New South African 'Homeland'?

July 05, 1995

The former South African apartheid government's designation of black "homelands" was a fraud that never achieved credibility. Small parcels of least-valuable land were set aside for a majority of the population. All that is past history. But now an unreconstructed purist named Constand Viljoen, a former army commander, is crusading for a homeland -- but this time where a white, Afrikaner culture could flourish. It would be geographically and economically within South Africa but politically separate.

Several things are intriguing about the idea, not merely the role reversal of racial groups. One is that Mr. Viljoen gives a cultural, not racial, definition of Afrikaner. This is important since a significant minority of South Africans of mixed race speak Afrikaans and may share what Mr. Viljoen calls "an Afrikaner view of history." They were legally segregated as "colored" by the former apartheid regime. Mr. Viljoen wants as many people as possible inside his circle of wagons, not outside.

Another novelty is the civility with which President Nelson Mandela has greeted the idea, not denouncing it as treason or racism but suggesting a referendum to see how many people approve it. The catch, which Mr. Mandela must be counting on, is that most Afrikaners today cannot imagine living and working in a society in which there is no one but Afrikaners to do all the work, however menial, and buy all the products and provide all the culture. For wealthy Afrikaners, that would mean a world without servants or employees. For commercial Afrikaners, not much of a market.

The old general has a point that his people have been in Africa for three centuries or more, have no other homeland (as the English-speaking whites do), and mean to stay. They want to preserve their culture, including the Dutch Reformed Church. But many Afrikaners have come to terms with majority rule under Mr. Mandela and see a rewarding role for themselves in a multi-racial South Africa. It is doubtful that most would follow General Viljoen on a new trek to the bush.

Still, President Mandela seems willing to find out. The whole thing is being discussed without gunfire on either side. What a good idea that is.

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