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2— Afrikaner Women and the Creation of Ethnicity in a Small South African Town, 1902–1950
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The Social Concerns of the A C V V

From early on there was an enlargement of activity to include the social problems of poor whites, reducing the predominance of purely cultural issues. The shift was almost certainly a consequence of the accelerating depopulation of the countryside throughout South Africa and the increasing attention being given to it by the church. The Cape Dutch Reformed Church had established a 'labour colony' at Kakamas on the Orange River in 1897, and a Cape Select Committee on poor whites had reported in 1906.[64] Presumably the ACVV of the Cape took up these social issues partly because they were dramatized for Cradock members by the holding of the church's conference on poor whites there in 1916, at which W.M. Macmillan gave a paper and Dr Malan, a future Prime Minister, gave an address.[65] It was an appropriate platform for Malan. As a Nationalist he had stood for parliament in Cradock in 1915, but had been defeated. At the conference on poor whites the following year, however, he showed that he appreciated the political possibilities of the issue. From then on the theme of Afrikaner poverty and the great exodus was central to his activity as shown in his speech to another church congress in Bloemfontein in 1923, and his major speech on the Second Great Trek to the cities in 1938.[66]

The social issues relating to poor whites—poverty, housing, clothing, care of children—were ones that could be kept separate from those ostensibly dividing the political parties—constitutional symbolism, language, and relationship to Britain. There was locally a great deal of cooperation between English-speakers and Afrikaners in helping the poor. For example, Toc H, a veterans' group born in Flanders in 1916, its women's section (the 'Toc-Emmas') and the Boy Scouts, all overwhelmingly English-speaking, ran summer camps for poor white boys and girls in the 1930s.[67] It is important not to read later divisions into earlier periods. In 1910 the ACVV 'made up' the graves of the rebels, a touchy issue, and voted £10 for flowers to be placed on the graves each week; in 1914 it erected railings round the graves.[68] But in 1911 it presented an address of welcome to Louis Botha, the prime minister of the new Union (Afrikaners had not yet split publicly in politics), and in 1914 provided beskuit (rusks) for the Cradock Commando which had been called up for service in the Rebellion.[69] In 1923, the ACVV provided refreshments for the visit of the Governor-General and, in 1924, sent representatives to a local committee to plan the visit of the Prince of Wales.[70] Throughout its history up to 1939, and even beyond, the ACVV trod a careful, non-party, line between securing the interests of Afrikaners and identifying itself with the National Party: one could, in fact, be ethnic in orientation without being Nationalist in a party sense.

The ability to straddle the political fence can be seen in the personnel of the executive. There must be few organizations where there has been such continuity. The formidable Elizabeth Jordaan (1859–1950), who played such a role in founding the organization, was president from 1904–6, and then after terms by others of three and two years, she became president in 1911 and remained so for 33


years. She was much feared; even today, she is a woman one has to talk of with care. She joined Miss Minnie van Rensburg (1883–1955) who had been elected secretary in 1908 and remained in the post to 1950. Then in 1912 they were joined by Mrs J. J. van Rensburg, (1874–1947) a young widow who became vice-chairwoman and held that position to 1944, when she became chairwoman until 1947. As if this were not enough, the treasurer, Minnie van Deventer (1884–1974), joined the organization in 1911, gained office in 1920 and remained there until 1957. There was, therefore, effective continuity of personnel in the executive from 1911 to 1948.

There is evidence that the executive was non-partisan as well as long-serving. Mrs van Rensburg was a loyal Smuts supporter, i.e. not an Afrikaner nationalist but a believer in Anglo-Afrikaner 'conciliation', an important person locally, a town councillor, mayor from 1936 to 1938, and for long president of the Vroue Sendingsbond (Women's Missionary Association). And the ACVV's evenhandedness on social welfare issues can be seen in the admission from the early days of white English-speakers to its old people's home.[71]

The connections between the ACVV and the growing Afrikaner nationalist movement were nevertheless close, even if informal. In 1914, the rebellion produced yet another set of events about which Afrikaners could differ on the basis of their attitudes to the 'British connection', a polarizing agent which was a boon to the newly-created National Party. One of the immediate consequences nationally was the founding of Helpmekaar (Help together), an organization to pay the fines of those found guilty of rebellion, another example of Afrikaners in the Cape, few of whom rebelled, sympathizing with and aiding those to the north who had. Helpmekaar put out a lavishly illustrated book, giving the executives, with photographs, of each district. In the section on Cradock, we find some familiar faces: Mrs E. Venter and her husband, both 'undesirables' in 1901, Elizabeth Jordaan, A.J. de Kock (chairman), manager of the local Afrikaner multi-purpose shop, De Cradock Handels-Maatskapy, Mrs J.C. Reyneke, second wife of Cradock's dominee, and several other notables—all, except Mrs Reyneke, already active Nationalists.[72] After the fines were paid, Helpmekaar found it had money to spare and became in the 1920s an important source of funds for scholarships for Afrikaner children. But, however close the connection of individuals to organized Afrikaner nationalism, the ACW remained an organization devoted to Afrikaners generally: its motto became ' Vir Kerk, Volk en Taal ('For Church, People and Language'), and it worked steadily for maximum coordination with the activities of the state, especially after the establishment of the Department of Social Welfare in 1937.[73]

On the basis of this material on Cradock we can draw two preliminary conclusions. First, these women were, in Gramsci's terms, to a limited degree playing the role of 'organic' intellectuals, especially in creating a 'homogeneity and an awareness . . . in the social and political fields'.[74] They were defining cultural symbols, particularly in religion and language, both wrapped up in the powerful notion of the volk, protecting the community from loss by acculturation into other groups, and preserving an Afrikaner cultural base which could be defended in the political realm by the men. They were doing more than being wives and mothers—they were actively involved outside their homes, serving their community as they defined it.

Second, their relation to class interests may be more problematic, especially if we follow Gramsci in defining the organic intellectual as essentially giving a social group 'an awareness of its own function . . . in the economic field'.[75] The leadership in Cradock was undertaken by a group of women who paralleled in their social position those active in Cape Colony affairs at least from the


Anglo-Boer War onwards. The Cradock bestuur (executive) and those attending meetings seem to have been a reasonably comfortable, but not a wealthy, lot. Mrs Jordaan was the wife of a retired farmer, active in local politics; Mrs van Rensburg was the widow of a farmer who had gone into government service; the Misses van de Venter and van Rensburg were the daughters of farmers, and two active members were the wives respectively of a primary school teacher and an auctioneer. The ACVV in Cradock, therefore, was certainly not an organization of the poor in which the poor played an active role, however much the organization worked for their welfare. However, there is no evidence in its records of class antagonisms in the Afrikaner community, and it is difficult to define the specific class in whose interests these comfortably-off women of rural origin might have been acting.

Fortunately the minutes of the ACVV's bestuur from 1903 on have survived. A reading of them gives one an impression of an organization run with an iron hand—Elizabeth Jordaan's—and based on an extremely effective use of ad hoc committees. Little time seems to have been spent on gesellige (conversational) activities—discussing recipes, sewing, and domestic matters generally. The business of each meeting was some aspect of the cultural and material affairs of the volk .[76] If information was lacking, an ad hoc committee was appointed at once, to report back by the next meeting. The meetings themselves were arranged frequently on an ad hoc basis: in 1925, for example, there were four quarterly regular general meetings, three special general meetings, four regular bestuur meetings, and three special bestuur meetings. Attendance at these meetings was always small, but the important people were always there, and so the distinction between general and executive meetings was not of much significance. The practice of holding meetings on Saturdays had obvious advantages. The town had its own bestuur of eight members, the dorpsbestuur (town executive), and each of five wyke (church wards) in the district had a representative on the district bestuur . It was not difficult for town members to be in touch with each other, and by meeting on a Saturday, it was possible for the town members to communicate, even to hold brief meetings, with those wyk members who came into church on Sunday, a convenience especially valuable at nachtmaal, four times a year.

The ACVV did not believe in undertaking its errands of mercy unaided by the state. Throughout its proceedings there is an awareness of government subsidies, and continuous pressure on local authorities to act—its old ladies' home, hostels for indigent children, and commercial school were all subsidized. And because of its effective committee and reporting system, its executive members had a detailed knowledge of its beneficiaries such as is possible in small urban communities, an important resource when dealing with officials with Gladstonian ideas of economy. It was also efficient in raising money for its activities and for the church generally. It made itself responsible for the annual dankfees (thanksgiving) bazaar, a device for local money raising used by all white churches in Cradock. In addition, they became unofficial public caterers, taking on luncheons, teas, and dinners for the municipality, the divisional council, or for congresses, at times driving a hard bargain with the mayor, and generally realizing considerable profit, because frequently members would donate ingredients.[77] In doing this work for a fee, they seem to have had little competition from their Englishspeaking Methodist and Anglican counterparts who lacked the numerical and economic resources to do more than run their own annual bazaars and one picnic for their respective Sunday schools.[78]

Although the ACVV was, and remained, a women's organization, it made a good deal of use of the voluntary services of men. As we shall see, they frequently


differed with the men and by no means regularly deferred to them. In the old people's home which they opened in 1928, the treasurer was Elizabeth Jordaan's husband, and for years the books were audited by an Anglican English-speaker of impeccable Smutsite credentials, J.A. Cull, who had, however, married into the Nationalist branch of the Michau family.[79] Similarly in the girls' hostel, Cypressenhof (Cypress Court), run by the ACVV, the treasurer was Max de Kock, managing director of the Cradock Handels Maatskappy.[80] These men certainly did not control the organizations they assisted, however deferentially women appeared to behave; within this small-town bourgeois world, the free technical assistance by qualified men was always readily available.

Some sense of the flavour and content of proceedings can be gained from these two abbreviated entries in 1926:

10 July 1926. Saturday. Regular Bestuur . Ten blankets for boys' hostel. A few members said Mrs Barnard was sending her children out to beg. Mrs Hattingh and Miss Haarhoff to go and see her. Some think the Fourie family does not need so much help. . . . Resolved: to ask the Kerkraad (church council) to give £30 out of the Susan Schoeman Fund to Wilson School feeding.

31 July 1926. Saturday. Regular Bestuur . Fourie family need food. Husband denies he has TB and is careful about the risk of spreading it. Mrs Barnard denies begging. Says she's in a tiny room in backyard of Mrs van Heerden who promises to see Mr O'Connor (the building inspector).

These minutes show a Dickensian world of middle class charity, the enforcement of the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor by timely inquiry into whether so-and-so was behoeftig (needy) enough. It was also charity within a specifically ethnic context—the charity was directed towards the Afrikaner poor.[81] Such work to some extent bridged the social gulf between the comfortable and the needy within the volk, and if successful would surely rescue them from ontvolking (denationalization), at the hands of either the English, the coloured minority, or the black majority, or some alien ideology transcending ethnic and racial differences. Unfortunately for the historian, the legitimacy of the activity was taken for granted by these actors, so that there was no discussion of the merits of the policies of rescuing the Afrikaner poor. No factions appeared which can be correlated with class antagonism, and the charitable work seems to have gone far towards encapsulating such possible conflicts.

The quotations from the minutes show the organization's preoccupation with the problems of the Afrikaner poor, especially in the town, but not only there. It is well known that a great deal of the debate on poverty among South African whites was couched in terms of 'back to the land' policies, and much of the debate on education was determined by a belief that education would somehow be able to make opportunities in the countryside for landless whites.[82] The ACVV in Cradock, however, seems to have come early to the view that the Karoo countryside was no place for the children of the Afrikaner poor, particularly for its girls, and that Afrikaners faced an increasingly urban future, views which placed them in interesting opposition to their menfolk.

The history of 'back to the land' policies and their demise is a subject in itself. Afrikaners, men and women, were divided on the issue, though the debate was seldom clear, and it tended to cross party lines. Important English-speakers in mining, such as Percy Fitzpatrick and the influential Lionel Philips, became ardent proponents of agricultural development schemes for British settlers, partly because they saw a limited future for white labour in the mines and wished to


replace it with cheaper black labour, but partly also to increase the English-speaking population.[83] Among Afrikaners there were fanners, including Cradock's MP from 1924 to 1929, G.C. van Heerden, a Smutsite, who attacked the sheltered employment of poor whites on the railways, referring to the benefits of working on farms and using the familiar argument of the 'perks' available to the farm worker.[84] Presumably such men were also ambivalent about government subsidized irrigation settlements for poor whites such as those at Hartebeestpoort in the Transvaal and on the Orange River at Upington and elsewhere.

'Back to the land' was more a cry of anguish than the basis of a coherent set of policies. Nationalist politicians did not have a rurally based strategy: as early as 1916, Dr Malan spoke of the necessity of urbanization.[85] When the Nationalists came to power in 1924, they took the incipient protectionism and related industrialization of the Smuts government much further, and by expanding the use of 'civilized labour' in government departments and local bodies, created jobs off the land.[86] The Afrikaner farmers who opposed such policies locally do not seem to have faced the fact that they, as large farmers, were probably part of the problem. Eastern Cape agriculture had long been commercialized—it is virtually impossible to have a small subsistence holding in the Karoo. But it was the Cape wool farmers particularly who were contributing to the urban drift by fencing, by dispensing with the services of the bywoner, and by ending tenancies.[87] Their position, therefore, seems to have been based on a fear for future labour supply and, perhaps, on a traditional Afrikaner antipathy to cities as corrupting and alien places, rather than on a clearly thought out programme to support a larger white population in the countryside.

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