Is Bouwer Bosch’s #Versoening the next step toward some form of societal cohesion in South Africa?
The Afrikaans singer-songwriter and TV presenter unleashed a very topical debate this week when he uploaded the first episode of a series he calls Versoening (reconciliation).
In the emotive video, Bosch apologises for apartheid to a woman he only met the day before. In it, he explains where he comes from, then hands over the conversation to Phindile Dhlamini who explains her life, how she feels about the apology and South Africa.
What transpires is a valuable piece of conversation.
Watch Versoening here:
Bosch explains: “The idea of apologising for apartheid is something that has been on my heart for the last two years. People play the apartheid card in the media at private functions, and everywhere I could find myself the word would pop up, rightfully, but nowhere could I find conversations about apartheid where people actually just sit and listen to each other instead of screaming at each other.
“So this series of “#Versoening videos that I’m launching is not even a conversation because I feel, firstly, we need to hear each other out; that is why I asked Phindile to hear me and out and when I finish my apology it’s her turn to say what’s on her heart, and then I just wanted to listen.
“It’s a small thing, but just to sit and listen to someone is profound, and we don’t have enough of that.
“It’s all noise out there today. So yes, I think it is a very sensitive topic to talk about, but it has to do with healing.
“No form of emotional healing can start without someone saying they are sorry, and if you can’t agree that apartheid was wrong and what we as a white race have done is wrong, then the video will offend you in so many ways and you won’t understand what #Versoening is all about.”
He’s not afraid of a dip in his popularity; in fact, he jokes he’s been losing fans for ages because of his singing.
“The fact of the matter is, there will be people who don’t agree with me and there will be those who agree with me. It’s like that with everything you do these days. The conversation is the most important thing here, not me,” he says.
So far, however, there has been more positive response to the first video than criticism, although there has been a lot of that too.
“My neighbour Schalk van Heerden told me one day that the problem with being a bridge is that people walk over you from both sides.
“My whole mission was to prove that apologies are very powerful, and you can see that in the haters and you can see that in the positive comments.
“The fact that an apology like this one moves and stirs inside people so much should be proof that we need to do it more; healing hurts and it’s uncomfortable, but wounds don’t go away if they don’t get healed.
“We have tried a lot of things in South Africa to heal wounds; we throw money at the problems, but we never get to the person. I just believe apologising doesn’t cost you a thing, so why should it be such a big deal,” he asks.
One of the main criticisms of the video so far is that Bosch has no place apologising for apartheid, since he was not part of that generation of “white South Africa”.
“Phindile’s first comment to me was that it’s not my place and it’s not my fault.
“And just that helped me to heal a little bit. Because I’m sitting with a lot of the guilt and shame for what the apartheid government had done, so it’s about healing for everyone.
“That is the main criticism at the moment – no one taking responsibility, and just throwing your hands in the air got us nowhere for 23 years, so we need to try different things.
“Again, this is not a quick-fix-scheme video, we have only approached our past one way and that is ‘I’m not gonna say sorry for something I didn’t do’, and that for me shows no character.
“If you want to be right the whole time, there will be no space to grow as a human being.
“For us to grow, we need to be vulnerable, we need to put our pride aside sometimes, we need to be truly honest about things and just admit that some things are wrong.
“But I apologise in the video for still benefiting today and I know that I have a headstart, and again, that is all symptomatic of 50 years of oppression.
“I know I wasn’t responsible for apartheid, but I can’t just not acknowledge what it has done.”
Bosch has used many of the same approaches to address the gaps left by Christianity in South African society – and he’s long grappled with his faith.
“So firstly, I gave up my Christianity in order to follow Christ. What I’ve seen these last few days is that outspoken Christians would crucify me for apologising for apartheid, and that just kind of made me feel again that maybe Jesus and the way He lived is different from how we see and view Christianity today.
“The fact that Christians would crucify someone for doing something I feel Jesus would have done is beyond me. But that being said, there is a great conversation in that, which I will definitely explore in the future as well.
“I was a youth worker for two years and worked with a few different churches, including one in the USA when I was younger.
“I started out in a church band just like 80% of all the other Afrikaans musicians today, so I’m fortunate that I have that background – so my conversations are with them and not about them.
“Churches are run by broken people just like every other company is run by broken people in the world.
“Someone once told me that the church is a prostitute but she is still my mother, and that resonates so much with me because they don’t have all the answers either, so I can’t just throw stones at them because no one ever gets anywhere by throwing stones.
“I think personally what hurts me most about the church’s involvement in apartheid is the fact that it’s so contradicting to what the Bible says.
“It shows the total opposite of Jesus’ love for everyone; it’s directly saying that Jesus is for everyone, except if you’re black.
“So that is also why I get upset about the gay debate in churches because they are easy to condemn gay people, but they won’t say a word about 50 years of endorsing apartheid.
“We choose our own set of rules for Christianity, and that’s why I feel Jesus and Christianity are two different things these days.”
He also wants to discuss the LGBTQi causes in an upcoming video of Versoening.
He let slip that Afrikaans rapper Hemelbesem will be part of the next video and he’s fitting all of this into his busy schedule.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Vito, a rapper from Namakwaland, for a few weeks, where we went to his hometown Oukiep just outside of Springbok to tell his story. I was exposed to such a beautiful but different Afrikaans to mine, so I am definitely getting more involved in young up-and-coming artists to help them find their voice and also just find different and more Afrikaans accents out there.
“Another unlearning I need to to is to understand that Afrikaans is not just spoken by one group. I want to try to live more inclusively with Afrikaans and other people’s Afrikaans, if that makes sense.
“Simon Hemelbesem taught me a lot about Afrikaans and that there are beautiful dialects of Afrikaans out there that still need to be explored.”