The Freedom Front Plus, under the direction of its leader, Pieter Mulder, is a political party with self-inflicted contradictions. When looking at any political party in South Africa, you are bound to find trouble in reconciling a dichotomous stance of anti-this and pro-that, especially when you are looking through a human rights lens. Not surprisingly, there are few aspects of the FF+ that one can appreciate from a distance; especially if your heritage puts you outside of the party’s focus.
Protecting the women – which women?
For example, the FF + calls strongly for the protection of women and children but, while this is not a restrictive call, as a pro-Afrikaner right-wing group, the unsaid premise is that the protection should be afforded to white [Afrikaner] women and children in particular. Taking into account the patriarchal nature of Afrikaner cultural and religious values, where women are expected to adhere to narrowly-defined feminine norms, the cry may not be taken seriously by many of the party’s opponents.
“Protection” becomes meaningless when placed under further scrutiny, especially when you consider it in relation to the ethos of the party. It has not been extended to the right to self-determination of the individual, which is the basis for their latest mission and is a principle they advocated for during the drafting of the Constitution. At that time, the party’s militant exclusivity was even more entrenched, so the fact that they came to the negotiating table in the first place was somewhat of a miracle, even if it was only to preserve their own interests and to push the fast-eroding nationalist agenda.
Until its current redrafting, their mission still utilised the terms “volk” and “volkstaat” (peoples’ state), terms used to imply a separate Afrikaner community. In its newest form it is debatable whether their intentions have changed at all. Their mission states,
“The FF+ is irrevocably committed to the realisation of communities, in particular the Afrikaner’s internationally recognised right to self-determination, territorially and otherwise, the maintaining, protection and development of their rights and interests, as well as to the promotion of the right to self-determination for all communities in South Africa, bound by a common language and cultural heritage.”
It is the little addition of “and otherwise” which got me thinking. Although everyone is aware of separatist communities of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, who strive for a territory free from [black] government influence, I wonder if they would be willing to create a new identity around self-determination, one which promotes and respects the rights, needs and wants of women (and people in general). The definition of self-determination is linked tenuously, at least, to being able to make choices that affect your life, without being constrained by external influences. Most importantly, self-determination is linked inextricably to equal rights and equality of opportunity.
The FF+ do not deal directly with any particular women’s issues within their policy framework. They do comment on indirect issues which relate to women, but do so without considering the context. For example, their stance on dealing with HIV / AIDS is to acknowledge its severity and prolific nature, but to promote prevention in the form of abstinence, rather than focussing on improving health care facilities and striving for universal anti-retroviral treatment. They do not acknowledge the power-relations which determine whether women will be able to abstain from sex in relationships or request/demand the use of contraceptives, for instance.
The failure to understand and respond to women’s issues, which are numerous and diverse, and the outright rejection of self-determination at the individual level, indicates a failure to move away from the patriarchal and religious underpinnings of their members; which is ironically both a weakness of the party, as well as its strength. That they don’t have specific policies on women’s issues may not matter to their supporters.
But what about the actual rights?
FF+ is anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality. Surely being able to love who you want is part of self-determination and a fundamental aspect of freedom? Being able to decide on your reproductive choices are similarly so. Yet, the FF+ is obstinate in their beliefs. Their pro-life argument came out strongest during the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Amendment process in Parliament. As was stated about the Bill,
“[t]he FF Plus finds it tragic that the ANC only places emphasis on the right of women to choose, but babies are not given a say or a choice.”
Pieter Mulder told MPs that the bill was “forced on them by the ANC.”[i] In 2005, they also voted against the Civil Unions Bill which would legalise same-sex marriages. More recently, in 2011 the FF+ showed their anti-homosexual stance in Parliament by joining the ACDP in denying a motion proposed by the DA to congratulate Francois Nel for winning the Mr Gay World Pageant 2011[ii]. Based on the denial by the two parties, amounting to just seven seats, the motion was blocked. While we may not consider the smaller opposition parties as a threat to our freedoms, this incident is a small example of their ability to obstruct and frustrate processes.
Protecting Afrikaner culture
Their position on abortion and homosexuality is bound by a need to protect the cultural and religious underpinnings of Afrikanerhood, and this is worthy of acknowledgement (and respect in terms of the right to practice one’s culture), even if we can dismiss aspects of the culture as unconstitutional. In the tension between human rights and the protection of culture, and the corresponding conflict between the micro and the macro, you cannot help but wonder how many people they have isolated with their rhetoric. I have met people who are both Afrikaans and gay. Are they really to be denied the ability to call themselves both? What does it really mean to be an Afrikaaner? Is “self-determination” rhetoric or is the FF+ simply concerned about the conservative interests of their members?
In recent times, their support has diminished to the point where their demise has been predicted. As reported by Business Day, the FF+ lost nearly 280,000 votes at the national polls since 1994 (from 424,555 (2.2%) in 1994 to 146,796 in 2009, or 0.8%)[iii]. Currently, the FF+ has four members in Parliament and one member in the National Council of Provinces, none of whom are women. In the top echelons (i.e the National Executive Committee), there is one woman, Karin Roodt, heading up women’s issues. Karin is married to pro-Afrikaaner activist, Dan Roodt, and writes for PRAAG, which Dan co-founded. The PRAAG website is dedicated to Afrikaaner issues and features commentary on preserving the Afrikaans culture and people. Within the committee of the youth branch of the FF+ (known as FF+ Youth), there are two women. The youth leader is male. The youth branch is dedicated to advancing the same mission of the FF+ but does not seem to garner as much media attention around its activities, so it is difficult to try an isolate and understand their unique policies.
Scanning their website to understand their policy outlook on a number of issues, it is becomes evident that the FF+ emphasize issues which pertain to, what some may regard as, a persecution complex. They emphasise cultural protection, protection of languages, rejection of Black Economic Empowerment, the retention of land ownership and private property and the protection of minority rights. The focus then is on the Afrikaner community as a whole, rather than the interests of the individuals who make up that whole.
I am not surprised by the gender-representation (or lack thereof) in the party as a whole, given the nature of the Afrikaner culture. Previous statements may not suggest it, but I am hesitant to make sweeping statements about the Afrikaner community and, similarly, do some tasteless Afrikaner-bashing which was a feature of my childhood. Nonetheless, the issue of culture and religion is as important in our country as the political dogma of a party. The FF+ linkages to the trade union, Solidarity, are equally pertinent when one considers the statements made concerning the party’s denouncement of violence against women. Solidarity represents the interests of minority groups and has been central to court cases which target affirmative action policies. In short, they support Afrikaner interests above black ones. Again the question arises: which women and, more pertinently, who are seen as the perpetrators of violence against these women?
The FF+ make no bones about their restrictive human right’s position. They are essentially a blacklash to a perceived reality and, in that, I foresee the demise of the party, unless the current climate of dissatisfaction garners new support. For those that have retracted their support, perhaps they have come to understand that unity, diversity and human rights are not so bad after all.
[i] One step closer for girls wanting abortions: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/one-step-closer-for-girls-wanting-abortions-1.386150#.Uods6OJUaZR
* With thanks to Rebecca Hodes for assistance