I have just completed Max du Preez' book, Pale Native: Memories of a Renegade Reporter, Zebra Press, 2003. As an Afrikaner Max touches on the complexity of being African and pale (page 5):
I am a native of this land, but unlike most other natives, I am pale.
This statement launches Max du Preez' narrative, one that touches regularly – and disturbingly – on events that have been as formative on my existence as on his. I, too, am a pale native (born in Johannesburg), though I lack the roots in Afrikaner identity that plays backdrop to Max’s story. I am a product of the British Empire, but no less connected to the African soil. Like many of my composite tribe, my heritage is a patchwork of belonging: my maternal line bequeaths me a third generation African heritage (and a second generation Scottish!). My adopted paternal line allows me second generation African status, and my biological paternal line a second generation English heritage. All this taken into account, I am more African than English; not Afrikaner, but African none-the-less.
My siblings, perhaps more African than I by birth, have abandoned the African soil, preferring the nourishment of England. They are not alone, a part of the “pale native” Diaspora of this generation who find nourishment on other continents, but whose souls never quite settle, never quite inhabit their adopted cultures. There is a thirst for home, for the African soil – sometimes acknowledged. Unlike them, I remain. What keeps me rooted?
There is much in the New South Africa that makes me feel uncomfortable in a pale skin, even unwelcome. A greater part of that discomfort lies in history, an awareness that we have contributed to the oppression and rape of Africa, the heritage of our Colonial past and the more recent evil: Apartheid. It is an ancestral guilt, not always personal but collective.
Pale Native addresses much of this discomfort, and in so doing creates a new space for belonging. Max du Preez, as he shares his own struggles as an Afrikaner who seeks to break with the traditions of his tribe, brings me to a new place of certainty, a renewed assuredness that I, too, belong. The African soil is my home. With Max I am able to proclaim – proudly – that,
My soul is not the soul of a bywoner … I call myself a native of Africa: pale, but no less native. (pages 5 and 274)
I feel the passion as I read,
The energy that I feel gushing from the soil, my African soil, through my foot soles and into my spirit tells me who I am. The ancient mountains and valleys around me whisper to me that I am where I belong. Forces much greater than loud-mouthed politicians and my own fears and insecurities have placed me exactly here at this time. I am who I should be and where I should be (page 5).
I am home.
2 January 2007