The War on Afrikaans
Dan Roodt, American Renaissance, April 13, 2016
Two months ago, student demonstrators burned two buildings at the all-black Mafikeng campus of South Africa’s North West University. One was the main administration building, which housed all university records. The administration was forced to close the campus indefinitely. Ironically, the black students immediately asked if they could then be housed at the university’s majority-white Potchefstroom campus, where heavy security was put in place to stop any would-be arsonists.
At about the same time, the University of Pretoria was closed for at least two weeks after clashes between white and black students over what was euphemistically termed its “language policy.” Trouble started in late 2015, when examinations had to be postponed by one week.
Conflict of this kind is a sharp departure from the tradition of South African universities. The University of Pretoria is not like Europe’s left-wing universities with their graffiti-covered walls. Its manicured lawns and pristine buildings testify to a seriousness and austerity that barely tolerates student politics.
One would have to go back many years to find a political disturbance even remotely like the kind we see today. In 1919, an Afrikaner-nationalist student, W.J. Erlank, burned a British flag at the University of Pretoria and was expelled for it. He later became a famous Afrikaans poet under the pen name of “Eitemal,” but not even that incident disturbed the rigid succession of semesters and examinations.
The growing presence of black students has clearly changed our campuses. Black hostility towards the Afrikaans language derives from a variety of causes, but it is often claimed that Afrikaans is “associated with Afrikaner rule and with apartheid.” However, underneath the surface there are various other reasons why blacks and leftists resent Afrikaans. Whether blacks study in English or in Afrikaans, they get lower grades and have higher dropout rates. This leads to resentment of university administrations and of whites generally.
On the English-language campuses black failure is normally ascribed either to white racism or the lingering effects of their parents’ or grandparents’ “deficient education.” But on the Afrikaans campuses, where most blacks can also take classes in English, there is a theory that “whites do better because they are studying in their mother tongue.” Since 1976, South African blacks have explicitly rejected any form of mother-tongue education because of its association with “Bantu education,” or the form of segregated black education that had evolved during the 20th century under white governments.
Blacks saw English as a kind of magic ticket to American-style consumerism. Under the administration of President Jimmy Carter, there was an American “information campaign” in Soweto to get local blacks to adopt the US discourse of civil rights which, of course, was all in English. If they spoke global English, all black children would grow up to become politicians, bankers, or businessmen, and not carpenters, plumbers, or auto mechanics communicating only with their lowly brothers in the so-called townships of South Africa.
Prestige and social status play a huge role in Africa. Presidents in Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicles escorted with flashing lights have perhaps become the symbol of postcolonial Africa and South Africa is no exception. What goes for cars, goes for languages, and global English is seen as the Mercedes of languages. Many aspiring middle-class South African blacks are actually ditching their own languages to speak English to their children.
So anti-Afrikaans hostility is at best a paradox. On the one hand, blacks tend to see Afrikaans as “just another local language,” which of course it isn’t. Although standardized in South Africa in the 19th century, it is a European language sharing 95 percent of its vocabulary with modern Dutch. However absurd this may sound outside (and even within) South Africa, Afrikaans is seen by blacks as a kind of “upstart white language” and bearer of “white privilege.” According to many blacks, Afrikaans students perform better because they enjoy a “better rapport with lecturers.” Blacks and leftists also claim that Afrikaans culture is inherently “racist” and leads to segregation.
In my view, these are mere rationalizations for a deep racial resentment against whites. The real reason blacks want to “abolish Afrikaans” at universities is that it would be a way of hurting Afrikaners by taking away something they obviously value. In the background, there are white liberals and leftists whose own power has always depended on inciting black racial narcissism and resentment. As in the United States, white liberals relish the sight of black mobs causing mayhem which they may blame on white racism and “exclusion.” Such whites find Afrikaans an expedient target and they have used it with success to focus black rage on their enemies: those “racist” or “right-wing” whites who still cling to some kind of Western or European identity.
Apart from demanding no annual increase in college fees, or no fees at all under the slogan “Fees must fall,” blacks have issued a new ultimatum: “Afrikaans must fall.” Before the ANC came to power, the University of Pretoria, for example, was an all-Afrikaans university, but mindful of government pressure, it now offers lectures in both Afrikaans and English.
A dual language policy is not enough, however, for black radical groups on campus. One such group is the youth branch of Julius Malema’s Afro-Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). It styles itself as a kind of urban guerilla movement. Its members wear red shirts and military-style berets, and call themselves the EFF “Student Command.” Together with other groups such as PASMA (Pan-African Students Movement of Azania) and UPrising, it claims that Afrikaner students are “advantaged” by being able to study or write exams in their own language while blacks must contend with English. Naturally, every white or even Indian English-speaker is equally “advantaged” by being educated in his home language, but somehow that does not count.
Another argument for “abolishing Afrikaans” is that since African languages are not developed enough to be used at university level, Afrikaans should not be “privileged” in this way either. This is like saying that because there is no Inuit-language university in Canada, no courses should be taught in French. Also, blacks say they do not feel welcome in places where they hear Afrikaans, especially in university dormitories where “Afrikaner culture is forced upon them.”
The sense of black entitlement in South Africa has come to resemble that of the blacks at Princeton who recently invaded the office of president Christopher Eisgruber, where they shouted, “We own this place, it is ours!” Most blacks consider South Africa’s universities to be “theirs.” The whites who founded and developed them are passing tenants who should soon be issued eviction orders. So it is often claimed that white Afrikaners (who pay far more taxes on average than blacks) are “wasting our money on maintaining their language.” In addition, most whites pay their own way to study at university, while blacks get scholarships or government loans–which few ever repay.
The assault on Afrikaner heritage can be violent. At the Pretoria campus, white male students blocked off menacing blacks and kept damage to a minimum, but not so at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and the University of Cape Town, where black mobs have attacked statues and torn paintings from walls and burned them.
One statue destroyed was that of Charles Robberts Swart, who replaced the British monarch as titular head of state when South Africa became a republic in 1961. The Commonwealth threatened to impose black rule even then, prompting prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd to withdraw from that body. C.R. Swart was a lawyer and farmer who founded the Voortrekkers, the Afrikaner equivalent of the Boy Scouts. He offended no one and eventually retired to his farm “De Aap” (Dutch for “The Ape”) in his beloved Free State. However, his statue on the Bloemfontein campus was attacked by a black mob armed with metal bars who toppled it from its plinth and lit a bonfire around it. I doubt anyone in the mob had actually researched Swart or even knew who he was. He was simply a symbol of South Africa’s white past and therefore anathema.
C.R. Swart’s statue was vandalized more or less with the acquiescence of the university’s president, the coloured (mixed-race in South African parlance) Jonathan Jansen who self-identifies as “black,” and his vice president, a white Argentinian left-wing lesbian by the name of Lis Lange.
One would think that the Spanish-speaking Lange would have some tolerance for a non-English language such as Afrikaans, but no. She has been in the forefront of attempts to ban Afrikaans from lecture halls at the University of the Free State. Because of a kind of university executive decree, barring a court ruling to the contrary, from 2017 there will be no more Afrikaans instruction at the University of the Free State. The Free State is arguably the most Afrikaans-speaking province in South Africa; even the Sotho-speaking blacks speak it among themselves as a lingua franca. But such is the racial and cultural poison that has now taken possession of South Africa.
Hostility has reached the point that even the leader of the South African Communist Party and Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Blade Nzimande, has warned against “the danger of racial conflict” that could come from “anti-white chauvinism.” He was referring specifically to the slogan, “Kill all whites,” worn on T-shirts by black students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, but he also reaffirmed the ANC regime’s stance of not being officially hostile to Afrikaans. As he explained in an interview:
We are not fighting Afrikaans. Afrikaans is one of our official languages. But what we are against is for Afrikaans to be used to exclude students who do not actually speak the language, at a university level. That is what is a problem.
Of course, all languages “exclude” others. The Russians, the French, the Japanese, the Italians, the Poles, for example, have universities in their own languages, and produce books and films that “exclude” anyone who can’t speak those languages. But in South Africa, the argument is that any institution that does not bend over backwards to accommodate black students in their preferred language–usually English–“excludes” them.
In the United States, we can imagine Hispanic students demanding that the University of Texas offer all courses in Spanish as well as English so as not to “exclude” them. If that demand were met, white students would still get better grades, so the next step would be to demand that English be abolished and that all courses be taught in Spanish. That would “level the playing field” and “bring diversity to the student body.”
For black students in South Africa, Afrikaans is a target because it is a language few of them speak. But the larger target is whites. Blacks vandalized the statue of the English-speaking imperialist and statesman Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town with the same anti-white ardor as the bronze image of C.R. Swart. As I wrote a year ago on the first wave of violent protest against white symbols:
The actual removal by truck and crane (of Rhodes’s statue) was a considerable victory for the anti-white side, as it was broadcast on national television, with pictures in all the newspapers. Excited young blacks climbed onto the statue as it was being lifted, throwing paint on the old imperialist, as if vicariously attacking the entire white population and everything it has done for four centuries.
The reason South African blacks are so “besotted with English,” as I have put it, has nothing to do with it being the language of England and America, and therefore a repository of Western culture. They see it instead as an instrument of power and status. English goes with an S-class Mercedes, a Rolex watch, or a pair of Gucci shoes.
At Johannesburg’s biggest shopping centre, the 1,380,000 square-feet Sandton City complex, there is a whole corridor devoted to luxury European brands: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabanna, Cartier, etc. One hardly ever sees white people at these temples of luxury; the store assistants are black and the customers are black, except for a few Asian tourists perhaps staying in the nearby five-star hotels. The world of that kind of status is already black. Increasingly, I am beginning to understand why stoicism became a popular philosophy among patrician Romans during the days of Empire.
Africans are very aware of status and rank. Joseph Mobutu, the long-time dictator of Zaire, officially changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which means, roughly, “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” He also bestowed titles on himself, such as “Father of the Nation,” “Messiah,” and “Savior of the People.”
Idi Amin Dada’s full title, as announced by Radio Uganda in 1977, was “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE.” The last abbreviation stood for “Conqueror of the British Empire.”
If one digs a little deeper into the racial conflicts on South African campuses, one finds a constant interplay between superiority and inferiority. Just as Amin felt that he had “conquered” Britain, South African blacks interpret F.W. de Klerk’s haphazard surrender in 1994 to the ANC and South African Communist Party as a “grand victory” after years of “heroic struggle.” There is about as little factual evidence for this as of Amin’s conquest of the United Kingdom, yet this delusion is recited every day in the media. Mr. de Klerk thought he was negotiating a settlement, but according to the black version, or the white-liberal one–which amounts to essentially the same thing–he was negotiating the terms of white surrender.
And yet one arrives at a paradox: The son or daughter of a Mercedes-driving, Gucci-wearing, English-speaking black person, displaying all the accouterments of Western status and success, would still have a sense of “inferiority” when encountering a group of middle-class white kids engaging in some minor Afrikaner student ritual at one of the university residences. Either he would feel “excluded” from it, or if he participated, he would feel that it was being “imposed” on him.
Another argument frequently heard about statues and names of lecture halls, is that they remind blacks–and their white-liberal lackeys–of a “painful past” or of “white-supremacist history.” Likewise, the Afrikaans language itself is often called, even in the American and British media, “the language of apartheid.” Given that white-run South Africa was an officially bilingual country, like Canada or Belgium, English was also “a language of apartheid,” but somehow that does not count. For blacks, Afrikaans is the linguistic enemy, whereas they praise English as a “global” or “international” language.
The mainstream media of South Africa never refer to it, but there is an additional source of frustration on campus: black failure. In order to get a matric or a high-school diploma these days, one needs a 30 percent score in three subjects and 40 percent in another three. It is almost impossible to fail, yet many blacks still manage to. Those who do get the matric arrive all starry-eyed at some university where they are completely overwhelmed by the complexity of the material, and almost invariably drop out within the first six months. Then they have a government-sponsored loan to repay or they might even owe money to the university. They become ready recruits for the army of “activists” or “protesters” in and around the universities. They agitate against statues and Afrikaans or in favor of being given a second chance at passing their first year.
Although the universities maintain a blanket of silence over pass rates for the different races, here and there it is admitted that the black dropout rate is substantially higher than the white rate. A whole panoply of reasons is advanced for this, including “being disadvantaged by substandard schools,” a “lack of resources and encouragement at home,” “the legacy of apartheid and segregation,” and not being able to study in their own African languages.
If anyone announced to blacks that from tomorrow on they were to study in their home language they would surely burn the campus down. In fact, the famous black school riots of 1976 were against having African languages in the classroom, “mother-tongue education” being one of the ideas of the old white government’s educationists. Recognizing early on that relatively few blacks benefited from a strictly academic education, so-called “Bantu Education” used elements of German-style vocational training in order to give blacks marketable skills. It was also thought that blacks could evolve their own educational systems in their own languages, with schools and universities in black languages such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, and Tsonga.
Speak to any Québecois, and he will extol the virtues of education in his native French. Suggest the same thing to a South African black and he will accuse you of racism and trying to deprive him of global English, that magical language.
And yet, this lack of home-language instruction is often cited to explain the achievement gap. This then leads to the notion that, at least at the universities where Afrikaans is still used, Afrikaners enjoy an advantage over blacks by getting instruction in their home language. Afrikaans should therefore be “abolished” in the name of “equality.” Prof. J.C. or “Jaap” Steyn, who is an absolute fount of knowledge about South Africa’s tortured linguistic history, called this the quest for “an equality of misery.”
At least until recently, white students who spoke English as their mother tongue benefited from predominantly Afrikaans universities because they offered a serious, Western education, as opposed to the decidedly left-wing instruction of the former English universities: Natal, Rhodes (in Grahamstown), Cape Town, and Wits (the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg). Many conservative, English-speaking parents preferred to send their children to an Afrikaans university, rather than turn them into Marxists, feminists, or drug addicts–South Africa was still coping with the aftermath of the hippie era.
Afrikaans universities have therefore always been very tolerant and helpful towards non-Afrikaans speakers. Even before black rule, at some Afrikaans universities up to 20 percent of the students were English-speakers. They would attend lectures in Afrikaans, but use English textbooks and often write exams in English.
Unlike in Canada or Belgium, which are divided by language, English and Afrikaans whites generally get along very well and are bilingual to varying degrees. Only a small, virulently liberal elite eschews Afrikaans completely and hates the language for being associated with “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” and all the other clichés. So the initial influx of English-speakers at Stellenbosch caused no real problem.
At all-English universities, change was rapid after blacks took over. The University of Natal (now Kwazulu-Natal) was one of the first to be “Africanized,” and quickly slipped out of the top 500 universities world-wide. A liberal academic, R. W. Johnson, has described the reign of its fundamentalist black principal, Malegapuru Makgoba, who once claimed that blacks had surpassed whites on the evolutionary scale. Prof. Johnson says Africanization under Makgoba has been “calamitous.”
The result was white flight on a massive scale. The mostly English-speaking population of Natal province started sending their children to the University of Stellenbosch, which then changed from 100 percent Afrikaans to moderately bilingual Afrikaans-English. Only a few years ago, the government and liberal media complained bitterly that 94 percent of “Maties” (pronounced “maaties”) as the students are colloquially known, were still white.
I once had an online conversation with an English-speaking student from Natal province at Stellenbosch who said she enjoyed learning Afrikaans and interacting with Afrikaner students. Growing up in Natal, it was easy to get the impression that South Africa was an English-speaking country, but Stellenbosch had shown her how widespread Afrikaans culture was in most other provinces.
There was similar “white flight” in Johannesburg, though it was the Afrikaans-speaking university that succumbed first. There used to be two universities in Johannesburg, one English and one Afrikaans, within walking distance of each another. The Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) was long vilified by liberal academics from the English University of the Witwatersrand for being reactionary and even racist because it had few, if any black students. Its beautiful, modern campus, built during the 1970s, was even described as “fascist architecture.”
As soon as the ANC came to power, then-Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, merged RAU with two low-grade black institutions, ensuring a large black student body. Within a few years the campus went from white and Afrikaans to black and English. Some white students left to attend the rural University of Potchefstroom and some to the University of Pretoria. RAU is now called the University of Johannesburg.
Liberal, English “Wits” continued unscathed for a while, until its student body started to change, too. Towards the end of last year it bore the brunt of the student riots during the so-called “Fees must fall” agitation, with its principal, Adam Habib, being more or less held hostage by black students in the main administration building, where he was forced to “listen to their demands.” Most English-speaking whites in Johannesburg have now deserted Wits in favor of the University of Pretoria, which also used to be exclusively Afrikaans-speaking.
So we see that white students are now clustered in a handful of universities: Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Potchefstroom, and the Free State, all four of which were previously Afrikaans-only. There are also the University of Cape Town and the small Rhodes campus in Grahamstown, both exclusively English, which have also managed to maintain a student body that is more or less half white. Except for Rhodes, which does not make much national news, all the others have become “theaters of racial and cultural conflict”–because of fights over statues, paintings, names of buildings, the Afrikaans language, or other signs of white history.
The parallels with the United States are obvious; the only difference is that South Africa is further down the road to “the great replacement,” as French author Renaud Camus calls it. Eventually, all whites could be replaced by other races and their institutions changed or “transformed,” to use the politically correct South African cliché, into places where even the memory of the founders is “offensive” to the new owners.
At the same time, there is a sense among blacks that whites must be prevented from getting degrees. In the face of draconian affirmative-action laws and de facto discrimination against whites at all levels, a white child’s only hope is to get a sought-after degree that will enable him to get a job, regardless of racial quotas. Not surprisingly, one of the complaints against white students by blacks is that “they do not protest,” and that they complain when black threats or rioting bring the university to a standstill. For blacks, just wanting to study is an aberration.
The media are also to blame for the almost constant upheavals on campuses. As one liberal academic, Robert Morrell of the University of Cape Town, recently put it:
Campus violence has up to now occurred with virtually no action taken against perpetrators. They have operated with impunity. I cannot speculate about the reasons for the lack of consequence that has attended the perpetration of violence but the widespread sympathy of the media has contributed to the view that students are “right” and that their actions are therefore justified. In this sense, the media are complicit with the perpetration of campus violence because they contribute to a climate that legitimizes it.
Some whites are starting to fight back. On February 22, during a rugby game between the University of the Free State and another university from Port Elizabeth on the East Coast, a group of black student protesters forced their way onto the pitch, where they sang and danced. Normally, because of the climate of tolerance toward black violence and protest, such an incident would have passed without consequences. However, perhaps because one young black man hit a white woman over the head on his way to the pitch, some of the white student spectators and their rugby-keen fathers stormed onto the field and started beating up the protesters. A video of the battle showing blacks running away from the white spectators soon went viral in South Africa.
The rugby match went ahead as planned, and the UFS team won. The moral of the story is that whites will have to learn to resist the relentless drive for a kind of territorial domination that seems to characterize much of the conflict at South African universities. Only when whites stand their ground and fight back, be it an intellectual contest or a physical brawl, will there be any hope for the future.
Much of what happens in South Africa is so absurd that it sounds like an April Fools’ joke. But given the demographic possibility of an African planet, Europe and the United States could eventually find themselves in the same predicament. As Africa exports its burgeoning population, we can imagine masses of penniless Africans who want to study at Europe’s most prestigious universities. They will “demand”–that is the operative word–scholarships, loans, and admission to the Universities of Bologna, Heidelberg, Utrecht, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Charles University in Prague, etc. Universities will not only accommodate them, but reduce and finally abolish instruction in Italian, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Czech in favor of English, French and Arabic, the three main educational languages of Africa. Statues of whites at those universities, as well as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton, will be vandalized and eventually removed, since they would remind blacks of a “painful past” of colonialism and white supremacy.
Apart from Islam, antiracism is the most powerful religion in the world today. If not countered, it has the power eventually to dissolve the cultures of the West. The attack on Afrikaans is just a foretaste of what could come if we do not fight back.
Editor’s note: Mr. Roodt will be a speaker at the upcoming American Renaissance conference.