I am often accused of taking an anti-white stance and I always reply that I take an "anti-whiteness" position not anti "Afro-European" people or culture. There is a difference and that difference is written in blood and heroism.
It has perplexed me for some time to hear how many white South Africans put forward arguments as to why they should not be held responsible for the reign of dispossession and terror on South Africans of colour, generation after generation and most particularly during the over 46 years of the Apartheid regime.
Nine out of ten white South Africans to this day believe that the Apartheid system was not comparable to Nazism, regardless of the fact that the majority of the countries of the world said that it was, as did the world court. It was called “A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY” and a police state run by political criminals and kept in power by the vast majority of white South Africans who benefited tremendously from the Apartheid system.
The answers and culture of denial by white South Africans cover a broad range of excuses including pleading not knowing what was going on, to not realising how bad it was, and the biggest excuse being how they were simply obeying the law and had no other option.
Others propose that the aberration of Apartheid was just an Afrikaner extremist problem and that English speakers were powerless. Others put forward that they were not part of the National Party but belonged to what people of colour call “sweetheart whites-only opposition parties” where there was no fundamental differences but rather was Apartheid without the rough edges.
Here I simply want to tackle the nonsense that whites had NO OTHER OPTION than to follow the law and adhere to the Apartheid Crime Against Humanity, which of course they at the same time disagree that this describes that system.
I want to show that over the entire colonial period and the Apartheid era that there always was ANOTHER OPTION and that there were NON-CONFORMISTS among the Europeans who took the other option at great expense to themselves. I tell the story in tribute to those South Africans classified as white who chose not to indulge in owning and defending the notion of “whiteness”, set the privileges of “whiteness” aside, and who took the resistance road.
It is a story of embracing Africa as people of Afro-European culture and being clear about what was right and wrong and who accepted being led by Africans and making their life alongside Africans for life. They did what they did at great personal cost and in the case of some, lost their lives in the process, and never considered themselves as special nor defined their own identities by referring to “whiteness”.
I raise this issue for three reasons. The first reason is that the denialism, the excuses and the bleating by many whites that they are victims and that South Africa was better managed under Apartheid and superior white rule has reached such a vulgar and dishonest crescendo that this denialism is actually criminal. Nazi denialism in Europe is actually criminal as there are laws against it.
Secondly these arguments and behaviours are an insult to the many South Africans of Afro-European heritage who dedicated all their energy and passion to break the law and engage in resistance to colonialism and Apartheid (I am loathe to refer to these as ‘whites’ as they never referred to themselves as such nor defended ‘Whiteness’).
There is a non-conformist tradition among Europeans and Afro-Europeans that goes back to the pre-colonial visitors to the Cape as well as in the early VOC colonial period and beyond under British rule, through to the Apartheid era.
The traditions of Europeans defying the VOC and integrating with Khoena (Khoi), Slaves or Free Blacks, can be seen to have been a significant part of the early colony in its first 60 years. Perhaps the defining moment as to how the racists won the day against the non-conformists is when these were targeted as “the enemy in our midst” in 1706. In this year Adam Tas, Willem van Zijl and cattle baron Henning Husing drew up a petition to the VoC calling for the removal of governor Willem Adrian van der Stel and was signed by 63 of the 550 burghers, and of the 63 half were French Huguenots. A counter petition was signed by 250 of the Burghers supporting Governor Willem Adrian van der Stel.
All sorts of reasons involving a smearing of the character of the governor was put forward by those calling for his removal, but at the root of this disgruntlement was the issue of cattle baron Henning Huising and his informal commandos riding into the interior to raid cattle from the free Khoi and Xhosa, whereby the Governor forbade such activity and took action to stop it. The VOC in Amsterdam initially supported the Governor and rejected the Tas/Huising petition, but later reversed this, fearful that the French, with whom the Netherlands were engaged in war, would come to the aid of the Governor's opponents because the petitioners was made up of a large French Huguenot component. The reversed decision in 1707 also was a response to a second counter-petition by the 63 in which Tas used racist vitriolic to attack the 250 petitioners that supported Governer van der Stel.
Simon van der Stel and his son Willem Adrian van der Stel were the first Governors of colour at the Cape. Simon’s father was a Dutch Governor of Mauritius and his mother was the daughter of a former Indian slave from the Coromandel coast, Monica de Costa Coromondel.
Tas, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who came to the Cape with nothing and married into money through marrying a wealthy widow, and a rather despicable character in terms of how he treated his slaves, in his diary explains his reference to his argument countering the 250 petitioners supporting the Governor. He implored that the VOC should not listen to those petitioners because they were THE BLACK BROOD AMONG US. He describes the opposing petitioners as “Slaves, Kaffers, Mullatos, Mestizos and all the black brood among us and related to European and Christian by marriage.”
I use this incident as the drawing of the line in the sand as to the genesis of the divide between non-conformists and conformists among the Europeans. I have no doubt about this as Adam Tas and his “struggle” was a major reference point for Afrikaner Christian Nationalism and their ideology of Apartheid. It also established the white notion that “Black is Equal to Corruption”.
Leo Fouche in his introduction to the translation and printing of Adam Tas’s diary in 1914 describes Governor van der Stel in this racist manner – “…. He is a character which still remains a mystery to many who have forgotten his mixed descent….. Simon van der Stel was a man of remarkable qualities, although far from that pattern of all of the virtues which historians represent him as having been. But as is frequently in the case of persons of mixed blood, the throwback had occurred in the third generation (namely Willem). The impression that Willem Adrian leaves upon us is that of a half-Oriental…. He displayed all of the characteristics of the Eastern Potentate.”
Over the 18th century non-conformist Europeans were marginalised as people on the fringes of European society no different to those of colour with whom they assimilated.
The last two decades of the 18th century and first few decades of the 19th century marked a period of major changes at the Cape and in the course of this climate remarkable indigene and slave rebel leaders emerged such as Makhana, Ndlambe, Chungwa, Koerikei, Klaas Stuurman, David Stuurman, Hans Trompetter , Louis of Mauritius, Abraham van der Kaap, Gelant van der Kaap and others.
But alongside of these, non-conformist Europeans also formed a rebel tradition. These opponents of first the VOC/Batavian Republic and then the British authorities, such as Coenrad de Buys, Barend Lindeque, Dr Johannes van der Kemp, Thomas Pringle, James Hooper and others who made common cause with Indigene peoples and slaves in their struggles, are not recognised as being significant in colonial history lessons. One of these lost his life by hanging after the largest treason trial in South Africa’s history in 1808 found him guilty as one of the leaders of a slave revolt by 326. Two Irishmen, James Hooper and MIchael Kelly were part of that revolt, and Hooper was executed for his involvement.
In the 20th century significant numbers of Afro-European resisters to colonialism and Apartheid can be identified. They are too many to name, but I will name a few. From the late 1800s and early 1900s Europeans and Afro-European socialists and trades unionists became more aware of the injustices against Africans and assisted in establishing trades unions and resistance associations and by the 1930s many were prepared to be led by Africans for the common held goal of National Liberation and the defeat of colonialism and Apartheid. In the 1930s the concepts of a United Front, a National Liberation League and a Non-racial Trades Union movement emerged as the most progressive thrust in the political area. As a result of the worldwide growth of Fascism and ethno-Nationalism, progressive Afro-Europeans were able to recognise that at the heart of local Fascist Nationalism in South Africa was the jackboot of white domination crushing the African people.
People like Ray Alexander, Bill Andrews, Eddie Roux, Max Gordon, Sydney Bunting, Betty du Toit, Solly Sachs, Hester and Johanna Cornelius, Errol Shanley, Anna Scheepers, Eli Weinberg, Phyllis Altman and so many more worked tirelessly alongside Africans like Moses Kotane, JB Marks, James Philips, Cissie Gool, John Gomas, James la Guma, Moses Mabida, Goolam Gool, George Ponnen, Edwin Mofutsanyana and others. All were subject to continuous harassment, arrest and court action for walking the resistance road.
After the Second World War with the coming to power in 1948 of the National Party and their ideology of Apartheid, the repression stakes became increasingly more severe and by 1960 a full fascist police state became the order of the day. Returning soldiers after the 1939-1945 world war on witnessing the emergence of a state similar to the Nazi German and Italian fascist states, man a stand. A group of leftwing socialist soldiers from the Springbok Legion opened discussions with the liberal element of the United Party and together they formed a non-partisan committee to protest against the erosion of democracy and new Apartheid laws. This became known as the Torch Commando and WW2 Fighter Pilot hero Adolf ‘Sailor’ Malan was elected as the leader. For two years huge protest marches took place across South Africa.
But while this action quickly petered out a core among the left-wing Springbok Legionnaires like Joe Slovo, Rica Hodgson, Rusty Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh, Jack Hodgson, Brian Bunting, Fred Carneson and others, together with trades unionists like the Levy brothers, and other communists like Ruth First, Sam Kahn, Mike Harmel, Ray Harmel, Sarah Carneson, Hilda Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Ben Turok, Mary Turok and others played a huge role in developing an underground resistance and Umkhonto we Sizwe as the political conditions changed. Then there were people like Helen Joseph, Yetta Barentbatt, Harold Strachan, Arther Goldreich, Ethel de Keiser, Allan Brooks, Harold and Anne-Marie Wolpe and others joined the Congress of Democrats and the Liberal Party - like Margeret Ballinger, Alan Paton, Patrick Duncan, and John Harris who was a member of their short lived Armed Resistance Movement.
All of these and the many, many, un-named paid a huge price facing bannings, house arrest, imprisonment, ridicule, smearing of their name, exile, dirty tricks and assassination attempts. They fundamentally challenged the Apartheid system and its fellow travellers in formal whites-only parties to show that there was a meaningful way that could be engaged in to oppose Apartheid and its police state. Denis Goldberg was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela and others, and John Harris was hanged for the Johannesburg station bombing. Bram Fischer was imprisoned for life and died of cancer while undergoing that sentence. Ruth First was killed in a bombing by the security Police. Albie Sachs was maimed for life by a security police bomb. And the stories go on and on.
Among the next generations were people like Jeanette Curtis Schoon who with her daughter was blown up by a bomb sent to her as a parcel in the post by Craig Williamson of the security police. Her husband Marius Schoon spent twelve years in prison for his opposition to Apartheid. His cousin, journalist Tony holiday was also imprisoned. Marion Sparg is another one of those who said “I cannot do nothing” and as a result of her action as an MK cadre got a 25 year prison sentence. Father Michael Lapsley was maimed through loss of arms and an eye as a result of a security police bomb. Alex Mombaris, Steve Lee and Tim Jenkins all serving long jail sentences as MK cadres managed to break out of prison. Trades Unioinst Neil Aggett died at the hands of security police while in detention.
This story of resistance to colonialism and Apartheid goes on and on with many daily giving of themselves in so many different ways in Black Sash, the Confessing Resistance Church, and the many organisations in the Mass Democratic Movement, the Trades Unions, the UDF and so on. Then there are also the many brave young men who when faced with imprisonment or exile for refusing to join the army and take up arms they took the difficult decision to remain true to the majority people of colour and not participate in their suppression by police and armed forces….and refused to be part of a war machine also causing havoc across Southern Africa in neighbouring states.
It is impossible to be comprehensive and to mention everyone, every organisation and every heroic event…. So many Afro-European South African Patriots and also Europeans abroad played a role in really resisting Apartheid and paying a huge price for doing so.
When parties like the DA claim to have opposed Apartheid it is an insult to this long line of Afro-European heroes, especially when they sometimes borrow these names to defend “Whiteness” and white privilege. When people say that they were not a part of the evil “Crime against Humanity” that Apartheid was, but they just went along with everything and built their lives and benefited from Apartheid, all I can say is think of those who were arrested, tortured, harassed, killed and their lives destroyed simply for their opposition to Apartheid. I say the same to those who said they had no option but to obey the law and cannot be blamed. They did have options. To not have exercised an option of real opposition is to have been part of the problem. That is the honest truth.
These patriots going back over the centuries must never be airbrushed out of history. The sacrifices made by these in bring about a non-racial democracy is unfortunately not adequately recognised in the public arena and young people are not being told this story. It is only by telling this story that we can isolate racism effectively by those who continue to identify themselves in terms of ‘whiteness’ and who poison young minds. It is also this story that is vital to resolving the National Question and beginning to build one united South African nation.