The Afrikaner Broederbond – a legacy of racial nationalism

BroederbondLiberalism – liberal ideas, or self-identified liberal parties – has caused its fair share of trouble in South African politics over the years since Alan Paton’s formation of the Liberal Party in 1953. But for all the argument liberal ideas can provoke, an argument can be made that an ideology premised on individual freedom is never provocative of necessity.

In other words, there is no reason to assume that there is a logical inevitability of  liberalism leading to distrust, anger or violence, particularly of the physical rather than verbal sort. By contrast, nationalism – and particularly racial nationalism – is rooted in and reinforces conflict. This is because it sets up a necessary opposition between them, and us, however those groups are defined.

With this in mind, I regard the formation and trajectory of the Afrikaner Broederbond in 1920 as a key element in recent South African history. This is thanks to the way in which it set a tone and laid the foundations of racial nationalism, leading not only to very fertile ground for National Party dominance and the normalisation of apartheid in white culture, but also in setting a precedent for the racial nationalism of today’s African National Congress.

The AB grew out of an organisation called Jong Suid Afrika (Young South Africa), formed in 1918 (O’Meara, 1977). But understanding why it was formed and had the influence it did requires looking back to the South African War of 1899 to 1902, where the Afrikaners were defeated by the British (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2013).

The “scorched earth” policy of the British during the war devastated farmlands, particularly in rural areas. Tens of thousands of Boer women and children died in British concentration camps. On top of this privation, there was gloating – Lord Milner’s policy of Anglicisation serving to rub salt into very open wounds.

Not only did this defeat leave the Afrikaners humiliated, but it also set the stage for what was to follow: the formation of the Broederbond, the National Party and also the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism in general.

While a class divide always existed amongst Afrikaners, the war helped to accentuate it. Some Afrikaners suffered financial as well as other forms of defeat in consequence of the war – poor conditions in agriculture, and deaths due to influenza, crippled families who had already suffered internment, or death in battle. Other families, especially in the Cape, enjoyed relative prosperity (O’Meara, 1977).

Responses to this crisis amongst Afrikaners varied, but the political consequences were undeniably profound. In 1913, the split in the South African Party was one consequence, with Louis Botha having dissolved his cabinet in the face of irreconcilable differences of opinion regarding how to deal with the competing interests of the Dutch and the English.

The National Party was a product of this split. It was founded in 1914 on a platform of “two stream” development, with Hertzog insisting on the Dutch and English pursuing their interests in parallel channels, by contrast to Botha’s ‘one stream’ policy whereby the two groups would converge as one people, in union (South African History Online, 2013).

There should however be no doubt that Hertzog and Botha were of similar mind when it came to black traditions and interests. While views differed on the two white groups in question, they agreed that black South Africans should be on an entirely different stream, totally segregated from whatever might occur with regard to white interests.

Except, of course, when white interests required black labour. As agriculture recovered and expanded, white interests were placated through measures such as the Native Land Act of 1913, that assisted in the recovery of the white farmers while crippling the interests of black South Africa.

Contemporaneously to these developments, 1912 saw the formation of the Native National Congress, later renamed the African National Congress. Despite the fact that some within the ANC championed the cause of non-racialism, the existence of such a strong climate of Afrikaner (and, white) nationalism cannot help but have informed the motivations and strategy of the ANC. When moderation, open debate and equal consideration of interests seem to be off the table, why waste ones’ time pursuing those goals?

Still smarting from the humiliating defeat suffered in the war, and still trying to rebuild their families, as well as their economic structures, the Afrikaner – or at least, some proportion of Afrikaners – now had to also contend with a growing voice of black dissent.

In one hypothetically possible version of history, the fact that Afrikaners knew full well what defeat and humiliation felt like might have inclined them to listen to the concerns of black South Africans, leading the country closer to the sort of equality we now enjoy (at least in law, if not entirely in reality).

But that sort of unselfish, forward-thinking attitude proved to be impossible, at least in those years. Much of this had to do with the formation and subsequent power – even if often behind the scenes – of the Broederbond.

As Schönteich and Boshoff put it in ‘Volk’ Faith and Fatherland. The Security Threat Posed by the White Right (2003), “the Afrikaner Broederbond was born out of the deep conviction that the Afrikaner volk has been planted in this country by the Hand of God, destined to survive as a separate volk with its own calling”. If God insisted on a separate destiny, one might think, who is man to quibble?

The origins of the Broederbond are in feelings of persecution – of being threatened by enemies known and unknown, but also of being proud, stubborn, and resilient. Even though the enemy might have been the British at the time the organisation was formed, that was only tangentially the point. The point, instead, was that whatever adverse circumstances were encountered, the Afrikaner would prevail.

Prevail they did, as all South African born before the 1980’s knows full well. The Broederbond was a key part of their success, in that not only did the Broederbond launch several cultural organisations as breeding grounds and reinforcements of Afrikaner values and culture (gathered under the umbrella Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, or Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies), but they also ensured linguistic and cultural – and thus, racial – “purity” in positions of influence in education, commerce and politics.

It was in the 1920’s that the Broederbond became properly organised, and began being properly influential. In 1921, they started campaigning for Afrikaans schools and the preservation of Afrikaans culture in schools, which led to a rapid surge in membership. In 1927, this (now secret) society resolved “to take an active part in the life of the community, leaving no avenue neglected” (O’Meara, 1977).

The extent to which the Broederbond reinforced cultural and racial myopia is clear from its selection and membership criteria. Only “financially sound, white, Afrikaans-speaking, Protestant males, over age 25, of ‘unimpeachable character’, who actively accepted South Africa as their sole homeland, containing a separate Afrikaner nation with its own language and culture” qualified to be members (O’Meara, 1977).

Some highly-combustible elements were therefore being thrown into one pot – a group of pious Calvinists with persecution complexes (thanks to the British and the war), armed with a sense of religious predestination (or more crucially, entitlement), were setting up a structure that ensured that no heterodox thinking would be allowed to penetrate into their structures.

Psychologists and behavioural economists speak of confirmation bias (Wason, 1960) and concepts like the “filter bubble” (Pariser, 2011). Confirmation bias refers to our predisposition to ignore evidence that counts against (or, disconfirms) existing beliefs or hypotheses, and also to over-emphasise the relevance of evidence that confirms what we already believe.

The term “filter bubble” was coined to describe the results of Internet search personalisation, whereby we tend to get search results that play into our confirmation biases – if you tend to read liberal media, Fox News will tend to not show up in your Google results.

Even though the Broederbond didn’t have Google, what they did have was a trusted community of leaders and influencers who would tell them – and you, if you wanted to succeed – exactly what you needed to believe, and usually, exactly what you wanted to hear.

Little surprise, then, that Afrikaner politics was far more concerned with internal power-struggles than with the continued alienation and disempowerment of the majority of South African residents (“citizens” being too generous a term, if we are to be accurate). This incestuous dominance of power structures would enable and buttress decades of apartheid rule, and also allowed for the arrogance that led many within the National Party (in its 1948 – 1994 guise) to never question their divine right to rule, even as the country burned at Sharpeville and elsewhere.

This messianistic, Calvinistic and conservative Afrikaner nationalism, promoted by the Afrikaner Broederbond, was tremendously successful. “Every prime minister and state president in South Africa from 1948 to the end of Apartheid in 1994 was a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond” (Boddy-Evans, 2013), and its members occupied positions of power throughout other areas of South African society also.

The legacy this leaves us is not only racial distrust and tension, as exemplified in the modern-day Broederbond-lite of a Dan Roodt or Steve Hofmeyr, but also in the fact that nationalism, and perhaps tribalism, comes naturally in South African politics. We are attuned to that discourse, which makes the discourse of liberty outside of tribe, language group or race difficult for some South Africans to hear.

Afrikaner nationalism was premised on victimhood, and a commitment to never be victims again. It is perhaps little wonder that some Afrikaners felt – and continue to feel – threatened by the African nationalism sometimes apparent in the South Africa of today, and that the rhetoric of difference continues to prove so successful in South African politics.

This is a trap from which the country needs to escape in order to leave the divisive politics of identity and race behind. Only when African nationalism can mean, simply, a nation of Africans, can we truly say that apartheid has been defeated.

References:

  1. Boddy-Evans, A. 2013. Afrikaner Broederbond. [Online]. Available: http://africanhistory.about.com/od/glossarya2/a/def_AfrikanerBroederbond.htm [8 July 2013]
  2. Encyclopedia Brittanica. 2013. Afrikaner-Broederbond. [Online]. Available: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/8470/Afrikaner-Broederbond [8 July 2013]
  3. O’Meara, D. 1977. The Afrikaner Broederbond 1927-1948: Class Vanguard of Afrikaner Nationalism. Journal of Southern African Studies. Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 156-186
  4. Pariser, E. 2011. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin Press.
  5. Schönteich, M; Boshoff, H. 2003.’Volk’ Faith and Fatherland. The Security Threat Posed by the White Right, Institute of Security Studies. Monograph. No 81
  6. South African History Online. 2013. Louis Botha. [Online]. Available: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/louis-botha [8 July 2013]
  7. Wason, Peter C. 1960. On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Psychology Press) 12 (3): 129–140.

Also published on Medium.

  • Let me briefly put you on the right track. This entire papsak
    diatribe against our noble Afrikaner people who have suffered for so
    long under foreign (Uitlander) domination is based on the simplistic,
    biased views of one Dan O’Meara who also happened to be a communist! So I
    suppose if you wanted to write about the history or the psychology of
    Americans, you would ask a member of the American Communist Party. Or
    if you wanted to know anything about a thousand years of French history
    you would consult a card-carrying member of the PCF, now fortunately
    moribund.

    The Broederbond as a secret society did not come about
    in a vacuum. Opposite it were the Freemasons, as well as a colonial
    imperialist society called The Sons of England. Despite his surname,
    which has been changed from Rossouw to Rousseau in a feeble attempt to
    look French and not Afrikaans, our Frère Jacques (if you know the
    children’s song) pontificating here, is but a closet “son of England”!

    Afrikaner nationalism (note the absence of capitals) was a cultural nationalism
    modelled upon European nationalisms: discovery and veneration of the
    vernacular tongue, its standardisation, the promotion of an own
    literature, history, art, architecture, philosophy and so on. This is
    all common cause, as they say in the law courts.

    Of course, there is a view – call it imperialism, globalism or what you will – that
    every form of ethnic or national identity is “wrong”. To a Son of
    England like Jacques Rousseau, who is desperate to be English (see the
    chapter in my ebook Raiders of the lost Empire, on “The importance of
    being English”), there is a blind spot in that his own longing and
    desire for a pristine English identity is in fact very much similar to
    the Afrikaner’s own love for his language, culture, cuisine, lifestyle,
    history, literature, folk dances, monuments, music (patriotic,
    classical, popular) and so on.

    If you condemn Afrikaner nationalism, as is the wont of the irrational British imperialist or “Son of England” who has blighted South Africa for so long, you are also
    condemning Milton and England itself, as well as all European cultures
    (German, Dutch, Italian, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Bulgarian, Spanish,
    etc.). In a sense you are also going against the Universal Declaration
    of Human Rights which promises all peoples self-determination, including
    cultural self-determination.

    Either we should return to the Middle Ages and rule by the Pope or autocratic “royals” – the House of Windsor? – appointed by the Pope, or we should accept the post-World War I order more or less defined by Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points. I
    suspect that there is a new form of imperialism in the offing: a global,
    multicultural police state ruled from Washington and London, which
    might abolish the nation state altogether. It will impose English on us
    like the British Empire (and the ANC government) have been doing for
    most of the last 200 years and incarcerate anyone who says the word
    “nigga” (currently uttered by 500 000 people per day on Twitter, read
    http://praag.org/?p=16851).

    There is also a strong left-wing argument in favour of Empire, made by Hardt and Negri, and on which I commented about a decade ago in Afrikaans in an article entitled, “Is the global Empire desirable?”. (You can still read it here: Is die
    globale Ryk wenslik? http://praag.co.za/?p=10850) This left-wing support
    for imperialism stems from the proletarian internationalism of Marx and
    Engels and the First International. Of course, Lenin had nice things to
    say about the Boers and identified the Anglo-Boer war as indeed a
    struggle against imperialism, which continues to this day!

    The Soviet position on nationalities had a lot in common with apartheid, but
    the South African Communist Party rejected it in favour of a kind of
    left-wing British imperialism for South Africa: “One nation, one beer”
    (again see my “Raiders of the lost Empire”). Both the Russian Federation
    and the old Soviet Union were multinational states like South Africa,
    so the Russians at least had some understanding of our problems, unlike
    the South African communists and liberals who imagine South Africa to be
    a “Little United Kingdom”.

    We were conquered twice: the first time by Britain with its scorched-earth policy, concentration camps and so on, and the second time by means of propaganda, calumny, boycotts, sanctions, urban terrorism and the betrayal of our own so-called
    leaders. But so was Germany, and yet there is still a Bundesrepublik,
    united against the wishes of many world leaders, including François
    Mitterand.

    Former French president Mitterand, who was actually
    part of the pro-German “Vichy government” during the Occupation, but
    turned Socialist, said: “Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre”, which is
    very similar to what Monsieur Rousseau is arguing when he says:

    “In other words, there is no reason to assume that there is a logical
    inevitability of liberalism leading to distrust, anger or violence,
    particularly of the physical rather than verbal sort. By contrast,
    nationalism – and particularly racial nationalism – is rooted in and
    reinforces conflict. This is because it sets up a necessary opposition
    between them, and us, however those groups are defined.”

    However, the post-war EU has shown how various nationalities may live side by
    side and cooperate economically, culturally and politically. Even Russia
    became a partner in this “Europe of nations”. Only when
    imperially-minded American “liberals” recently started taking over the
    EU foreign policy did conflict break out, in Ukraine and elsewhere.

    In South Africa, it is ironic that liberalism or the watered-down “market
    communism” of the South African Communist Party can only exist as long
    as there is black racial nationalism. So when Rousseau is arguing
    against white nationalism, in the same breath he is affirming “African”
    or black nationalism which is meant to mobilise blacks against whites as
    voting cattle, and so keep the various liberal parasites in their
    positions of power throughout the “black” system. This is simply the
    former British-colonial system of “indirect rule” in another guise.

    Kempton Park was our Versailles, and by now everyone knows it. As I said to
    Eyewitness News the other day: “For most of our history we have been
    powerless and marginalised, so we are used to it.” The Dutch East Indian
    Company exploited us and forced us to sell our produce to its ships at
    below-market prices. After the French Revolution, the first Patriot
    movement started in the 1790s and our burghers distributed underground
    pamphlets calling for freedom and the vote during the night, for fear of
    being caught by the colonial Dutch authorities.

    Then came British rule during the 19th century, or our “Century of Wrong” as Jan
    Smuts called it in his famous book. Where Frère Jacques is completely
    wrong, is that apartheid flowed from Afrikaner nationalism. In fact, as I
    pointed out in an article in Rapport a year or three ago (republished
    here: http://praag.co.za/?p=11460), Smuts and the anglophile Sappe or
    liberals actually invented apartheid! The Afrikaners simply took over
    that policy and refined it. Smuts wanted apartheid or tribal self-rule
    for the whole of Africa, as he argued during his 1928 Oxford lecture.

    As I also state in “Raiders of the lost Empire”, there are only about one
    million “real Englishmen” in South Africa. Despite their institutional
    power and control of the economy, the media, the universities, etc., we
    are seeing another example of colonial overreach, based on the hubris of
    Anglo-Saxon superiority. Milner, Rhodes and others considered
    themselves to be the “chosen race” during the late nineteenth and early
    twentieth centuries. In fact, in those days the word “race” in South
    Africa was employed to refer to the “Boer” and “British races”.

    Helen Zille may be the leader of the “official opposition” but a minority of a
    minority will not continue to control South Africa, even if it pretends
    to be fanatically politically correct. Its only rhetorical weapon has
    not changed in 200 years, ever since the British missionaries started
    falsely accusing indigenous whites of “atrocities” against natives in
    the 1820s: it is moral hysteria, slander, lies, cries of “racism”,
    vilification, ad nauseam.

    Given the chaos in the South African parliament, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of two brief decades of PC colonial oppression in South Africa and
    after that it will be: back to the drawing board! And this time we won’t
    have fools like FW de Klerk and Roelf Meyer at the negotiating table.

    The sooner it happens, the better.

  • Actual Scientist

    “In other words, there is no reason to assume that there is a logical inevitability of liberalism leading to distrust, anger or violence, particularly of the physical rather than verbal sort. By contrast, nationalism – and particularly racial nationalism – is rooted in and reinforces conflict. This is because it sets up a necessary opposition between them, and us, however those groups are defined.”

    Citation: Journal of Complete Bollocks, Volume 2, Issue 1 – “Shit Jacques Rosseau just made up”

    Shoddy work there Jacques, leaving out the citation for your main point.

    • Yes Frère Jacques should stick to amusing small children; he is out his depth in discussing ideological and geopolitical history. He deals in a few impoverished stereotypes, the kind you would find on the BBC.