Undeniably Pale, but far from Native.

It is a common phenomenon of failures that they live, psychologically, in the past. All whites who have had any contact with Rhodesians will know the “Whenwe” factor, and no doubt similar pathetic effusions litter the path of those preposterous ninnies who have run away from South Africa so as to dwell among their pink-cheeked equivalents in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Max du Preez was once a semi-serious journalist. Then he became an editor, a definite false step. But he was editor of Die Vrye Weekblad, an Afrikaans “alternative newspaper” which attempted to tap into the very deep well of stories which all Afrikaans-speaking journalists knew about but dared not touch, such as death squads, financial corruption and the Cabinet paedophile ring. Unfortunately Du Preez was bad at the job (being a drunk didn’t help) and eventually destroyed the paper by losing a huge defamation suit against the police poisoner General Lothar “Doepa” Neethling. Perhaps this was intended; the Vrye Weekblad died at much the same time as all the other “alternative newspapers”, none of which left any offspring.
Du Preez went into TV, making a hash of it, and then began writing maundering reactionary opinion pieces for the Independent Group of newspapers. He published some nostalgic reminiscences about the days when he was taken seriously (Oranje Blanje Blues) and, having nothing better, then produced a collection of his opinions, Pale Native. This is a rough Anglo-South African translation of the Afrikaans term “wit kaffir”. It refers to a person who is white on the outside but black within. Some were so because they were culturally absorbed in the black community, like so many of the “trekboers” of the early nineteenth century (who are now mysteriously heroes of Afrikanerdom, although most of them would have been jailed under John Vorster, and some of them would have been endorsed out to tribal homelands). Others were so because they were democratic socialists and thus at odds with the feudal reactionary politics of Afrikaner nationalism.
In the latter context, being a wit kaffir could be something for an Afrikaner to brag about, since it entailed having the gumption to face down the hegemonic culture. However, doing it for money doesn’t count. More to the point, you actually have to do something; just saying you are a wit kaffir doesn’t make you one, as Leon Schuster could tell Du Preez.
Recently the book has been reissued. Anglo-American is casting about for reactionary opinions in this era when the ruling class hopes that the ANC may be in terminal crisis, and so its daughter propaganda company Avusa has decided to plug Du Preez’s book. Since Du Preez was originally working for the Sunday Independent, which is supposedly in competition with Avusa, the ruling class is here giving us all a magnificent example of pulling together in crisis.
One of the articles in the book was printed in the Daily Dispatch, and this is the reason for noting this otherwise unedifying spectacle: an attack on the ANC through the UDF. This is a very common practice in the Western Cape; only a week or so ago the Zuma propagandist and former Cape Trotskyite Ebrahim Harvey was excreting comparable pellets in the pages of the Weekly Mail. Zackie Achmat has tried similar balderdash, as has Tony Ehrenreich, the COSATU entryist. But nobody takes such people seriously as political pundits, so possibly Du Preez is deemed a bit more plausible, at least among people who confuse him with Breyten Breytenbach.
Du Preez opens by saying that the ANC destroyed the UDF, that the UDF was not an ANC body, and that he does not romanticise the UDF. (Well, if you say so, Max.) He proclaims that he liked the UDF, although he does not say that he liked it enough to join it (and, in fact, he did not join it, so he had no personal experience of what he is talking about, though he pretends to have this). He says that the UDF was integrally non-racial throughout the seven years of its existence, and then he says that it “brought more South Africans of the minority groupings into mainstream politics than the ANC did in nine decades”.
Hmmm. For Du Preez, non-racism is about serving the interests of “minorities” — by which he means whites, coloureds and indians. Now the very interesting thing about the UDF is that it was set up to challenge this very concept, because it was formed in August 1983 to contend with the tricameral parliament which was bringing “the minority groupings into mainstream politics”. If you had spoken in such terms in any UDF meeting between then and June 1986, after which UDF meetings became impossible, you would have been thrown out instantly. The whole point about the UDF was indeed non-racism, and this meant rejecting the concept that people with certain skin colours and cultural backgrounds had special rights.
Incidentally, during the forty-eight years of its existence, the ANC worked very hard to encourage those who were not africans to support the struggle against apartheid, via the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses, the Coloured People’s Congress and the Congress of Democrats, organisations which (like the racially-stratified organisations which made up the UDF) were racially identified not because of racist essentialism but because apartheid would not permit anything else, ultimately via the “Prohibition of Political Interference Act” which banned non-racist parties. (This Act was repealed before the UDF was formed, so that the apartheid state could bring coloureds and indians into the laager against the africans.)
So on one hand Du Preez is interpreting history in a narrow and racially focussed way, and on the other he is playing fast and loose with the facts. The UDF represented acknowledgement of the oppression of all races by the apartheid state, but also the need for the most obviously oppressed people to lead this struggle. Instead, Du Preez approvingly mentions the formation of a racist coloured organisation, saying that it is “ironic” that it is supported by people who once held positions in the UDF. Surely, if this were the case, it would be tragic, because it would mean that some people in the UDF failed to live up to their professed ideals of non-racism. (This does not seem to be the case; the Bruine Belange Inisiatief is run by a former head of the ATKV, the apartheid-era Afrikaans cultural organisation. This estimable person has just been appointed to the Human Rights Commission by President Zuma, so how can Du Preez denounce the ANC for not supporting it?)
But then, if UDF activists had been backing this BBI, Du Preez’s claims that the UDF was essentially non-racist is questionable, because evidently the UDF would have included covert racists.
Du Preez also complains about Julius Malema saying that the struggle was about freeing “blacks in general and Africans in particular”. This statement was canonical within the UDF, which accepted african leadership. It suggests that Du Preez never understood the UDF proper. Otherwise he would not say that the UDF “led only with the mandate of the members of the movement”. In fact, the UDF had to be a top-down organisation. At local level there was some democracy (though one should not exaggerate this) but the general leadership could not consult with the local membership, and often did not even try to. (Leaders of the UDF were often in detention, making it difficult for them to consult anybody — especially after February 1985 when the first State of Emergency was declared. The threat of detention drove leaders into hiding, making democratic practice very difficult even in local areas.)
After June 1986, of course, this was impossible with virtually the whole leadership in detention. This is what makes it so ridiculous for Du Preez to say that the South African “business community and agents of change”, as he dishonestly calls them, should have talked to the UDF. In reality, the UDF’s top 10 000 people were inaccessible in prison. Meanwhile, the UDF did not want to talk to anybody about anything except the two primary issues: lifting the State of Emergency and unbanning the ANC. That was why it was worth talking to the ANC; they had a longer perspective, and they were more able to consult their membership than the UDF were.
But the leaders of the UDF were often underground members of the ANC, which is easy to follow if you accept that the UDF and the ANC were the same. However, it is incomprehensible if, like Du Preez, you pretend that they were separate organisations. But then why did the UDF proclaim itself in support of the Freedom Charter, and why did UDF funerals always display ANC flags and emblems? Du Preez’s analysis cannot account for this, so he does not mention it. When Du Preez claims that “the internal resistance . . . forced the apartheid machinery to the negotiating table”, he forgets that this “internal resistance” was crushed in 1986 and was only beginning to rise again in 1989; without the other “pillars of the struggle”, the ANC underground, MK and the international supporters whom the ANC had mobilised, the UDF could have accomplished nothing.
Du Preez also claims that the ANC “gobbled up the UDF and all its structures” on its return. This is startlingly inaccurate. The ANC did not want the UDF’s structures, most of which were appropriate to the UDF’s special situation. However, neither the leadership of the UDF, nor the membership of the UDF, wanted the UDF to continue. Everybody wanted to join the ANC; as Jeremy Seekings, author of the official history of the UDF and no fan of the ANC, the UDF’s leadership acknowledged within months of the ANC’s unbanning that the UDF was at its weakest ever.
Only a few people whose sole power-base was the UDF felt any different. Significantly, Du Preez relies upon Allan Boesak, the UDF time-server and sometime pin-up — and also, an egomaniacal philanderer who stole from his own organisation, and from children, giving the money to his wife and then lying about it. The ANC speedily established branches and regions, and held its first internal national conference within less than two years of its establishment in the country. It was more politically democratic, in structure and culture, than the UDF had been. This was not the UDF’s fault (the ANC after 1990 had more scope for democracy than the UDF had possessed) but is a tribute to the democratic traditions of the ANC, which the UDF had absorbed.
For want of a concrete argument, Du Preez appeals to the well-established white right-wing hatred of Thabo Mbeki to make the claim that the ANC was bad. He says Mbeki alienated his constituency (the ANC’s electoral support rose by 10% between 1994 and 1999, and by a further 6% between 1999 and 2004). On the basis of this claptrap, he says that the UDF would have been totally different from the ANC, which, Du Preez says, is not a people’s movement and has done nothing for the people since 1994 and has seen “the minority groups drifting away from the mainstream”.
There we have it; this entire rigmarole allows Du Preez to reject the 1994 victory of the people over the whites. Like so many white racist reactionaries, Du Preez wants to reverse the results of our democratic election. He lies about the nature of the UDF and the ANC in order to promote an organisation which no longer exists (because thus he can claim to be a democrat despite his hostility to democracy). His concern for “minorities” ignores the Indians (who have not “drifted away”, whatever that means) and the English (who remain in their own reactionary “mainstream”). Du Preez’s concern is with coloureds (who have been coopted by the DA in the Western Cape) and Afrikaners (who largely control the DA in the Western Cape and elsewhere).
The UDF, claims Du Preez, would not have allowed the Afrikaners and coloureds to become reactionary. How the UDF (which was never supported by Afrikaners and was supported by only a minority of coloureds — the UDF was an overwhelmingly african organisation) could have done this, given the massive push by white racists to keep the Afrikaners reactionary and to fool the coloureds into supporting white racism, Du Preez does not say. Certainly it could not have done this without abandoning its principles, which seems to be what Du Preez’s whole article is about.
Du Preez fits perfectly alongside his fellow propagandists, such as Gumede and Mangcu and Gordin and Moeletsi Mbeki; so perfectly that one wonders whether they write their own stuff or just sign at the bottom of the column, in return for whisky coupons.

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3 Responses to Undeniably Pale, but far from Native.

  1. Laura says:

    Wow, this post made me glad I didn’t make the effort to go to the Dispatch Dialogue by Max Du Preez on Tuesday. Or maybe it makes me sad I didn’t go to see for myself. Hmmm.

  2. Johan Meyer says:

    Kindly explain how you calculated the increases in the ANC’s support base. The number of votes cast for the ANC were on a national level:
    1994: 12.2M
    1999: 10.6M
    2004: 10.8M
    2009: 11.6M

    Or do you mean membership in the ANC?

    PS I left because a relative was going to be locked up for failure to pay business taxes, incurred a year and a half after he had quit the business in question (without removing any bloody capital out of the business, yet some of the former partners bucked with the money, but someone forgot to change the rolls at SARS, and they weren’t too sympathetic), so we had to lend the money (no way getting that amount, with our meager assets, in RSA) abroad, and we are still (11 years later) paying back that debt. So don’t just assume that whites leave out of racism… GRRR.

  3. Johan Meyer says:

    Stated a different way, while most whites may be racist (in my own experience), it is not their racism that is making them leave.

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