My eerste en enigste blog sover (voor hierdie een) het gehandel oor pluralisme en gemeenskap. Daar was enkele fyn, nuanserende opmerkings by hierdie blog deur lesers geplaas en tereg ook. In die binêre spanning gemeenskap/nasie is daar twee pole, naamlik “gemeenskap” sowel as “nasie” en binne pluralistiese verband is die betekenis van nasie net so belangrik as die betekenis van gemeenskap.
Ek het waarskynlik die relasie so bietjie skeefgetrek ten gunste van gemeenskap. Maar ek het dit natuurlik teen die – veel magtiger – skeeftrek van hierdie simbiotiese relasie ten gunste van nasie.
Trouens, dis meer as ’n skeeftrek. Die regering van die dag – wat gerieflikheidshalwe deur die regerende party aan die ANC gelyk gestel word – werk met ’n begrip van nasie wat daarop uit is om hierdie binêre spanning te vernietig. Tensy, miskien, behalwe. As hierdie spanning swart Afrika-gemeenskappe betrek.
Daar is verskeie redes waarom die ANC dit doen. Die belangrikste hiervan is dat dit ’n swart nasionalisme beplan wat identiteite wat nie daarmee saamval, sal vernietig. Al sê die ANC ook wat, dis die indruk wat hy skep en ek dink dis reg as nie-swart Suid-Afrikaanse gemeenskappe dit so sien – en op hul hoede is daarvoor.
Maar nou eers, ’n inleidende nota oor my blog vir vandag. Ek sit enkele weke gelede in Algiers, die hoofstad van Algerië. Ek was daar as deel van ’n kontingent Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers wat Breyten Breytenbach en Rian Malan ingesluit het. Een oggend sluit my swart kollega, die skrywer en digter Vonani Bila by ons aan op die terras. Bila skryf in siTsonga, Sotho sowel as Engels en as uitgewer gee hy letterkunde uit in swart inheemse Suid-Afrikaanse tale.
Ons beskou onsself albei as “taalstryders”. Ons het heerlik hieroor gesels en oor veel saamgestem. Maar op ’n kol draai hy na my en sê met ’n troefende glimlag: “So, ek sien jy sê die vlag kan darem maar bly.” Ek het ’n paar sekondes geneem op te snap. Hy ket my vorige blog op hierdie webwerf in sy hotelkamer in Algiers gelees. Uiteraard het hy dit in Afrikaans gelees, die taal waarin die blog geskryf is.
Ek dink die insident sê iets oor die interaksie tussen gemeenskap en nasie.
En, in die lig hiervan, wil ek hê die lesers van Die Groot Debat moet my vergewe dat ek vandag se blog in Engels plaas. Dit is in Engels geskryf omdat dit deel gevorm het van ’n interne kommunikasie tussen myself en Breyten, en ander lede van die Suid-Afrikaanse kontingent, vyf van ons, en ons wou die gesprek ooplaat vir “begrip van buite”, met spesifieke verwysing na die Algeryne.
Hier volg my mymering.
Brief account on the contact with Algeria
The most interesting aspect of visiting a country like Algeria is not that you learn more about that country.
It is that your categories of viewing your own country shift somewhat, and therefore you return to view your “own” with new-found eyes – the eyes of the “stranger” ( to allude to the famous novel by Algerian/French writer Albert Camus).
The most glaring similarity between Algeria and South Africa is the fact that these are African countries that do not fit the median definition of an “African country”. (That median definition is, in fact, more than that. It is usually a description that is close to mythical, just like the description “European”, of course.)
The reality is that Africa only very partly fits this mythical picture – a picture that is routinely employed by African and Europeans alike for whatever nefarious or good, or usually expedient reasons at hand.
And Algeria is a glaring example of the non-mythical African country. It is an example that makes South Africa feel so much less of a “strange place” (as a local philosopher described it in a recent, rather questionable essay entitled “How to live in this strange place”).
Any content that interrogates the mythical, the popular, the average, the common, the absolute, the certain, the proven, the general, the universal, accepted, reduced, concluded, ascribed, the obvious, the logocentric, the homogenous, you name it – is worthy of visiting and revisiting. Because it rewards one unreservedly.
South Africa and Algeria are peripheral to their own centre – a centre which is “Africa”. This makes them interesting – and bewitching – places.
Being a “white South African”, and one of those “strange” creatures called Afrikaners, people who in part strove somewhat fantastically and utterly myopically and completely mythically to characterise themselves as “pure Europeans” while all the while being fundamentally mixed Africans of a bewitching, unrepeatable type, committing in the process what I myself would describe as a form of “ontological genocide” on others (apartheid), I am aware that I am very much integral to the witches’ brew.
Schooled under apartheid I learnt that “white” equals European equals modern and modernised, and is “rightly” exdigenous to Africa – as opposed to “black” which purportedly equaled African and premodern (sometimes barbaric) and was seen as indigenous to dark Africa.
However, the Berber tribe of Algeria are “white”, though not European. They have ancient roots within Africa, not Europe. They are largely still premodern (i.e. roaming nomads), just like many black people of southern Africa. Just like Europeans themselves once were.
I gathered that two thirds of the English department of the Algiers University that hosted us are of Berber origin – and they struck me as highly refined and intellectual people. There exists a Berber literature, and the language even has its own alphabet!
Bottomline: The premodern is not per definition black, or “African”, unrefined or simplistic, neither “intranslatable” or unusable or unremittingly ancient, and does not necessarily stand apart from the modern but should rather interface with it as a grandmother does with her grandchildren within the lost extended household of Africa. In Algeria one sees some possibilities of this.
In fact, the beauty of Algeria has a lot to do with the living presence of its various premodern histories. These are kept alive and they provide the country its soul.
We in South Africa, so close to the corrosive myth of globalism, not least because the largest part of the country recently entered freedom and acquisition in the time of globalism, should pick a leaf from the Algerian palm. Our country should also commemorate its premodern histories as something imaginative and basic to our being, not alien or forgettable. Let the oxen and the grass huts and the atavistic, babbling masks and the berry medicines and the hide clothes – whether that of the Boers or the Zulus or our other brothers – inform us and be contained in our everyday lives as living presences, and breath among us like awakened gods.
Even the socialist apartment buildings on the outskirts of Algiers made sure that they reflect the architectural memory of the country, not like their peers in Stalinist Russia or other such places.
And then there is the political food for thought. Something about democracy, something about freedom, about sanctity, about the tragedy of compromise. About the collapse of ideal – that I saw in Algeria. It is a harsh place in many ways with many competing shadows.
In the internal conflict that broke out in the early nineties here, after the state nullified an election that it squarely lost to fundamentalist Islam, a police state was established that suspended democracy because democracy was seen to be too dangerous. This was the nightmare side of one of mankind’s most cherished principles, coming home to roost. Strangely, it did not differ all that much from the perceptions of the apartheid government, why they thought they could not afford democracy in a Cold War situation while being the only “whites” in a “black sub-continent”. The one regime is and was “leftist”(Algeria), the other one (apartheid) was so-called “rightist”.
So then, do those terms “right” and “left” mean anything at all? This is what a look at Algeria brings one to ask. Among many other questions.
One asks this, while the quest for justice, for imaginative political flowering, continues. It continues in the palms of our hands, and it continues on the resplendent horizons that continue to walk towards us.