answers was the following, “We like to fellowship with you because you have the keys to prosperity”.
Now first of all in this sentence the word prosperity has to be deconstructed. It is not prosperity in the sense of a second and third car, an extra vacation house or other aspects that we in the suburbs would define as prosperous. For this person it means the basics needed to survive. And for him we had the keys towards this and we could teach him to also open the future with these keys.
It’s hard for me to verbalize why I feel uneasy being placed in this position. What I do know is that Jesus gave his original disciples the ‘keys to the kingdom’ not the ‘keys to prosperity’. This whole incident reminds me of Kierkegaard’s quip that,
Gold and silver I do not have, but I give you what I have; stand up and walk,” said Peter. Later on the clergy were saying: Gold and silver we have – but we have nothing to give. Provocations (free e-book) p.226
For this dear brother our fellowship could help him to get access to ‘gold and silver’. And please understand me; I do believe that there is a place for economic restitution and education in the post-Apartheid South African church. It’s just that this statement shocked me into the reality of how poor the white church has become if we are only viewed as those who ‘have the keys towards prosperity”.