Afrikaners have lost privileges, not rights

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 15 14:25:55 UTC 2007

Afrikaners have lost privileges, not rights

One of the major debates in the US centres on the extent to which the
neoconservatives have managed to capture Washington, the White House in
particular. The three basic components of the neocon movement are:
ultra-conservative economic policies, advocacy for drastic reductions in
welfare provisions and huge tax benefits for the rich, and most
importantly, the US' domination of the world, under the guise of
protecting national interests. It is the methods used by neoconservatives
that ignite some interest and possible parallels with some developments
here at home.

One of this is the reinvigoration of the neonationalist sentiments of
certain sections of our society. This can be seen in debates about name
changes, affirmative action and language policy. The primary method used
by neoconservatives in the US is to fan fears of unending attacks by those
who "are opposed to the great civilisation that the US has achieved".
Threats are seen even where they do not exist. First it was Iraq and its
weapons of mass destruction. Now it is Iran and the threat it poses with
its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

In the same manner, we see the rallying of some sections of the Afrikaner
community against "threats" they are facing. First, the Afrikaner
community is made to believe that its language, heritage and culture are
under attack. But, is this true? An honest reading of the trajectory of
post-1994 politics suggests otherwise. Indeed, 1994 heralded a loss of
privilege for the Afrikaner community, and the white populace in general;
privileges that were enjoyed at the expense of the entire black community.
What the political changes of 1994 did was to remove privilege and bestow
rights on all citizens. In a democratic society the advancement or
acceleration of redress for those who were previously oppressed will often
tend to upset those who enjoyed exclusive privileges.

But does this mean that the rights of the Afrikaner community are being
eroded, or are under attack? The second rallying cry of the
neo-nationalist brand of Afrikanerdom seems to be around the claim that
the rights of minorities are threatened. Once again, is this true? Various
conventions of the UN make provision for the protection of minority
rights. So, minority rights are protected under international law. The
common thread that defines minorities is that such groups of people -
whether based on race, ethnicity, religion or language - must be under
some form of visible and imminent threat, or they must be suffering from

The notion of protection of minority rights arose largely after the
Holocaust, and in order that similar atrocities may not befall other
peoples. It is for this reason that those responsible for the genocide in
Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were partly charged for violating
international law. Examples of the marginalisation of minorities would be
the case of the Khoisan in Botswana, the Maori in New Zealand and
neighbouring countries, the indigenous peoples of the US and Canada, and
the Dalits in India. The notion of minority rights is based on the
argument that both the individual and collective rights of a group must
not be violated. Surely and as already stated, the rights of the Afrikaner
section of our society are not under any visible attack, nor are they
under any potential violation.

Instead, and to the great disapproval of those who advocate a unitary
state, the Afrikaner community has been given the space to conceptualise
its idea of a volkstaat, Orania, where a tiny section of the community has
chosen to stay. If this is not self-isolation, then nothing qualifies for
that status! The fact is that the rights of individual Afrikaners, and
their collective rights, are not under any attack or threatened. What
ceased to be bestowed on any group were privileges. As some analysts would
argue, post-1994 South Africa is characterised largely by class
disparities more than racial discrimination. Needless to say that it is
black people who remain the majority of the lower classes - the working

The third claim is that the Afrikaans language is under threat. Recent
examples of Horskool Ermelo and various formerly Afrikaans-medium
universities are often cited to demonstrate that "die taal" is under
attack. A closer examination of these and many examples of language
dynamics suggests instead that it is economics and sheer demographic
changes rather than politics that are determining the language policy
within institutions of learning. For instance, with a majority of black
students the University of Pretoria found itself having no choice but to
adopt a dual-medium system. Otherwise, the university's student numbers
would not increase and it would struggle financially.

The University of Stellenbosch is being forced to adopt the same approach.
The situation is even more pronounced with schools. They either have to
adapt or opt to become independent. The latter is hugely expensive.
Instead of rallying the Afrikaner community around causes that are not
based on facts but fallacies the leadership of the Afrikaner community
would do well to assist "die volk" that it is not rights they have lost,
but privileges. And that these rights are mediated by economic

Failure to do so can only mean clinging to notions of illusionary attack,
just like the neoconservatives have so far managed to do with the White
House. To the collective detriment of the American people.


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