Dan Roodt, Raiders of the Lost Empire: South Africa’s ‘English’ Identity, praag.org, 2014.
It may surprise American readers to know that for most of South Africa’s history, the “race problem” referred to friction between the British and the Dutch/Afrikaners. AR contributor and conference speaker Dan Roodt’s new book describes how that older conflict paved the way for black rule, and how it now contributes to the campaign against the one authentic white identity in South Africa: that of the Afrikaners. Dr. Roodt, himself an Afrikaner, paints a haunting picture of a genuine white nation, with no home but Africa, under assault not only from blacks but from the entire English-speaking world.
The first Dutch emigrants settled near the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, and today’s Afrikaners are descended from about 40,000 Dutchmen, Germans and Frenchmen who were already established in South Africa by the 18th Century. By the time the British arrived in the 19th century, the earlier settlers had blended to form a nation with a unified consciousness and a language of their own that was already different from Dutch. To this day, for the majority of whites in South Africa, Afrikaans is the language of the heart, of memory, of the countryside, of their ancestors. Afrikaans was the operating language of the old South African Defense Forces, which associated the language with loyalty and sacrifice.
As Dr. Roodt explains, the English sent to colonize the Eastern Cape never became a nation:
Unaccustomed to the hardships of life in Africa, and subject to Xhosa aggression, many of these settlers either died or actually went back to Britain. Unlike in the USA, where a local identity did take root, while still expressed in English, South African English identity has remained amorphous and fleeting.
Today, of the 4.2 million or so whites in South Africa, about 60 percent (2.5 million) speak Afrikaans as their first language, while something under 40 percent (1.6 million) speak English. Dr. Roodt notes that of the latter number, many are:
anglicised Portuguese, Greeks and assimilated Afrikaners, not to forget about the Lithuanian Jews, so that there must be only a million or so ‘real English’ in South Africa. Being everybody’s second or third language, no one in South Africa speaks or writes English very well either. South African English is considerably creolised and ugly . . . sometimes mimicking black speech.
The 3.9 million black English-speakers greatly outnumber white English-speakers, and give the language a strongly African flavor. South African universities have made matters worse by eliminating the study of classic English literature in favor of recent “Black and African literature in English.”
Even many of the one million “real English” are recent arrivals with shallow roots in South Africa:
Many Britons fled Harold Wilson’s socialist Britain [in the 1960s]. Up to 500,000 of these economic refugees immigrated to South Africa . . . . Most of them were politically conservative, but the booming South African economy allowed their children to fully participate in the decadent Anglo-American hippie culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them also went to our English universities where they were re-educated into the various strands of Marxism then en vogue, as well as Boerehaat [hatred of Boer-Afrikaners]. The English language bound the younger generation to the radical ideas emanating from the USA and the UK, despite the conservative notions of their parents. Some of them even became terrorists. They participated in protests and clamoured to be freed from the Afrikaner government that treated them more fairly than any English government has ever treated us, including having their own schools and their own universities in their own language where they were virtually free to do and say what they wanted, including calling for the overthrow of the government.
It was this generation of English-speaking South African leftists who worked from within to overthrow white rule and demonize Afrikaners, but they had important allies: 1) the Brits back home; 2) the Litvaks, or Lithuanian Jews; and 3) the “Afro-Saxons,” a term Dr. Roodt uses to describe anglophile Blacks.
England was an important center of the international anti-apartheid movement:
In the 1970s and 1980s, Britain harboured the terrorists who blew up our restaurants or who placed car bombs in our streets. Much of the terrorism perpetrated . . . by the ANC and the SACP was conceived and planned in London. Some individuals from England have told me to my face that we Afrikaners deserve to be tortured to death by blacks and our women to be raped, for having oppressed blacks in the past.
Many of our forebears had fought on the Allied side during the two world wars and in Korea, but we were simply thrown to the dogs! That includes patriotic English South Africans and Rhodesians. Britain’s betrayal of Ian Smith, an RAF pilot during the second world war, and its installation of a radical Africanist and Marxist-Leninist, Robert Mugabe, to rule that formerly successful state, shows us what madness Englishmen are capable of.
Many of the English in South Africa still do not understand what was done to Rhodesia:
I remember at university here in Johannesburg when the news was announced over the radio that the radical Mugabe had won, how all the English students raucously applauded, just [as] they are still lauding his ‘land reform’ and ethnic cleansing of white farmers.
As for the Litvaks, “eighty percent of South African Jews came from Lithuania, mostly in the 1890s right after gold was discovered.” Many of the most famous white anti-apartheid figures descend from this group, including Helen Suzman, novelist Nadine Gordiner, and Communist Party boss Joe Slovo. Dr. Roodt believes that Jews did not feel at home under Afrikaner rule–despite the close cooperation between Israel and the apartheid regime–and helping overthrow the government was a way to resolve their own identity crisis. Many, of course, found that the black government they got is not the black government they wished for.
And radical though they may have been, this Jewish group nurtured a surprising and paradoxical devotion to the British monarchy, and were bitterly disappointed when South Africa became a republic after Afrikaners passed a referendum in 1960 over strong opposition from Litvaks and English-speakers.
Dr. Roodt recalls that:
What ultimately pushed so many Johannesburg Jews such as Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils and the accused of the Rivonia Trial [at which Nelson Mandela was convicted] into espousing terrorism and an intense hatred of Afrikaners, was not so much racial segregation to which few whites, including leftists, objected, but the loss of the British monarchy. Years ago, when I had my first date as a student with a Jewish girl in Houghton, Johannesburg, I half expected her mother to look askance at me for being a goy, but the first thing she told me in a vaguely accusatory manner was how much she loved the British monarchy, seeing in me a representative of the people that took it away from her!
Dr. Roodt believes that repudiating the British crown was also a great stimulus to the radical black movement, and was a far more powerful motivation even than Marxism, which, outside the four English universities and a few fringe publications, had little influence. He believes it was the proclamation of the republic in 1961 that led Joe Slovo, as well as Nelson Mandela, to embrace the urban terrorism that was known as “armed struggle.”
As for black Anglophilia, Dr. Roodt thinks that by 1970, and especially after the Soweto riots, blacks were convinced that the larger English-speaking world backed them and opposed the apartheid government. The Carter administration probably played an important role in this, but the British influence was paramount in convincing blacks that English was the language of liberation. Even today:
[T]hose revolutionary blacks who fulminate against ‘colonialism and capitalist exploitation’ are the first to adopt the outward trappings of what they imagine a British gentleman to be. They play golf and drive expensive cars. They also drink whisky, of the expensive ‘single malt’ kind, in copious amounts. Julius Malema, the radical black nationalist, is himself something of an Englishman, being a connoisseur of whisky and expensive cars. He dresses like a British soccer player, with flashy watches and brightly coloured polo shirts.
Even Nelson Mandela explains in his autobiography that:
The educated Englishman was our model; what we aspired to be were ‘black Englishmen,’ as we were sometimes derisively called. We were taught–and believed–that the best ideas were English ideas, the best government was English government, and the best men were Englishmen.
Of course, whatever opposition others mounted against the regime, Afrikaners were ultimately betrayed by their own leaders, who foolishly adopted the Anglo-American view of blacks. Dr. Roodt believes that 1961 to 1983 were the “golden years” of white solidarity, after which Swedish funding for radical black groups and the international campaign of vilification began to break the Afrikaner will. In his capitulation to black rule, F. W. de Klerk and his circle completely repudiated what Afrikaners–both experts and ordinary people–had thought and written about the racial problem for over a hundred years.
The black rule that has followed has been a great victory of English-speakers over Afrikaners. Dr. Roodt even goes so far as to write that today, English-speaking leftists are:
the most powerful tribe in South Africa . . . bred in the claustrophobic confines of the anglophone universities, nourished on their petty hatred and chauvinism against Afrikaners, and [now] distributed throughout the system, in the universities, naturally, but also in the media, the state and even the banks and big business. They are ‘the white hand in the black glove.’ Behind every black figurehead there is always some white handler or speechwriter who lays down policy or manages communication to the outside world.
And yet, this English elite feels only a contingent attachment to South Africa:
According to De Kock, [Leon de Kock, an anglicised Afrikaner and self-styled “critic”] local English authors are nowadays seeing themselves as sovereign individuals who no longer belong to any country but might as well write stories set in Seattle or Manchester, to appeal to a wider audience. Being born and raised in South Africa is an accident of history that they might as well do without.
Dr. Roodt writes that this combination of rootless Anglophilia and the poverty of African tradition means that to a remarkable degree, South Africa’s identity is now based on imitation:
South Africa, especially these days, is trying to decide whether we should emulate Idi Amin’s Uganda or some cargo cult on the island of Vanuatu. You could call the system here a ‘cargo-cult democracy’ and as long as we spend about a billion dollars or so every five years on an election, in between elections it’s anything goes. Anarchy, or close to it.
However, elections serve only to give the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ to a system in which power changes hands elsewhere: in the ruling party’s headquarters or in dark deals cut with whomever benefits from the system financially.
Speaking of Vanuatu, I first became aware of the existence of this island in the early nineties when I noticed the remarkable resemblance between ‘our’ flag and that of Vanuatu. If there were such a thing as plagiarism in flags, South Africa would be guilty of it. Yet, South Africanness, at least after the decline of Afrikaner influence, is proudly imitatory. The closer one gets in passing oneself off as British, the more ‘South African’ one becomes. Plagiarism at university, at both under- and postgraduate level, is absolutely rife as students ‘copy and paste’ the words and thoughts of others in order to obtain one of our increasingly worthless degrees.
In other societies a lack of authenticity, or ersatz, showing no originality, or being a copy of something else, a simulacrum, is frowned upon. Not so in South Africa. It is part of ‘our’ colonial heritage.
In this context, English speakers object to Afrikaner identity because it is authentic:
- Afrikaners have roots in South Africa.
- Afrikaners have a national identity, which from both an imperial and Marxist point of view is undesirable, even ‘fascist.’
- Afrikaans culture, both the earthy, rural culture of braaivleis [barbecued meat] and walking around in shorts and velskoene [leather shoes], and the high culture of literature, classical music and European-style intellectualism is authentic and not ersatz.
- To some extent Afrikaners are endogamous, preferring their own kind, which blasphemes against the Anglo-American ideal of multiculturalism.
Beneath all this, writes Dr. Roodt, is envy. The English-speakers have nothing like the Voortrekker Monument; their heritage contains nothing like the Battle of Blood River. Until recently, 90 percent of the monuments in South Africa had been erected by Afrikaners. The history of the land was the history of their people, and at some level, all non-Afrikaners know they have been mere spectators. Afrikaners have their own pop music, their own romance and detective novels set locally, their own movies, their own cuisine, their own folk dances and folk music; English-speakers have none of this.
Envy can be ugly. As Dr. Roodt notes, “Some years ago, would-be British movie critic and man-about-town, Barry Ronge, said that the Voortrekker Monument should be painted pink and turned into a gay disco.” Dr. Roodt writes that often it is only after they have fled the “new” South Africa they helped create that English-speakers look back with longing on the Boer culture they left behind.
For those committed to the “new” South Africa, the most obvious way to attack Afrikaners is to attack their language. When the Anglo-Litvak-Afro-Saxon elite took over South Africa in 1994, they gave South Africa eleven official languages, which amounts to no official language. In practice, English is exclusively promoted as the national language:
The ANC-SACP government, egged on by Anglo-Saxon imperialists within the system, has imposed English on all education in South Africa, especially the five Afrikaans universities, [which] were summarily merged with English-language institutions. All or most of the state’s resources are being used to promote English, in a bid to kill off Afrikaans completely. . . . The treatment of Afrikaans after 1994 flies in the face of all UN Covenants and treaties, as well as international norms, such as UNESCO’s Universal Declaration of Language Rights.
English is said to represent the future, progress, broad-mindedness, openness to the world and . . . money-making. “In post-revolutionary, anglicised South Africa,” writes Dr. Roodt, “we have been told ad nauseam that clinging to one’s own language or culture, one’s own cuisine or music or traditional dress, is utterly primitive and should be abandoned forthwith.”
Some English-speaking blacks even take this view of African tribal customs, and want blacks to become westernized, politically correct feminists. Zulus, who policed other blacks under apartheid and fought the ANC, are targets, but of course it is the Afrikaners who bear the brunt of this sort of hectoring. It is often said that Afrikaner devotion to a language unknown outside South Africa is not economically rational, and to those who think exclusively in economic terms, this is incomprehensible. But then, loyalty and sacrifice are incomprehensible to such people.
Some Afrikaners are at least outwardly turning their backs on their heritage. At universities and in the media, some change their names and pretend not to speak Afrikaans in order to keep their jobs. And at least a few have internalized their enemies’ views: Afrikaner novelist André Brink has gone so far as to proclaim that “my people do not deserve to exist and should disappear.”
Dr. Roodt is not hostile to the English language; he has an extensive knowledge of English literature which would put many native speakers to shame. What he opposes is English as a “killer language”–a term recently coined for “a language so dominant that it tends to wipe out all others.” Language is an important ingredient of identity for black and white South Africans alike, and Dr. Roodt believes that “killer English” is partly to blame for the:
lack of identity [which] drives the need for drugs, for drink, prostitution, gambling and the vast spectrum of vices consuming South Africa, at once the most decadent and the most criminal of countries in the world. The corollary of deracinated English is that there is a constant process of identity-seeking and whether one finds one’s identity in drugs, golf, adopting a ‘posh’ British accent, or radical politics, is a matter of choice or chance.
A weak sense of identity is usually destructive. Afrikaners, who often lived close to blacks and learned their languages, understood this, while “the Englishman has kept himself aloof, residing in all-white suburbs fulminating about ‘racism’.” Many years ago, Afrikaners were writing that “simply uprooting black Africans from their traditional culture and subjecting them to a superficial ‘Westernisation’ and anglicisation would lead to identity loss and ethnopsychological destabilisation [which] would in turn unleash intense violence and social decay.” Dr. Roodt quotes a warning written by Afrikaner anthropologist J. P. Bruwer in 1961:
No people, no community, no pattern of life, may maintain values unless they are supported by a system of conservative ideas, a positive attitude to life that is rooted in a lived culture. Precisely herein lies the danger of a destabilised people, a destabilised community and a destabilised cultural tradition. A people or peoples that have been deracinated and torn away from the substance of their civilisation must become bearers of ‘other value systems’ that will ultimately overwhelm the existing society in which they are essentially aliens.
The South Africans who are most deracinated, both in terms of race and language, are South Africa’s mixed-race population:
The population group in South Africa with the most social problems regarding crime, substance abuse, a high drop-out rate and lack of tertiary education, are the so-called Coloureds of the Western and Northern Cape. Forty percent of children among Northern Cape Coloureds suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. In the Western Cape especially, Coloureds speak a shifting English-Afrikaans Creole, a tragicomic tongue expressing the travails of a hybrid people. Hybridity, which is so celebrated by left-liberals the world over, seems to lead to a tragic, dysfunctional society of violence, drug and alcohol abuse.
Needless to say, the new elite encourages the production of as many of these unfortunate people as possible:
Within the hurricane of platitudes and PC clichés spat out on a daily basis by the inane South African media, the notion of race-mixing is always held up as the ultimate ideal. Almost every billboard has some racially mixed couple or crowd [engaged in] a ritual of consumption.
As Nadine Gordimer declared, “White and Black must make Colored,” though she herself married fellow Litvak Jews–twice.
The Afrikaner people are clearly under attack from all sides: from blacks who resent them, from English-speakers who envy and despise them, and from the larger white world that will never forgive them for taking the measures they found necessary to build a European society in Africa. Their stark numerical disadvantage–they are perhaps 5 percent of South Africa’s population–means the stakes are higher and the crisis sharper for them than for other European peoples. But they are a heroic people, and if they rally to spokesmen like Dan Roodt, they will surely have a future.