Importantly, Indonesia hosted the first Afro-Asian conference in Bandung in 1955. South African anti-apartheid activists Molvi Ismail Cachalia and Moses Kotane attended as observers, and presented a Memorandum against apartheid, which significantly helped internationalise support for the liberation movement.
Touching down in Jakarta, one is immediately moved by the sense of energy and urgency in one of the most vibrant economies in the Asia-Pacific. The new leadership of President Joko Widodo is palpable in this financial hub.
A not dissimilar energy is bubbling in South Africa with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina campaign which has boosted the economy and national sentiment.
Ramphosa has pledged to raise $100billion (R1.4trillion) in investment over the next five years to give the struggling South African economy a shot in the arm and create millions of desperately needed jobs among young people. While he has concentrated his efforts on North America, Western Europe and the Middle East, it might be timely for him to look east.
China is a natural choice within the BRICS partnership but smaller economies like Indonesia have an enormous interest and appetite for investment both ways.
Indonesia and South Africa share common ground that goes well beyond their diplomatic relations.
Historic ties that bind provide a sound emotional basis for closer, mutually beneficial relations. Much of that is immediately apparent when one meanders the Cape Peninsula from Robben Island to the Cape Flats.
Remnants of the Indonesian heritage are found in the names of the people, their culture, food, faith, language and very importantly in their history of struggle against political oppression.
History records that barely 41 years after the Dutch colonial invasion of the Cape, the Dutch East India Company, in 1693, shipped Sheikh Yusuf from Makasar to exile at what they regarded as the Cape of Good Hope.
This imprisonment was on account of his support for Banten Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa’s uprising against the Dutch colonial incursion in his lands. In the 17th century, the Dutch seaborne empire’s quest for spices concealed a deep hunger for land and slaves.
In very much the same way as the diverse Indonesian peoples took up arms against colonial aggression, indigenous South Africans also rose in rebellion against the abuse of their hospitality. Although not recorded in the detail that it should be, Khoi and San resistance of Dutch and British military aggression and land invasion is an important part of the overall struggle for South African freedom over almost 400 years. The Khoi repelled Portuguese would-be invader Don Francisco d’Almeida in 1555 when he forayed into the Cape. His death did not deter future invasions by the Dutch and British.
In the period of Sheikh Yusuf’s imprisonment at the Cape, the Dutch had established firm military control over the Cape and Indonesia with the latter centred around Batavia. There is considerable scholarship about the history of the misnamed “Malay” community and the development of the Afrikaans language, but the current flavour of African nationalist narratives pay scant attention to this important period in South Africa’s history. A significant case in point in the past week is the harassment of the delegation of King Khoi as they descended on Pretoria’s Union Buildings after a long, arduous walk across the country to state their first people’s claim to land.
Certain elements from the EFF who were bused in to the Union Buildings were adamant about bullying them into showing proof of their claims. Land issues are contested and emotional all over the world and neither Indonesia nor South Africa are immune to diverse claims. The resurgence of the Khoisan in wanting to assert its legitimate claim to be counted in the heritage of Struggle also has a demonstrable link with Indonesia.
The intermingling of the blood lines of the Khoisan and the Indonesians have created what is still oddly referred to as the Malay and Coloured people of the Cape. Sheikh Yusuf’s presence in the Cape as well as that of the other political prisoners and exiles in the penal colony is also felt in the scores of tombs that dot the peninsula including the hallowed grounds of Robben Island to which Nelson Mandela makes extensive reference.
Another compelling link is the development of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaner nationalism conveniently disregards the strong claim that the first book produced at the Cape in Afrikaans was the Holy Qur’an. Afrikaans emerged as a creolised Dutch that borrowed from the Indonesian, Khoi, San, Xhosa, English, Bengali and very likely the Dravidian languages.
During anti-apartheid resistance, Afrikaans became a rallying point, more especially in the 1976 Soweto Uprising. While Afrikaner nationalists appropriated the language as their own and tried to ram it down the throats of black children, very little has been done since political liberation in 1994 to demonstrate that it is actually a language that developed among the then oppressed people. Statistics show that more black people, broadly defined, speak Afrikaans as a home language than do white people. In looking to highlight the historical bonds between Indonesia and South Africa, exploring the evolution of Afrikaans could be a potent platform to unify our people.
Mandela had reminded South Africans that we are many cultures but one nation. Language and our diverse origins need considerably more attention in our school curricula. To neglect those aspects is to give currency to a myopic racist nationalism of the sort that dominates the EFF’s narrative.
Progress and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the 21st century demand that we open our eyes and hearts to each other and nations around us. Visiting Indonesia has shown that distance is no barrier to working together for progress and mutual prosperity.
Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation.