Afrikanerbond seeks modern role

The once secret organisation that led South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority out of the political and economic doldrums into decades of oppressive rule is battling to find a niche for itself.

Following its dogged pursuit of exclusive white interests under the apartheid system, the Afrikanerbond is finding it hard 13 years into majority rule to justify its past or find a foothold in the present.

Despite having changed its name from the Afrikaner Broederbond (league of brothers) and opening membership to women and other race groups, the new-look Afrikanerbond (AB) gets sceptical looks when it claims a new agenda for the common South African good.

“On behalf of our members I extend a hand of friendship and cooperation,” chairperson Pierre Theron, a league member since 1968, said at a presentation to the Cape Town Press Club.

“We share a common desire to make South Africa work for all.”

Theron was then met with a barrage of questions about the AB’s role in past injustices, its new agenda, membership and the reason for its continued existence.

“I am leading a more liberal Afrikanerbond with a new approach. We are not living in the past now. We are moving on,” said Theron.

The once secretive AB, of which every head of state from the start of apartheid in 1948 to its 1994 demise was a member, was formed in 1918 along the lines of the Freemason movement to promote Afrikaners’ political and economic interests and resist British dominance.

Although it now denies having determined apartheid government policies, the league is known to have had influential broeders (brothers) in key positions in government and other institutions.

It was closely aligned to the now-defunct National Party (NP) which came to power in 1948 and legislated for racially oppressive white minority rule that came to an end with the country’s first multiracial elections in 1994.

AB members, thought to number about 20 000 by 1990, included journalists, clergymen, teachers, farmers, lawyers and MPs.
The league was known to be a kingmaker in anything from school governing bodies and church committees to the government.

“We made mistakes,” Theron acknowledged, without going into detail.

But he denies much of the influence ascribed to the league in the past, saying it played at most an advisory role to the NP government.

The AB now claims a membership of 7 000 in a country with 48-million citizens, including about 10-million Afrikaans speakers. It adopted a new constitution last year with aims “relevant to the times we live in”, but membership remains limited to Afrikaans-speakers.

The body can give no race or gender membership statistics.

Hennie Kotze, research fellow at the Stellenbosch University’s centre for international and comparative politics, said there was little place in the new South Africa for exclusive organisations whether on the basis of race, colour or culture.

“We need bridging across race and class barriers. You can only develop tolerance and trust if you come into contact with people who are different than you.”

Theron was unapologetic about the league’s aim of representing the interests of Afrikaners while harnessing their strengths for the country’s overall development.

But the definition of a modern-day Afrikaner, easily defined as white and Afrikaans-speaking, is elusive.

“We are open to everyone who will subscribe to the principles of the Afrikanerbond. Whether they belong to what creed or colour ... if they want to be associated they can,” said Theron.

The current membership, he added, is drawn from all walks of life, “from blue-collar people right through to judges in South Africa. We even have quite a number of coloured people.”

Theron declined to name any of the high-profile coloured members he claims have joined the body, saying it was a source of “sensitivity” in their communities.

“You would be surprised,” was all he would say.

Many politically conservative AB members resigned once the body started pursuing a more inclusive agenda from 1993.

Those who remained had undergone a fundamental change of heart, said Theron.

“We have new principles, new ideas about the future of South Africa.

“Our history as Afrikaners dates back more than 300 years. We are part of Africa. We are proud South Africans. And we are here, let me assure you, to stay.” ‒ Sapa-AFP

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