Crowds at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria cheered loudly as ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa arrived to deliver the party's Gauteng provincial manifesto Picture: Giyani Baloi
Crowds at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria cheered loudly as ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa arrived to deliver the party's Gauteng provincial manifesto Picture: Giyani Baloi

Don’t call me a boer

By Time of article published Nov 22, 2013

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Yes, I am white, I am Afrikaans, but I am not a boer, says Lali van Zuydam.

Pretoria - I am not a boer. Yes, I am white, I am Afrikaans, but I am not a boer. Professor Jonathan Jansen, rector of the University of the Free State, said this week that the use of the word boer was “inflammatory”, regardless of the context in which it was used.

He said this in response to ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s comment to a crowd in Limpopo that: “If all South Africans don’t vote, we will regress. The boers will come back to control us.”

I agree with Jansen.

Unless you are referring to a farmer, for which the correct Afrikaans word is boer, you should refrain from using the word when referring to a white Afrikaans person – whether behind their back or to their face.

I am a young, fully integrated white person with no history of racism. My great-grandparents may have been boere (I guess) but I am not. Neither was my father, nor my grandfather, and neither of them supported apartheid.

These three sentences alone should be enough to convince most people I am not a boer. And I will never “come back to control” anyone.

Being called a boer makes me feel as if I had something to do with apartheid or that I could be the reason, God forbid, apartheid returns.

I am not ashamed of being white, but I do not want to be compared to people who caused other’s suffering.

Never has the k-word crossed my lips. I have never used it while speaking to a black person and I have never used it behind the back of a black person because it’s rude and demeaning and my upbringing taught me better.

In my opinion the same should go for the word boer. If it is not a white person’s profession, it should not be used when talking to or about a white person.

This seemingly harmless word might be completely acceptable in other countries, but because we live in South Africa, with a politically charged history of racial discrimination, I think it would be best if the word were not used.

Surely it cannot be that difficult to just cut it out of our vocabularies? Unless, of course, you want to use it in a derogatory way. Do so, but at your peril.

I like to believe we have come a long way in the past 20 years and I believe it would be in the interest of our shared democracy to do away with words that are demeaning to any cultural or language group.

If we spend less time calling each other names because of our skin colour or the language we speak, we will have more time to solve our common problems and think of the best way to approach the next 20 years of democracy.

In the end, if we want to be progressive and all live together in the same country, we should stop calling each other names.

I was born in an Afrikaans household in the late 1980s. I essentially grew up after apartheid and I have never had the urge to return to a state where racism prevails. I have never wanted to call someone the k-word and I don’t know why someone would want to call me a boer.

In fact, in the view of more conservative white people, I am too liberal (if there could ever be such a thing).

Case in point, I come from a relatively conservative family, so to some of my relatives, my having a black boyfriend and several black friends is considered too liberal. My covering “black people’s issues” (can someone explain what these are because I am at a loss) as a journalist is me being too liberal.

It hurts to think people judge me for the work I do and the people I consider my friends. That’s not fair towards me or the people I hold dear. But we soldier on, hoping we can change opinions by being who we are.

You might say it’s easy for me to say we shouldn’t use the word boer because I am white.

I grew up in a privileged home and I received the best education available in South Africa.

I don’t think I deserved it necessarily, but that is what I was given and I have the utmost sympathy for people who cannot afford the best education.

But think about it this way – will calling me a boer change any of this? Will it better the situation of the poorest of the poor?

No and no.

What will change the situation of the poor is a concerted effort from all race groups to better the lives of all other race groups – without throwing around derogatory terms like boer or the k-word.

We would do well to spend our energy on improving the lives of all.

* Lali van Zuydam is a reporter for the Pretoria News.

Pretoria News

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