Tuesday, February 06, 2007

De La Rey, and the construction of African-ness

When I came across the this article on News24 yesterday, I wasn't sure whether to interpret it as some sort of joke, or to give it more serious consideration. I am still inclined toward the former, but the FAK's statement on the matter suggests otherwise. As I can't find a permanent link, I have quoted the entire statement at the end of this post. Note the separation, in the statement, of Afrikaners and Africans. Part of the problem is right there, I would suggest. The Mail and Guardian report here on the Democratic Alliance's assertion that this is not the most subversive song to come out of South Africa in recent days, while this article, again from News24, despite being pretty poorly written, makes a different point. Note the final line:

"Who are we, where do we come from and where do we fit in?" is the question the music asks.

This music video is available on YouTube, while Hannes has blogged the lyrics of De la Rey with an English translation here, and commented on the situation here.

The Star's Monday editorial on the issue makes ridiculous assumptions that verge on the inflamatory, but I don't expect much better from them. They do, however, quote Steve Biko on cultural identity and multi-culturalism. A useful reference, I think.

Just a thought, though: my advisor has suggested that identity studies are not a successful way of dealing with difference, as the construct reifies identifying experiences, and can become divisive. I am beginning to see her point, though I am not certain what the alternative is.

More on this situation as it develops, I'm sure. Here follows the FAK statement:

(For immediate release 2007/2/7)
The Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations, the FAK, has warned the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) against a malicious, patronising misinterpretation of the Afrikaans artist Bok van Blerk's hit song "De la Rey". According to the FAK it is outrageous to suggest like the DAC that this song is at all connected with so-called "armed resistance" or "hi-jacking by rightwingers". It is equally unfounded to claim like the DAC that the Anglo-Boer War hero and peacemaker, General Koos De la Rey, is seen as a war hero "by a minority of rightwingers" while De la Rey is widely considered to be one of the wisest Afrikaner leaders ever and as one of Africa's first anti-colonial freedom fighters.
The DAC should take notice that the song "De la Rey"'s huge popularity runs wide amongst Afrikaners of all persuasions. This popularity doubtlessly is related to the dignified, positive way in which the song recognizes Afrikaner identity. It also relates to the need for imaginative, democratic leadership amongst Afrikaners, as well as to the often heavy-handed way in which government deals with questions of symbolic importance for Afrikaners. The DAC's negation of the pressure on Afrikaans culture and the Afrikaans language - under which all indigenous languages currently suffer - as "nonsense" is a dangerous denial of facts like the dramatic anglicisation of Afrikaans universities and schools. This sort of denial is reminiscent of the way in which the legitimate grievances of black South Africans were talked away under the previous political dispensation. To on top of all this bring the Treason Act and the Boeremag trial into the De la Rey-debate, as the DAC does, is irresponsible and testifies to a tendency to suspect all Afrikaners of smouldering racism and anti-patriotism.
These unfortunate statements of the DAC show how big the chasm between government and Afrikaners has become. It is in nobody's interest that this state of affairs persists, and the FAK therefore calls on the DAC to verify the facts and rather establish a sustainable partnership with Afrikaners. South Africa's most important precondition for success remains the friendship between Afrikaners and Africans and this goal should be chased energetically rather than to cast suspicion on one
CONTACT: Johann Rossouw, spokesperson, FAK, +27(0)83-459-6364

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