Bowing to the majority's political inconsistencies

Saturday, 20 January 1996

For those of us who've lived all our lives as part of a minority, it's sometimes difficult to truly appreciate some of the psychological upheaval that white South Africans are now facing...

HE DID NOT have a lean and hungry look, but he was clearly thinking a lot. This appeared to make him vulnerable rather than dangerous.

Sometime in the last century, he pointed out, the mfecane had pushed a large number of South Africans into the area now known as Zimbabwe where they became the Ndebele people. Did this not, he asked, make them settlers?

I agreed.

So then, he went on, what about the concept of "One Settler, One Bullet"? Why was it not applied there?

I took a swig of my liqueur. The answer was simple, I said. Inconsistency is a requirement for most political movements. The PAC is no exception.

This discussion had begun during an after dinner chat. We were complementing a rather pleasant Durban summer evening by washing down home-made espresso with Kenyan coffee liqueur.

A white South African of my generation, my companion was searching for answers - among them to what the late John Nyati Pokela called "the land question".

How far back should we go, he wanted to know, to address claims brought by people that they were unfairly deprived of their land? If some descendent of the San or Khoi-Khoi was able to show that Table Mountain had belonged to his family, should we give it back to him?

A fair question. Perhaps the only fair answer can be found in the procedure used by the US government when they agreed to pay reparations to Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated in concentration camps during World War 2.

Payment will only be made to those who were imprisoned - not to their descendents. For those who died, the right of redress died with them.

Similarly, I said, claims for land restitution should only be entertained from those who were victims, not from their families or descendents. It's the only cut-off point for claims that makes any sense.

But was it fair, he asked, that land be taken away from those who had bought it in good faith and had worked hard to build it up?

Well then, I replied, what happens if you buy a car, and the papers are in order, and you keep it for years, and it turns out to be stolen?

"Toughies," he replied.

The land issue was very similar, I said. In many cases, this was organised theft perpetrated by the government.

But, he asked, shouldn't the people who built up the property be compensated for what they have invested?

Absolutely, I agreed, and that's where both of us came in. As taxpayers, we would probably have to cough up.

We winced at this, and turned to the performing arts which, he said, were becoming increasingly Afrocentric at the expense of western cultural standards.

Why, he asked, should predominantly-white taxpayers be forced to subsidise performances of gumboot dancing when they would rather watch ballet?

I grinned. As a taxpayer, I said, I have had to sponsor Napac ballet performances for years. And I have absolutely no interest in either ballet or gumboot dancing. I would rather have given the money to Seaworld's marine research or to the World Wildlife Fund.

"Let's use another example," I said. "Assume I'm a pacifist, and I object to my tax money being used as part of a defence budget because that promotes violence. Should I be able to withhold my taxes?"

He thought about this. "Well, we can argue that they will be protecting you as well," he suggested.

"And what if my belief is that I don't care who invades the country?" I added.

We were silent for a while. Perhaps it was time, he said, to start looking seriously at places like Australia.

"You're really not used to being in a minority, are you?" I asked. He raised his eyebrows. He was as surprised as I was.

"Take heart," I told him. "Western civilisation was never defined by Napac. For that, we must look to Hollywood. Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura! That's modern western civilisation. It's stronger than ever. Give it time and it will take over this country too.

"Besides," I added, "As long as Luciano Pavarotti is able to fill stadia at more than R400 per seat, white South African culture is safe."