Broederbond lessons for BEE

Picture: Thinkstock

Picture: Thinkstock

Black South Africans need their own AfriForum, UCT professor and prominent public intellectual Xolela Mangcu wrote over the weekend.

I would add: and perhaps they need a Broederbond; perhaps they need what Afrikaner nationalists practised: volkskapitalisme (nation capitalism).

I know very well I’m on very thin ice right now: a middle-aged white Afrikaner male trying to give advice to black people.

So let me tread carefully and respectfully and put on the hat of historian. I recently did deep research into the Afrikaner Broederbond for a new chapter to the recently republished 1978 exposé by Ivor Wilkens and Hans Strydom, The Super-Afrikaners.

I am not and have never been an Afrikaner nationalist and I opposed the Broederbond during my lifetime. Politically speaking, there is little in the Broederbond that should be admired.

Having said that, let’s ponder whether there are any Broederbond lessons for BEE.

The Broederbond was founded in 1918, a mere 16 years after the South African War that forced large numbers of rural Afrikaners to the cities. They were badly educated, with few skills and the world was trapped in a deep economic depression after World War 1.

Prof Pieter de Lange, Broederbond chairperson after 1983, insisted in a recent conversation with me the Broederbond’s early aim was “to make the Afrikaner a modern urban person while remaining an Afrikaner”.

The enemy in those early days was Britain and English-speaking South Africans, not black South Africans. The cry was, why are we the underclass in the land of our birth? Why are the English and the Jews controlling our economy while we do the work? We need economic liberation!

The Broederbond arranged the Ekonomiese Volkskongres (Economic People’s Congress) in Bloemfontein in 1939 to deal with the problem of more than 300 000 Afrikaners classified as “poor whites”.

To quote Wilkens and Strydom: “It was at this conference that the Afrikaner discovered the key to success for his own economic upliftment: pool Afrikaner money, establish Afrikaner concerns, support Afrikaner concerns. They were told that if every Afrikaans family contributed 25 cents, mighty financial power could be unleashed.”

The congress gave birth to the Reddingsdaadbond that mobilised millions for Afrikaner business enterprises and established a co-operative movement on the platteland.

The number of Afrikaner-owned businesses grew by more than 300% in 10 years.

Out of this movement grew Federale Volksbeleggings (Federal People’s Investments) and its offshoot Federale Mynbou, which later became Gencor, a mining giant; Volkskas, which became a major banking group; and Saambou, a building society and bank.

Santam and Sanlam were established before 1939, but grew dramatically after the involvement of Federale Volksbeleggings.

By the 1970s, Afrikaners owned a substantial chunk of companies like Sanlam, General Mining, Rembrandt, Perskor and Nasionale Pers, all dominated by Broeders. The civil service (and the SABC) was run and staffed mostly by Afrikaners.

The Broederbond also had a direct hand in establishing Rand Afrikaans University, Goudstad Teachers’ Training College and the University of Port Elizabeth. Tens of thousands of young Afrikaners went to universities with the help of the Helpmekaarfonds.

There are clearly parallels between the Broederbond strategies and ANC policies of black economic empowerment (BEE), crony capitalism and cadre deployment.

One big difference is that the Broederbond invested heavily in education to enhance skills.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that volkskapitalisme had a genuine aim to benefit more than just the few. Unlike BEE, it spread the wealth a little.

So perhaps there are a few tricks to be learnt after all, despite the huge difference, now that we have an open democracy.




today in print