No Place to Go : Afrikaners: Certainties Gone Now

Times Staff Writer

When Danie Joubert was growing up, the son of a civil servant in the South African capital of Pretoria, his world was one of certainties.

He would go to the university, become a professional man, join the government service, marry the girl next door or perhaps down the street, and raise a family according to the conservative beliefs and traditions of the Dutch Reformed Church and his Afrikaner people.

The Afrikaners' National Party had come to power in 1948, displacing the English-speakers who had ruled South Africa since the early 19th Century. The Nationalists' apartheid policies were codifying the country's racial divisions, ensuring the dominant role of whites for the future and strengthening segregation.

And South Africa, where the Afrikaner had been the pioneer, was turning into the economic powerhouse of the African continent in terms of its industry, agriculture and financial resources.

"As a young man, mine was a world in which you didn't have to ask many questions because the answers were there already, and nobody ever doubted that those answers were right," recalled Joubert, now 42 and a small-town lawyer. "Everything was ordered, everything was clear. As a young man, you went out and made your mark. . . . The feeling was very much that we as Afrikaners had, as it were, come into our inheritance."

Today, however, there are questions and doubts among South Africa's 2.9 million Afrikaners, who constitute nearly 60% of its white population and continue to hold most political power. And Joubert wonders, amid the country's mounting civil turmoil, what the inheritance of his daughters and grandchildren will be.

'Changes Will Come'

"Things are happening now--say the mixing of races in public places or the sharing of political power with them--that would have been unthinkable for many Afrikaners only five years ago," Joubert said, "and I know that more changes will come, and must come, and that they will come faster. What worries me is that I don't know where we will wind up, what we as whites will have left."

Joubert, a genial, open man, glanced almost involuntarily around his comfortable suburban home with its burnished woods, carefully collected furniture and Oriental carpets, paintings on the walls, books and records, and everywhere, colorful flowers from his wife's garden.

His was not the look of a man in love with his possessions, but of a man who has been able to shape his life much the way he wants, who enjoys that life immensely and does not want to see it change.

Daniel Jacobus Joubert's life has largely gone according to plan: He studied law at the University of Pretoria, joined the Justice Ministry as a junior prosecutor to repay a government loan for his schooling, switched to private practice after a few years, married the girl he had courted for several years and settled down to raise his two daughters in one of the country towns still preferred by many Afrikaners for their less-hurried pace of life.

He is a religious man, active in the Dutch Reformed Church to which most Afrikaners belong, and a staunch supporter of the National Party and its current efforts at step-by-step reforms. He exults in the beauty of this country, and at every chance takes his family hiking in the wilderness.

"I am very happy with my life," he said. "I am not rich, but I am comfortable. Our family is close-knit. We are quite at home in this community. I have no great ambitions to drive me to an early grave. My disappointments have been few.

"In many ways, I admit, my life has been easy. Everything was mapped out. I knew where I stood. Life was not such a struggle. But I have worked hard to get what I have, and I don't think it is wrong to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Yes, I want the same for all men, black or white, but must that diminish what I have?"

His wife Catharina, also 42, a woman of zest and of strong moral views, commented later: "I think that all white people should realize that we have had spring and we have had summer and we are now going into autumn. . . . The good times are over, and we must realize that we are going to have to give up some of what we have if we hope to keep the rest."

'Sons of Africa'

These concerns are widespread among South Africa's whites, particularly among Afrikaners, whose Dutch, French, German and Scandinavian forebears settled on the Cape of Good Hope more than 300 years ago and who for more than two centuries have regarded themselves not as Europeans but as "sons and daughters of Africa."

"This is our country--we have no other," said Ochert Meyer, the senior partner in Joubert's law firm. "We have no European motherland to return to; we have no other home; we want to be nowhere else. That is the reason we all are so deeply concerned about the future of this country. As Afrikaners, we love it, we fear for it, we hope for it."

That sums up the conflict of emotions that the Jouberts and other Afrikaners now feel, and on them depends the response of South Africa's white minority to the demands of its blacks.

"Without overstating it, we can say that the future of this country is in the hands of people like the Jouberts and ourselves," Meyer said as the two families sat around the Jouberts' dinner table. "While politicians may lead us and point the direction the country should take, we--we Afrikaners--will have to decide whether to follow, what will benefit our families, what will benefit our people. . . .

"We are a concerned people, a just people, a caring people, a loving people, a Christian people. That is how men like Danie and me approach our country's problems. We are not blind to this present crisis. We are not that stereotype of the white baas (Afrikaans for master) whipping his black slaves or standing with his boot on their throats. We are not racists; we are not Nazis. Understand us, please, as people searching, struggling for answers that will be fair for all."

One Man's Gain

Nonetheless, Afrikaners recall that through their history political accommodation has always been a zero-sum game--what one group gained another lost.

As black anger grows, so do Afrikaner fears about their future in a post-apartheid society. Their response to black demands for "liberation" and a "people's government" is to become more demanding in seeking cast-iron guarantees about their future security.

Politicians from the far-right Conservative Party and the extremist party, Herstigte Nasionale, both of which broke with the Nationalists over reforms of the apartheid system, play on these fears, referring frequently to the swartgevaar , the "black peril" or, as it is usually put by whites here, "being swamped by blacks."

Yet, the more inflexible the whites become, demanding such guarantees as a constitutional veto over majority decisions in a future multiracial government as a condition for meaningful negotiations with black leaders, the harder it becomes to get such talks started. This increases black anger, which in turn arouses more Afrikaner fears.

"Unless this circle of anger and fear can be broken, there is little chance of rescuing South Africa from certain disaster," Colin Legum, a South African-born British journalist who has long specialized in African problems, said after a visit here last month. "Only the Afrikaners have the power to break this cycle; therefore, their future and that of the rest of the country lies in their hands."

Crisis of Destiny

Afrikaners, Legum asserts, are thus a nation in crisis--not a crisis of identity, as argued by other observers, but a crisis of destiny. "Where will they fit into a different kind of society in South Africa? How can they ensure their own survival as a distinctive cultural and national group? How secure can they feel in a society that is no longer ruled exclusively by whites?"

This sense of crisis and of destiny, of being at a historic crossroads, emerges quickly in conversations with Afrikaners throughout the country. With the Jouberts, it is matched by an awareness that a solution must be found soon for the country's problems, that time is working against them, that the initiative, and thus the fate of the nation, lies largely in the hands of Afrikaners.

"We will talk to anyone and we will do all that is reasonable," Joubert said, "but don't, just don't, expect miracles. Our people are frightened of losing all that they have, of not having a place for themselves and their children in a country their parents and grandparents built. The government is moving faster on reforms than any of us thought possible; it is getting a lot of support and it could, and probably should, move even faster.

"But there are limits, limits even to reasonableness. We can never have a society in South Africa like you have in America or Western Europe because of the natural tendency of people with common ground to group together and fight for their own interests. Here, you have to recall the numbers--there are five blacks for every white--and they make the solutions you have in America unworkable here. Whatever we have here will always be based on groups, not on individuals. . . .

"We are prepared for anything but a violent, bloody revolution, which would destroy this country. We feel that we have made a start just by saying that we are prepared to talk . . . , to negotiate, to compromise as long as it is through nonviolence. Yet, I can see we are in a stalemate situation at the present time with one side not prepared to give way to the other. But we have not descended into civil war and become a Lebanon or an Iran."

Remote Town

Klerksdorp, an agricultural and gold mining center of 36,000 whites about 100 miles southwest of Johannesburg, has remained largely remote from the civil strife that has swept South Africa for the last 16 months. Although more than 200,000 blacks and Coloreds (people of mixed race) live in surrounding segregated townships, Klerksdorp has experienced little of the turmoil of communities closer to Johannesburg, around Cape Town or near Port Elizabeth in eastern Cape province.

"We still talk more about the weather, about when we are going to get the rains we so badly need, than we do about the unrest," Ochert Meyer said. "There has been an incident or two, but none of the conflict that there has been elsewhere, thank God."

But Catharina Joubert commented, "The streets may be quiet here in little Klerksdorp, but still there is turmoil in our hearts."

Local interest indeed grows when solutions to South Africa's deepening crisis are discussed, for, as Meyer said, "the future of the country is at stake and with it our fate as Afrikaners."

"Through our history, Afrikaners have felt threatened with extinction and have had to fight for our freedom and for our survival," he continued. "This does give us some sympathy for the political aspirations of the blacks today but first it makes us very cautious, wary and even suspicious. We have so much to lose."

'Chosen People'

Descendants of original 17th-Century European colonists--Dutch settlers landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 to service trading ships sailing to the Far East--Afrikaners came to regard the country as theirs, as God's gift to them, a "chosen people," and to see it as developed primarily through the labor of their hard-working pioneers.

Afrikaners felt that the country--taken from them by the victorious British in the Boer War of 1899-1902, a conflict still bitterly remembered--was finally liberated and restored to them only with the National Party's electoral victory in 1948.

"When a black man says, 'This land is my land, and you have taken it from me and now you must return it,' it is not just a political challenge," Meyer said, "but a challenge to my whole view of the world, to my whole history, to what has always been my sense of myself. . . . That is why there won't, in my opinion, be easy compromises . . . and why many of us are going through such soul-searching now."

Catharina Joubert commented later, "As Afrikaners, we glory in our history, but we are also prisoners of it. We have an exaggerated sense of our place in history, perhaps because much of it is so heroic. And sometimes it seems to shape everything we do, say or think, whatever the requirements of the present, let alone of the future.

"The reason for this, I think, is that our national history is also a personal history," she continued. "People trace their families not just four or five generations, but even seven or eight. They not only know who married whom and how many children they had, but where they farmed, whether they were on the Great Trek (begun in 1834 from the Cape into what are now the Orange Free State and Transvaal province), who fought in the Boer War, who died in British concentration camps then and who joined the National Party before it came to power. This is the way we think and believe."

Old Huguenot Family

The Jouberts' ancestors were among the 150 French Huguenots who landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1688, Protestant refugees from persecution in Roman Catholic France. More French Protestants followed and proved to be good farmers, planting the Cape vineyards that are the basis of today's South African wine industry. Calvinists like the Dutch colonists and often better educated, the Huguenots were quickly absorbed and became part of the Afrikaner nation.

"The only race that stood apart and did not join in forming the Afrikaner volk (people) were the English," Danie Joubert said. "They came later and in larger numbers, of course, and did not feel the pressure to assimilate. But they also felt superior to the Afrikaner, and many still do."

While their names are French or Dutch or German and many take pride in being able to trace their families back to the South African equivalent of the Mayflower, Afrikaners see themselves as people of European stock and heritage but very much of the African soil.

They take the same pride in their language, Afrikaans, based on simplified old Dutch but borrowing many words from French, German and the Bantu tribal languages of South Africa. "When we were at school, we talked about the 'wonder of Afrikaans,' " Catharina Joubert said. " . . . To us it symbolized the growth of our nation. Afrikaans is such a beautiful language, and it is at the heart of our cultural heritage as Afrikaners."

Danie Joubert, who calculates that he is 15/16ths of French descent, said: "We are not French, despite our name and a lineage I know goes straight back to the Huguenots, but Afrikaners, true sons of Africa after three centuries here. As Afrikaners, we are, I believe, an African tribe now as much as the Zulus or the Tswanas or the Xhosas."

White Tribe

South African social scientists indeed often compare the Afrikaners to black African tribes to explain their traditions, rituals and politics and to describe the Afrikaner personality.

The Afrikaner tribal culture, an English-speaking South African political commentator wrote earlier this year, is "a curious blend of infinite capacity to endure hardship, of Old Testament stoicism, a thirst for the land, bellicose patriotism, individual courage and derring-do alternating with collective deference to authority, which sometimes descends into moral cowardice. . . . If the tribe has a pervasive flaw, it is a propensity to paternalism."

Joubert said, "I am very proud to be an Afrikaner, and I have never been shy of admitting that I am an Afrikaner. "Look around, and you will see the land that the Afrikaners built from wilderness. The English started calling us Boers--it means farmer in Afrikaans--and they were trying to be nasty. But I don't think that's so bad, being a farmer. My dad went back to farming when he retired, and he is still at it at 76. We Afrikaners do love the land."

Afrikaners have been moving off the land and into the towns and cities in large numbers for two generations now--Catharina Joubert was born on a sheep farm in the Orange Free State but left as a young girl when her father turned to journalism and then diplomacy; Danie Joubert was born and raised in Pretoria where his lawyer father was a career civil servant. Sociologists say that Afrikaners are changing as they urbanize.

Most of the "new Afrikaners," as they have been dubbed, come from business, the professions, the universities and the upper ranks of the civil service and appear to have accepted President Pieter W. Botha's challenge, "adapt or die," to such an extent that today they are more pragmatic and flexible than he is.

However, there are also the blue-collar workers, artisans, middle-level managers, those who staff the lower ranks of the huge government bureaucracy and others from what Afrikaners call the onderdorp , the poor part of town, who see an imminent threat from blacks competing for their jobs and ready to spill out of their ghettos into "white areas."

Farmers 'a Funny Lot'

And then there are the Boers, the farmers--those Afrikaners who remain on the land.

"To us, farmers are a very funny lot," Catharina Joubert said. "Some are so behind the times. They tend to have a king-of-the-castle kind of thinking, sitting on the top and ordering everyone--and that usually means the blacks--around. . . . They see themselves as conserving Afrikaner traditions and values, but we see them as relics of a bygone era."

Even the urbanized "new Afrikaners," however, "quickly revert to our tribal customs," Danie Joubert said. "You get me in a family group on one of our big holidays and, within five minutes, I will be speaking the old Afrikaans without so many English words and singing Afrikaans songs. If you met me then, you would take me for a true Boer."

With most Afrikaners now living in the country's cities and towns--Klerksdorp's white population is about 80% Afrikaans-speaking--"there is a drift away from Afrikaans culture," Joubert says, and that is worrisome for a people concerned, almost obsessed, with its survival.

"As Afrikaners become more urbanized, they are also becoming more hard-nosed, more materialistic," he said. "They worry about their 'things'; they don't like to hear about piety. They don't marry the girl next door; they are into permissiveness of all types; they don't worry about what their father or mother would have said or done in a situation. People get into the rat race of a big city, and that is bound to change them.

"I am not really such a conservative person, not a traditionalist who invokes tradition for its own sake, but I wish more people would look to what has made the Afrikaner what he is, for that is what will preserve and guide us in these troubled times. . . . What really keeps Afrikaners together is the church. Going to church and subscribing to what the church teaches us defines us more as a people, I think, than anything else. . . ."

Counselor and Guide

Joubert was a deacon and then an elder of the local Dutch Reformed Church for 12 years, caring for the poor and counseling fellow parishioners. The pastor, or dominee as he is called, is a close friend. "A dominee has great influence among us," Joubert said. "Afrikaners no longer accept uncritically whatever the dominee says, but we look to him for guidance. . . . In these days, it is good to have younger, more progressive men in the pulpit."

For nearly 70 years, the other great Afrikaner institution, next to the Dutch Reformed Church and the National Party, has been the Broederbond, the secret, elitist and much-feared League of Brothers, whose 12,000 members sought first to secure the rights of Afrikaners in a society dominated by English-speaking whites and then, after helping bring the Nationalists to power, began to shape government policies.

"The Broederbond really doesn't surface much any longer, and it is turning into something of an old man's club," Danie Joubert said. His father is a member, as is his father-in-law, but he is not. "Politically, the Broederbond is not much of a factor any longer. In its time, it had a mission in building up the Afrikaner nation, but that era is gone."

The political divisions among Afrikaners, historically seen as a threat to their survival as a nation, are deepening as the civil unrest spreads throughout the country and the government attempts to deal with it.

Although the more conservative want President Botha to take sterner action to end the violence, most Afrikaners support his step-by-step reforms, according to public opinion surveys over the last year, and some would go even faster. One of the most recent surveys showed, for example, that 59% of all Afrikaners, compared to 82% of English-speaking whites, now see some form of political power-sharing with blacks as certain.

Many Doubts Now

"If change is going to come peacefully, then the National Party must become the party of reform," Ochert Meyer said. "Neither the Progressive Federal Party on the left nor the Conservative and Herstigte Nasionale parties on the right can command the broad support the Nationalists can.

"But there is a lot of restiveness within the ranks of the National Party. Today, we don't know what it stands for, where it is heading, who is leading it. Like Danie, I have supported the National Party for years and years, and I have never had so many questions and doubts about it as I do now.

"They have never confessed publicly, as they should, that they erred in apartheid, and they pretend to be the same party with the same goals and the same policies as when they came to power. This is not honest. In fact, I think they are lost and are just feeling their way now."

Catharina Joubert, who brings to politics the deep religious convictions of a missionary's granddaughter, says: "If we want to put things right, we must admit that we have done some very unfair things and must correct them and make amends. Many people now reject apartheid as an ideology and see it as a failure or worse. But they want to keep everything, all the power and privileges that apartheid has given them. That won't work, and I am losing my patience with people like this."

So divided are Afrikaners today that such political differences are found in the same family, between parents and children, brothers and sisters. One of Danie Joubert's younger sisters, an ardent liberal while at the university, now is "such a staunch CP (Conservative Party member) that the only thing she sees wrong with apartheid is that it was never fully implemented," Catharina Joubert said.

"When she moved to the farm with her husband . . . her views changed completely, probably because she now felt that she had so much to lose. So we don't discuss politics at all because it would only mean a fight."

As Catharina Joubert sees it, the white fear of becoming a minority in a black-dominated country, has "never been greater" and is making resolution of the country's problems more and more difficult. "This fear is consuming us," she said. "Sometimes I think people talk of nothing else."

A Great Divide

And one reason for that fear, she argued, is that whites and blacks have kept so far apart that they know little of each other's lives, hopes and fears.

"Apartheid has succeeded too well in separating us to the point that, although we need each other, we know next to nothing about one another," she said. "Among whites, this has helped breed racism into us. . . . Among blacks, it means that a youth may be 20 before he meets a white who is not a policeman or soldier or some kind of government official who is enforcing some law or other on him, and so how does he know us as people?"

Most Afrikaners maintain to foreigners that "we understand the black man," and they recall childhoods in which their playmates were blacks, the children of household servants or farm workers; how they learned to speak Zulu or Xhosa or another Bantu language, as well as Afrikaans, and they regret that these ties, which rarely lasted beyond adolescence, are not possible for their children in an increasingly urbanized society.

However, such remarks do not stand up to questions about their willingness, for example, to send their children to integrated schools, such as those run by the Anglican and Catholic churches.

The Jouberts, however, now count as their loss the limited nature of their contacts with blacks--Danie Joubert has a number of black legal clients and Catharina Joubert gets into Klerksdorp's black townships with her maids and gardener.

"Our future must be as an integrated society, I think, but how we start I don't know," she said. "The task of my generation, those in our 40s now, is to tear down all these walls we have built over the years. . . . The schools would be the place I would start, immediately integrating all our universities and then working down through the secondary and into the primary schools. There would be resistance, and it would take time, time we may not have."

Sitting Next to Blacks

Her daughter Adeline, 12, said, "I wouldn't mind sitting beside a black girl at school--not at all--but I know some of my classmates, especially the boys, would not want to."

Now, however, the only black children with whom she has contact are the daughters of the family's maid, Margaret, who sometimes come to play, and with a boy who lives in the resort town where they vacation each year. "It's really a pity," she remarked. "I would like to know more."

And her sister Carolien, 13, acknowledged that one of her problems in her first year of high school has been the "ugly jokes" told by classmates.

"My mother has taught us that fairness must come first," she said. "I know I must take a stand, to say what I believe and to hold to it."

But so firmly established is the apartheid order of things that Carolien is not sure that her children will be able to go to multiracial schools.

"Maybe things can't be changed right now, maybe not even for 50 years, but I do think that they will change, that they must change," she said, "but I don't know how these changes will come."

As the daughter of a South African diplomat, Catharina Joubert lived in Kenya as a schoolgirl during the Mau-Mau rebellion of the 1950s against British rule, when black guerrillas attacked white farmers.

Britain eventually defeated the insurgents, killing an estimated 11,500 guerrillas and black civilians against their own losses of 2,000 black troops, 58 British soldiers and police and 37 white settlers. The rebellion did bring increased black political participation and, in 1963, independence and black majority rule.

"It could happen here, not in the same way, maybe not with the same effect," Catharina Joubert said, "but the threat is there."

Threat Driven Home

To Danie Joubert, a major in the Klerksdorp Commando, the local militia unit, that threat became reality in the last month when a land mine in northern Transvaal killed six whites, four of them children, from two families vacationing on a game farm near the South African border with Zimbabwe.

Six other mines had exploded in the region, and a key energy installation that produces oil from coal was rocketed earlier in what the African National Congress described as "a generalized escalation" of its 25-year guerrilla war against the Pretoria government.

"I have never in my whole life fired a shot in anger, seen any unrest except on television or been close to a place where I could smell tear gas except in training," he said, "and I hope and pray to God that I never will. Yes, we are prepared to defend our families, our homes, our nation, and it would be a long and hard war because violence--land mines, rockets, assassinations--would only strengthen our resolve. That is the character of the Afrikaner, to fight to the bitter end when we are attacked.

"But I truly believe we can solve our problems through negotiation, by reasonable men talking to reasonable men, sharing the wealth of this country, reaching an accommodation with one another. What I pray is that we give each other the chance to do that before it is too late."

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