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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X

Historia vol.54 n.1 Durban  2009


N.P. van Wyk Louw and the Moral Predicament of Afrikaner Nationalism: Preparing the ground for Verligte Reform


N.P. van Wyk Louw en die Morele Penarie van Afrikaner Nasionalisme: Voorbereidings vir Verligte Hervorming



T. Dunbar Moodie

T Dunbar Moodie teaches in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is a research fellow of the Department of History at the University of South Africa He is the author of The Rise of Afrikanerdom and Going for Gold (both published by the University of California Press) and many articles in scholarly journals He would like to thank Professors Alex Mouton and Hermann Giliomee for their heartening reassurances about his return to the study of Afrikaner intellectual history after many years working on gold miners He would also like to acknowledge Justice Louis and Mrs Irene Harms for their assistance and encouragement




This article argues for the continued relevance of the ideas of N.P. van Wyk Louw in debates among Afrikaner intellectuals during the height of apartheid in the 1960s and 1970s. It discusses the moral equivocations of the Verwoerd era and conflicts around questions of race and ethnicity that ensued during the Vorster period. At the heart of these moral debates, it is argued, was the question of state policy in regard to "coloured" People (arguably culturally Afrikaans, but racially other). The article looks less closely at a parallel silencing of debate about inclusion of urban Africans. After the Soweto uprising in 1976, however, intense intellectual contestation reached a high point through advocacy in Afrikaner cultural circles of "reform" by Gerrit Viljoen (Chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond). Efforts to implement reform after 1979 failed dismally in the 1980s, but the shape of F.W. de Klerk's "leap forward" in 1990 would have been inconceivable without these earlier debates and their halting implementation by P.W. Botha.

Key words: Afrikaner Broederbond; calling (roeping); civil religion; coloureds; democracy; ethnicity (volkseie); intellectuals; liberalism; loyal opposition (lojale verset); morality; National Party; nationalism; petty apartheid; public debate (oop gesprek); race; reform; sacred history; separate development; situation ethics; survival with justice (voortbestaan in geregtigheid)


Hierdie artikel betoog dat die idees van N.P. van Wyk Louw, soos dit gedurende die hoogtepunt van apartheid in die 1960's en 1970's in die debatte van Afrikanerintellektuele na vore gekom het, steeds relevant bly. Dit ondersoek die morele dubbelsinnighede van die Verwoerd-era en konflikte rondom vrae oor ras en etnisiteit gedurende die Vorster-tydperk. Daar word aangevoer dat die vraag rondom staatsbeleid ten opsigte van "kleurlinge" (moontlik kultureel Afrikaans, maar van 'n ander ras) sentraal in hierdie morele debatte gestaan het. Die artikel kyk ook minder intensief na 'n parallelle verswyging van debat oor die insluiting van stedelike swartes. Na die Soweto-opstand van 1976, het die intense stryd in intellektuele kringe egter deur Gerrit Viljoen (voorsitter van die Afrikaner Broederbond) se voorspraak vir "hervorming", 'n hoogtepunt bereik. Pogings na 1979 om hervorming te implementeer, het in die 1980's jammerlik gefaal, maar die aard van F.W. de Klerk se sprong na vore in 1990 sou in die afwesigheid van hierdie vroeëre debatte en hulle gebrekkige implementering deur P.W. Botha, ondenkbaar gewees het.

Sleutelwoorde: Afrikaner Broederbond; afsonderlike ontwikkeling; demokrasie; heilige geskiedenis; hervorming; intellektuele; klein apartheid; kleurlinge; liberalisme; lojale verset; moraliteit; Nasionale Party; nasionalisme; omstandigheidsetiek; oop gesprek; ras; roeping; volkseie; volksgodsdiens; voortbestaan in geregtigheid



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1 T Dunbar Moodie, The Rise of Afrikanerdom: Apartheid, Power and the Afrikaner Civil Religion (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975)         [ Links ]
2 A Norval, Deconstructing Apartheid Discourse (Verso, London & New York, 1996) Despite rather obscure theoretical language and some minor problems of historical detail,         [ Links ] to my mind this book constitutes one of the most thoughtful discussions of the moral dilemma of Afrikaner nationalism Her conception of "the Afrikaner myth" conforms quite closely to what I have called "Afrikaner civil religion" "The apartheid imaginary" (she quite correctly dubs it "impossible") is what in this article I call apartheid ideology What her analysis gains in precision through post-Gramscian theory, it tends to lose in general comprehensibility, however
3 I discovered Hermann Giliomee's essay, "Survival in Justice: An Afrikaner Debate over Apartheid", Comparative Studies in Society and History, 36, 1994, only late in the writing of this article Not for the first time, he and I have worked the same ground, although independently of one another
4 As in The Rise of Afrikanerdom, I translate the Afrikaans word volk as "People", and volks as "ethnic" I am well aware of the awkwardness of this usage and sometimes note the Afrikaans word in the text Even more difficult to translate is the word volkseie (peculiar to the People) which is often used to formulate the boundaries of Afrikaner identity as different from other Peoples For a discussion of the moral and political paradox implicit in such affirmations of identity, see W Connolly, Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2002)         [ Links ]
5 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, pp 288-289
6 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, p 41
7 Moodie, Afrikanerdom, p 164
8 P J Meyer, Nog Nie Ver Genoeg Nie (Perskor, Johannesburg, 1985), p 185 All translations from Afrikaans texts are my own         [ Links ]
9 Meyer, Nie Ver Genoeg Nie, p 79
10 NP van Wyk Louw, Versamel de Prosa I (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1986), p 502         [ Links ]
11 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 500
12 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 461 This is precisely the point I make in regard to Meyer For him, as for the other Christian National ideologues, national calling had no content - except to be (and to be Christian National) One is irresistibly reminded of J M Coetzee's great novel, Waiting for the Barbarians.
13 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 459
14 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 78
15 J C Steyn, Van Wyk Louw: 'n Lewensverhaal (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1998), p 1053         [ Links ]
16 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 507
17 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 462
18 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 458
19 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 455
20 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 460
21 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 502 See: Moodie, Rise of Afrikanerdom, pp 65-67
22 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 462
23 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 463
24 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 509
25 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 484
26 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 485
27 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 488
28 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 489
29 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 490
30 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, pp 415-418
31 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, p 481
32 Louw, Versamelde Prosa I, pp 505-506 M Sanders, Complicities: The intellectual and apartheid (Duke University Press, Durham, 2002), pp 82-87,         [ Links ] discusses lectures Louw gave in Amsterdam in 1952 that develop essentially the same theme
33 I take issue here with Sanders, Complicities, whose elision of Van Wyk Louw with Geoff Cronjé is too facile One should note, however, that Louw who was from the Cape, expressed concern about African (he said "black") encroachment in that area Sanders reads this as "racist", despite Louw's embracing of so-called "coloured" (bruin mense) If so, this indeed is a peculiarly selective and "Cape-based" racism As we shall see, it was rejected by racist popular opinion even in the Cape
34 J H P Serfontein, Apartheid, Change and the NG Kerk (Taurus, Emmerentia,1982), pp 260-269 The Afrikaner Broederbond in the northern provinces was also party to such racial concerns In Rise of Afrikanerdom,         [ Links ] I identify this group with Geoff Cronjé (p 275) For church involvement in the development of apartheid theory, see also H Giliomee, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2003), pp 454-464 He also discusses Van Wyk Louw on pp 472-474         [ Links ]
35 In a different context, Piet Cillié once noted that Verwoerd had "two brains" operating independently of one another See: J C Steyn, Penvegter: Piet Cillié van die Burger (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 2002), p 123         [ Links ]
36 For an account of Piet Cillié's support for "large" apartheid (separate development), but his attack on "small" apartheid (petty racial discrimination that simply became ammunition for South Africa's enemies, was inessential for separate development or simply transgressed sound common sense) - aimed directly at Verwoerd - see: Steyn, Penvegter, pp 124-127 Cillié had the support of Willem van Heerden, editor of Dagbreek en Sondagnuus, in this particular brouhaha For the standard "thin end of the wedge" response, see A P Treurnicht, Credo van 'n Afrikaner (Kaapstad, Tafelberg, 1975), pp 21-24         [ Links ]
37 An additional important indicator, although less certain because of its practical implications -and because they mostly spoke English - was the question of urban blacks
38 For the decimation of SABRA and the attack on Nic Olivier, see John Lazar's paper in P Bonner, P Delius and D Posel, Apartheid's Genesis (Ravan, Braamfontein, 2003) and P Hugo (ed),         [ Links ] South African Perspectives: Essays in Honour of Nic Olivier (Die Suid Afrikaan, Pretoria, 1989), pp 3-48 As with the "coloured" question,         [ Links ] Van Wyk Louw also weighed in briefly on Tomlinson - Versamelde Prosa II (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1986), pp 589-594         [ Links ]
39 There are innumerable accounts of this affair See, for example: P Walshe, Church versus State in South Africa (Orbis, Maryknoll, 1983);         [ Links ] A H Luckhoff, Cottesloe (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1978) Because Verwoerd made overt use of the Afrikaner Broederbond,         [ Links ] every expose of the Afrikaner Broederbond makes much of it
40 D P Botha, Die Opkoms van ons Derde Stand (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1960), p xv         [ Links ]
41 Steyn, Penvegter, p 64
42 Steyn, Penvegter, p 75
43 Steyn, Penvegter, p 143
44 L Louw (ed), Dawie 1946-1964 (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1965), pp 182-183         [ Links ]
45 Steyn, Penvegter, p 144
46 Steyn, Penvegter, p 145
47 Botha, Opkoms, pp v-vi
48 J J van Rooyen, Ons Politiek van Naby (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1971), p 103         [ Links ]
49 Steyn, Penvegter, p 148
50 Louw, Dawie, p 199
51 Steyn, Penvegter, p 153
52 Steyn, Penvegter, p 179
53 Steyn, Penvegter, p 155
54 Louw, Dawie, p 206
55 See especially Chapter 3 in Piet Cillié, Baanbrekers vir Vryheid (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1990)
56 Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 2-3
57 Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 7-9 See also Van Wyk Louw in Botha, Opkoms, p vii
58 Cillié, Baanbrekers, p 10 Cillié did concede in his evidence to the World Court, however [See: W Verwoerd, Verwoerd: So onthou ons hom (Protea Boekhandel, Pretoria, 2001), p 143] that if black immigration to the cities could not be turned around by the middle 1970s, Afrikaners would have to think again In a talk in 1982, he did in fact concede that such rethinking was having to take place (Cillié, Baanbrekers, pp 41-44)
59 Verwoerd, Verwoerd, p 132
60 O Geyser, B.J. Vorster: Select Speeches (Institute for Contemporary History, Bloemfontein, 1977), pp 102-103 It is surely not insignificant that these speeches were published in English translation
61 For complex detail on these events, see B M Schoeman, Vorster se 1000 Dae (Human & Rousseau, Kaapstad, 1974) Discussion of Hertzog's "Calvinism" speech may be found on p 225
62 D O'Meara, Forty Lost Years: The apartheid state and the politics of the National Party, 1948-1994 (Ravan, Randburg, 1996), p 137
63 Piet Meyer's final autobiography contains extracts from many of his speeches as Afrikaner Broederbond head
64 Deborah Posel long ago (1991) pointed out the compromises Verwoerd had to make along the way
65 Meyer, Nie ver genoeg nie, p 97
66 Within the Afrikaner Broederbond, Treurnicht's most important conservative ally was probably Carel Boshoff, who based his Christian National position as much on German missiology as on Kuyper's philosophy It is perhaps not insignificant that in a talk entitled "Christian Nationalism" in T Sundermeier, Church and Nationalism in South Africa (Johannesburg, Ravan, 1975), pp 91-97, Boshoff begins by citing Van Wyk Louw's critique of chauvinism as the "black angel" of nationalism Hence the importance of the "Christian" in Christian Nationalism that rescues it from this dark angel
67 Treurnicht, Credo, p 13
68 Genesis 10 & 11 and Acts 17:26 The General Synod of the NG Church had just the year before accepted that these texts did not imply a biblical justification for racial separation -although it was also argued that the Bible did not necessarily condemn racial division as immoral
69 Treurnicht, Credo, p 23
70 Treurnicht, Credo, p 24
71 Treurnicht, Credo, p 44
72 Treurnicht, Credo, p 60
73 He simply dismissed it as "liberation theology"
74 "Antwoord van dr A P Treurnicht", in J J Degenaar, Voortbestaan in Geregtigheid: Opstelle or die politieke rol van die Afrikaner (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1980), p 59
75 Treurnicht, Credo, p 61
76 For essays setting forth black theology as an African civil religion, see M Mothlabi, Essays in Black Theology (Black Theology Project, Braamfontein, 1972) The same essays were published by Westminster Press in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1974 under editorship of B Moore as The Challenge of Black Theology in South Africa.
77 Useful discussions of Degenaar's intellectual and personal impact at Stellenbosch University may be found in D Hertzog, E Britz and A Henderson, Gesprek Sonder Grense: Huldigingsbundel ter ere van Johan Degenaar se 80ste verjaarsdag (H&B Uitgewers, Stellenbosch, 2007)
78 I would argue that this was less a shift than an amplification
79 Degenaar, Voortbestaan, pp 35-64
80 Degenaar, Voortbestaan, p 50
81 Degenaar, Voortbestaan, p 47
82 Degenaar, Voortbestaan, p 64
83 G Viljoen, "Wat is 'n volk? Die aktualiteit van NP van Wyk Louw se riglyne vir die nasionalisme", in F I J van Rensburg (ed), Oopgelate kring: NP van Wyk Louw gedenklesingsl-11 (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1982), p 139
84 See for example the essay by P Kapp, "Sy visie vir die Afrikaner", in B Louw en F van Rensburg, Bestendige Binnevuur: Perspektiewe op Gerrit Viljoen (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1997), pp 177-188 Such "middle-range" Afrikaner intellectuals became known as verligtes as opposed to the Treurnicht camp who were called verkramp.
85 G Viljoen, Vernuwing en Voortgang: Rekenskap deur 'n Afrikaner II (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1979), pp 36-37
86 Gerrit Viljoen, Ideaal en Werklikheid: Rekenskap deur 'n Afrikaner I (Tafelberg, Kaapstad, 1979), pp 60-61
87 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 60
88 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 64
89 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 63
90 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 85
91 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 89 This was an explicit statement of what Hermann Giliomee has called "a radical survival plan "
92 Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 7-16
93 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 12 These suggestions were eventually worked out in the tricameral parliament pushed through by Botha and his verligte allies
94 See also Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 45-46
95 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 94
96 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 39
97 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 31
98 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 31 As we have seen, each of Viljoen's "policy goals" had been clearly spelled out by Piet Cillié more than fifteen years before Viljoen also suggested (p 16), as he did in several other places at this time (such as p 40), that there needed to be careful consideration of the creation of a smaller "white South Africa" that would be exclusively white This was apparently a topic of serious consideration in the Afrikaner Broederbond Viljoen was still unclear on this issue in 1978 (p 39) In the end, according to Pieter Kapp in Louw & Van Rensburg, Bestendige Binnevuur, p 186, Viljoen settled firmly on partnership with other Peoples as the only solution In this he disagreed with Carel Boshoff, his successor as chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond When Boshoff was unseated, however, Pieter de Lange continued to move the Afrikaner Broederbond towards Viljoen's goal
99 A Grundlingh and H Sapire, "From Feverish Festival to Repetitive Ritual? The Changing Fortunes of Great Trek Mythology in an Industrializing South Africa, 1938-1988", South African Historical Journal, 21, 1989 See also: J H Cilliers' analysis of ethnic sermons (volksprediking) published in Kerkbode between 1960 and 1980 in P Coertzen (ed), 350 Years Reformed (Barnabas, Bloemfontein, 2002), pp 109-119 This analysis however lacks historical precision
100 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 50
101 Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 54-55
102 Viljoen had become acutely aware of the injustices of Nationalist state policy Much of his writing after 1976 seemed to be kicking hard against the pricks (Perhaps his Damascus road experience came only after he was appointed Administrator of South West Africa/Namibia -and even then he struggled with the full implications for Afrikaners of justice for Africans in the South African heartland)
103 Viljoen, Ideaal, p 29
104 Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 31-32
105 Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 35-36 It is perhaps important to mention, however, that Viljoen's remarkable Van Wyk Louw lecture makes abundantly clear that he feels Van Wyk Louw's conception of the nation is too language-centered Viljoen insists that history and race are also important in the formation of a national culture Unlike Louw, his nationalism was profoundly race-based
106 I suspect this was true even of Johan Degenaar who certainly carried on a dialogue with German theologians of liberation like Dorothee Soele, but seems to have had little contact with Africans Perhaps I am mistaken here, but two of Degenaar's most often-repeated examples of African attitudes (from Lucas Mangope and, I think, Reverend Kameeta) came from a conference at Mapumulo in 1974 at which I was present It was an interesting conference (Sundermeier, Church and Nationalism), but seems to have had a life-changing impact on Degenaar who apparently had had no prior acquaintance with black theology and black theologians (and shows little evidence that he read their work much afterwards) Degenaar did debate Jakes Gerwel once later, but Gerwel was at that same conference too Later, Degenaar was clearly shaken to the core by Elsa Joubert's, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena, written in Afrikaans Even Degenaar, the most way-out Afrikaner critic of separate development policy, shunned for his views by his People and his church and watched by the security police, nonetheless developed his arguments theoretically, out of the essays of Van Wyk Louw (written in Holland), rather than innumerable examples of black suffering generally available to him in his contemporary South Africa Perhaps this was inevitable if he were to be given any hearing at all, but it does demonstrate how few gates there were in Viljoen's ethnic fences
107 Viljoen, Ideaal, pp 33-34
108 To those of us on the outside it seemed obvious I myself wrote in 1974 (Moodie, "Sociological Aspects of Nationalism in South Africa", in Sundermeier, Church and Nationalism, p 44): "Talk of equal rights for ethnic groups, of the sacred trust of Afrikaners to maintain indigenous African cultures as well as their own, is so much eyewash as long as Afrikaner cultural identity is directly related to a monopoly of political power . A policy of ethnic pluralism can have no cogency as long as political and economic power remains firmly in the hands of whites And the logic of ethnic nationalism has now come full circle in South Africa - Afrikaners have come to associate ethnic identity with white hegemony
109 J Degenaar, Keuse vir die Afrikaner (Taurus, Emmerentia, 1982), p 26
110 A du Toit, Die Sondes van die Vaders (Rubicon, Kaapstad, 1983), p 72

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