Thursday, October 15, 2009

South Africa's centenary all but forgotten

There's more to 2010 than just the soccer World Cup

Next year is 2010 and that means soccer and plenty of it. Soccer is good and the World Cup is very good. We must all do our bit to make South Africa 2010 a rip-roaring success.

But here's the un-PC bit: 2010 is also the year that South Africa turns 100. It's our country's centenary. Nothing can turn 100 - a person, a company, even a bar of chocolate - without you hearing all about it. Centenaries are always big deals. So why is nobody talking about South Africa raising its bat?

Before 1910, the term "South Africa" was used in a geographic sense and referred to two colonies and two Boer republics. As a political entity, South Africa simply didn't exist until the Union was created.

The answer to why our centenary is being so studiously ignored is really rather straightforward: the prevailing PC thinking is that there is nothing to celebrate. You have to agree with this PC assessment; 84 of our 100 years were unhappy years. South Africa was just three years old when the Land Act happened. For most people, things only got worse after that. So why should we not simply ignore the fact?

We must not ignore it because centenaries are great occasions for focusing attention on history, and because your average South African knows diddly squat about his country's past.

History is important because without knowing it we can't possibly understand how we came to be who we are and how we're supposed to shape our future.

Plus, you can use centenaries to flog stuff to tourists.

Right now, museums should be building "South Africa 100" exhibits, tour guides should be planning centenary tours, entrepreneurs should be churning out "South Africa 100" T-shirts and assorted knick knacks. This is a golden opportunity to package holidays to South Africa for those few foreigners who would draw their curtains if Brazil were playing football at the bottom of their garden.

This Sunday past was the 110th anniversary of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. A decade ago the conflict was officially (if rather desultorily) marked. I've always resisted calling the thing by its PC name, the South African War, but I've recently changed my tune. The more I read and learn about the war, the more I realise just how profoundly that tragic and catastrophic event impacted on the lives of all South Africans; it really was a South African war in every sense. It was huge; it was tragic. It belongs to all of us.

Clever books columnist Ann Donald, who drew attention to the occasion at the weekend, made the point that a "glaring omission" was the absence of books on the conflict from the black perspective. That's not quite true; I know of two or three books that deal quite explicitly and extensively with the participation of black and brown people in the war and, for instance, their experiences in the concentration camps.

But Donald's point stands; these are mostly scholarly works (one has only been published in Afrikaans) and are hard to find outside of museums or libraries.

Nobody has ever suggested celebrating the South African War. It was a dirty, divisive, nasty affair that killed and impoverished a great many people - but it was of critical importance to the process that led to the Union in 1910, apartheid, the struggle and, eventually, liberation. We are all children of that war, as much as we are children of the Union and then the Republic of South Africa.

The war has never been exploited properly to lure foreigners to our shores. Germans, Hollanders, Irish, French, Russians and even Italians were all over the war. There were Scandinavians by the wagonload, platoons of Scots and shiploads of Americans.

Recently I was told about a now obscure battle in then Eastern Transvaal in which the Boer wounded included an American and a Filipino. A Filipino? Fighting for the Boers? History is almost invariably stranger than fiction.

As with the South African War, I'm not suggesting that we drink excessively to mark the occasion of "South Africa 100", but I do think that this is a marketing opportunity and an occasion for informed reflection that we would be foolish to ignore.

If the tourists are buying World Cup 2010 T-shirts, let's sell them a centenary bandana or cigarette lighter at the same time.

One thing I do know: Fifa would never have given the World Cup to the Cape colony or the Transvaal.

Source: TimesLive
by Peter Delmar

7 Opinion(s):

Viking said...

great post!
I know a lot of people will disagree with this, but the Union of 1910 represented peace and reconciliation a mere decade after a horrendous and destructive war.
It should definitely be commemorated.

Anonymous said...

As a Boer, I regard the unionization of the Boer republics with the two colonies as a bigger tragedy than the two English wars.

This union enlarged the borders of the republics considerably, including an number of portions and pieces of black tribal land and with other events doomed the Boer people to minority status in their own countries. The free republics were a lot smaller than the previous Transvaal and Free State were in the "bad" old SA but they specifically EXCLUDED all black tribes except the tiny minority Ndebele tribe.

Part of the problem here was that the Boer republics starting to levy a head tax, and began importing kaffirs from the black "countries" to increase revenues just before the 2nd English War.

The Union of South Africa represents nothing less than the destruction of the Boer people, our way of life and our guaranteed ongoing political and economic oppression by any group larger than us... be they English, Afrikaner, or any of the isi's (isiXhosa) or ama's (amaZulu).

An untenable situation... but not as untenable as the current situation.

Perhaps now the "brother nations" (English, Afrikaner, Boer and other whites) can lay our past behind us and work at finding a solution to our common enemy.

I, sure as hell, would rather be oppressed by a brother than by a black. At least there was room for progress under the white regimes.

Anonymous said...


So what was before "South Africa"?
Quite simply, a number of different Nations occupied different regions of Southern Africa!
What makes that an inconvenient truth?
Quite simply, with "South Africa" such a disaster people will start to wonder whether it wouldn't be better to seperate said Nations juct as Yugoslavia found peace and prosperity through seperation.
Moreover, people would start tothik that maybe the "architects of apartheid" had the right idea!
This would destroy the current "western" mindset that apartheid was sme kind of experiment in supremacy where one country existed
with one ethnicity getting all of the "benefits" and another getting none!

Common Sense

Anonymous said...

This morning, on IOL, I noticed a piece on "the Poor White Problem" titled 'The new face of Poverty'. It went on to criticise the poor whites for not having done enough with their "privalaged position during the Apartheid years", to which I responded:
"Isn't it funny how Apartheid is suddenly always spoken of as having been all about "white privalage and opportunity"! Well I happened to be around during Apartheid and I remember it as having been a period of choice and opportunity for the Nguni and Sotho Peoples: they had the choice of free land and a culturally distinct rural lifestyle, or the opportunity for many to work in the de-centralised industries, while still more (like Nelson Mandela) could attend further education in their own homeland and then practice their profession within the Republic of South Africa if they chose to leave their homeland! My point is, before we all go shooting our mouths off about a view of history that is subjective, let me rid the New South Africa of its "poor white problem" for you: just give me an area of South Africa with the same carying capacity as Zululand or the Transkei in the '60s and I will take every "white squatter and beggar" off your hands and house them in said area where, just as wih the "Homelands" of the Apartheid Period, ALL LAND, ALL JOBS, AND ALL LOCAL GOVERNMENT POSTS WILL BE RESERVED FOR THOSE LIVING THERE! Fair is fair!"

Go ahead, have your say!
Common Sense

Anonymous said...

Afrikaner Broadcasting Corporation Published a Documentary

In Commemoration of:

The 99th Anniversary of The Union of South Africa &
The 48th Anniversary of The Republic of South Africa.

Three Episodes Documenting The History of Our Nation.

Ons Vir Jou Suid-Afrika / At Thy Will South Africa

Episode One: Founding of A Nation

Episode Two: A Republic is Born

Episode Three: Total Onslaught

Available at:

SA Greek said...

The problem is that there is no unity among white south africans.The liberal way of thinking of a great number of whites is the biggest problem.My opinion.If there was a serious attempt to claim a separate white state from the RSA,then we have to act as one.As i have already stated in a previous post the Cape Province or part of it,is the only feasible solution.Its not impossible.The dismantle of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union is the best example.

Viking said...

@SA Greek
you are entirely correct in your analysis, and sadly so.
The downfall of white South Africa will two types of white: the liberal anything-goes English Cape hippy who is only interested in his next hit of Colombian marching powder, or the certain type of (minority) Afrikaner who talks about white-unity but in reality hates most other whites. Interesting times, indeed, when people can't see beyond their own nose.