Learning to Let Go

3 minute read

Radio Pretoria is haunted by the ghosts of apartheid past. Paintings of dead white South African Presidents stare down from the walls; the old blue, white and orange national flag, which once flew over half of southern Africa, still hangs in the main corridor of the station; and every morning at 5 a.m. the station broadcasts the apartheid-era anthem Die Stem (The Call). “It’s not so long ago that an American Negro said, ‘I have a dream,'” says manager Jaap Diedericks, sitting beneath a painting of the 1838 Battle of Blood River, in which a few hundred Boer Afrikaners overwhelmed more than 10,000 Zulus. “We Afrikaners have a dream, too: a dream of self-sufficiency.” For many of Radio Pretoria’s 130,000 listeners, descendants of 17th and 18th century Dutch and French Huguenot and German Protestant migrants, shows like Gray Power provide comfort in a world of change and remind older listeners in particular of a bygone age when Afrikaners ruled and, says Diedericks, “standards were maintained.” The African National Congress wants “to create one nice big rainbow nation, which to us is completely unacceptable,” Diedericks says.

The Afrikaner nation was never the monolith it appeared, but the end of apartheid splintered it even more. Unlike the average Radio Pretoria listener, for example, many younger Afrikaners — and the heads of most big Afrikaner companies — welcome the new order. Afrikaner insurance firms and banks were among the first to sell stakes to black investors. “It’s typical of businesspeople to be pragmatic,” says Jacob de Villiers, CEO of the Afrikaans Chamber of Commerce. “This country is not going to build itself. Let’s stop sitting around thinking about the way it was or the way it could have been and get to work.”

But on a personal level many Afrikaners are less confident. Lawyer Neil de Villiers was born into a family of staunch apartheid supporters, but turned against the system after six months’ compulsory military service in Angola, where he grew disillusioned with the apartheid leaders and their philosophies. The 1994 elections “were a liberation for us as well,” he says. He and his wife embraced the changes and have stayed in South Africa even as friends emigrated. But he worries that his two sons will find it hard to get work. “The reality is, if they don’t get opportunities here they will move on,” he says. “And that’s very sad.”

Judging by support for political parties, most Afrikaners now reject the idea of a separate white nation, but a significant minority still dream of an autonomous Afrikaner volkstaat (homeland). “People believed that the [pre-1994] negotiations staved off a revolution,” says novelist and commentator Dan Roodt. “But in fact it was just the beginning of a long, slow revolution, a relentless attack on white rights.” Some worry that such frustration could lead to violence. Two years ago, police thwarted an improbable coup plot by a small right-wing group called the Boeremag (Farmer’s Force). The Boeremag planned to bomb targets in Soweto, blow up the South African Broadcasting Corporation building in Johannesburg, and chase millions of black South Africans into Zimbabwe. “I sympathize with [the Boeremag’s] frustration but not its approach,” says Radio Pretoria’s Diedericks. “I didn’t want change and our listeners didn’t want change. But it’s the reality and so we accept it. If you don’t accept realities in Africa, you die.”

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