South African Elections: Time catches up on God's chosen race

SALUTING the leader? Honouring the dead? A gesture of farewell? Hendrik Meyer's salute to the statue of Paul Kruger, the father and forger of modern Afrikanerdom, yesterday morning was ambiguous.

'I am saying to him that if he was alive today I would be at his side ready to fight,' Mr Meyer said, his lip trembling. 'That's why I am a member of the AWB (the Afrikaner Resistance Movement). This is our country and I am ready to fight for it.' What about the bombs in Johannesburg and Pretoria which have killed 21 people? 'I don't know who did it but they are helpful to us. Yes I approve of them,' he said.

Mr Meyer, 34 years old, stable worker, dressed in khaki uniform, had driven from Ventersdorp to make his salute. His voice and his lip trembled more. Yes, blacks are South Africans, but they do not have the right to take over. We must have our volkstaat (white homeland). Nelson Mandela is a Communist. Mr de Klerk has sold out.

A few yards away, Gideon Visagie, a retired steel worker, was feeding the pigeons. 'I never dreamed that I would see this day in my lifetime. Yes the future worries me. We whites must stand together and vote for the same party, or we are finished. I agree that what Mandela says sounds OK, but who knows what he will do? That's why I am voting for the National Party.' He condemned the bombs and came out with one of the commonest phrases you hear from all South Africans, black and white: 'It is God's will. Whatever happens is God's will.' Above this scene was the motto of the Boer Republics, emblazoned on the old Parliament building facing the square: 'In Unity is Strength'.

If you drive up into South Africa from the steamy Indian Ocean coast, or the arid desert of the Cape, it is possible to imagine what the Afrikaner voortrekkers felt when they came out on the rolling grasslands of the veldt. Like the Pilgrim Fathers, the Afrikaners were part of the Calvinist migration from the iniquities of Europe to a new world. Vast, rich and beautiful, this was the land promised to God's Chosen People.

When a heavily outnumbered Afrikaner force defeated the savage Zulus at the battle of Blood River in 1838, what further proof did they need that God was with them? With gun and Bible they had carved out their own world. But the British would not leave them alone, and when gold and diamonds were found in their republics, Britain annexed them. Two wars at the turn of the century cost them dearly. In the second, 28,000 of their women and children are said to have perished in British camps.

The peace settlement at the end of the Boer War opened up South Africa's wealth to British investment and trade, but consigned its politics to Afrikaners who wished to retreat from reality, and create a separate white world, by the establishment of apartheid. With the declaration of a republic in 1961, the Afrikaners created their own world, with their own laws fashioned to their own needs. The condemnation of the rest of the world simply enforced their self-righteousness - for a while.

But doubts set in, and this time the enemy was within. The children of apartheid wanted cars and televisions and modern comforts. In joining the First World, the Afrikaners became soft and comfortable, and unwilling to fight. They gave economic power to their enemies, the black people, who were increasing at more than twice the pace of their birth rate. The contradictions in apartheid were reflected in the Afrikaner soul. In public the image was macho, rugby-playing and beer-swilling. At home the story is one of domestic violence, high rates of divorce, mental illness and suicide.

History has caught up with them and this time there is nowhere to run to. Their image of South Africa as their land has gone for ever. History will judge them harshly, more harshly than their old enemies, their black fellow countrymen. If they survive, it will be because of Africa's forgiveness and tolerance. By Paul Kruger's statue I spoke to a young black man, hurrying through the square. 'We do not want to take away the statue. It is part of our history. I want to show my children and grandchildren what we have been through.' But what about that man who is saluting the statue? 'He doesn't worry us. His time is past.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?