Afrikaner `racial purity' questioned anew

An Afrikaner academic has angered conservative white politicians by publishing evidence that some of the people here who are shouting loudest for exclusive white rights are actually descended from black slaves. Members of the ultra-right-wing white Conservative Party are particularly annoyed because some of their names are the same as those belonging to families with Negroid and Asian forefathers.

Some so-called ``colored'' politicians -- people of mixed-race descent -- are thoroughly enjoying the row.

One of them, Jac Rabie, is a Labor member of parliament in the House of Delegates, which is reserved for colored representatives. He said during a parliamentary debate that several members of the Conservative Party, who sit in the whites-only House of Assembly, had no right to be there because of their black blood. He implied they are technically as ``colored'' as he is himself.

The leader of the Conservative Party, Dr. Andries Treurnicht, a former member of the cabinet who left the ruling National Party because he considered it too soft on racial issues, said the allegations were ``rubbish'' and part of a calculated liberal plot to demolish white identity and prepare for racial integration.

Suggestions that the Afrikaners are not pure-bred ``Europeans'' have been made before. But the latest, by Dr. Hans Heese, a researcher in the Historical Research Institute at the University of the Western Cape at Cape Town, is by far the most detailed.

Dr. Heese's careful genealogical research builds on studies of church records, marriage registers, and old deeds begun in 1981. His research, contrasting with previous racist claims about the ``purity'' of Afrikaners, discloses that members of more than a thousand families with well-known Afrikaner names could be descended from unions between white settlers at the Cape and local blacks and Asian or black slaves. Many of these family names feature in the white South African House of Assembly, including the chief whip of the Conservative Party, Dr. Jan Hoon, and the leader of the main white opposition party, Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.

Coincidentally, the research is to be published just as a parliamentary committee with white, colored, and Asian members begins to consider whether two of the most reviled racist laws introduced by the present government should be repealed: those forbidding racially mixed marriages and any sexual relationship across the color line.

Both the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages and the pertinent section of the Immorality acts are an embarrassment even to the ruling National Party, which introduced the laws. In fact, the only party in parliament still prepared to espouse them enthusiastically is the Conservative Party. But to get rid of the laws could conceivably have a domino effect that would threaten the whole legislative foundation of racial segregation.

Nevertheless, the government is expected to agree to drop the contentious ``love laws'' before the end of the present sitting of parliament. This is considered by many as some measure of its sincerity about accepting meaningful political reform.

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