From volksdans to dirty dancing
Left and right profits from De la Rey
WHAT DO MALE FERTILITY and Boer generals have in common? Articles on both subjects appear on the top ten list of most emailed stories on The New York Times website. (It’s the favourite pet name among Afrikaners for penis, is not the answer I was looking for.)
The 27 February article in the NYT by Michael Wines headlined “Song Wakens Injured Pride of Afrikaners” came in at number ten while “It Seems the Fertility Clock Ticks for Men, Too” was in second place.
The Wines article is about Bok van Blerk’s song about Anglo-Boer War bittereinder General Koos de la Rey. Maybe you’ve heard it. That the article made the list at all is quite a feat – the NYT is the most popular online newspaper in the US with 44,2m unique visitors a month. According to the article, Afrikaners number only 2,5m, so the entire population must’ve been furiously e-mailing. A year after the CD was released the debate about De la Rey is still at fever pitch. We’re even being told that there’s now a Bok van Blerk generation (sorry Karen, the Zoid generation only lasted four years).
I’m not sure where Wines gets his figure of 2,5m Afrikaners from, but he may be including the Britney Prinsloos and Chad de Wets of this country. I don’t think any Chads or Britneys suffered in the British concentration camps, which Wines says “is a central theme in Afrikaner lore”.
But he’s not only wrong on Hans Khakis. Apart from making the old South African flag orange and green, Wines puts Mpumalanga on the Indian Ocean coast. Wines’ worst mistake was placing Loftus Versfeld in Johannesburg. If you don’t even know where Afrikaner Central is, you’ve got no credibility on the issue. Or maybe Loftus is Afrikaner Ground Zero – the Blue Bulls’ banning of the song recalls the spirit of Paardeberg, not Magersfontein.
Arts and culture minister Pallo Jordan warned that the song risks being hijacked by rightwingers. He’s got it wrong, it’s already been hijacked by Afrikaner leftwingers. Always anxious to bolster his liberal credentials, Max du Preez told the UK Guardian that “When they sing about how nasty the British were to the Boer women in the concentration camps, they’re not thinking about the British, they’re thinking about blacks. Their enemy is now black.” Eish Max, that’s a bit of an overstatement.
Writer, musician and self-confessed (reformed) pothead Koos Kombuis says there’s “a kloof the size of the Visrivier canyon” between him and Van Blerk. But later in the article on Afrikaans online forum Litnet he draws parallels between De la Rey’s death and that of Brett Kebble and then goes on to claim that De la Rey was the Afrikaners’ Steve Biko. (I also had to read it twice.)
Kombuis also tells of Afrikaners "from Malmesbury to Mpumalanga" who have "Bok van Blerk parties" where they put the CD on repeat and braai, drink hard and sing along for hours. I've had some experience of this myself. Late at night the young Afrikaans couple in the garden cottage I'm letting would play De la Rey over and over and then switch to She's Like the Wind (In My Tree) by Patrick Swayze from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
What do Swayze and Van Blerk have in common? Not much except both of them sing sentimental, formulaic and awful pop songs.