Friday, February 03, 2017

Pushing Back

I felt like I grew up in the liberal part of South Africa. Only white people got to vote, but I grew up feeling like most of the people around me felt like that was wrong. There weren't massive protests and the bigger opposition party was to the right of the Apartheid government. Liberal is relative. Most of the people I know in South Africa are still conservative in many ways. Deeply religious and soaked in values like hard work, loyalty, discipline and community.

Apartheid partly grew out of a Nationalist reaction to the British Empire. The Scorched Earth policy that saw farms burnt, and women and children placed in Concentration Camps left a deep hatred of the English. Instead of looking towards Dutch roots, the Afrikaans community responded to the pushback on empires by developing a stand alone identity. Afrikaans became the official language in 1925.


The Cape was originally a Dutch Colony which mixed (some friendly and mostly not) with the local San and Khoikhoi. Post Napoleon, the British eventually took control. The British saw empire building partly as a Civilising Mission. The area had 100 years of border wars between the isiXhosa and the Dutch Colonists. Imperialists dreamt of a Pax Britannica with British control from Cape to Cairo. After wrestling control through horrific Anglo-somebody wars, attempts were then made to rebuild Unions and Federations.

I understand the motivations behind the self-determination that led to Apartheid. There are still people alive whose grandparents would have been in those concentration camps. There are still people alive who knew the English looked down on them as simple farmers.

In trying to understand the mess of the last year with a push back against globalisation, I think the history of Apartheid is very relevant. Conservatives are far more able to build strong groups than Liberals. The Group is more important than the individual. That allows for coherence and shared aims. It allows for pragmatism and working towards goals that don't change. It allows for consistency that means people in the group can be supportive of each other rather than arguing over nuanced differences.

In moving to the United Kingdom 9 years ago, I have seen just how conservative even the bit of South Africa I grew up in was and is. There are lots of good people there. There is lots of room for increased tolerance of outsiders. 

You don't build tolerance through attacks. You build it through relationships.

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