Vertel ons Stories | Telling our Stories

by Naretha Pretorius

I recently did a guest lecture at the School for International Studies (SIT) in Durban as part of their Study Abroad Programme for Social and Political Transformation. My audience consisted of 9 students from various universities from the USA.  It was my first experience in sharing my story of growing up an Afrikaner woman to an audience that had no experience and a limited understanding of Apartheid and ‘Afrikaners’.

I was blessed to have had this opportunity.

The challenge was to create some sort of connection for them with something they were significantly disconnected with – by making it in some way familiar to them. One word: Nostalgia.

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Family and traditions, happy childhood memories, school days, the freedom of being a child, parents and siblings, holidays and adventures, shared memories, happy moments like birthday and sad moments like the loss of loved ones.

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But then I challenged them by asking:”How can I, a white Afrikaner, be nostalgic of a problematic socio-political past?”

This is where my story became vital, I realised.  Their perception of Apartheid in relation to Afrikaners were limited and skewed. Why? Their understanding was influenced by what I refer to as the “master narrative”, the narrative created by media, schooling and other forms of education and information. The ‘master narrative’ of state brutality, violence, extreme segregation and regulations. My ‘personal narrative’ enriched their understanding of South Africa’s Apartheid history, it provided them with a different perspective and understanding.  It especially gave them an understanding of what it was like for me as an Afrikaner woman during and post Apartheid, in a conservative Calvinistic Afrikaner community in ‘Transvaal’ (Gauteng).  Although conservative in its belief system and practices, it was a close and safe community where being a child meant feeling safe and protected, oblivious to the country’s turmoil and inequalities. Followed by the realisation of what that childhood was really about. My experience and story, provided them with the much needed nuances and layers of understanding history through personal account.  I don’t speak for all Afrikaans people, nor for all ‘Afrikaners’ nor for all South Africans, it’s just my story, my experience, my memories.

With references to when I was a child during Apartheid, they learned about The Reformed Church (Gereformeerde Kerk) and its messages of Afrikaners being the ‘chosen people’ as well as their sacraments, such as the marriage sacrament with its gender inequalities –  which hasn’t changed since I was a child in the 1970’s. They learned about the significance of ‘Tannie Emsie Schoeman’ and her guidelines to etiquette and good manners.  I spoke about my own experiences of etiquette through informal and formal guidelines (such as traditions or institutional regulations).  How to dress, how to behave, how to ‘serve’, how to live and how to believe, especially for women.

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They also learned about the Afrikaner Broederbond and other societal structures in promoting and implementing Afrikaner Ideologies in our everyday life; schools, churches and organisations such as ‘Die Voortrekkers’. These were societal structures where my parents were actively involved in, and where we as children participated in without much thought.

I had a very happy childhood. Understandably so; we were raised as a uniform with one goal in mind: protect our race. As a child I did not recognise this as racism and inequality, I did not see it as ‘wrong’, I just experienced it as ‘normal’. Now as an adult, I critically reflect on my upbringing, and have through awareness and reflection, re-‘designed’ my value system.

The essence of my story was: self-awareness for transformation. That the Self is a rich source of information and knowledge, often untapped. When one applies critical self-reflection and introspection through self-study, one can become aware, and once you become aware, you can do something about it: you can implement change.

I shared with them my exhibition catalogue, where I expressed my memories and experiences through my art and poetry. Have a look, and tell me what you think.  I am making my personal story public, as that is the very purpose of conducting a self-study: the potential to be educational and transformative. you can read more about action research for self-study here.

It is important to Tell Our Stories. We learn from it, both in the act of telling, and in the act of listening.