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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DU TOIT, Louise. "The pot boils all over": NP van Wyk Louw, Johannes Degenaar and Afrikaans decolonisation. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.2, pp.336-350. ISSN 2224-7912.

The main aim of this article is to trace possible decolonial moments in the thought of NP van Wyk Louw. I know this is a controversial exercise and that it should be approached with great caution and nuance. Also, because of limited space, this remains a tentative opening up of the topic, which will, I hope, be explored further elsewhere. In the first section, "Degenaar en Louw", I introduce Louw's question about whether a small people ("volk") has the right to (continued) existence, and, if so, on what grounds. Louw initially asked this question during the 1930s - a time when "white Afrikaners" were beginning to overcome the worst effects of the "Tweede Vryheidsoorlog" (Second War of Liberation) (1899-1902) and of urbanisation. It was also a time of increasing nationalist rhetoric. On the one hand, Louw is a child of his time, and, as the philosopher Johan Degenaar shows in his critical response of 1976, Louw seems to absolutise the nationalist framework as the obvious way to order politics in South Africa. On the other hand, I show that, for his time, Louw is surprisingly open and even radical in his view of the "Afrikanervolk" (Afrikaner people) as a contingent creation whose enduring existence is by no means written in the stars, or divinely guaranteed, but dependent upon voluntary actions and certain measurable achievements. Degenaar and I find Louw's transition with regard to the highest justification of the Afrikaner's cultural survival to be very valuable. This is a transition from the inward-looking, aesthetic "achievement" of making a unique and universal contribution to global intellectual culture in and through Afrikaans, toward the outward-looking, ethical "achievement" of ensuring justice for all the other "volke" (peoples) in South Africa. Whereas Louw himself played an immeasurable role in realising the first achievement and an important role in the second as well, in so far as he cultivated radical self-critique as part of Afrikaner culture (Degenaar 1976:90), he finally could not prevent the "white Afrikaners" from failing in terms of the ethical standard he had set. I understand the decades-long maintenance and justification of the apartheid system and all its accompanying injustices to represent a moral failure of, and an existential crisis for, this group that it has barely started to confront. I believe Louw would agree with me in terms of his own response to the central question he himself posed about "voortbestaan in geregtigheid" (sustained existence in justice). Degenaar was of the opinion that Louw never was able finally to renounce a nationalist framework for conceptualising and organising South African politics - a framework Degenaar (with the benefit of hindsight) thought would inevitably lead to injustice. Degenaar consistently argues against the pitfalls of nationalist conceptions of statehood, which, after the end of apartheid, brings him in conflict with the "nation-building" rhetoric of the first democratic government led by the African National Congress - another group that has pitted nationalism (this time "African nationalism") against colonialism. In the second part of the article I show how Louw as an early or proto-decolonialist thinker, like many other African intellectuals after him, turns to a form of nationalism or "volkskap" (peoplehood) as a way of moving away from the colonial situation and mentality. Whereas there are many obvious differences between the historical situation of the Afrikaner grouping and other, especially "more indigenous", groups in South Africa, there are also some parallels in how Louw and, for example, Mignolo and Fanon attempt to address the colonial mentality and stance. All of them agree that the problematic aspects of colonialism do not end once actual military occupation and control have ended. What is often called "coloniality", or a colonial attitude and mind-set, typically prevails long after formal liberation of the colony concerned. When Louw's turn to nationalism is understood as a form of "decolonisation" or an attempt to address critically and overcome the colonial mentality, or so my argument goes, new and fresh light might be shed on his ideas. The other side of the coin is to use the Afrikaner's turn to nationalism in order to cure coloniality as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of precisely such an enterprise.

Keywords : NP van Wyk Louw; Johan Degenaar; Frantz Fanon; Walter Mignolo; coloniality; decolonisation; nationalism; pluralism; apartheid; settler colonialism; ethnic diversity.

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