In more than one previous foreword, I have shared with our readers some of the insights or inspirations I experienced while reading and editing the articles appearing in that issue. This time, the articles on Dag Hammarskjöld’s visit to South Africa have prompted me to look up a page I wrote two weeks after that very significant visit. It was the first time I ventured to write a letter to the press, and I sent it to the Afrikaans newspaper in Cape Town, Die Burger (The Citizen). With a little bit of open-mindedness, this newspaper was remaining loyal to the ‘Christian-national’ ideology of the white Afrikaners, and to the Verwoerdian apartheid government. Nevertheless – on 30 January 1961 – it did publish my anti-apartheid appeal, and even placed it prominently at the beginning of the readers’ column!
I wrote from a Christian perspective, since most of the group of people among whom I grew up were convinced that apartheid was divinely ordained. Our view of life and of fellow-South Africans was moulded by the dominating influence of our Afrikaans-speaking politicians and religious leaders. There was the socio-political policy of ‘separate development’, and it was endorsed by the (perhaps well-intentioned but) own-group-centred teaching of the theologians. In our church, a few dissenting voices were heard, but strongly criticised and almost ostracised.
Reading my sentences and paragraphs of 50 years ago – now as an editor! – I realise that I could have used better wording or phrasing here and there. But without tampering with it, here is an English version of what I wrote:
Measuring buckets that extinguish lamps [This heading and the two sub-headings were provided by the newspaper.]
J.C. Malan, 21 Herold Street, Stellenbosch, writes:
If one takes the things you nowadays hear and read and see happening around you with regard to our race relations, and test them against the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, you have to draw the conclusion that for many people it is no longer a matter of a lamp under a measuring bucket [the Afrikaans Bible translation of that time had ‘maatemmer’ in Matthew 5:15], but one of nothing else than a measuring bucket – strictly calibrated according to political and ecclesiastic traditions. It is a tragedy that some are trying to form a fire brigade with buckets ready to extinguish any brightly burning lamp(s).
On the other hand, however, it is encouraging to see (also in letters you publish) how many and who have already discarded the buckets, and are radiating the light of a truly Christian conduct towards our non-white compatriots.
Allow me to mention a few symptoms of the measuring bucket view of life, for the benefit of those whose views are so obstructed by their buckets as mine were before I became disillusioned.
Remaining the Master [In Afrikaans ‘Baas’ was the form of address that white males insisted upon, and that all blacks obviously detested.]
- The selfishness that keenly accepts the work done by brown hands for your own comfort and/or enrichment, but does not grant the owner of those hands anything more than minimum privileges in life (for instance by the pay you regard as sufficient for his services).
- The convenient conception that spending large amounts of money on providing housing, education and welfare for non-whites (the amounts concerned eagerly being mentioned abroad) makes it unnecessary to abandon the attitude of I-am-still-your-superior.
- The unperturbed detachment in which we tolerate glaring injustice inflicted on those who can afford it least (for instance in the implementing of the Group Areas Act at particular places).
- The fact that we as whites think we have enough wisdom to regulate important issues for non-whites without consulting them in any way, or by at most consoling them with a mere pretence of consultation (not even to mention proper representation in Government).
- The avoiding of decent forms of address, such as ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’, even when speaking to duly educated non-whites, while we teach our children to respect whites of all levels, even tramps.
Writers of letters published in your columns have already correctly emphasised that principles of life are either to be consistently practised or to be duly refuted. A majority of votes is irrelevant. [Something was left out here.] Let us fervently hope that a growing number of those who are with inner conviction promoting real light will have the courage to discard the old-fashioned measuring buckets – even in church meetings and in Government. If we are too afraid to do that, do we then not deserve the judgement of being salt that has lost its savour?
I received letters and telephone calls of criticism and repudiation, but also a few of acknowledgement and even acclamation. This letter of mine was the first of fifteen, which Die Burger accepted and published over twenty-seven years. Much more can be shared about those years of the struggle against apartheid, and the accompanying struggle against a literalistic, and often fundamentalist religiosity. At that time, each little statement, discussion, protest or appeal seemed to be trivial in light of the comprehensive change that was required, but retrospectively, we can be grateful that the drops did eventually make up an irresistible wave.
May the approach and the legacy of Dag Hammarskjöld, and of others who over half a century were committed to seeking solutions and promoting justice and peace, inspire and empower us to continue doing our little bits to contribute towards dialogue and coexistence.