Posted by: Andries Louw | 5 December 2009

Death of a journalist, death in our nation

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 5 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 1987. 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.



  1. […] This post was Twitted by andrieslouw […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by andrieslouw and andrieslouw, Reggie Nel . Reggie Nel said: Het jy Tim DuP's rubriek gelees? RT @andrieslouw: New blog post: Death of a journalist, death in our nation #ChrisLouw […]

  3. I agree with you on dealing with the deeper pain. I saw Em-Arch Tutu spoke also yesterday about the fact that we all are vulnerable, broken people.
    There is however in my mind also a concern that the issues that people struggle with, at a deeper level, are also personal-and, espescially where its a public figure is concerned, the media like to link it (many times superfiscially) to their political agendas.
    I had a deep wake-up call last year with the suicide of James Buys, one of our stonger ( so we though) leaders in URCSA. It came out eventually that he has a longstanding struggle with depression. We didn’t know ( or maybe we didnt want to know)- because he was strong (so we thought). That’s why your last sentence is so pertinent, I think.

  4. I sometimes find it amazing how the church is just doing nothing to help those “boetman”‘t to reconcile with their own past. In a way I would have thought that the fact that most of our leadership is part of that generation would have put this onto the table, but apparently not.

  5. Chris was probably one of the people who became tired of fighting or felt that it was not worth it. There is an old saying of “if you cannot beat them, join them…”. I am at a point where I chose the battles that I fight. I only fight those that I am confident that I can win in an effort not not lose the war. There is a significant number of battles that we are faced with in the South Africa of today and we cannot fight all of them. I have decided to stand back and accept cable theft, poor service and corruption as a battle that I cannot personally win. Some others can certainly win that one and I will support them, but in an effort to stay sane, I will not become engaged in that battle. The war that I want to win is one where my home, South Africa, wins and where my home is a place where I can live, breath and have my being. I have decided that I want to stay here (…alive I might add…), so I will take the steps that I can to make the area where I stay better while still seeing the sun shining and hearing the birds singing.

  6. I too was very shocked by this event, but then it mirrors so much of what I sense in my immediate network of friends, collegaues and associates. There is a profound sense of despair permeating our entire society, particularly manifest among what I call the WAM’s – white Afrikaner male’s – who have now become totally marginalized.

    In an attempt to understand these things I spent some time during the recent holidays updating my own family history. That took me on a journey to find the exact location of the Krugersdorp Concentration Camp in which 664 children below the age of 15 died during the Second Anglo-Boer War, using an old photo of the site I had discoverd in Australia. What I found there shocked me to the very core, because it reflects the despair evident in this entire thread. Instead of being treated with respect as a historic landmark, it is now the home to many destitute human beings – mostly WAM’s – who now eke out some form of existence on the very margins of our society. They are voiceless, powerless, homeless and for the vast majority of our nation, totallly irrelevant.

    It is that total irrelevance that lies at the heart of our national malaise. We have ALL been liberated from a highly oppressive past, yet only a select few can pick the fruits of that liberation, so it remains nothing but a mirage for the majority. Skilled people are unable to ply their trade, simply because of this barrier arising from their WAM status.

    Just yesterday I had a meeting with a WAM. He is highly skilled in the IT field, with a robust track record as a military commander. Significantly his military command straddles the Great Divide, because he served until recently in the SANDF. But he is a WAM and he therefore has no future in the military so he has been nudged out and is now creating a new future elsewhere. This is a sad story. This is yet another Boetman who is clearly the Bliksem In, but who is doing what he can to just survive – just to again become relevant in a skills-scarce society that fails to recognize our uniting nationhood over our divisive ethnicity.

    I, too am becoming the bliksem in, and I too am vascillating on the fulcrum of despair and optimism.

    Anthony Turton
    A WAM

  7. Anthony, I take your phrase “…vascillating on the fulcrum of despair and optimism.” as a way of describing the reality of the issues we face in SA. I am glad you still have optimism though.

    I remember last year you told me something along the lines of “Whenever there is chaos we need creativity.” One of the areas where we need creativity is with this issue of the WAM’s as you put it.

    We need each other. Blacks need whites and whites need blacks. The same goes for old generations and young generations, male and female, Africa and the West.

    Many of the WAM’s feel rejected and have indeed been marginalised. In my opinion unresolved pain is the underlying factor here. In some cases it is more personal and in others more collective. Chris Louw has given words, pictures and faces to the collective pain of a generation of White Afrikaans Males.

    This makes his suicide so important. It is a warning sign that we simply have to deal with our pain as a nation or head for self-destruction.

    One of the other dimensions in this complex unresolved pain scenario is of course the expectations of the masses of poor people who are not tasting the benefits of freedom, as you pointed out.

    One of the keys to dealing with this pain is relationships, i.e. true friendships accross the divides of race, ethnicity, class, age, gender, religion etc.

  8. Thanks, a really good article and considered comments.

  9. […] Yesterday I discovered a blog post about Chris Louw titled Death of a journalist, death in our nation. […]

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