Deference to racial nationalism is no defence – Politicsweb, 21 April 2016

Cilliers Brink responds to Max du Preez's call for whites to 'behave'.

By Cilliers Brink 

The fading of Max du Preez

Deference to racial nationalism no defence against demagogues

White people must behave, Max du Preez writes in a recent News24 piece in which he warns about the threat of anti-white politics. He adds that “they... should put pressure on each other to behave - in such a way that ordinary black South Africans would view the extreme race rhetoric for what it is: opportunistic populism.” How one responds to Max depends a great deal on what it means to "behave”. And that’s not the only problem with his exhortation.

For liberal Boers like me, Max has always been something of a rock star. In his glory days he flipped the Afrikaner establishment the bird. He started the first and last Afrikaans anti-apartheid newspaper. He shut down Vryeweekblad after losing a defamation suit to an apartheid policeman called Lothar Neething, and a generation later his parting shot still reverberates in enlightened Afrikaans company: “Ons fade nie. Ons fokof” (We’re not fading away, we’re fucking-off).

But something irks me about Max’s current finger wagging. His racial paternalism, no matter how well intentioned, surely ought to have been discarded with the stuffy grey suits of the Broederbond. He also mounts a particularly stupid-looking moral high horse when he refers to his audience as “them”, when in fact he has on several occasions also identified himself as“white”. Again, sanctimonious behaviour best left with our less enlightened ancestors.

To be fair, Max’s broader point is important. Land reform and other “transformation” policies have failed. Middle-class standing protects many whites from bad government and a backfiring economy (for now). And this year the two competing forces of racial nationalism, the ANC and the EFF, will meet each other at the ballot box. The stars of racial scapegoating are in dangerous alignment. So the advice to the 1652s to behave may be essentially sound, unless that means following Max’s own example.

When apartheid ended, Max quite frankly started to fade. Like Ken Owen, Allister Sparks, and other white lefties, he mistook the defeat of Afrikaner nationalism for an end of history. Enchanted by the liberation movement, he failed to understand that even the ANC’s broad church couldn’t house both racial nationalism and non-racialism. Even now that Max is a strident and often effective critic of the ANC and president Jacob Zuma, he still quietly defers to the party’s worldview.

In 2013, for example, he told the liberal Democratic Alliance to cross “its own Rubicon", suggesting that the party had to choose between the interests of its black and white constituencies. The advice followed the DA’s decision to renew the opposition of its predecessors to legislated race quotas. More recently Max also told Stellenbosch University to cross the Rubicon. This time it meant more or less acceding to the racial narrative of Open Stellenbosch and other critical race theorists who equate Afrikaans language instruction to apartheid privilege.

But neither Max’s struggle credentials nor his political correctness means diddly squat to the hard supporters of racial identity politics. Just ask Eusebius McKaiser, the country’s foremost racial McCarthyist and author of Run Racist Run. When Max read McKaiser’s book, probably his first mistake, he discovered to his horror that he – Max du Preez, progressive, struggle veteran, “good white” – was in fact one of the villains. He should’ve learnt something from that encounter.

No measure of intellectual deference, political correctness or acting like a good ambassador of one’s racial group, instead of a free thinking individual for example, is likely to change what racial nationalists do and say. And that is as true about Julius Malema and it is about Penny whatsherface. Timid acquiescence to their cause, namely that life be reduced to a zero-sum game between black and white, is more likely to embolden them than to deter them.

But banish the gloom. Research by the SA Institute of Race Relations confirms that most South Africans don't in fact hold racial grudges against each other. This should give the proponents of non-racialism some hope. Racists and nationalists may strain this constitutional ideal, and critical race theorists may pour scorn on it. But in the end, there it still is.

Cilliers Brink is a Policy Fellow of the Institute of Race Relations.

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