SOUTH-AFRICA-L ArchivesArchiver > SOUTH-AFRICA > 2003-07 > 1059020372
From: "Steve Hayes" <>
Subject: Re: [ZA] Being PC in History??
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 06:19:32 +0200
On 23 Jul 2003 at 14:23, Elizabeth Willoughby wrote:
> One of the major problems I have with the world today is the lack of
> intelligent debate. How refreshing to hear the banter from differing sides on
> such issues. I don't know about the rest of the world, but it is lacking in
> my neck of the woods. It brings me back to my college days when people argued
> over almost everything, and I LOVED IT!!!!! It gets the brain working and
> tests convictions--not a bad thing.....I did a search for the Kaffir Wars but
> couldn't find why the term is considered offensive, please educate?
Many years ago a book called "Blame it on van Riebeeck", which lampooned the
teaching of history in South African schools.
One of the things it said was that the important thing about all wars was
that they had Causes and Results.
It then had a list:
1st Kaffir WarThe Kaffirs
2nd Kaffir WarThe Kaffirs
3rd Kaffir WarThe Kaffirs
and so on for all nine.
I can't remember whether they said that the English War of 1899-1902 was
caused by the English, but of course it was.
And the Zulu War of 1879 was, of course, caused by the Zulus, who, like the
Iraqis, didn't disarm when the English told them to.
The problem here, of course, is that much history is taught as though the
contemporary war propaganda of one side is History with a capital H.
One should not, of course, tamper with historical sources, and try to make
them appear to say something that they don't, but one should also not simply
accept the interpretation of events given by any single source.
So if you quote a source, you don't change the wording. But if you describe
an event, you are not tied to using the wording of one source.
The same event may have different names, depending on who is talking, and
their point of view. Taking a different point of view does not necessarily
mean that you are changing history.
Some people call the English War the Boer War, and the English themselves
called it the South African War, but nowadays most historians call it the
Anglo-Boer War. Calling a one-sided interpretive description "history" that
cannot be changed does not serve to preserve historical accuracy, but
actually distorts it.
But you need to know the names that different people gave things, places,
themselves or other groups of people, in order to understand the different
sources. Two sources can use different names to describe the same event. Most
19th century written records of what is today called Namibia refer to Damaras
and Damaraland. Nowadays the people who were then called Damaras are called
Hereros. Damaraland in the 1870s was a different place from Damaraland in the
1970s, and so on.
The abode of one of my wife's ancestors in the Eastern Cape was given as
"Tambookie Location", but you won't find it on present-day maps.
Not only place names but other words change their meanings over time. My
Great Great Grandfather (Mayor of Durban at the time) was described by Sir
Garnet Wolseley in his diaries in the 1870s as "an offensive snob", who "like
most of the others I have met here, is weak in his aitches".
Nowadays we tend to think of snobs as being fraffly well-spoken, but clearly
Sir Garnet didn't, and the accents of Durbanites have changed, though not so
far as the accents of people further inland, who add aitches to words like
One of the interesting things about family history is that it can throw light
on general history, and vice versa. Some historical events take on a new
light if you know the family relationships of those involved in them.
Knowledge of chronology is also useful. References to "South Africa" in
documents dated before 1910 usually mean what we mean when we say "southern
Africa" today, and often included Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, and
perhaps more. But it is sometimes hard to keep in mind. Can you recall
accurately when it was correct to say that someone was born in British
Kaffraria? How long did it last? Through most of the 19th century what we now
call South Africa was a kaleidoscope of states and colonies with ever-
changing boundaries and shifting alliances, sometimes based on local
politics, and sometimes influenced by geopolitics.
Nowadays black people living in KwaZulu/Natal who speak isiZulu tend to be
thought of as Zulus. But in the 19th centure the Zulus tended to think of
them as kaffirs (amakhafula).
It is conventional wisdom among many that "liberals" think that "kaffir" is a
very naughy word indeed, and that they never utter it. But in the 1960s black
liberals in Natal frequently referred to black members of the Security Police
as kaffirs (amakhafula).
So don't change words used in a source when quoting a source, but don't think
that that word has a fixed meaning and that what it means in that source can
be assumed to be its meaning in other sources.
Let me end with an anecdote about being PC in history.
When I was in Standard 3 (Grade 5) our class had to take it in turn to read
aloud from an Afrikaans reader. Each pupil had to stand up, read a paragraph,
and then sit down. When my turn came I stood up and hesitated while looking
for the place on the page.. The teacher, a formidable lady called Mrs Barr,
with a plait done up over the top of her head, propled me, bay saying in a
booming voice, "Die naturel..." I couldn't see it. I looked up and down the
page, and lost the place, and she boomed louder, "Die naturel..." She was
getting impatient now, and my search became more frantic, and I began to turn
the pages of the book trying to find an occurence of the word.
Eventually she stormed up to by desk to point out what i couldn't see, and
there in my book it said "Die kaffer..."
A survey showed that there were three different editions of the book in the
class. The newest, and most politically correct, had "Die Bantoe..." while
the older ones had "Die naturel..." and "Die kaffer..."
Some, however, resisted such political correctness.
There is an organisation called the Church Unity Comission, which has been
trying, for the last 40 years or so, to unite several Christian denominations
in south Africa. In the 1970s they produced a "comon baptism certificate",
for use by all the participating denominations, so that people wouldn't get
baptised twice (as has been mentioned in another thread).
Anglican clergy in Zululand, however, refused to buy or use them. I asked
why. Because it has the word "Bantu" in it, I was told. Where? I asked. In
the small print at the bottom, which listed the participating denominations
that recognised the certificate -- one of them was "the Bantu Presbyterian
Church". Refusing to use the certificates was their way of protesting against
that particular form of political correctness.
Phone: 083-342-3563 or 012-333-6727
|Re: [ZA] Being PC in History?? by "Steve Hayes" <>|