Self-determination, but only for some


By dr. Wynand Boshoff

Self-determination is a funny thing. The ANC is absolutely committed to that, when it comes to Palestine. In South Africa, this is a no-brainer for them.

For some Afrikaners it is an overriding aspiration. Others don’t give a damn. One thing that is still funny is to promote it from “longing for the old days” to “building a new future”. As long as it is associated with the first thought pattern, broad support will be lacking.

However, every thought has a history. Nothing, not even Zionism or Palestinian nationalism, is just suddenly there. It can sometimes wane and then emerge surprisingly vibrant again – and that’s when people start looking for its trace again.

Let’s start this story with the negotiations that culminated on April 27, 1994. The most important players were the NP (old government) and the ANC (as expected, the new government). None of them really wanted to know about self-determination.

For the NP, it was an uncomfortable reminder of a policy that they recently had to say goodbye to, because black peoples did not want to live out their political aspirations in “home countries”. Moreover, some police actions to maintain minority rule were not exactly bedtime stories.

The ANC was not uncomfortable with self-determination, it was hostile to it. For them it was simply “divide and rule”. Along with already established black governments in Africa, the slogan was: “For the nation to live, the tribe must die.”

Resistance to a new, one-person-one-vote system came mainly from Afrikaners – not at all surprising. Afrikaners were not only on their way to losing a privileged position in an unequal country. Loss of power would mean an unprotected existence in an unfriendly environment.

The governments of two “national states” – Ciskei and Bophuthatswana – as well as one self-governing “state” – Kwa-Zulu – were also opposed to the new dispensation. Was it a need to cling to power, or were they really concerned about the well-being of their own people in an undivided state?

In Bophuthatswana, the answer did not matter much, as uprisings led by the ANC brought down both governments. An unsuccessful attempt by General Constand Viljoen and civilian forces to save Bophuthatswana convinced him to prefer negotiations.

Ciskei’s government fell after the Ciskei army opened fire on protesters against the government and killed 24 people. Kwa-Zulu’s governing party participated in the election as the Inkatha Freedom Party and ruled in KwaZulu-Natal from 1994 to 1999.

On 23 April, Viljoen’s newly formed Freedom Front signed an “Agreement” with the NP/serving government and the ANC. Self-determination could be part of the new dispensation, provided sufficient support could be demonstrated in the upcoming general election; and a “People’s State Council” would then investigate it further.

The Freedom Front’s 425,000 votes on the national ballot was “sufficient support” and Principle XXXIV for writing a new constitution was added to the existing 33 principles. The Volkstaatraad came into existence and discussed various aspects – especially the where and how.

About the “where” there were basically three views:

  1. The Afrikanerland is where Afrikaners live, just as Scotland is where Scots live. Most Afrikaners live in the north-east of the country. That much larger numbers of other people also live there can be managed with boundaries between neighborhoods. Then the economy does not have to be unraveled.
  2. Afrikaners will have to build a country, in an area that is not strongly contested. A sparsely populated region with the necessary development potential is the best. An influx of two hundred thousand Afrikaners must be enough to form a majority, while all residents’ rights remain.
  3. Territory is actually redundant. Cultural councils can serve Afrikaners all over the country, even abroad.

Everyone could agree that not all Afrikaners would be able or willing to stay in a “nation state”. Therefore, the idea of ​​cultural councils was widely accepted. But with territory it was different and the groups could not convince each other. Finally, all the possibilities were presented to the government.

The government’s response was that they don’t have to choose – that is certainly not their aspiration. The ball is back in the hands of those who want self-determination.

Regardless of the differences of opinion, the Freedom Front continued to have the pursuit of self-determination enshrined in the “final” constitution. Article 235 of the 1996 constitution finally reads:

The right of the South African population as a whole to self-determination, as embodied in this Constitution, does not preventwithin the framework of the law, the recognition of the concept of the right of any community that shares a common cultural and linguistic heritage, to self-determination within a territorial entity in the Republic or in any other way, as determined by national legislation.

The FF is also studying the National Council’s proposals and combining cultural councils for Afrikaners across the country, with an area that includes parts of the Northern and Western Cape. With this, the party confirms the view that, if someone should fight for your freedom, it should be you.

Two important spokespersons responded to these proposals in 1998. The minister of political development, Mr. Valli Moosa, says in a parliamentary debate:

“The pursuit on the part of the Freedom Front and other Afrikaners to strive towards the development of a particular region in the country (the North Western Cape corridor) as a home for Afrikaner culture and language within the framework of the constitution and Bill of Rights , is in government’s view indeed a legitimate pursuit.”

And the then deputy president, later president Thabo Mbeki was less accommodating:

“Show us the animal, create a reality. Create a de facto reality that we can recognize de jure.”

The message is clear. The government is not going to lift a finger for self-determination – not of their own accord. But those who want it may pursue it; the government considers it a legitimate pursuit; and if something has been established, the government can be approached to recognize it in legislation.

By that time, the FF was quite in its element. “While we protect your interests where you are, we can build a long-term solution – and all this is legal,” was the underlying message. The party approached voters in 1999 as “The team with a plan”.

However, the Democratic Party approached voters in a completely different way: Their underlying message was: “We have long said that everyone should get the right to vote and now you see that it has always been a good idea. What we need is just a better government than the ANC.” Hence the appeal: “Fight back“.

Guess who captured the voters’ imagination? Not the team with the plan, but the one that wants to fight back. We were suddenly able to play international sports, travel, attend academic conferences and were the darlings of the world. Who wants to put it on the line? The FF only gets 127,000 votes.

Some ANCs simply wanted to say that self-determination has expired – there is no longer proven support for it. The three FF MPs had to throw up: “No, the constitution recognizes it, it’s there.”

But there also had to be action, because if nothing happened, it could easily happen in prof. Koos Malan’s words become a dead constitutional article. When the Delimitation Council wanted to dissolve Orania into a larger municipality in 2000, section 235 was part of the defence.

With subsequent elections, the FF (since 2001 the FF Plus) gradually regained its support, with the big breakthrough in 2019, when the party again gained 415,000 votes. Self-determination was back on the agenda – with good reason. Other “constitutional guarantees” began to crumble.

The paper trail is again important from the outset. After many negotiations there was an Agreement. The Agreement leads to a principle that the constitution-writing assembly had to follow; it leads to a constitutional article. In constitutional terms, it is the most powerful weapon. Let’s walk backwards:

There is a constitutional article. It is extremely valuable, but does not prescribe anything to the government. It recognizes the legality of the pursuit and follows an Agreement that ended hostilities at a decisive moment. It actually says: “We recognize the aspiration, but first prove your support.”

Ultimately, a freedom struggle offers no shortcuts. If my vehicle is stolen, I can (at least theoretically) go to the police. If I can prove it was mine and it was taken from me, they will look for it. If my paperwork was correct, the insurance will give me another one.

Freedom doesn’t work like that. Your paperwork may be perfect, but no one is going to get it back for you. Depending on your strategic value and diplomatic ability, the international community may allow you to regain your freedom. And then you can work or fight for freedom, or both.

But you have to do it yourself.

  • Dr. Wynand Boshoff is a FF Plus Member of Parliament.