Since moving to Orania, one of my primary tasks has been to assist journalists in their endeavor to report about this rather unique community. I have thus been in the position to work with reporters from a variety of news agencies – local and abroad.
In my experience I have found that South African journalists provide a more balanced perspective. As an example one can contrast the professional articles written by Johnny Masilela from the Mail & Guardian with those of white journalists from countries such as France, Switzerland or the Netherlands – their first draft completed in conformity with their own prejudices long before they even set foot in the community. It is for this very reason that I tend to go that extra mile for the local news-smiths.
Recently, while having dinner, I was asked a thought-provoking question by a young reporter from Johannesburg. She was curious as to how someone living in Orania would position himself given the interesting political changes in the world. She used Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump as examples.
So here is the thing, I followed the recent American election religiously. I even got up in the middle of the night to watch the primary debates and election results when the votes to determine the Republican and Democratic party candidates were counted. I followed every single report leading up to the referendum that would result in British citizens indicating they want to leave the European Union. Yet for the life of me I could not say how I would position myself, as someone living in Orania, in that context.
I was rather well informed about those political events yet I found the idea of using them as an indicator of where to position myself utterly ridiculous. It was a good question. The type of question that could be expected from an educated and well-informed journalist. Yet it still proved to be an impossible one to answer.
Since the dawn of the Afrikaner we severed our ties from Europe. The first Vryburgers rejected the Dutch government and then packed up and left the Cape when the British took over, eventually picking up arms against them. We named our new ‘tribe’ and our language after the continent we had come to call home. We entered into both battles and agreements with the natives of this southern part of the continent. Andries Pretorius attended the inauguration of Mpanda as the Zulu king and the king visited him on his death bed. (On this note I sincerely doubt if Pretorius, had he been alive today, would have gone through the trouble to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration on DStv). A change in power in Africa was a far greater determinant of how we would position ourselves than that of an American election.
As I sat there I couldn’t help but wonder when it happened that our focus moved so far away from Africa and that we became so obsessed with America – a country where the average Afrikaner cannot lay claim to any roots.
My thoughts then jumped to the recent conversations I had with some of the young politicians at the Tshwane results centre while waiting for the election results in the recent municipal election to trickle in. Everybody was talking about the upcoming election in America and what might happen in Europe during 2017. Aside from one or two references to Zimbabwe, more specifically the future of Robert Mugabe, there was no interest shown in the abundance of interesting things happening on our own continent.
As I sat there during that dinner with the journalist, sipping on my cup of coffee, I realized I could not answer her question in an American or European context. I simply was not either one of the two. I was, and am, an African. So instead of answering where I would position myself with regards to Brexit and Trump I answered in a context more familiar to me. I answered in African. I spoke about Salva Kiir and Rick Machar and the ethnic violence in South Sudan. I referred to the amazing role Ellen Johnson Syrleaf from Liberia and Muhammadu Buhari from Nigeria were playing in promoting a stable environment in West Africa where Yahya Jammeh had been refusing to step down in Gambia.
I spoke about good examples of stable countries like Botswana. I spoke excitedly about the wonderful diversity my own country offers and how it should be celebrated. And I spoke about my disappointment in how this same country views diversity as a challenge rather than an opportunity.
But, she started with a follow up question, do all Afrikaners express this much interest in African politics? For the second time that evening I could not answer. Not because the average Afrikaner probably did not know that Salva Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group but because the run of the mill South African probably did not either. We, as South Africans, were all so involved with the recent American election and the political winds blowing across Europe that we lost sight of everything happening on own continent.
I believe the media is partially to blame. We tend to eat the ‘soup-of-the-day’ they serve after all. Our main sources of information were so focused on the recent events in America that we lost touch with the extremely important things happening on African soil. A delegation of presidents from Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria aiming to promote stability in Gambia and 4000 soldiers from the UN peace keeping mission being denied entrance into South Sudan had played second fiddle to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Yet we can’t shift the blame to the media completely. I dare say that if a newspaper published a story on the arms embargo on South Sudan on the front page their circulation would plummet. A newspaper is a product of which copies need to be sold and we want Trump on the front page – whether we love him or whether he disgusts us.
Whether we read about him with a certain amount of excitement or with a masochistic need to take in more we prefer it when African papers write about America’s president. We want to know what drapes the new first lady is going to choose for the White House and what colour she is going to paint the bedroom. We have become so dependent on that type of news that anything African no longer interests us.
So I answered honestly: ‘No, I don’t think so’. But I sincerely hope that it will change. I sincerely hope that we, referring to everybody on the African continent, will take a larger interest in that which affects us much more directly than the colour Melania Trump chooses for the Oval Office or which biscuits the Queen prefers with her afternoon tea. I don’t believe that a community should exist in isolation. To the contrary – I don’t believe it is possible for any community to exist in isolation. I do however believe that there is something much more dangerous than isolation and that is a displaced focus.
James Kemp is the marketing and communications manager for the Orania Movement.