WAITING: The Whites of South Africa by Vincent Crapanzano

WAITING: The Whites of South Africa

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The white inhabitants of a South African farming village, and one maverick minister in particular, have told social anthropologist Crapanzano some rich human stories, with bearing on Afrikaner identity and English-speaking lack-of-identity, and the animosity between the two groups; but as a purported study of ""the effects of domination on everyday life,"" and especially as regards the relation of whites to nonwhites, the book is unsatisfactory. (Like Crapanzano's earlier studies of nonwhites--American Indian Foster Bennett, Moroccan Tuhami--it has uncongealed elements of symbolist, phenomenological, and psychological analysis.) That these are people who are ""waiting"" is self-evident: it isn't a theme that Crapanzano, interweaving their stories, can do anything with--except insofar as the English are poised to depart. What does stand out is the situation of the Afrikaners: habituated to male despotism, fundamentalist and puritanical, obsessed with their own quasi-Biblical history, aliens in the white European/overseas world. ""Unlike the other Christian churches of South Africa,"" the Dutch Reformed Churches preach and practice apartheid. There is among the Afrikaners an almost mystical attachment to ancestral land. To some, the racist, theocratic Afrikaner Republic is the fulfillment of God's purpose. That said, Crapanzano would not have had a book without the atypical story of Hennie van der Marwe: an Anglican priest of Afrikaner origin, a charismatic with a chiefly Coloured (mixed race) congregation. (It occupies half or more of the book.) Besides probing for signification within his own framework (how did Hennie's family react to his marriage to English Rose? to his conversion?), Crapanzano tries to turn this material inside out: is Hennie telling the truth about his attraction to Rose? about his conversion? (A semi-disaffected son has different ideas. Crapanzano has likes and dislikes among the family.) The result is maladroit, and sometimes distasteful. And where South Africa's blacks are concerned, Crapanzano strikes out: he didn't make contact, and doesn't even maintain consistency--either as regards the Blacks' ""cultural heritage"" (much/little tribalism) or the whites' emotional involvement with, or indifference"" to, them. James North's Freedom Rising (below), which is chiefly about South Africa's nonwhite populations, has its own fallings--but taken together each would help compensate for the shortcomings of the other.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House