I only learned about the death of journalist Chris Louw last night on Facebook. I am shocked. His apparent suicide sends shivers down my spine. To me his death is a metaphor of a dark, sinister paralysis brewing among many South Africans, particularly some Afrikaners. The death of this brilliant, brutally honest journalist on 30 November has left a smell of death hovering over a section of our population that we dare not ignore.
Chris caused waves when he published his gloves-off “Boetman-is-die-bliksem-in” letter in Beeld on May 2000. Written as an open letter to philosopher dr Willem de Klerk, brother of ex-president FW de Klerk, he hit an emotional nerve as he lashed out against the old generation Afrikaner leaders who led his generation into a senseless, unwinnable war against the ANC. The young generation was then expected to train black executives to take over their own jobs, a deal negotiated by the old Afrikaner generation.
How does one translate “Boetman is die bliksem in”? It just doesn’t carry the same raw rebellious emotions in English. “Little brother is very angry” sounds pretty tame.
“Boetman” is a term often used by older men to address younger men in a derogatory way. It is loaded with the emotional baggage of a generation that was told to shut up and do as you are told to, a generation that wasn’t allowed to speak its mind.
Made up of the words “Boet” (little brother) and “man”, it poignantly captures a feeling of being recognised as a man according to your age but still being treated like an immature little brother. To be “die bliksem in” is a blunt and disrespectful way of saying you are blind with anger, so angry that you will hurt anyone who is in your way.
“Boetman is die bliksem in” conjures up images and emotions not dissimilar to those of a young boy who had been sexually molested but has grown up and now seeks revenge.
Chris was a member of the Dakar group who initiated talks with the ANC while still in exile in . But his writing has become increasingly critical of the ANC government lately, as he grew more and more disillusioned with them. In his last letter to the newspaper Beeld, published a day after he died, he wrote (my translation): “Do the corruption and crime represent growing pains or death pains? If one looks at the rest of Africa, it rather seems as if the country is irrevocably on its way to the grave.”
We have serious problems in South Africa, many of which are time bomds waiting to explode. But our reaction to the chaos around us will determine whether we go to the grave or grow through the pain.
In his opening address at the Amahoro-Africa gathering held in June in the Magaliesberg, not far from where Chris died, Claude Nikondeha from Burundi talked about pain that can go one of two ways. Quoting Richard Rohr, he said “Pain, if not transformed will be transmitted.” (Listen to the audio here. Get all Amahoro talks here).
We need to find ways of dealing with our pain as individuals, as families, as communities or else we will take ourselves to the grave as a nation.