Is there a statute of limitations on citizenship?
Afrikaners in South Africa may soon find out. Three hundred years after their forefathers left Europe for a new life in Cape Town, some Afrikaners are lobbying the Dutch government to grant them citizenship.
The descendants of the Boer settlers are looking for an exit plan. They say white people have become targets of crime with tensions rising since the murder of right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terreblanche last month.
They want the Dutch authorities to enact a "Jus Sanguinis" or right of blood law allowing Afrikaners to return to what they claim is their original home.
After the end of apartheid in 1994, many white South Africans fled the country fearing a racial backlash. Many emigrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, and the United Kingdom. A recent report by the South African Institute on Race Relations said nearly 800,000 whites had left during that period, citing employment discrimination and the high crime rate. South Africa sees an average of 50 murders a day – most of the victims are black.
The emerging Afrikaner "Right of Return" campaign echoes the concerns of 1994, and is indicative of a rising fear among some white farmers. The effort is being co-ordinated by Lara Johnstone, who claims South Africa is heading down the path taken by Zimbabwe with whites bearing the brunt of economic and civic collapse.
“I don’t know whether it will be five years, 10 years or whenever – it depends on the Malema factor," said said, referring to Julius Malema, the African National Congress youth leader who was fined $1,300 last week for singing a song that urged ANC members to “shoot the Boers.” "But I think we are going to become another Zimbabwe."
Many of her members are also supporting an online petition for South African Brandon Huntley, who prompted a diplomatic spat after applying for asylum in Canada on the basis of racial persecution here.
Johnstone's site also explains how to apply for Dutch citizenship. But for most, the chances of receiving Dutch citizenship are almost non-existent, say Dutch officials and analysts.
Johnstone, who lives in George in the Western Cape, says many whites are fearful for the future. “Like a lot of people I can’t afford to emigrate so my options are limited. When I speak to people it feels like we’re between a rock and a hard place with little room to maneuver. I think Western Europe does have a duty of care towards white South Africans because most of us come from there originally. Because of our Dutch heritage, I think we should be allowed to return there."
No Rainbow Nation
“I’m not sure people in Britain, Holland, or the US appreciate what is happening here towards whites because they still believe in the Rainbow Nation and everything’s fine. But it’s not," Johnstone said.
Johnstone says she's not a racist. "I was married to an African/American for 13 years and don’t have any problem with black people, Chinese people or whoever. What I have a problem with is violent people who burn people with irons for their cell phones,” says Johnstone, an environmentalist who sells gear to grow worms for composting.
She has written to the Dutch consulate in Cape Town, the Dutch royal family, and prominent members of the Dutch parliament, including controversial Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV).
Mr. Wilders wants to see the end of Islamic influence in Holland and across Western Europe and a halt to non-Western immigration into the country. His spokesman says the white-haired leader is too busy on the campaign trail for next month’s general election to comment on the citizenship issue.
“The violence against whites in South Africa is a large problem. If they are targeted by violence, they should also be accepted as asylum-seekers in the Netherlands,” Mr. Van der Staaij wrote.
He said The Netherlands has "a very special responsibility towards the often very religious South Africans of Dutch descent... if those people do not feel safe in their own country and want to settle here in The Netherlands, our country should consider those requests with a positive approach.”
There's been no official response to Johnstone's campaign from The Netherlands government.
No return likely
“It is quite unlikely that the government would want to change the rules that would make it easier for the descendants of old Boer settlers to ‘return’ to their ‘patria’,” he says. “They are regarded as foreign citizens and treated accordingly. The very fact that they are descendants of Dutch citizens or returnees from a former colonial area is seen as totally irrelevant.
“The bottom line is that the government would not be willing to make an exception to the quite firm rule that all foreign citizens should be treated as foreign citizens. In the light of the fact that the Netherlands has been pursuing a restrictive immigration regime, the Afrikaners have no other option than solving the situation in their own country or moving to another one.”
There are around 5 million white people in South Africa (out of a total population of 50 million) with most either having an Afrikaans or English heritage. Many with English descendants have access to British passports. But the Afrikaner population does not, prompting president Jacob Zuma last year to say: “Of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word.”
Many of the farmers here are white and Afrikaans. With an estimated 3,000 killed in farm attacks since 1994, some of the remaining 40,000 are fearful.