In South Africa, an anthem to white pride
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
If you don't know Afrikaans, then the hit song "De la Rey" is just another stadium-rock anthem on the South African airwaves.Skip to next paragraph
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But if you do know Afrikaans, it can be an historical song about a heroic Afrikaner general; a longing for cultural pride, public respect, and leadership; or even a political call for action.
In any case, "De la Rey" is controversial, and it has rapidly become an expression of the Afrikaner people's feeling of alienation from the new black-dominated South Africa, a country they claim to have built, but where they no longer feel at home.
"This song is huge," says Tobi Jooste, a popular Afrikaner singer on the folk music circuit. "Twelve years after apartheid, everyone is looking for their roots. They feel they don't belong, like they're getting chased from their homeland, so they are really interested in history at the moment. They're looking for someone who can lead them, whom they can look up to."
That Afrikaners – the Dutch colonial descendants who viewed themselves as God's chosen people in a savage land – would have trouble fitting into a new black-led South Africa should not come as any surprise. After all, it was Afrikaners who constructed the apartheid system of racial segregation in 1948 that gave white people in general, and Afrikaans speakers in particular, total political and economic power over the black majority.
But 12 years after Nelson Mandela became the country's first black president and encouraged reconciliation, South Africa's 2.5 million Afrikaners are looking inward for strength, rather than outward for a scapegoat. That, at least, is what many young Afrikaners – many who have no memories of the apartheid government set up by their forefathers – say is the real message of the De la Rey phenomenon. Unlike violent Afrikaner militants, such as the recently imprisoned Boeremag gang, today's younger Afrikaners reject the racist sins of their ancestors, but say that there still needs to be a place for them in the new South Africa.
"This is a classic power-loss syndrome," says Theo Venter, a political scientist and special advisor to the vice chancellor at the Afrikaans- language Northwest University in Potchefstroom. "When you come to South Africa, and you start reading the Afrikaans language newspapers, like Beeld, you see the whole issue of crime, the issue of land reform, the issue of the ANC's [ruling African National Congress party's] ability to rule effectively, it's all written in a very critical way."
"People say they are 'gatvol,' which means 'fed up.' On the surface, the song 'De la Rey' is about the English during the Boer War," he says, referring to the 1899-1902 war in which General Koos De la Rey reluctantly led an insurgency against a more organized and much larger British Army. But really, the subtext of this song is about white 'fed-up-ness' with black decisions and rule. They're in control, and we're not."
Some academics like Mr. Venter – himself an Afrikaner – say that life has actually never been better for Afrikaners. Foreign investment has poured into the country since the end of apartheid. Black rule has allowed white-owned companies to largely continue business as usual; 80 percent of the trades on the Johannesburg stock exchange are done by whites, and 90 percent of the companies are still white-owned.
While Afrikaans has lost its top spot as the language of government and public education, the Afrikaans art scene has exploded. Afrikaans books and music are more prolific than at any other time in the nation's history, and at South African music shops, music in Afrikaans is the best-selling among other languages.