Like all the older people among my mother's family connections, M. was an immigrant to South Africa from Eastern Europe. He had arrived in the country as a boy and had grown up in Johannesburg. Unlike virtually every other Jewish immigrant, however, he had chosen to identify himself not with the urban, prosperous, relatively sophisticated English-speaking section of the population, but with the Boers, the Afrikaners. As a group they may have had the reputation, at least among outsiders, of being provincial, unwelcoming, defiantly illiberal and racialistic, isolated from the rest of the world as much by their attitudes and language as by their geographical situation. Indeed, when my two older brothers and I lived briefly under M.'s roof, more than forty years ago, a substantial number of the Afrikaners sided more or less openly with the Nazis in Germany. Yet it was with them that he sought to associate himself; it was with their fortunes that he had tied his own. Tied it to the extent of marrying an Afrikaner woman and bringing up his children to speak Afrikaans. For years his mother had refused to see him, as a result.
LRB 16 February 1984 | PDF Download