A major row is developing over a new book that says that many of South Africa’s leading whites, including politicians who insist on maintaining “racial purity” here, may have black ancestors.
Even though the book will not be published until later this week, angry debates have occurred in Parliament over members’ racial background, a Pretoria city councilman punched another for suggesting he might not be 100% white, and 16 members of the far-right Herstigte Nasionale Party are going to sue the book’s author for libel.
“It makes my blood boil--all these lies about us,” said Pretoria City Councilman Piet Rudolph, who grabbed another City Council member, Ernie Jacobson, spun him around and hit him twice on the jaw last week after Jacobson noted in a council debate that the Rudolph family was one of those mentioned in the book.
“I just could not control myself any longer, but I have no regrets,” Rudolph added. “The ancestry of the Afrikaner cannot be questioned.”
Current efforts to repeal laws that prohibit interracial marriage and sexual relations in South Africa give added political importance to the controversial book, “Group Without Boundaries,” which is written in Afrikaans.
“There are no historical grounds for retaining the Mixed Marriage Act and the Immorality Act because there is no racial purity anyway,” says Hans Heese, the book’s author and a prominent Afrikaner academic.
Heese, whose book lists more than 1,000 Afrikaner families, including his own, that grew out of interracial marriages, has tried to avoid direct confrontation with those angered by his research, but he acknowledges that the book will undoubtedly provoke even greater controversy after its publication Thursday.
Like a Who’s Who
The families listed read like a Who’s Who of Afrikanerdom. According to one conservative count by a reader of the book, at least 18 white members of Parliament had African or Asian ancestors, and perhaps so did President Pieter W. Botha.
The angriest reaction so far has come from Andries P. Treurnicht, leader of the Conservative Party, which opposes any relaxation of South Africa’s apartheid policies of strict racial separation.
“I am proud to be white,” Treurnicht told Parliament, hotly rejecting suggestions that his ancestors might have included Africans or Asians.
Jac Rabie, a leading member of the Colored, or mixed race, House of Representatives in the South Africa’s new tricameral Legislature, had aroused the ire of Treurnicht and other Conservatives by suggesting that most of them, perhaps 15 of the 18 Conservative members of Parliament, were of mixed race, citing the new book as evidence.
It was Rabie who set off the controversy over the book by obtaining a pre-publication copy and publicly disclosing some of the contents. And now, a number of newspapers have obtained copies.
After an urgent search of the family archives last week, Treurnicht told his constituents that his branch of the family is different from the Treurnichts whose ancestors, according to the book, include native Hottentot women and Indian slaves.
But Heese’s book indicates that Treurnicht’s deputy in Parliament, Jan Hoon, the Conservative Party’s chief whip, is almost certainly descended from a black merchant who came from the island nation of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and that another Conservative member of the white House of Assembly, Willie Snyman, comes from a family founded in the 17th Century by a freed Indian slave and a Bengali woman.
Rabie has further twitted the Conservatives by disclosing that his uncle, his mother’s brother, had his racial classification changed from Colored to white and is now a local chairman of the Conservative Party.
“This is just a malicious attack on Afrikaners by liberals,” replied another Conservative member of Parliament, S.P. Barnard, whose family is also among those listed in the book.
After studying government and church records of marriages and births in Cape of Good Hope province from 1652 to 1795, author Heese concluded that there had “never been an elite, all-white people in Southern Africa, . . . never a 100% Aryan race.”
The first known interracial marriage in South Africa, between a European settler and an Asian woman, occurred in 1656, Heese said, and the first marriage between a white and an African took place in 1664. Many of the first interracial marriages were between whites and Indians or Malays brought from Asia to work in the Cape settlement. But increasingly there were marriages with native Africans.
Heese’s critics have objected that he does not distinguish among different branches of a family, not recognizing that some may be white and others Colored, as people of mixed race are officially known here.
Jap Marais, leader of the Herstigte Nasionale Party, says that it does not really matter. “There has been a process of racial purification over the generations as whites married other whites and shunned those with black genes,” Marais said. “It is obvious just by looking at people that the Afrikaner nation today is white.”