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Having lived through most of the apartheid era and the heyday of Afrikaner nationalism, I can confidently say there is nothing about our former ruling class that I would recommend as an example of how our new ruling class should behave.
No, there is one: the way the Afrikaner nationalists approached the upliftment and economic advancement of their own people.
During recent research into the Afrikaner Broederbond, the secret society of Afrikaner men that determined so much of South Africans’ lives until the late 1970s, it struck me that borrowing some of its methods could be much more effective than nationalisation, land grabs and threats if the ANC and the government were really serious about the “triple threat” of poverty, inequality and unemployment, the theme of last week’s ANC indaba.
The Afrikaner Broederbond was founded in 1918 with noble ideas.
It was a mere 16 years after the end of the South African War that devastated the Afrikaner community in the Free State and Transvaal.
The scorched-earth policies of the British Empire forced large numbers of Afrikaners to the cities where they were completely out of their depth.
They were badly educated and had few skills apart from being good farmers. There was, in the language of the time, an armblanke (poor-white) problem.
Professor Pieter de Lange, Afrikaner Broederbond chairman after 1983, says the Broederbond’s main aim during the early years was “to make the Afrikaner a modern urban being while remaining an Afrikaner”.
Together with the National Party (NP) and other Afrikaner institutions, it did a remarkable job.
The programme to empower Afrikaners started early in the previous century with the establishment, with little capital, of Nasionale Pers (which then published Die Burger and Huisgenoot), the winemakers’ co-operative KWV, Volkskas Bank and the insurance companies Santam and Sanlam. Agricultural co-operatives were formed all over the country to assist farmers.
Sanlam and the Broederbond organised the Economic People’s Congress in 1938 where volkskapitalisme was born: a concept that determined that free enterprise was more than a way to enrich individuals, it had to help Afrikaners escape “economic servitude”.
The Reddingsdaadbond was born from the congress.
It was a movement to mobilise Afrikaner money and establish Afrikaner businesses (almost a national stokvel).
It was said at the time that if every Afrikaner family contributed only 25c, mighty financial power would be unleashed.
A Broederbond document of 1969 stated that the Reddingsdaadbond “brought a message of strength to a nation which had almost become disheartened in its struggle against poverty”.
“To a nation that regarded a position of economic subservience as almost natural, it presented the ideal of an Afrikanerdom which would not only be employee, but also employer, not only a foreigner in the economic life of his fatherland, but also the owner of material power, which rightfully belonged to him.” (Does the language sound familiar?)
The financial institution Federale Volksbeleggings (FVB) that invested Afrikaners’ savings also grew out of the Volkskongres.
By the end of World War II, FVB had substantial investments in fisheries, wool, steel, chemicals and agricultural implements.
From FVB came Federale Mynbou, the first Afrikaner participation in mining, which eventually morphed into General Mining. FVB gave the young entrepreneur Anton Rupert his first capital loan to start the Rembrandt group, which is today an internationalconglomerate.
Historian Hermann Giliomee says the Afrikaner share in the private sector grew from 1 percent to 18 percent in mining between 1938 and 1975, 3 percent to 15 percent in manufacturing and 8 percent to 16 percent in trade. From there it grew exponentially.
The Broederbond and the NP practised their own form of cadre deployment and affirmative action with the placement of their own men in strategic positions and providing sheltered employment to lesser skilled Afrikaners with state corporations such as the Railways, Iscor and Evkom (now Eskom).
Cadre deployment and affirmative action, yes, but with one big difference: in those days a heavy emphasis was placed on good education and training and workshops to increase skills.
The Helpmekaarfonds helped many thousands of Afrikaans students through university and teachers’ training colleges with grants and study loans at almost zero interest.
There is no need to even state that circumstances were vastly different then compared with today and that the narrow ethnic nationalism practised by the Broederbond and the NP would be undesirable in today’s democratic SA.
But surely there is a lesson in the commitment, hard work and clever strategising rather than just rhetoric and blaming the colonial heritage that brought such amazing results?
Surely there is something to be learnt from the dedication to the benefit of the many rather than the enrichment of the few?
Surely the example of placing an emphasis on education and training is worth emulating?
Perhaps it is time for a new form of people’s capitalism.