December 5, 2020

Klasie Kraalogies: On Racism, Apartheid, and the demons within (Part 2)

On Racism, Apartheid, and the demons within (Part 2)
By Klasie Kraalogies

Police confronting protesting youths, Soweto, 1976.

Apartheid police crackdown on protests against the system, 1980’s.

We are not born racist. But, as we are molded by family, religion, culture and society, one can almost state that in most cases, racism is absorbed along with our sugary breakfast cereal. In my own case, I was much more exposed to non-segregated environments. From early on (9 years onwards) I went to church in a majority black church, listened to black preachers, sang choruses in multiple languages. My parents were missionaries in the then Northern Rhodesia, later Zambia, before my birth, and had a much more open attitude than most.

But I also attended school in the “Christian National Education” system. We were taught some non-colonial history and were taught basic Sepedi. Of course nothing in the history class was said about the Nazi-connections I discussed in Part 1, nor of the struggle against apartheid. All the enemies of the state were ‘evil Communists’’. It did help that the ANC was in an Alliance with Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the South African Communist Party. It also helped that our young men went off to the borders to keep out the communists – even if a lot of that border was between “Southwest Africa” (now Namibia) and Angola. There they were fighting SWAPO (Southwest African People’s Organisation) and their Angolan and Cuban allies, while supporting the Angolan UNITA rebels under Jonas Savimbi.

South African troops in Angola during Operation Smokeshell (1980).

The picture was complete. Continuing apartheid was made easy by using the argument that dismantling it would give the opportunity for the Communists to take over. The government of P.W Botha (1978-1989) came up with the evocative terminology – “The Total Onslaught”. The world was against us, liberals, and communists who all hate God. Like all totalitarianisms, simple yet powerful ideas can keep the machinations of the State running. And so, every Wednesday in High School, we donned military style uniforms, raised the flag, practiced marching, sang a patriotic song or two. That is what good Christian boys and girls did – prepare for war against the evil world, under the banner of apartheid.

A weekly scene from my school days.

The connection between faith, ethnicity and political domination was secure. Yet there were voices from within the ranks of the privileged. One of the important ones was Beyers Naude, theologian and erstwhile Broederbond member who started questioning the status quo after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.

Sharpeville Massacre, 1960.

The Sharpeville massacre happened because police got trigger happy during a peaceful protest. The death toll was 69. Beyers Naude, who was a provincial Synod moderator for the NG Kerk resigned from the church and the Broederbond, and then spent more than two decades as a pariah. A significant amount of that time was also spent under house arrest.

Then the heart of the alliance started to crumble. In 1986 the NG Kerk, the leading Dutch Reformed denomination in South Africa, turned around and said that religious apartheid was wrong, opening its doors to all races. And in 1989 the church went further – and declared apartheid a sin (https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-03-14-me-500-story.html ). As an aside, much of this change was brough about by the actions of one man – Johann Heyns, who was viewed by some as a dangerous liberal. In 1982 he shocked many by saying that apartheid is not necessarily the will of God. In 1986 he became moderator of the church and the changes noted above started in earnest. Then in 1994 he was assassinated by persons unknown, although strong clues pointed towards the radical Afrikaner right wing.

Johan Heyns: Reformer who was assassinated in 1994.

Less than 11 months later, the dismantling of apartheid began in earnest.

Mandela celebrating the dawn of the new South Africa in 1994. The last white leader with the first Black leader of the country.

I am not covering the much more significant struggle by the anti-apartheid movement within and without South Africa. Of the immense role played by Mandela, the heroes of the struggle, of Archbishop Tutu, and the Black consciousness leaders like the martyred Steve Biko, much has been written by people more qualified than me. They sacrificed much, and the real credit belongs to them. However, since this essay is on racism within, it makes sense to look at apartheid, racism and the internal struggle from within the bosom of racism so-to-speak. From the vantagepoint of the “perpetrator class”, and the internal collapse.

During this time I was in High School. The “communist objection” started crumbling with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990. The church my folks attended swivelled in became deeply enmeshed in Culture War thinking, struggles against sex education, abortion, and towards a theocratic solution. The drug replacing the fear of communism was a drive towards a theocratic state. We went on marches, held banners, signed petitions – yet it was so strange that all these other matters could rile up the “faithful”, but the horrors of racism made no-one bat an eyelid. So, it was no surprise that within this environment there were very noticeable things, such as the lack of multiracial families in the church. That, in the end of the day co-religionists only occasionally visited across the colour line. Close friends were almost always of the same colour. This was explained by calling on cultural differences, for instance. Though the real reason was always skin colour. In private, many of the white folks would make comments indicating that they still viewed their Black brothers and sisters as the other. Some of this was race, a lot of it was class. But the intersectionality I noted in Part 1 pretty much ruled the day. The culture war hides injustices. It is what it is designed to do.

So how does one break that down? It is now two decades since I left that church, and nearly a decade since I left religion altogether. But the issue is not religion, present or absent. The issue is us and them. The issue is recognising the thought patterns engrained from childhood. The little behaviours. The “Micro-agressions”. The simple assumptions. Recognize them– and then go to war with them. Educate yourself. Slam the intolerance you find in yourself. Not in the name of being enlightened, or modern, or whatever – but in the name of defeating the wrong. It is easy to make a confession, or like those ridiculous folks a week or two ago that went and “rejected their white privilege”. What nonsense. You cannot reject privilege given to you from outside. However, you can find the source of that thinking and behaviour in yourself – and throttle it. Otherwise you become a hypocrite like the church members I grew up with – some of whom made great outward sacrifice, but inward the stench of racism did not go away.

The reality though is that this is likely going to be a lifelong struggle, especially for us who live in transitional generations. Maybe in a few centuries things like this will be largely something of the past. Maybe.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    the younger generation always seems more hopeful somehow, as we can see in the wonderful Stellenbosch University Choir:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggtsJJsNlk4

  2. The culture war hides injustices. It is what it is designed to do.

    That.

    • Soooo that.

    • Robert F says

      When the injustices are revealed, it claims that no society is perfect, there will always be injustice due to imperfection, these injustices are the way it’s always been and are therefore normative, and any attempt to remedy them systemically will lead to worse injustices — like say socialism.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      +1,000

    • Burro (Mule) says

      On all sides:

      From the Archdruid –

      Two weeks ago, in response to my discussion of John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed, I fielded the inevitable comment from the inevitable reader who insisted that Johnny Appleseed was a Bad Person because he played a role in the westward expansion of the United States. When I responded by saying, sure, you can impose that sort of rigid ideological judgment on Chapman if you want to, I got a tirade back, talking about how awful it was that history classes used to teach that people like Chapman were Good People, because now we know that they were Bad People. My response to this, in turn, expressed a lack of enthusiasm for this sort of stunningly simple-minded flattening-out of history. That was the end of the conversation; I didn’t mind this too greatly, because the other standard move from the other side in that type of conversation is a shrieking profanity-laced meltdown, and I find those very dull.

      • With regard to history and historical figures, even with figures not as obviously odious as say Hitler, there are limits; sometimes those histories and historical figures need to have their curves flattened, because they are monopolizing the whole landscape and preventing other features from being seen. When culture war prevents that flattening from happening, it is helping to occlude many of those other features from being seen, and they remain unseen and unacknowledged.

      • David Greene says

        I suppose Johnny Appleseed’s real crime in the minds of such folks is that he was born.

  3. Klasie, have you read The Covenant by James A. Michener? If so, how well did he portray the struggles of S.A.?

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Tom, no I haven’t. For years now I have stayed away from that kind of historical fiction, as it often tends to cloud matters considerably. That being said, after looking at a number of reviews, it would appear that it is quite a decent account of the history of the land, all things considered.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        For what it’s worth, I used to read Michener when I was in my teens. His historical novels were more “epic”, tracing the land and the people over several generations from their beginnings to the present.

        • Rick Ro. says

          I worked in a bookstore when Michener’s “Alaska” came out. I decided to give it a try to see what his books were like. The first five pages were all about the formation of the land in painful, boring detail. That might work for Mike the Geo, but not for me…LOL. Put it back on the shelf and never tried another one.

          • Loved Michner’s Alaska. I remember reading it in college, and it inspired me to eventually visit the state…though I don’t have what it takes to live there.

            Michner’s take on race was informed by the fact he married a Japanese-American woman. He commented that there were many states where they’d travel early on where he might get in trouble for staying with an Asian woman. His novel Hawaii reflects this experience pretty well.

            • Maybe I should pick it up again and just slog my way through the opening part, eh?

              My best friend/best man is Japanese-American. He once visited Missouri and said he felt like a fish out of water, and it was the only time he’s gotten stares for what he looked like.

      • The Source is my favorite Michener book. We were assigned that as part of a biblical archaeology course and it does a good job of following the excavation of the layers of a tell (mound where cities have risen and fallen over millennia). Michener wove it all together nicely with human interaction, including notables such as King David, and Herod the Great, all the way up through the British occupation.

        Sorry, Klasie, I haven’t fully read your article yet–and I think I’ll forward it to a friend who worked in Transkei, S. Africa with Mennonite Central Committee for several years, and found himself in the slammer under suspicion of aiding the ANC.

        And The Covenant is very worth a read too.

        • OK, now I’ve read your article. Good final two paragraphs, and they describe the need for humility over nationalism. We have a lot of work to do.

          Klasie, I’ve just started reading Soul Survivor: how my faith survived the church, by Philip Yancey, in which he describes growing up in a racist church in the South in the 1950s and 60s. He credits several mentors, with the first chapter focusing on Martin Luther King, Jr. You’d probably recognize a lot in the book.

        • The Source is my favorite.

  4. “The reality though is that this is likely going to be a lifelong struggle, especially for us who live in transitional generations.”

    As someone who was born and grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the time of Jim Crow I can bear witness to this. Attitudes learned in our formative years hide deep inside and are hard to overcome. Or as Jeremiah puts it, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?”(17:9)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      In the early 1990s there was a guest speaker/pastor at the non-denominational mega-church I frequented at the time. He was from South Africa. He spent a fair amount of his time explaining that “Apartheid” wasn’t even a real word [etymology, a favorite topic of scoundrels and con-artists]. There was no counter-point provided; silence. This was in Grand Rapids, MI (USA). The tendrils run far and wide. 🙁

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Attitudes learned in our formative years hide deep inside and are hard to overcome.

      And the internal conflict often goes public as Siege Mentality and Defiance Culture.

      • anonymous says

        generational problems these can be:

        when oppression cuts down people so badly that it wounds them to the very DNA of their souls, the sins of the fathers (the oppressors) still haunt the children of the wounded . . .

        look at the people of Appalachia whose forebears were spirited pioneers of Scots-Irish heritage, who now suffer from a kind of malaise of the spirit that first gave way to shock of living without hope for the miners who might not come home from the disasters in the mine shafts or, having ‘survived’, perished slowly and painfully of black lung, self-medicated with much home-brewed ‘elixir’ as could be drunk to relieve the suffering and now whose young have taken on this way of self-medication of ‘the hopelessness’ through opioid addiction and worse . . . .

        Can the young perish of the whips of the great-great grandfathers’ tormentors? Can we see in them the same hopelessness and defensive ‘defiance’ against ‘authority’??? I think we can, and I think we do see it. When the wounds go too deeply into the beings of the abused, the scars are born for generations UNTIL something offers a portal to escape from the ‘curse’ . . . . something that helps these offspring to ‘see things differently’ and to take up ‘hope’ and keep trying until, until . . . . .

        ‘how long O Lord, how long????

    • Brianthegrandad says

      Montgomerian here. Since 1992. We’ve have moved to the country east of town but I work there and am pretty involved in the community. Interesting times. Perhaps you remember mayor Folmar. Now our mayor is Steven reed, who is black. Quite historic arc if you knew the former.

  5. Robert F says

    It’s Juneteenth, so this post is especially apropos today.

  6. Burro (Mule) says

    At what point do heuristics blend over into racism?

    This is not a question designed to convince you all to allow me to continue considering black people and Jews subhuman or inferior, but a genuine question based on a genuine concern. We do no one any favors by assuming that everyone is basically identical under the skin, and that any deviation from this underlying monoculture is the result of an exterior pressure operating on them.

    I live among African Americans. This is no great virtue on my part. American culture is such that I would have little to do with them even if they were of the same ethnic group as I. But they do not act like White people. I go to church with Greeks. They do not act like Norwegians. Both groups are composed of wonderful people, and they always want to include me, but there are times when Black-only or Greek-only are the ways to go, and to force inclusion only makes everybody nervous and on-edge.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      As long as divisions are made on skin colour and ethnic origin, heuristics blend over into racism. If people are on edge because someone with a lot more or a lot less melatonin in their skin are included in an activity, cultural or otherwise, it is racism.

      Of course, certain things attract people with a specific cultural background more than others. But the same can be said about personality. You will have to violently force me to attend a big sports game. I dislike the crowd dynamics intensely. But that is personality.

      As soon as ethnic origin or skin colour becomes a reason for exclusion or dislike, you have a racist problem on your hands.

    • Christiane says

      “We do no one any favors by assuming that everyone is basically identical under the skin, and that any deviation from this underlying monoculture is the result of an exterior pressure operating on them.”

      if you want some help with this,
      IF you accept that we human persons are made in the image of God;
      THEN it is easier to see how we are all created from the SAME elements of the Earth,
      and all have the same BREATHE of God that breathes LIFE into us,
      so that it does make sense to be able to have RESPECT for human persons because of their most primal innate dignity.

      Beyond that basic humanity, we are most certainly diverse but that also has purpose and meaning.
      Even those who are ill and weak and much troubled call from the rest of us a RESPONSE that is to be humane, and caring, and so they also have purpose for good in this world, yes.

  7. Klasie Kraalogies says

    It occurred to me this morning that I am very likely the only one around here that grew up in a Fascist State. The National Party, as recounted last week, had deep fascist roots, and got more and more so till the mid 80’s. Probably the longest serving Fascist regime.

    So trust me when I say, you DO NOT want to live in a Fascist country, even as a member of the privileged class.

    • I’m lilly white and the current surge in white supremacy B.S. makes me nothing but uncomfortable. It ain’t helping me or anyone. It’s ugly. I’m not apologizing for being who God created me to be but I’m embarrassed on behalf of white people by some of our representation. As we say in Texas, ‘that’s for damn sure’.

      • As in, “I’m damn sure embarrassed.”

      • Robert F says

        I’ve been following Rod Dreher’s blog over at The American Conservative for the last half year or so; as a liberal, I want to see what the other side is saying. In the last month in the wake of the protest movement I’ve been alarmed to see many comments that are barely concealed, or not concealed at all, calls for white separatism dressed up as protecting the cultural heritage of the Christian European West from hordes of radical marauders. Dreher seems to allow such comments without moderation. Today in his post he called the activists who are pulling down statues the Possessed — referring to a Dostoevsky novel — and seemed to not only be anticipating but relishing the idea of a white backlash, and a violent one at that, against the street actions of Antifa activists and Black Lives Matters. Nowhere in sight is The Benedict Option, though he occasionally still mentions it in passing.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          All that stuff, whether dressed up in religious garb or not, has always been about superiority, fear and hate.

    • Dana Ames says

      Klasie,

      You may be interested in perusing the blog methodius dot blogspot dot com. The author is an Orthodox deacon in South Africa, Stephen Hayes, who was Anglican and worked with anti-apartheid clergy back in the day. He’s in his late 70s, I believe. He has written “tales from dystopia” about some of the things he experienced and observed (he was banned at one point). I personally need to read his blog regularly not only for the reminders about that, but also for the takes he offers occasionally on happenings in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

      Dana

  8. Amazing yet sad read, Klasie. Thanks for sharing your story and perspective.

    –> ” Like all totalitarianisms, simple yet powerful ideas can keep the machinations of the State running.”

    Sounds like “sound bite” politics. See that a lot in ‘Murica these days. Especially when one can just declare something is “Fake News,” wielding that term like some sort of God-given rubber stamp that proves it’s false.

    –> “The issue is us and them. The issue is recognising the thought patterns engrained from childhood. The little behaviours. The “Micro-agressions”. The simple assumptions. Recognize them– and then go to war with them. Educate yourself. Slam the intolerance you find in yourself. Not in the name of being enlightened, or modern, or whatever – but in the name of defeating the wrong.”

    YES. This! Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”? (Anyone else, either?) If not, I encourage you to do so. Here’s the little blurb from Amazon:

    “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is Malcolm Gladwell’s second book. It presents in popular science format research from psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious: mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. It considers both the strengths of the adaptive unconscious, for example in expert judgment, and its pitfalls, such as prejudice and stereotypes.”

    He has several chapters on racial issues, detailing some of the studies done to see how we all racial stereotype, whether we think we do or not. Eye-opening stuff. Really changed my perspective about my own “thinking” and made me more in tune with what to watch for in myself. Great book.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”?

      Yes. It has an excellent section on the need to s-l-o-w things down to achieve ‘rational’ outcomes. Our “values” die at high speed.

  9. Klassie and I must be about the same age. Growing up in lower Midwest, I attended a church school throughout the 1980s. As Christian schools go, it was quite down to earth and featured few students whose families were all about out the Culture War. So I have no real complaints about my experiences there.

    However, I do distinctly recall in those waning-but-we-didnt-know-it days of the Cold War that our A Beka civics textbook went out of its way to underscore that apartheid couldn’t be that bad: after all, blacks from neighboring countries can for the comparatively well paying jobs in the mines. And of course, the government was staunchly anti-Communist, so there you go. I should add that the textbook began, as I also recall, with a profile of a black US Air Force general. What he thought of apartheid was not recorded.

  10. Burro (Mule) says

    Peeled off from Fr. Stephen’s blog, from the Elder Sophrony:

    Abraham “stands before the Lord” (the essential work of the priesthood). And there he begins his prayers. While he prays, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah waits – it hangs in a balance. Will the Lord spare the cities for the sake of 50 righteous? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? It is with fear and trembling that Abraham is bold to bargain with God. It is with fear and trembling that he asks, “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

    Abraham’s intercession reveals the very heart of the Church’s prayer. The righteous man lives side-by-side with the wicked, but he doesn’t despise them or pray for their destruction. Instead, he recognizes the coinherence and communion of all humanity – “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked?” We are with the wicked. We do not have a life apart from them, for we are with them. And this presence becomes the fulcrum for the salvation of the world. “I will be with you,” Christ promises (Matt. 28:20).

    It is easier to see skin color than the awfulness of one’s own heart.