Yanna Erasmus

THE news that Koos Pretorius, seasoned Namibian politician, aims to create a traditional authority for white, Afrikaner Namibians piqued my curiosity. I am a second-generation descendant of the Dorslandtrekkers, my grandmother being a young woman on the return trek from Angola in the 1920s and, as an Afrikaner, I feel no cohesion with the 'culture' of my people.

I was schooled in English in a liberal home and it was much later in my life that I discovered the history of the Trekkers, the music of Koos du Plessis, the poetry of Charles Zandberg, the revolution of Voëlvry and the rise of the modern Afrikaner.

Still, I have no allegiance to concertinas, beesmisvloere, Springbok rugby, organised religion, quad-biking and hunting. And these are all part of my people's history and day-to-day pastimes.

I cannot listen to the bulk of so-called Afrikaans music, most of it, in my opinion, rubbish, and the behaviour of many of my fellow Afrikaners puts me to shame. With this in mind, I approached Pretorius with the hope of defining the white Afrikaner and illuminating exactly what the culture of 'my people' is. And of course, how a traditional authority for such a diverse group would function.

The Traditional Authorities Act of 2000 defines a member of a traditional community as a person whose parents belong to that community or any other person who by marriage or adoption into that community, has assimilated the culture and traditions of that community. The traditional authority means a chief or head of the community.

There is nothing in the law that prohibits Afrikaners from having a traditional authority except the premise in the law of communal land.

We have none. No, not even Gobabis.

Pretorius says about Afrikaner culture: "It is important to differentiate between an Afrikaans society and an Afrikaner society. Brown and black people speak Afrikaans but they do not share our history. Afrikaners have a common ancestry, as diverse as it may be and therefore, our culture does not exist in song and dance, for example, but in our values and traditions, our upbringing, education and so on. It is not about buildings and artwork. If one can say Namibia has a culture of democracy then culture can be defined in that self-same way.

"Our people come from a wide diversity of backgrounds from Europe and even after their arrival in Africa, elements of culture were absorbed from people here."

This rings true - bobotie for example, as Afrikaans as the wagon wheel, comes from Malay cooking.

Culture cannot be underpinned by any particular definition. In Herero culture, a cat is "deadly evil" and some Oshiwambo-speaking people eat dogs. Unheard of in Afrikaner culture. A simple thing such as gardening does not form part of the day-to-day pursuits of many black Namibians but for Afrikaners it is almost second nature.

My father told me once that whites in Africa are a misplaced people, uprooted with no real tangible cohesion that has been cemented for generations.

In response to this, Pretorius says that it does not matter how one puts it. The fact remains that Afrikaners still have their own history which binds them to Afrikaner heritage and therefore, historically, have developed in a different group than say, the German Namibians, who too may no longer feel comfortable in Europe.

"On a trip to Australia, I asked a resident whether the British culture still featured strongly in the country. He told me no, the American culture has taken over, as it has all over the world. Our own youth emulate American rappers. It is important to retain culture to give the youth a sense of belonging to something, of having a base to which to return."

Problem with the Afrikaner, in my view anyhow, is that we have clashes within ourselves and that these clashes are really based on generation gaps. Voëlvry lead the first revolution. For those who may not know, this was a tour across South Africa of musicians including Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel and they took on the establishment. They told the church and the dominees to go (not so politely I may add) and openly defied apartheid. They gave a voice to many Afrikaner youth, who felt caged in by the traditions of old. That movement has taken on a new shape in the form of the 'mystic boer'.

In our DNA however, the torridness of our history is entwined and many, if not most Afrikaners, may feel that they are held responsible for the ugliness that followed 1948.

So how will Pretorius represent, if he were to lead, such a diverse group of Afrikaners?

"We need to start by preserving our history, as the act says. Our monuments, our documents, publications and books. Currently, we are busy building the archive or historical centre for this very purpose in Bismarck Street just behind the Smuts monument. That is where the act suits our needs. Our children are not learning our people's history in schools anymore so it is important to instil a sense of pride in them.

"Common ancestry may lead to common purpose but this remains a sensitive issue because, whether or not we want to admit it, it is a race issue, by default.

"During the apartheid years it was a 'whites only' time and today, by way of the law [Pretorius is of the opinion that affirmative action should not apply to the born-frees as they have had equal opportunity since birth] it has become predominantly a 'black only' time.

"The Portuguese and Germans have organisations for the preservation of their culture. The Afrikaner has nothing."

The responsibility for this lies with us as we have mostly isolated ourselves from the political processes of the country and we have become apathetic.

Pretorius feels this is irrelevant. Something must be done, he says and furthermore, we have the right to protect our people's needs and our history.

"Even if the youth is not interested now, in 50 to 100 years, there will be interest in what has happened now. The fact remains, our people need high-level representation at Government, just like any other traditional authority has."

Our apathy may not necessarily be our own fault. In far too many speeches by those in power, we are constantly reminded of how our forebears stole the land, pillaged the resources and oftentimes, threatened that we do not belong. Further to this, we are being brainwashed into 'Swapo is the country and the people and the people are Swapo and the country' And of course, the colonial regime bears the blame for the shortcomings of the current Government.

Where then, does the 'colonial descendant' go, if not into isolation? The Afrikaner forefathers fled oppression in Europe and so, as oppressed, they came and Africa and became the oppressor. History is repeating itself.

"Why should a white Afrikaner high-school graduate join the Police or the army? He or she will not see promotion as swiftly as their black countryman or -woman. We have learned to teach our children English so that they are able to leave."

But the Afrikaner is also notorious for his ability to not stand together. I have seen a tight community form around farmers, many of whom are not white but share the same region or area, but I have never seen Afrikaner people stand together - not since the Anglo-Boer War in any case and that, more than a century ago. How then would they function under a traditional authority?

Pretorius says that the diversity within the group is what leads to that lack of cohesion but also, that the Afrikaner has an ingrained sense of being in charge because for example, "... on the farm it is his plans and his ideas that come to fruition. Afrikaner people thus need a strong leadership."

That this is my country is fact. I am as African as any of my black and brown counterparts. I love this country and I am here to stay. If the German community can organise themselves to protect the Reiterdenkmal, then the Afrikaner too should organise to protect our particular heritage. And if Afrikaans is a language that limits us to southern Africa, so too is Oshiwambo or Nama, for that matter. If Pretorius manages to secure his position as the Kommandant of the Afrikaner Traditional Authority and if the issue of communal land is sorted out, then focusing on what our core values are as a people is exactly what may preserve our language and our heritage.

"There are factors that can unite us under a traditional authority. Even the Chinese have Chinatown and even if the authority will not improve the life of the average Afrikaner, it will permit our voices to be heard at Government level."

Shouldn't we be Namibian first? Does a traditional authority not allow for more focus on difference than similarity?

"The family is the core unit, the brick, where you learn your values which is your culture. From there it branches out to the community and so on and so on until you get to the roof, which is the allegiance to borders, flag and currency. The United States tried a wholly American culture and did it work for them? It starts with nationalism, love of your people and this leads to patriotism, love of your country."

As a Namibian Afrikaner, I would be happy to have a voice in this country. I would be happy to know that I am welcome, for I am yet to hear my leaders say so. But if I am welcome, whether by Government's invitation or by representation through a traditional authority, let it allow me to be: A Mandume-loving, Verwoerd-hating, gin- and wine-drinking, animal-fanatic, opera-listening, corruption-hating, non-church member, half-socialist, Joost van der Westhuizen-dissing, Koos Doep and Charles Zandberg fan, hard-working, law-abiding, outspoken, farm- and Kalahari-loving, sometimes braaing and never-hunting Namibian Afrikaner. Is there a space for one such as me?