WHAT RILES South African’s the most about conservative Freedom Front + leader Pieter Mulder’s recent statement about Nguni speakers? Is it the view that a history of occupation is the only criteria for considering a land claim? Is it the narrow-minded belief that only some may benefit from the land granted to everybody under the Freedom Charter? Mulder, no less the current saviour of Afrikanerdom, was rebuked by President Zuma for expressing a view common to many Afrikaners, that of manifest destiny. Implicit to the belief, in the South African version articulated by those who like to refer back to founder Jan van Riebeeck, is the Plymouth-rock-like claim to the continent as the “first Europeans on Africa’s shores”.
It is a view which ignores the substantial contribution to the development of the country by English-speakers, especially after the 1820s, and also by Jewish immigrants and mercantilists during the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is a view which still refuses to accept the enormous contribution of Bantu agriculturalists and Indigenous farmers who continued to migrate into Southern Africa well after the events which the Voortrekker Monument seeks to memorialise, and which excuses the crime of genocide against South Africa’s indigenous first nations. (See this article which gives some insight into the dispute}.
Implicit to a belief in manifest destiny is the view often reiterated by the NGK and other Protestant religious authorities, deploying religion to motivate for the capture of foreign land and colonisation of the frontier in the name of Jesus. It is an oblique view which appears to have died out after the terrible events of the two World Wars, but which remains the mainstay of white supremacist groupings who continue under the guise of liberalism, to occupy positions of authority, so much so, that any question of the basis upon which land was apportioned under the 1913 Land Act which restricted the sale of land to “whites” is liable to end up in an argument that seeks to impose Afrikaner mythology.
No less a political heavy weight, (so far as Newspaper House is concerned), than the columnist Max du Preez, who is certainly past his sell-by-date as far as coherent copy is concerned, was moved to defend Pieter Mulder’s comments in an elaborate damage limitation exercise in which he rephrased Mulder’s awkward statements about Africans and the Bantu, in terms of a broader language debate. Doing so merely perpetuates the strange belief that white Afrikaans speakers are more entitled to the land, than say the Nama, or the Griqua, many of whom have adopted Afrikaans.
At the end of the day it is really not important who laid claim to the land first, was it the well-developed capitalist privateers under the Dutch East India Company, or was it pirates and rebels under Adam Kok 1 and the many bandit colonies which predate the Dutch occupation? Unfortunately the period under successive Dutch and British occupations has put paid to any hope of recreating a foundation myth along the lines of a pastoral, democratic revolution, in which say, the original Khoi herders are given precedence. Nevetheless we may dream up new schemes, alternative histories in which for example, the Zulu Empire succeeded in moving beyond the Sub-Continent and its strange Peninsula, to other distant lands. What would have happened if the Xhosa Kingdom had remained intact, a surrogate of Britain? Or if the Chinese had succeeded in colonising like the Phoenicians before them, who in all likilhood planted the first Cedars from Lebanon in the Cape. What language would we be speaking today, if say, the bronze and silver ages had produced a South African state, capable of colonising Europe?