BOOKS

Victims black and white

WHITE TRIBE DREAMING: APARTHEID’S BITTER ROOTS By Marq de Villiers

DON CUMMING October 26 1987
BOOKS

Victims black and white

WHITE TRIBE DREAMING: APARTHEID’S BITTER ROOTS By Marq de Villiers

DON CUMMING October 26 1987

Victims black and white

BOOKS

WHITE TRIBE DREAMING: APARTHEID’S BITTER ROOTS By Marq de Villiers

(Macmillan of Canada, IflO pages, $26.95)

Afrikaners, the West often finds, are hard to love. But in White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid’s Bitter Roots, Afrikaner-in-exile Marq de Villiers, editor of Toronto Life magazine, makes a determined and eloquent plea for understanding. If the “weird edifice” of apartheid diminishes the humanity of blacks, then the Western world’s easy contempt, de Villiers argues, also dehumanizes the white tribe of South Africa. Few of its members actually believe in apartheid anymore, the author claims. And with a more enlightened approach than economic sanctions, the outside world might be able to help Afrikaners avoid a long, bloody slide toward cataclysm.

De Villiers uses his own family history to put a human face on the Afrikaners’ 300-year trek through South African history. In the late 17th centu-

ry, Jacques and Abraham de Villiers arrived at the Cape of Good Hope along with 180 other HuguenotsProtestant refugees fleeing religious persecution in France. Before long, i pressures in their new land forged the 1 Huguenot and Dutch colonists into a volk (distinct people). To escape the smothering embrace of the Dutch East India Co., which controlled most' aspects of their lives, they fled the coast for the harsh but free interior. i

That process was accelerated by the 1 arrival in 1795 of the British, whose j arrogant dismissal of the settlers as J ignorant Boers (Afrikaner for farmI ers) gave them a sense of persecution t! and a xenophobia that still persists. I Pushing farther and farther into the interior, battling every step of the way with African tribes—the Khoikhoi, Sotho, Xhosa and Zulu—the volk evolved I a vision of themselves as a chosen people travelling to a promised land.

The book’s historical sections, in which de Villiers attempts to establish that Afrikanerdom is not a monolithic society of stiff-necked bullies, often grow tedious. But the chronicle comes to life when he draws from family -journals, beginning about the time of the 1899 Boer War with the British. In one section he portrays his gentle and illiterate grandfather, Jim, mouthing in j Afrikaans the discredited imperial j phrase “white man’s burden” as he mournfully contemplates the responsibilities of caring for the black families on his farm. De Villiers’s ironic por-'* trait is at once touching and revealing.

Two decades have passed since the author left South Africa, but he says that he still clings to the ethos of Winj burg, the little town near Bloemfontein where his grandfather had his ( farm. It is a vision enunciated in part by de Villiers’s father, René. A newspaper editor and one of the liberal Afrikaners who call themselves verligte (enlightened), his was a dream of conciliation and accommodation in which the Great Trek of the Afrikaners was regarded as an adventure of the spirit, not as a sour chronicle of defeats and grievances. The author argues for a restoration of that spirit.

Supported by an outside world brandishing the carrot of aid rather than the stick of sanctions, Afrikaners, de Villiers contends, could create a racially inclusive constitutional assembly that would “restore political legitimacy lost through decades of apartheid’s fraudulent promises.” Regrettably, the ! book can offer no evidence that such a rational leap is likely. The final impression is of de Villiers himself—a I wistful, exiled member of the white i tribe, dreaming.

DON CUMMING