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versión On-line ISSN 2309-8392
versión impresa ISSN 0018-229X

Historia vol.54 no.1 Durban  2009


N.P. van Wyk Louw and the Moral Predicament of Afrikaner Nationalism: Preparing the ground for Verligte Reform


N.P. van Wyk Louw en die Morele Penarie van Afrikaner Nasionalisme: Voorbereidings vir Verligte Hervorming



T. Dunbar Moodie

T Dunbar Moodie teaches in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is a research fellow of the Department of History at the University of South Africa He is the author of The Rise of Afrikanerdom and Going for Gold (both published by the University of California Press) and many articles in scholarly journals He would like to thank Professors Alex Mouton and Hermann Giliomee for their heartening reassurances about his return to the study of Afrikaner intellectual history after many years working on gold miners He would also like to acknowledge Justice Louis and Mrs Irene Harms for their assistance and encouragement




This article argues for the continued relevance of the ideas of N.P. van Wyk Louw in debates among Afrikaner intellectuals during the height of apartheid in the 1960s and 1970s. It discusses the moral equivocations of the Verwoerd era and conflicts around questions of race and ethnicity that ensued during the Vorster period. At the heart of these moral debates, it is argued, was the question of state policy in regard to "coloured" People (arguably culturally Afrikaans, but racially other). The article looks less closely at a parallel silencing of debate about inclusion of urban Africans. After the Soweto uprising in 1976, however, intense intellectual contestation reached a high point through advocacy in Afrikaner cultural circles of "reform" by Gerrit Viljoen (Chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond). Efforts to implement reform after 1979 failed dismally in the 1980s, but the shape of F.W. de Klerk's "leap forward" in 1990 would have been inconceivable without these earlier debates and their halting implementation by P.W. Botha.

Key words: Afrikaner Broederbond; calling (roeping); civil religion; coloureds; democracy; ethnicity (volkseie); intellectuals; liberalism; loyal opposition (lojale verset); morality; National Party; nationalism; petty apartheid; public debate (oop gesprek); race; reform; sacred history; separate development; situation ethics; survival with justice (voortbestaan in geregtigheid)


Hierdie artikel betoog dat die idees van N.P. van Wyk Louw, soos dit gedurende die hoogtepunt van apartheid in die 1960's en 1970's in die debatte van Afrikanerintellektuele na vore gekom het, steeds relevant bly. Dit ondersoek die morele dubbelsinnighede van die Verwoerd-era en konflikte rondom vrae oor ras en etnisiteit gedurende die Vorster-tydperk. Daar word aangevoer dat die vraag rondom staatsbeleid ten opsigte van "kleurlinge" (moontlik kultureel Afrikaans, maar van 'n ander ras) sentraal in hierdie morele debatte gestaan het. Die artikel kyk ook minder intensief na 'n parallelle verswyging van debat oor die insluiting van stedelike swartes. Na die Soweto-opstand van 1976, het die intense stryd in intellektuele kringe egter deur Gerrit Viljoen (voorsitter van die Afrikaner Broederbond) se voorspraak vir "hervorming", 'n hoogtepunt bereik. Pogings na 1979 om hervorming te implementeer, het in die 1980's jammerlik gefaal, maar die aard van F.W. de Klerk se sprong na vore in 1990 sou in die afwesigheid van hierdie vroeëre debatte en hulle gebrekkige implementering deur P.W. Botha, ondenkbaar gewees het.

Sleutelwoorde: Afrikaner Broederbond; afsonderlike ontwikkeling; demokrasie; heilige geskiedenis; hervorming; intellektuele; klein apartheid; kleurlinge; liberalisme; lojale verset; moraliteit; Nasionale Party; nasionalisme; omstandigheidsetiek; oop gesprek; ras; roeping; volkseie; volksgodsdiens; voortbestaan in geregtigheid



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1 T Dunbar Moodie, The Rise of Afrikanerdom: Apartheid, Power and the Afrikaner Civil Religion (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975)         [ Links ]
2 A Norval, Deconstructing Apartheid Discourse (Verso, London & New York, 1996) Despite rather obscure theoretical language and some minor problems of historical detail,         [ Links ] to my mind this book constitutes one of the most thoughtful discussions of the moral dilemma of Afrikaner nationalism Her conception of "the Afrikaner myth" conforms quite closely to what I have called "Afrikaner civil religion" "The apartheid imaginary" (she quite correctly dubs it "impossible") is what in this article I call apartheid ideology What her analysis gains in precision through post-Gramscian theory, it tends to lose in general comprehensibility, however
3 I discovered Hermann Giliomee's essay, "Survival in Justice: An Afrikaner Debate over Apartheid", Comparative Studies in Society and History, 36, 1994, only late in the writing of this article Not for the first time, he and I have worked the same ground, although independently of one another
4 As in The Rise of Afrikanerdom, I translate the Afrikaans word volk as "People", and volks as "ethnic" I am well aware of the awkwardness of this usage and sometimes note the Afrikaans word in the text Even more difficult to translate is the word volkseie (peculiar to the People) which is often used to formulate the boundaries of Afrikaner identity as different from other Peoples For a discussion of the moral and political paradox implicit in such affirmations of identity, see W Connolly, Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2002)         [ Links ]
5 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, pp 288-289
6 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, p 41
7 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, p 164
8 P J Meyer, Nog Nie Ver Genoeg Nie (Perskor, Johannesburg, 1985), p 185 All translations from Afrikaans texts are my own         [ Links ]
9 Meyer, Nie Ver Genoeg Nie, p 79
10 NP van Wyk Louw, Versamel de Prosa I (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1986), p 502         [ Links ]
11 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 500
12 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 461 This is precisely the point I make in regard to Meyer For him, as for the other Christian National ideologues, national calling had no content - except to be (and to be Christian National) One is irresistibly reminded of J M Coetzee's great novel, Waiting for the Barbarians.
13 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 459
14 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 78
15 J C Steyn, Van Wyk Louw: 'n Lewensverhaal (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1998), p 1053         [ Links ]
16 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 507
17 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 462
18 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 458
19 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 455
20 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 460
21 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 502 See: Moodie, Rise of Afrikanerdom, pp 65-67
22 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 462
23 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 463
24 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 509
25 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 484
26 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 485
27 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 488
28 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 489
29 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 490
30 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, pp 415-418
31 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 481
32 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, pp 505-506 M Sanders, Complicities: The intellectual and apartheid (Duke University Press, Durham, 2002), pp 82-87,         [ Links ] discusses lectures Louw gave in Amsterdam in 1952 that develop essentially the same theme
33 I take issue here with Sanders, Complicities, whose elision of Van Wyk Louw with Geoff Cronjé is too facile One should note, however, that Louw who was from the Cape, expressed concern about African (he said "black") encroachment in that area Sanders reads this as "racist", despite Louw's embracing of so-called "coloured" (bruin mense) If so, this indeed is a peculiarly selective and "Cape-based" racism As we shall see, it was rejected by racist popular opinion even in the Cape
34 J H P Serfontein, Apartheid, Change and the NG Kerk (Taurus, Emmerentia,1982), pp 260-269 The Afrikaner Broederbond in the northern provinces was also party to such racial concerns In Rise of Afrikanerdom,         [ Links ] I identify this group with Geoff Cronjé (p 275) For church involvement in the development of apartheid theory, see also H Giliomee, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2003), pp 454-464 He also discusses Van Wyk Louw on pp 472-474         [ Links ]
35 In a different context, Piet Cillié once noted that Verwoerd had "two brains" operating independently of one another See: J C Steyn, Penvegter: Piet Cillié van die Burger (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 2002), p 123         [ Links ]
36 For an account of Piet Cillié's support for "large" apartheid (separate development), but his attack on "small" apartheid (petty racial discrimination that simply became ammunition for South Africa's enemies, was inessential for separate development or simply transgressed sound common sense) - aimed directly at Verwoerd - see: Steyn, Penvegter, pp 124-127 Cillié had the support of Willem van Heerden, editor of Dagbreek en Sondagnuus, in this particular brouhaha For the standard "thin end of the wedge" response, see A P Treurnicht, Credo van 'n Afrikaner (Kaapstad, Tafelberg, 1975), pp 21-24         [ Links ]
37 An additional important indicator, although less certain because of its practical implications -and because they mostly spoke English - was the question of urban blacks
38 For the decimation of SABRA and the attack on Nic Olivier, see John Lazar's paper in P Bonner, P Delius and D Posel, Apartheid's Genesis (Ravan, Braamfontein, 2003) and P Hugo (ed),         [ Links ] South African Perspectives: Essays in Honour of Nic Olivier (Die Suid Afrikaan, Pretoria, 1989), pp 3-48 As with the "coloured" question,         [ Links ] Van Wyk Louw also weighed in briefly on Tomlinson - Versamelde Prosa II (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1986), pp 589-594         [ Links ]
39 There are innumerable accounts of this affair See, for example: P Walshe, Church versus State in South Africa (Orbis, Maryknoll, 1983);         [ Links ] A H Luckhoff, Cottesloe (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1978) Because Verwoerd made overt use of the Afrikaner Broederbond,         [ Links ] every expose of the Afrikaner Broederbond makes much of it
40 D P Botha, Die Opkoms van ons Derde Stand (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1960), p xv         [ Links ]
41 Steyn, Penvegter, p 64
42 Steyn, Penvegter, p 75
43 Steyn, Penvegter, p 143
44 L Louw (ed), Dawie 1946-1964 (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1965), pp 182-183         [ Links ]
45 Steyn, Penvegter, p 144
46 Steyn, Penvegter, p 145
47 Botha, Opkoms, pp v-vi
48 J J van Rooyen, Ons Politiek van Naby (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1971), p 103         [ Links ]
49 Steyn, Penvegter, p 148
50 Louw, Dawie, p 199
51 Steyn, Penvegter, p 153
52 Steyn, Penvegter, p 179
53 Steyn, Penvegter, p 155
54 Louw, Dawie, p 206
55 See especially Chapter 3 in Piet Cillié, Baanbrekers vir Vryheid (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1990)
56 Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 2-3
57 Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 7-9 See also Van Wyk Louw in Botha, Opkoms, p vii
58 Cillié, Baanbrekers, p 10 Cillié did concede in his evidence to the World Court, however [See: W Verwoerd, Verwoerd: So onthou ons hom (Protea Boekhandel, Pretoria, 2001), p 143] that if black immigration to the cities could not be turned around by the middle 1970s, Afrikaners would have to think again In a talk in 1982, he did in fact concede that such rethinking was having to take place (Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 41-44)
59 Verwoerd, Verwoerd, p 132
60 O Geyser, B.J. Vorster: Select Speeches (Institute for Contemporary History, Bloemfontein, 1977), pp 102-103 It is surely not insignificant that these speeches were published in English translation
61 For complex detail on these events, see B M Schoeman, Vorster se 1000 Dae (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1974) Discussion of Hertzog's "Calvinism" speech may be found on p 225
62 D O'Mear