AFRICANGLOBE – For ages, the country today known as South Africa was no more than a loose band of separate communities. The Nguni tribes, which settled on the Southern tip of Africa around the 10th century, neither considered themselves a single nation, nor did they consider the Khoisan people already inhibiting the area part of their collective.
The Dutch settlers, who committed to transforming the Cape from a refreshment station to a settlement in the 1670s, also did not envision forming a nation with the Khoisan or the Nguni tribes. The same is apparent for the English colonists who settled in the 1820s.
The settlers and the colonists divided the country among themselves into four separate states: the Colony of Natal, the Cape Colony and the Boer Republic (Orange Free State and Transvaal). The situation persisted until the early 1900s when, after a bloody war, the Volksraad and the British embarked on negotiations, which culminated in the South African Union Act of 1909. On May 31 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a British dominion.
The new Union of South Africa excluded non-Europeans from its constitutional structures. The exclusion awoke the Africans to the reality of their status, and drew them closer together. The loose band of tribes united to speak in unison when the South African Natives Congress was transformed into the African National Congress in 1912.
The unjust marginalisation of natives (Ngunis and Khoisan) was codified in 1913 when the government enacted a law reserving more than 87% of land for the exclusive use of Whites. The government coveted ultimately to dispel all non-Europeans, and to create a “Little Europe” in Africa.
The vision started to take shape in 1948 when the National Party came into power. The National Party’s policy of “separate developments” (or “apartheid”) anaesthetised the distinction between the English and the Afrikaners. Government rhetoric opted instead for the more generic term “Europeans”. It sought to unite all Whites under the “European” banner. South Africa was for (White) Europeans.
The natives, on the other hand, were reminded of the foolishness of insisting on European citizenship. They were encouraged to treasure their own “homelands” and appreciate the nobility of European South Africa’s “good neighbourliness”. Indeed, if the natives asked nicely and behaved decently, they could be given passes to enter European South Africa to work.
After democratisation, Nelson Mandela gave his seminal inaugural speech. In often quoted words he said “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it”. Mandela’s speech was the culmination of a process that dissolved the borders between European South Africa and African South Africa (sometimes called “Azania”) to a single nation.
The biggest hurdle that faced the new united nation was that European South Africa and African South Africa were very different. Thabo Mbeki characterised the differences vividly in his “two nations” speech. Thus, the task of building a single nation was prodigious and it befell not just the new “Black government” but all South Africans.
The characteristic terms “Black” and “European” were discarded, leaving a single South Africa occupied by Africans of all races. White South Africans who had been beneficiaries of a system that pillaged and oppressed on their behalf relinquished their “European” status and citizenship. Those aggrieved by the demolition of “Little Europe” packed their bags and headed elsewhere.
It appears, however, that there are citizens of “Little Europe” (or European-South Africans) remaining in South Africa today. The problem with these people is that they do not consider themselves South African (other than “Little Europeans”). They harbour the most regressive elements.
The corollary of a South African citizenship is that it entails not just the right to co-exist with other South Africans, but also the concomitant obligations of contributing to the betterment of the nation. Citizenship in the new South Africa entails discarding racial and cultural prejudices. For the citizens of former “Little Europe”, a citizenship in the new South African also entails giving up a privilege built on many years of domination.
The nuisance with citizens of “Little Europe” currently inhibiting South Africa is that they sit elevated on a platform of perceived betterness. They harp and lash harshly at government without rolling up their own sleeves to fight the good fight. They speak with nostalgia about the good old days when their citizenship did not entail obligations towards Black folk. They speak of the Black inclination towards crime but make no recognition of the root causes (poverty, illiteracy and inequality).
An apt example of a citizen of “Little Europe” is a (White) man who tells foreign media that the (“Black”) government is responsible for his (White) son shooting his (White) girlfriend. He makes no mention of the gun culture in which he raised his son.
South Africa faces Herculean challenges and all South Africans must battle together. The first step toward winning the battle is taking ownership of all problems by all South Africans, Black or White, rich or poor. Poverty should concern the residents of Soweto and Chislehurston with similar urgency. Crime should concern the residents of Kwa-Mashu and Zimbali with similar urgency. Illiteracy should concern residents of Khayelitsha and Constantia with similar urgency.
South Africa belongs to South Africans, citizens of “Little Europe” must leave. “Little Europe” no longer exists.
By: Brad Cibane