Religion, Nationalism and Ideology in South African Literature

Article excerpt

The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma. We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We believe that God endows men with diverse gifts, and that human life depends for its fullness on their employment and enjoyment, but we are afraid to explore this belief too deeply. We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to stay under. And we are therefore compelled, in order It, preserve our belief that we are Christian, to ascribe to Almighty God. Creator of Heaven and Earth, our own human intentions, and to say that because He created white and black. He gives the Divine Approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement.

This is an excerpt from the memoir of the murdered liberal nationalist Arthur Jarvis, in Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. It is a strong paradox that the mutilating hegemonic structures in South Africa are erected on the bedrock of Christian Nationalism. The ruthless perversion of the basic Christian tenets of love. brotherhood and equality is articulated in the party manifesto of the first South African Prime Minister. He describes the political ideology of his party--"... in Germany it is called Nazism. in Italy it is called Fascism and in South Africa we will call it Christian nationalism"

In a recent BBC Television interview in London (1987). Pick Botha reaffirms this position and religiously defends the heinous system by hypocritically claiming that no part of the Scripture preaches the doctrine of self-annihilation at the expense of one's fellow human beings. This distorted and expedient Calvin-interpretation of history forms the ideological basis of South Africa's crude civilization.

This precisely is the dilemma of Christian nationalism criticized by Arthur Jarvis. In South Africa, the philosophy of Christian nationalism provides a basis for institutionalizing the irrelevant Biblicism and pseudo-theological foundation of the myth of the chosen race. This ethnocentric nationalism is based on the race doctrines of Arthur Gobineau and Madison Grant. George Padmore argues that the race theory of Gobineau is the root of that brand of pernicious political thought that culminates in the ideology of Nazism, Fascism, the racialism of America and Apartheid in South Africa. (3) Racism is employed by Gobineau for socio- political explanation and as a symbol of class consciousness. These ideologies defend capitalism, using the black race as |the stepping stones" for development.

Gobineau and Grant oppose the Unitarian philosophy of history: that all mankind is capable of the same development if brought under similar institution and environment. To them, neither legislation nor education can alter what they perceive to be fundamental racial inequalities. This is the principle behind the Institution of Christian National Education, the brainchild of the Bantu Education Act of 1945. Education is organized on the principles of trusteeship, non-equality and segregation. This is further reproached in the memoir of Arthur Jarvis:

   We go so far as to credit Almighty
   God with having created black men
   to hew wood and draw water for white
   men ... We say we withhold education
   because the black child has not the
   intelligence to profit by it; we
   withhold opportunity to develop
   gifts ... because black people have
   no gifts ... We shift our ground
   again when a black man does achieve
   something remarkable, and feel deep
   pity for a man who is condemned to
   the loneliness of being remarkable,
   and decide that it is a Christian
   kindness not to let black men become
   remarkable. Thus even our God becomes
   a confused and inconsistent creature,
   giving gifts and denying employment. (4)

While Alan Paton articulates the Marxian exegesis of the theory of economic determinism and dialectical materialism, he opts for liberalism as a solution to the South African crisis. …