A Sisulu, A Verwoed, and a Vorster walk into a coffee bar….

On meeting the grandsons of Apartheid “monsters” Verwoed and Vorster

First Published in City Press March 31, 2013

John Vorster Jr and I listen on while Carel Boshoff speaks

John Vorster Jr and I listen on while Carel Boshoff speaks

Driving down one of the town’s main roads into the morning brightness, I felt as if I had taken somewhat of a step back into time. Passing authentic Cape Dutch style buildings and the old bank which still had Eerste Nationale Bank pinned up on the wall, my little time travel ended on the steps of the local Art Museum.

I was in Stellenbosch, the last bastion of Afrikaaner might.

I got a sense of this when the first item that caught my eye in the museum was a massive painting of the Battle of Ncome River, or as the Boere would say “Bloed Rivier”. The day of their vow.

Image

I grew up knowing this day to be MK Day, the day the liberation struggle became the armed struggle. Interesting how differently we see the same things isn’t it? So how do the children of the heroes of the Apartheid regime see the world?

Having long wondered how the other side lives, I relished meeting the grandsons of Hendrick Verwoed and John Vorster, at Woordfees, Stellenbosch’s annual Afrikaans Literary Festival. Carel Boshoff jnr, grandson of Voerwoed and son of Carel Boshoff the founder of Orania, John Vorster jnr and I were on a panel talking about our views of South Africa’s future.The entire discussion was to take place in Afrikaans in front of an audience of about 120 largely retirees and be broadcast live on RSG. Oh my, What was I in for?

Surprises, I was in for surprises.

The first came when I was invited to participate in the first place. Mandy Rossouw, introduced Rapport (City Press sister paper) editor designate, Waldimar Pelser and I. He, surprisingly was as internationally urbane as his name is deeply Afrikaans.

Shockingly, found myself nodding at many of the comments that my fellow panelists were making. Not only did those dreaded Afrikaans classes eventually did come in handy, but I actually found myself in agreement with these chaps from time to time.

Carel, who is president of the Orania Movement, made a compelling case for the self-directed investment in our different national groups. I could the “hear hear” from my inner Bikoist. But he is still a separatist, which to me is decidedly monasterial, most of us don’t have the option of dropping out to get ahead in life.

It was in response to a comment from an octogenarian about leaving Apartheid in the past, that the young Vorster caught my attention. He spoke of our need to address the past.

Even more astonishing was they audience’s reception when I shared the hard truth, if we don’t take the pain of dealing with the decisions of our ancestors now we bequeath it to our own kids. They listened.

It seemed that here was not the community of embittered, angry, hateful verkramptes holed up in hidden privilege that I had secretly expected. Here were South African, concerned and interested in how to win together as a nation. How unexpected.

Later, in a private chat with John Jr, he speaks about meeting the family of the Iranian Shah in London and the conversations they had about being on the wrong side of history. He eschews his grandfather’s outlook on race, as does his sister who remarkably embraced her right to marry an Indian man this past Human Right’s Day.

The Shah’s family, whilst accepting that history judges their scion had noted that the current administration wasn’t covering itself in glory and that one day history my in fact revise it’s opinion – and de-vilify the Shah.

Was this possible here? I wondered.

John Vorster, the last male in his grandfather’s line smiles before responding. “No, African liberation movements will be proven right by the economic growth that the continent is about to experience.”

An afro-optimist?! And I had to come deep into the boer’s lair to find him. Perhaps that’s what growing up is about – looking past our expectations, and forward to our inspirations.

Happy Easter!

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