Archive for November, 2012

(Written 9 Nov 2012)

Dear All,

In the opening scene of the first episode of the BBC television series, Civilisation (BBC, 1969) Kenneth Clark is seen on the banks of the Seine with the Louvre in the background. After a brief discussion about the number of artists who have hurried to that famous gallery to study the works it contains he asks, “What is Civilisation?” Then he goes on to say, “I don’t know. I can’t define (Civilisation) in abstract terms. But I think I can recognise it when I see it.” This thought… that of believing that you can recognise civilisation when you see it, struck me quite forcibly recently while sitting on the lawn of the John Baxter Outdoor Theater at Wynberg Boys High School. (!/Wynberg.Music)

The occasion was the School’s Sunset Concert and once again I marvelled at the care with which the music teachers ply their trade and I was impressed by the skill with which the pupils respond to their teaching. It has long been my view that one of the most civilising things in the world is the process by which people learn to play sophisticated music in concert; the other being schoolboy cricket in which the batsman is taught to ‘walk’ when they are out.

One the other hand, as Clark often remarks in the Civilisation series, “while it may be difficult to define Civilisation, it isn’t so difficult to recognise barbarism”, and so, as I sat there I juxtaposed this musical expression of civilisation with the expression of violence and graft to which we South Africans are subjected every day when we open our newspapers.

With that thought my mind went back to the sense of the truly sublime that I was able to enjoy with Keith and Pippa – that is them sitting behind me in the photo – when we saw Bernini’s Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius in the Eternal City. Apart from the magnificence of the work, the statue’s great symbolism of grandfather, father and son in the process of moving away from the destruction of Troy to the establishment of the new, greater Rome has a lot of meaning for me. The line from Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome always comes to mind, “For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods” (Horatius). In a way, it represents brothers in an endless chain; overcoming difficulties, Supera Moras.


But sadly, as I said, at the same time as I was listening to this marvellous music I thought of the shenanigans of this country’s president as he loots the treasury, avoids corruption charges, and still manages to move toward re-election. I thought of the way in which the ANC is steadily attacking the country’s constitution through the proposed Protection of Information Act. In my mind I juxtaposed Bernini’s depiction of heroism with Hogarth’s 18th century depiction of electioneering and I was reminded how fortunate we are to have islands such as that at Wynberg where Civilisation is being fostered as a bulwark against the barbarism that has made Cape Town the Murder Capitol of the world.

It is when one attends concerts like this one that one gets hope. Hope that somehow, like Aeneas, the country will overcome the attacks and the blight of crime, corruption and government failure.




(Written 4 Nov 2012)

Dear All,

A recent discussion about Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1901 – 1966) having been at Wynberg Boys High School for one year ( Headmaster’s Blog) had me reaching for my copy of what must be the finest book published on Afrikaaner Nationalism, W A de Klerk’s The Puritans in Africa: A story of Afrikaanerdom, (Pelican, 1976). The thought on my mind being to what extent his schooling may have influenced the world-view of a person many would consider to have been the devil incarnate.

It is well recorded that Verwoerd was an extremely intelligent man (although I have learnt that he only came second in his Wynberg class, 1913) but what was of greater interest to me is the way in which his early life may have made it possible for him to rationalise his role in the obvious destruction, pain and distress caused by the implementation of National Party policies in South Africa during the 50s and 60s. Especially since his father seems to have had great sympathy for the Boers in their struggle against the English and so the family’s sense of the pain of social injustice must have been acute. It is my guess that his deeply religious father played a key role in his thinking and perhaps his schoolboy experiences had a part in it. No doubt his immersion in the Social Pathologies and problems of white Afrikaaner poverty during the depression years in particular could have prompted a self-image of a saviour of his people. Whatever it was, his destruction of the lives of many people came with a peculiar sense of righteousness that is well described in Chapter 10, titled The Promethean Afrikaaner, a chapter in which de Klerk writes about the way in which the policy of apartheid ‘unfolded’ (p. 241):

Never in history have so few legislated so programmatically, thoroughly and religiously, in such a short time, for so many divergent groups, cultures and traditions, than the nationalist Afrikaaners of the second half of the twentieth century. Never had such a small minority of all those affected done so much with such a high sense of purpose, vocation and idealism. Never have so few drawn such sharply critical attention from a wondering world. Never has such a volume of criticism been so wide of the mark.

The world’s criticism was ineffective because “(they) did not understand that the harshness, the patent injustices, were all oblique but necessary results of a most rational, most passionate, most radical will to restructure the world according to a vision of justice; all with a view to lasting peace, progress and prosperity. As such it was true to the peculiar life-style of the Western Puritan man.

A bust of H F Verwoerd

This Puritanical view of righteousness was captured in two dicta regularly preached by Verwoerd, the first being that “The policy (of separate development) is designed for happiness, security and stability…,” and secondly, in the nature of a slogan, “Skep self u eie toekoms!” In a sentence, “Create your own future by a design for the happiness of all.”

These dicta, in some modern context, may find a place in the hearts and minds of the Men of Wynberg in 2012, but I am sure we will never be able to calculate the damage, suffering and loss brought about by the Puritanical implementation and rationalisation of this ultimately misguided work by the disciples of Malan; N. J. van der Merwe, T. E. Dönges, Eric Louw, C. R. Swart, J. G. Strydom and H. F. Verwoerd. All of whom, except Verwoerd, as de Klerk points out, “… were urbanised Afrikaaners, but a generation removed from their own platteland nurseries (p.114).” Verwoerd was born in Holland.

So in answer to the question as to how it was possible for Verwoerd to rationalise the destruction of apartheid, I am afraid I really am non-the-wiser. Who knows what goes on in the mind of an extremely intelligent bigot ?