'It's wrong to say Afrikaners cannot stand together'

Conservative Party (CP) leader Ferdi Hartzenberg prefers not to dwell on the demise of his party two decades after it burst on to the political scene of apartheid South Africa with a gusto that surprised friend and foe.

“I don’t think about that a lot,” he says from his farm near Lichtenburg in North West. “Something better is coming.”

Over the weekend, the party—the main opposition party from 1987 to 1994—joined forces with the Freedom Front and the Afrikaner Unity Movement to become the FF+.

The new party will assume ownership of the names of its constituent parties, which means they can never resurface without the assent of the FF+.

Says Hartzenberg, who has led the CP for a decade: “The point is the division had been very negative and destructive…

“It was a simple choice. Are we going to be better off or worse off?”

He remembers a CP gathering at the Voortrekker monument around 1990 attended by 150 000 people.

Now he finds it difficult to say how many members there are.

“We have not signed up many in recent years.”

This he ascribes to cooperation with the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (Afrikaner Unity Movement) and FF.

The party came into being in 1982 when senior National Party members, led by Transvaal leader Andries Treurnicht, rebelled against the notion of power-sharing between different population groups.

“The government of the day had always proposed the division of power ...
Then they wanted everybody to share the same power. We said that would create problems.”

There was a world trend towards devolution of power and making provision for minority rights, which the CP considered to be an extension of democracy.

“Here the movement was against that.”

The CP was formed to acknowledge and provide for South Africa’s diversity, according to Hartzenberg.

“Its purpose was to create security so no one’s identity, language and culture would be jeopardised.”

He regards the victory in the parliamentary by-election in Potchefstroom in 1991/92 as one of the highlights of the CP’s existence.

“Potchefstroom was regarded as the constituency that indicated where the gravity lay. From the start it had always changed along with the government of the day. The next thing you knew the CP was in control there.”

With the wisdom of hindsight, there are things which the CP might have done differently, its leader believes.

“We should never have participated in the 1992 referendum.”

At issue was whether the government should continue with the negotiations towards a new political dispensation.

The party’s absence would have stripped the referendum of its clout, Hartzenberg says.

“... The referendum would have been a farce.”

He agrees with FF+ leader Pieter Mulder that the new party will be the beginning of the end of Afrikaner division. 

“It is psychologically wrong to say Afrikaners cannot stand together.”

A hundred percent unity there will never be, but he aims for “sufficient” unity—which he defines as more than half.

“Wherever I go since the formation of the new party, people say: ‘Thank you very much. Now we have hope for the future again. Were it not for this, we would not have voted.’”

Hartzenberg brushes off a question about his definition of an Afrikaner.

“All the people know what an Afrikaner is. The African National Congress knows what an Afrikaner is. The time for formulating such definitions has passed.”

But he talks with great fervour, asked what the Afrikaners’ ideals should be and how to reach them.

“The Afrikaner is a builder par excellence. He is so attached to this country, his roots are so deep.”

Hartzenberg mentions the children of friends who, despite their medical training, prefers tilling the land to air-conditioned surgeries.

“The Afrikaner will be here. South Africa cannot do without him.”

The worst one could do to the Afrikaner is to create the impression that his language and culture are being wiped off the table.

“That causes him to suffer from some sort of withdrawal symptom. Afrikaners should stand together and say their language, culture and religion are beautiful and are not inimical to anybody else’s.”

Afrikaners need the political rights to manage at least matters such as their language and education.

“If the Afrikaner has that, he will have a completely different mindset ... The country will blossom.

“We are the best friend of all the indigenous nations,” he adds.

Hartzenberg does not see an active political career for himself in the future.

“I must farm and take care of providing the country with food.”—Sapa

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