This current racial situation has multiple origins, and they may even overlap.

Firstly, the impact of the ANC’s transformation ideology of 80-9-9-2 racial representation in all institutions should not be underestimated. The goal of this “national standard” is black domination in the whole of South African society. The unscrupulous racialisation of society as a whole through the ANC’s policies gives it momentum.

Secondly, the EFF’s political opportunism, populism and anti-white sentiment play a major role. The EFF is today’s AWB, with the same bully-like mindset and tactics. But they are very astute in playing the victim whenever they encounter (especially physical) opposition.

A third factor is the undeniable emergence of a new black consciousness among young black South Africans. Ferial Haffajee’s recent book, What if there were no whites in South Africa? describes it in a chilling way. This group, which is not necessarily linked to any political party, is by definition anti-white. According Haffajee their sentiment is as follows, “We want our own (African) spaces. And in all the other spaces, we want to dominate”. It is also well articulated by the spokesman of Open Stellenbosch: “We will only feel at home when everyone looks like us (black)”.

Underlying all three is the fourth factor, the rising expectations (see below) of the majority of South Africans who want more, but who feel that they are abandoned by the government with regards to education, service delivery and jobs. There is frustration with the slow road to the “better life” that the ANC so regularly promises.

Whatever the cause, the more important question might be, what are the consequences? Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press recently wrote:

“In societies that experienced ethnic conflict, the early warning signs were the dehumanisation of the other with labels and the blanket attachment of negative stereotypes. The signs were ignored.

We have to ask the question: How long before the burning of pictures of white people becomes the burning of white humans? The leadership of South Africa needs to drum into young people that the fight against racism and white supremacy is not a war on whites”.

Despite this warning, however, there is a complete lack of leadership from the government, and a deafening silence from the President during the worst racial conflict in the history of our democracy. The Minister of Higher Education and Training offered a weak plea for peace, but at the same time confirmed that racism (read: from white people) will not be tolerated and that transformation (read: racial domination) needs to be more forcefully implemented. The ANC’s racial ‘petticoat’ was visibly sticking out when Pieter Mulder recently complained in Parliament about “Kill the whites” posters. This was followed by cries of “yes, yes …” from ANC benches in support of this kind of poster.

I only have one question: What would Nelson Mandela, or even Kader Asmal, have done under these circumstances?

I am convinced that the majority of South Africans mean well, and that these should be viewed as isolated incidents. However, things could escalate dangerously if there is no leadership from our political, academic and cultural leaders.

Unfortunately, the “advice” of many commentators to Afrikaans students is not very appropriate. A year or so ago, a Rhodes scholar said that white people should “sit in the corner and keep quiet.” Now Afrikaans students are told to refrain from actively showing opposition towards a government and universities who – in direct opposition to the letter and spirit of section 29(2) of the Constitution – want to, in effect, kill Afrikaans as a university language. They should rather start a dialogue with their black peers.

What is forgotten is that the EFF (at least at this stage) is not interested in peaceful dialogue and solutions. Their goal is ungovernable campuses, and dialogue is not (currently) on their agenda, as evidenced by the burnt-out buildings on the Mafikeng Campus of the NWU.

Of course, most of us understand that action by Afrikaans students is not the ultimate goal. There must eventually be dialogue, negotiation, peace must be made and a compromise must be reached.

The question is, how and when must this dialogue take place?

There can only be dialogue if the state and university authorities act more firmly and do not give in so easily to unreasonable demands. Perhaps then the EFF and others will finally become calm enough to talk, and to listen.

Afrikaans students on all campuses have to wake up from their slumber and comfort zones and start actively participating and talking. Before AfriForum Youth visibly expressed opposition towards #AfrikaansMustFall, the organisation was not part of the debate. The UP had to respond to pressure from the EFF. Now the UP also has to consider what another organisation thinks about the the “solution” to wipe out Afrikaans completely. AfriForum Youth can thus now be part of the solution. The EFF (or any other organisation) should have a partner for dialogue and negotiation.

The origin and continuation of dialogue and negotiation is often based on personal relationships between leaders. Think of the Cyril and Roelf partnership. I believe that on the basis of good personal relationships between AfriForum and the ANC in Gauteng, a joint proposal was made to the UP to try and resolve the situation. Similarly, personal conversations and relationships must be cultivated between students.

Finally, any discussion or negotiation can only succeed if it is based on relatively objective criteria, such as the guidelines of the Constitution. And if it is based on mutual respect, tolerance of differences and a willingness to compromise.

If we do not start doing this, flames and violence will remain our fate.

Dr Theuns Eloff: Chairman, FW de Klerk Foundation


Article first published in Rapport [28 February 2016]