POLITICS

AfriForum And Solidarity's 'Parallel State'

Ace prosecutor Gerrie Nel's new employers style themselves as a civic rights movement. They however resemble a grouping much like the American 'alt-right'.

31/01/2017 20:45 SAST | Updated 02/02/2017 14:25 SAST

ANALYSIS

AfriForum, the Afrikaner rights organisation that advocate Gerrie Nel has agreed to join, has over the last couple of years quietly been building and nurturing something akin to its own parallel state.

Founded in 2006, the organisation styles itself as a civic rights grouping, whereas in actual fact it could be described as South Africa's answer to the alt-right movement in the United States: strongly nationalistic, suspicious of government, antagonistic towards liberal or progressive values, opposed to immigration and integration and with a strong focus on ethnic mobilisation.

It is a well-oiled, cash-flush, ideologically coherent and slick political machine, with massive reach and influence in the Afrikaner community.

And Nel's decision to head up its newly established private prosecuting unit is a major coup for an organisation that has proved to be extremely adept at increasing its support base by exploiting Afrikaner fears about affirmative action, transformation, cultural rights and crime.

It is a well-oiled, cash-flush, ideologically coherent and slick political machine, with massive reach and influence in the Afrikaner community. Solidarity now covers almost every area of Afrikaners' civic life — from safety and legal affairs, education and training, media and entertainment to culture and welfare. It is a state within a state.

A state within a state

AfriForum — with a membership north of 186 000 — is part of the larger Solidarity Movement, which grew out of the trade union of the same name.

These organisations have in the recent past established, among others, their own university (Akademia, situated in Centurion), built their own technical college (Sol-Tech), reared their own welfare organisation (Helpende Hand, that focuses on white poverty) as well as their own community safety structures.

Solidarity, which is the successor to the erstwhile militant and whites-only Mynwerkersunie (Mineworkers' Union) and can boast in the region of 214 000 paid-up members, has also established its own media organisation, Maroela Media, which runs one of the largest Afrikaans news sites in the country, www.maroelamedia.co.za.

South Africans cannot rely solely on the state, they must take responsibility for their own when government failsKallie Kriel, AfriForum

Maroela Media provides news to Solidarity and AfriForum's own radio station, Pretoria FM*, which in turn syndicates news, actuality programming and radio dramas to more than 20 Afrikaans community stations across the country and Namibia.

Kallie Kriel, chief executive officer of AfriForum since its inception in 2006, says South Africans cannot rely solely on the state and that they must take responsibility for their own when government fails.

"This initiative (Nel's appointment as an AfriForum employee) forms part of our drive to create such institutions. We need to show people that all is not lost, we need to give people hope and show that you can take things into your own hands. There needs to be cooperation between the state and civil society . . . if it's not there, however, then we have to step in."

Theuns Kruger

How to live alongside 'other communities'

At Tuesday's press conference Nel passionately spoke about his love for the law, his career in upholding it and reiterated he is a prosecutor at heart and will always remain one. The new unit, he says, will focus on prosecuting those that abuse taxpayers' money, without fear or favour.

He was clearly aware of the political ramifications of his move to an organisation with a very specific political ideology: the protection and preservation of Afrikaners' rights to safety, culture and safe employment.

"I don't care, I've come with a clean slate, I don't have and have never had any political motives," Nel told the assembled media at AfriForum's sleek and modern headquarters in a Pretoria street which still carries the name of the first apartheid prime minister, D.F. Malan.

Solidarity's roots lie in pre-1994 right wing groupings, with the Mynwerkersunie the framework on which this multi-million rand enterprise was built.

Even though AfriForum says it fights for the rights of "minorities", its mission statement declares that it focuses on the creation of an environment within which Afrikaners can lead a sustainable existence "in peace with other communities". That is, separate and alongside other "communities" within broader society. (Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd explained apartheid as a policy of "good neighbourliness" wherein people of different "national communites" live side by side.)

Solidarity's roots lie in pre-1994 right wing groupings, with the Mynwerkersunie the framework on which this multi-million rand enterprise was built. Kriel, Solidarity's chief executive Dirk Hermann and the movement's chairperson and spiritual leader, Flip Buys, form the brains trust and provide ideological direction.

As student Kriel served on the students' representative council at the University of Pretoria as a member of the then-Conservative Party, which vehemently and viciously opposed the transition to democracy. Hermann obtained his doctorate in industrial sociology with a dissertation on affirmative action, while Buys, the eldest of the triumvirate, was the leader of the Mynwerkersunie, and understood the union needed to shed its reactionary and racist past if it were to survive.

An organisation for everyone

Nominally Solidarity and AfriForum are open to South Africans of all colours and creeds as long as they agree with the organisations' mission statement and ethos. They've even helped coloured and black South Africans in an affirmative action and an illegal land occupation case.

But AfriForum and Solidarity have as their raison d'être the promotion and protection of Afrikaner rights — not South Africans' rights. It deals in the very nuanced but unmistakable currency of coded racism, forever questioning the wisdom of the transition to a democratic country and actively encouraging its membership to join them to safeguard their future from a dark, post-colonial Africa.

The film, as well as its promotional material, depicted blacks as bloodthirsty savages moving in packs from necklacing to necklacing – and misunderstood whites fearing for their lives in a new dispensation.

Last year AfriForum, under the direction of Kriel's deputy, Ernst Roets (who labels apartheid "a woolly concept"), released a film titled "Tainted Heroes", produced "to prevent Afrikaners' history from being criminalised". The film's gist is that the actual conflict during the transition years was not between Afrikaner nationalism and the liberation movement, but rather between black political groupings in townships.

The film, as well as its promotional material, depicted blacks as bloodthirsty savages moving in packs from necklacing to necklacing — and misunderstood whites fearing for their lives in a new dispensation.

When asked about the motives behind the documentary (which movie houses subsequently refused to show) Hermann said he understands the risks involved, but that race relations aren't about to improve. "Rather show it now," he said.

AfriForum is extremely litigious, as its various court actions to reverse affirmative action and protect Afrikaans as medium of instruction at universities show. They even have an in-house law firm, Hurter Spies, managed by former Freedom Front Plus MP Willie Spies, who also serves as managing director of Pretoria FM (Spies and Hermann are close friends).

But the courts have often been scathing, as a dissenting judgment by Constitutional Court Justices Edwin Cameron and Johan Froneman, in the Tshwane street name-change matter, clearly illustrates.

In the main judgment Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng berates AfriForum for being "divisive, somewhat selfish and without much regard for centuries of deprivation black people had to endure".

Cameron and Froneman, who were more receptive to AfriForum's arguments about changes to street names, stridently agree, saying the organisation only has itself to blame, having referred to apartheid and colonialism in its court papers as "so-called historical injustices".

"So-called!" the justices exclaim. "This embodies the kind of insensitivity that poisons our society. There were historical injustices. Apartheid was all too real. And it was profoundly pernicious. These facts are not 'so-called' figments of black people's imagination."

In another recent example, in which AfriForum asked the High Court to nullify the University of Pretoria's language policy, the court found South Africans can remain "ensconced in their seperateness" or embrace the diversity the Constitution contemplates. The court rejects AfriForum's argument that there is a "nationwide clampdown on Afrikaans" adding the organisation's language in its founding affidavit "serves to impermissibly deepen existing faultlines in our fragile society."

This they do frequently.

During 2016's #FeesMustFall violence on the selfsame University of Pretoria's campus, AfriForum Youth — under the leadership of Kriel and a militaristic subordinate, Cornelius Janse van Rensburg — decided it was a good idea to physically confront the violent members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Marching in lockstep towards the EFF students, chanting slogans and with Janse van Rensburg as shrill sergeant-major, they declared nobody will take away "their" campus.

It led to months of rancour as authorities tried to calm students and their political masters.

AfriForum has now established its own university residence off campus, named De Goede Hoop, after the castle in Cape Town, and with the Dutch colonialist Jan van Riebeeck as its inspiration. ("Are you a man like Jan?" promotional material asks prospective students.)

We are part of South Africa, yes, but we need to withdraw to our own if needs be, to survive.Dirk Hermann, Solidarity

Hermann has over many years tried to massage and explain how Solidarity fits into the South African context, and how it sees itself as part of the national solution.

It's unclear whether Nel understands who exactly his new employers are. Nel was one of the prosecutors who put away Clive Derby-Lewis, the right-winger who helped murder Chris Hani and almost plunged this country into bloody civil war. AfriForum, on the other hand, was a big supporter of Derby-Lewis in his later years, saying government was "cruel" for not releasing him from prison -- this was without relaying the context of Derby-Lewis's incarceration to its members.

Will Nel, with his exemplary record in public service, be able to associate himself with these sentiments?

During a "crisis summit" of the "movement" in 2015 however, the leadership triumvirate all spoke of self-reliance, with the loaded term "selfbeskikking" (self-determination), the word traditionally used by the right-wing to argue for a separate homeland, cropping up.

Hermann later explained: "We are part of South Africa, yes, but we need to withdraw to our own if needs be, to survive."

Solidarity, AfriForum and its member organisations now seem to be doing exactly that.

* Willie Spies, managing director of Pretoria FM, says the radio station has its own newsroom on which they rely for news gathering. He has been offered the right to reply.