To the Editor:
Dan Jacobson’s essay on South Africa [“Among the South Africans,” March] is the most illuminating report on that country I have read for years.
Atlantic Monthly Press
To the Editor:
Dan Jacobson’s . . . article troubles me. In the first place, . . . since he is a former South African, many readers may consider him an expert. . . .
Secondly, . . . he appears to be reporting both facts and impressions, although it is not clear where impressions (and associated variables such as old biases, selective perception, and ideology) leave off and facts take over. . . .
I could, in a pedantic manner, indicate all the errors, distortions, and misleading innuendos in his essay—about a dozen major ones and many minor ones—but that would be a dull, nonproductive, and perhaps futile exercise. I have found that when discussing South Africa, white liberals, both in South Africa and in the United States, tend to apoplexy or irrationality and do not wish to be confused with facts.
However, I do think that Mr. Jacobson’s report calls for at least a partial clarification. The old chestnut that the Afrikaner’s “avowedly racist ideology . . . owed at least some of its inspiration to Nazi Germany” is dragged out early in the article and essentially reiterated more forcibly later. Another former South African, Brian Bunting, wrote an entire book on this theme, The Rise of the South African Reich, in which he tried to convince his readers of innumerable parallels between Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the platform of Dr. Daniel F. Malan’s “Purified” National party. . . . It is not a convincing book unless one does not know South African history. In that case, the “evidence” in the hands of a good and clever writer like Bunting is “overwhelming.”
But what are the facts? During the 1930′s anti-Semitism and strenuous efforts to restrict Jewish immigration were not uncommon. . . . It is also true that Dr. Hans van Rensburg, leader of the Ossawa-Brandwag, and men like Oswald Pirow tried to sabotage South Africa’s war effort on the side of the Allies. Furthermore, some of their supporters not only were anti-Semitic but they hoped Germany would bring England to its knees. Many Afrikaners believed that a German victory was imminent during the first two or three years of the war and that it would make possible the establishment of a Christian South African Republic. . . . The present Prime Minister, John B. Vorster, and General Hendrick van den Bergh, the present chief of the Bureau of State Security, also tried to sabotage South Africa’s entry into World War II and its continued participation in that war; both were imprisoned by General Jan Christian Smuts.
But for many, if not most, of the Afrikaners who were anti-British, it was more a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” than an approval of Nazism, What is also true is that South Africa’s all-volunteer army fought against Hitler’s forces and, early in the war, directly against those of . . . Mussolini (it liberated Ethiopia, among other things) for six long years. The record shows that the majority of the South African volunteers were Afrikaners and presumably members or future members of Malan’s National party.
Mr. Jacobson rightly points out that the South African press is free to criticize and attack government policy and programs when it sees fit to do so. I might add that with most South African newspapers, this is almost a daily occurrence. But then Mr. Jacobson states that journalists run considerable risks and, among others, cites the case of Donald Woods, the former editor of the East London Daily Dispatch who is now in exile. . . . As a former regular reader of Mr. Woods’s speeches, editorials, and articles, I must state that he is an excellent, albeit biased, writer. With or without provocation, he never failed to dip his pen in vitriol and, with consummate skill, to condemn, ridicule, or accuse the South African government and its leaders. His writings would not have been tolerated in most countries of the world, and in none of those in Africa except in the Republic of South Africa. In virtually all African countries, his unrelenting brand of anti-government journalism and other anti-government activities would have guaranteed him expulsion at best, and, at worst, imprisonment without trial and probably liquidation, also without benefit of trial by a “jury of his peers.”
To turn to other matters, Mr. Jacobson calls BophutoTswana “over-populated, overgrazed, eroded, and disease-ridden.” . . . But huge areas of the African continent are in the same condition. Here I am not only alluding to the Sahel—an area almost twice the size of the continental United States—where famine, malnutrition, misery, and death are continuing, inexorable, and apparently insoluble phenomena. What Mr. Jacobson fails to mention about BophutoTswana is that that new little country has a remarkable leader, . . . Lucas M. Mangope, an honest, courageous, and highly intelligent black man. He is doing, and will continue to do, a great deal for his people. Furthermore, the white South African government is spending many millions of dollars to help provide an infrastructure of modern medical and other services for the various homelands or Bantustans. In view of this, Mr. Jacobson’s comment about “disease-ridden” is rather puzzling.
In closing, I wish to add that during my more than four years of university teaching and sociological research in South Africa, I had many contacts with Afrikaners and with Jews, but few meaningful ones with English-speaking white South Africans. . . . Furthermore, . . . although I heard some liberal Jews (and all young Jewish radicals) and many English-speaking white South Africans of all ages make derogatory statements about Afrikaners, I never heard an Afrikaner utter a single anti-Semitic remark. Which is more than one can say for Englishmen in general, and for English-speaking white South Africans.
San Diego, California
Dan Jacobson writes:
When I mentioned the relationship between Nazism and the ideology of the Afrikaner Nationalist party of thirty and forty years ago, my remark was not based on such things as Brian Bunting’s tendentious little book, or on a reckoning up of anti-Semitic utterances made in my presence. (Incidentally, I have overheard such utterances on many occasions from both English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. So what? Joseph Andriola, sociologist though he claims to be, appears incapable of understanding the terms in which it is appropriate to discuss an ideological issue.) Nor was my remark based solely on the attitude of the Nationalist party to the Jews, as Mr. Andriola quite gratuitously seems to imply; or upon the biographies of some leading members of the Nationalist party, illuminating though they are in this respect. The point I specifically made was that it was the party’s ideological preoccupation with, and revulsion from, any form of racial “mixing“—political, social, and sexual—which betrayed the influence of Nazi thinking; and on that point Mr. Andriola has precisely nothing to say.
However, one would never guess from reading his effusion that so far from dwelling upon the connection between Nazi ideology and the Nationalist party of today, I actually drew the reader’s attention to the efforts that the leaders of the party are making to jettison the avowedly racist aspects of its tradition. But then, for one who threatens us with pedantic exactitudes, Mr. Andriola turns out to be a remarkably slack and inattentive reader. I did not say that BophutoTswana is “overpopulated, overgrazed, eroded, and disease-ridden.” I used that phrase about the Transkei—quite accurately. (In my opinion BophutoTswana is not a “country” at all, for reasons which I made clear; but that is another issue.) I did explicitly make a favorable comparison between the position of the South African press, parliament, and judiciary with conditions elsewhere on the continent; so Mr. Andriola’s huffing and puffing on that score is not strictly necessary.
I greatly appreciate Peter Davison’s comment on the article.