Dutch writer to Italian newspaper: There’s “too much Africa in South Africa”

Oscar Pistorius being charged with the alleged murder of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day has given the Dutch writer Adriaan Van Dis the chance to play “South African expert” in a long interview in Tuesday’s issue of the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Van Dis’s latest book, Tikkop (translated in Italian as “Tradimento”, or “Betrayal” in English), was the official reason why he’s being interviewed. La Stampa titled the article, “South Africa, The rainbow country where apartheid is replaced with fear.” According to the book’s Italian publisher Iperborea it is “a story about a trip in South Africa, memory about apartheid, the failure of a dream of freedom, friendship, and love for a language and a land.”

“There’s a reason why we have asked Van Dis about the current situation in South Africa,” explains the journalist Alessandra Iadicicco in her introduction: “It is because he comes from the postcolonial world, and was born to an Dutch East Indian father and an Indonesian mother; he also studied Afrikaans literature in South Africa in the 1970s. He visited the country again in 1994 to document the progress made there after Mandela’s victory, writing a reportage-novel titled The Promised Land. Now, in Tikkop, he exposes his post-colonialist disillusions.”

Inevitably, Van Dis is questioned about the Pistorius case. Van Dis, echoing the rhetoric of Pistorius’ apologists (and the basis of Pistorius defense), responds that: “the background of the murder is clear: The country is dominated by fear, people–black and white–live in terror.”

La Stampa’s journalist wonders if the losses to which Van Dis refers in his novel, and the present day atmosphere of fear that he speaks about are consequences of Apartheid. “Without a doubt,” Van Dis asserts. “The dismantling of the system of segregation has created a new privileged class of wealthy black people, as scared as white people are of the diffused criminality among the poorest of the country.” And: “Conquering freedom didn’t improve the life standard for everybody.”

It’s clear that Van Dis’s assessment of South Africa will inevitably scare readers and discourage anyone outside the country from ever contemplating a visit to South Africa. But there are even more ways in which he expresses his disappointment: “The country which, in the 1990s, represented hope for justice and redemption for the oppressed of the world has “Africanized” itself more and more in the last 20 years [si è sempre più africanizzato negli ultimi vent’anni], and it wasn’t able to implement European civilization values.”

And that’s the real betrayal for Van Dis: the lost of a European legacy supposedly associated with the country’s whites. But who is going to tell Van Dis that even Apartheid is part of this same legacy?

The best comment comes from a friend of mine on Facebook, who used a rhyme I have never heard to explain the link between the new Europeans, with all their pretty liberal views, and their forebearers:

“Gratta gratta l’europeista che vien fuori il colonialista” (Scratch, scratch the Europeanist, and you’ll find the colonialist)

No need to scratch too much to get at what Van Dis is all about.

 

Comments

comments

16 Comments
  1. Brilliant comment from your friend on Facebook. Van Dis has always had a fatherly tone towards South Africa. What’s telling is how seriously he’s been taken in the Netherlands, and clearly Italy too, as a legitimate commentator on South Africa, while his colonialist stance has never been far beneath the surface.

  2. Not meaning to be disrespecful to Van Dis, but the Dutch like to consider themselves experts – on whatever subject. Italians apparently go along with that.
    I myself lived a number of years in SA. Telling some dutch lady on some occasion in Holland so, she replied, explaining to me the consequences of the notorious apartheid politics.
    And she was in a perfect position to give me a lecture. After all, it was her neighbour herself who had been to South Africa – on holiday!

  3. Somebody like Van Dis, who enjoyed his trip to study in 1970s Apartheid South Africa, while children were shot on the township streets and student activists were thrown out of the 10th flloor of the John Vorster Square torture center, should just shut his mouth!

    South Africa is indeed an African country, but unlike most African countries, we got Africans of various ethnicities, including white Africans. Van Dis is not one of them, so he holds little expertise.

    What did the editors of this “newspaper” think, when they approached this person for his irrelevant opinion? Who’s going to be their next “expert”? Andre Visagie? Eugene De Kock?

  4. While criticism of colonialism is justified, former coloniser societies of the west have also done plenty of self-correction and self-criticism (it seems self-flagellation has become a comfortable ride for some in European and US humanities departments). It’s worth asking which pre-colonial societies would have behaved better or worse if their past fortunes had been reversed? Would a 19th century chief have committed atrocities on the scale of Genghis Khan had he the resources of the British Empire?

    For some perspective, see the The 20 worst things people have done to each other: http://www.newscientist.com/embedded/20worst

    1. Mr(s) gordon Wells would you ask this questions in regard of the jewish Holacoust?
      Another note:Can you all imagine someone going to south Africa in the 1970,s to study .,while
      Apartheid reigns.
      This is the kind of person mr Ariaan van Dis is. So I rest my case.

      1. @alfons I have wondered about this. While of dubious historicity, the old testament can be interpreted to justify genocide. The phenomenon is old and unfortunately not unusual.

        I don’t see how criticising the failure of others to adopt or implement hard won best practices learned from past mistakes is colonialist.

  5. So basically, because this one Dutch guy is a dick, all Europeans are colonialists? And what’s a Europeanist, anyway?

  6. Tikkop (translated … as … “Betrayal” in English),
    Well you learn a new thing every day. Personally I thought it meant: Tikkop (noun) person who enjoys to smoke amphetamine via a ingenuously adapted light bulb, colloquially known as a “lolly”.
    I want a refund from Skelmbosch for my course fees!

  7. “The dismantling of the system of segregation has created a new privileged class of wealthy black people, as scared as white people are of the diffused criminality among the poorest of the country.” And: “Conquering freedom didn’t improve the life standard for everybody.”

    Better try to refute these words instead of calling well meaning people oldfashioned names. Or better still: read the book.

    Agl. Garzoni

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