My story

Apr. 10th, 2008 12:20 am
mahnmut: (Quaero togam pacem.)
[personal profile] mahnmut
I probably should have written this long time ago...

So many of my LJ friends have written something remarkable in the last days that I stand in awe... So I thought that I might write something interesting about myself as well. And what could it be, if not my own personal story. The story of my life, of my family and its history.
I will start with something which still amazes many of the people who know me – how can I be “white” and meanwhile be a member of the African National Congress? More precisely, of its Youth League. How is it possible? So let me start from there.

ANC was formed in 1912 as SA Native National Congress (SANNC). It rules SA since 1994 together with COngress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) & SA Communist Party (SACP). In the days of Apartheid, ANC had a military wing, Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the nation). ANC is not just about the struggle for rights and freedoms of the blacks, it has a long record of fighting for the modern development of the society, for universal education, for women's rights and social justice and civil rights for everyone. Although it has had controversial moments and aspects like any other organization with a long history, it is still the best thing which has happened to this country.
In 1944, Mandela and some others founded the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), which I'm now part of. Their purpose was non-violent resistance to white domination and non-military ways of fighting for civil rights of the black majority. A very precious example was set by Mahatma Gandhi from India, who taught of "passive resistance".
When the National Party (NP), which was the tool of white Afrikaner supremacism returned to power in 1948, it started the policy of Apartheid. It stripped the blacks from the civil rights they previously had. The dismantling of the legendary Sophiatown settlement is one of the most striking and symbolic examples of the huge damages which this regime has brought to the country, and still holds deep scars in the memory of both white and black Joburg residents alike.
In 1955, all organizations who opposed the Apartheid created the Freedom Charter, which was a program for fighting against the social oppression. The next year, the Treason Trial followed, when the authorities arrested many ANC members and jailed them.

My father, Pieter van der Kasteel, was born in the same year as the Freedom Charter, 1955. He was heir to an Afrikaner family who lived close to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free Sate. He studied to become a construction engineer at the University of Pietermaritzburg (now Uni of kwaZulu-Natal). In his young years, he spent much time around the country, building various industrial and housing developments, and at that time he witnessed the enormous social injustices which reigned all over the country, and the deteriorating situation of the black majority. As the NP grip on power was getting tighter and human rights across the country were being crushed everywhere, he grew increasingly disillusioned with the reality in RSA. So he decided to join the ANC at the age of 25 (in late 1980). Many white supremacists would call him national traitor for this. Many others would have no trouble understanding his motives and would rather call him a freedom fighter. For me, he is just my dad. He made a decision and he followed his principles against all odds.
The following years were very turbulent. The ANC, lead by Oliver Thambo, had taken a tougher stance against the authorities and they realized that Gandhi's idea of "passive resistance" did not work well in the conditions of an extremely brutal oppression. So they adopted a new strategy of targeting the government by means of, let's face it, outright terrorist means. There were bomb explosions which aimed to disrupt the industry, the military and the normal functioning of the institutions and the infrastructure. This period received the name the "Struggle" - it is when the symbol of the clenched fist was popularized, and also the cry "Amandla!" (Power! - of the people) and the vibrant folklore created many ways of expressing resistance to the oppression - like the thousands of protest songs and the adoption of the toyi toyi dance, etc.
At that time, my dad already had some good links around the construction guild and he traveled a lot around RSA and the neighbouring countries - Kenya, Tanzania, South West Africa (now Namibia), Nigeria, Botswana, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
His stay in Mozambique was interrupted by the rapidly deteriorating relations between that country and RSA and some violent events broke there, so he had to leave fast. But he had already managed to get in contact with some comrades across the border, and they set up a plan how he could become part of the massive subversive activity which ANC was conducting within South Africa. His task was to use his regular trans-border trips to Zimbabwe and Botswana (then ruled by Masire) and smuggle arms and munitions for the groups and divisions of the Umkonto we Sizwe, who were operating on RSA territory. It was a very dangerous job and although he became very good at it, his life was often hanging in the balance and whether he would be arrested depended on sheer luck. He made several trips to Holland and UK as well. In Joburg he met my mother Katrijn Niekerk, a Dutch exchange student in sociology at the Uni of the Witwatersrand, they fell in love and decided to marry, and started making plans to live together in Holland, but he wanted to finish his job in RSA first. And while at a symposium in London, he once met Oliver Thambo himself, and that made him even more determined to continue with what he had started. Meanwhile, RSA was getting encircled by openly hostile leftist governments, and besides the international pressure was mounting on Botha's government. In its turn, NP responded by a bloodbath against the blacks, excluding the coloureds from society too, creating the ominous Bantustan regions where millions of blacks were trapped without a way out, forcing the workers license system (similar to Israel's present attitude to the Palestinians and the Wall).

In the end, dad received information that he was being under intensive surveillance by the NIS. So he had to flee fast. This happened in 1983. My father and my mother, at the time pregnant with me, who already had a little kid, my 2-year old brother Ralf, withdrew all their money from the bank, dad quit his job, mom left the Uni exchange and within a week they were on the first plane to Amsterdam and they wouldn't see South Africa for 10 years.
In Holland, dad got a job as engineer in a building company. They were making the Polder isles inside the IJsselmeer in the period when the artificial province Flevoland was raised from the sea - as the Dutch say, "God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland" :-) And mom went on to complete her study at the Uni of Utrecht where she graduated in Sociology, but later she was hired by a patent agency. I was born in Amersfoort, near Utrecht, in the spring of 1984.
I had a relatively serene childhood in Holland with everything which a Dutch middle-class kid might expect - I played video games, I was knocking about with my pals from the neighbourhood, I played football, I was good in school, I was falling in love and out of love, I went to rock concerts and reggae concerts and Ajax football matches, I smoked pot, I did stupid things, I liked playing tennis, I traveled a lot around Europe and I graduated at the Uni of Utrecht, exactly the same thing as my mother - Sociology. But I was also a bit different - I studied everything about the country of my ancestors, I learned a lot about its culture, its traditions, history, I kept contacts with some pals in SA and apart from Afrikaans which was the lingua franca at home, I also learned isiZulu, Tsotsitaal and a little isiXhosa. In other words, during all my life I craved to go to South Africa one day and to become South African.

Meanwhile, dad didn't remain indifferent to the Struggle and he went on to actively support it, although from abroad. He kept contacts with the South African diaspora and the organized resistance, and they welcomed the enormous international pressure which pushed Botha down to the pit of hell. His government had become so arrogant and so brutal that even their patrons in the West had grown increasingly disgusted, and besides the grassroots pressure from outside was so immense and the resistance from inside had become so well coordinated and powerful, and the economic burden on the regime was getting so heavy, that in the end NP had to release the grip and eventually de Klerk came to power. Many perceive him as a Saviour of the nation, something like Gorbachev for South Africa, because he prevented the country from plunging into chaos. In fact, it turned out the NP still had some brains as it seems, or maybe they just got fucking scared, but in the end they deliberately chose a new chairman who was far more moderate than Botha, and eventually the inevitable happened - the Apartheid was abolished, and Mandela was freed. February 11, 1990 was a big day, the event was broadcast live all around the world. It was a day of tremendous joy in many countries, and especially in my home. I still remember that day, although I wasn't even in school at that time yet ;-)
My dad went back to RSA as soon as 1991, just a year after the liberation, and had some more short visits after that. So in 1998 my family decided to spend one whole summer in South Africa, the now free South Africa. I was just 8th grade then. I remember it as if it was yesterday, the country was going crazy at that time because bafana bafana were playing in the football World Cup for the first time in history... I still remember our first goal ever, scored by  Benni McCarthy against Denmark :-) Those were the most exciting 3 months of my life so far! I opened my mind and heart to the country of my ancestors, and my long-time dream to be able to experience it personally finally became reality. We toured all across the country and I saw things and people that made me love it forever. After that magic summer, there was no other place that I wanted to live in. So I finished my study in Utrecht in 2003 and after another year of specialization at LSE in London, I decided to move here. I applied for PhD in Witwatersrand (following the steps of my mother, but in a reversed order!) and I finally moved to Rosebank, Johannesburg. All the rest is my most recent history, and it is all here on my Journal.
My family still lives in Holland, but they often come to SA - my bro is now a travel agent and he probably spends more time in SA than home in Holland; my dad retired from the construction company but soon after that he founded a small private firm of his own, doing construction supervision and licensing; and my mom still works in a patent agency in Amsterdam. And, of all the family, I turned out to be the truest Boer who has come back to his roots and has found his right place under the Sun :-) I met some excellent friends here, I have a good job as a social worker (I already partly explained it earlier). I met my girlfriend Karen, half Malay and half Boer, and I'm already thinking about making a family... Yes, I can finally say that I'm really feeling happy! :-)

Stijn van der Kasteel.


I'll end with the most appropriate song for the occasion, actually my fave song:

video

Well Joanna she runs a country, she runs in Durban and the Transvaal.
She makes a few of her people happy, she don't care about the rest at all.
She got a system they call apartheid, it keeps a brother in subjection.
But maybe pressure will make Joanna see, how everybody could live as one.
 

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-09 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myriad-mirrors.livejournal.com
Whew. What a story. I'm going to have to read it a second time before even commenting.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-09 11:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] airiefairie.livejournal.com
It is good that you finally decided to share your story with the rest. I am sure that it will help you to drop down some misconceptions about you. Of course I knew most of it...not in big detail but...you have an amazing history!
And Eddy Grant is a God! =)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-10 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alphistia.livejournal.com
you come from "Good People" as my mom and grandma used to say. How about a photo or two of yourself and some of your loved ones? Or a 10 hour miniseries co-produced by the BBC SABC and TV Veronica ;-) Would be interesting to see!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-10 02:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
You know, I should have expected a similar response at some point.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-10 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
Here. My most loved ones (http://pics.livejournal.com/mahnmut/pic/0000s2tp). Left to right: me, my gf Karen, brother Ralf, his wife Simona, my mom, my dad, my nephew Frank, and my best friend Arend with gf Alex. Durban, 2007.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 12:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] abomvubuso.livejournal.com
I've always said that Karen is dammmmn hot :]
And Alexandra too!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
Hands off! You want a good beating?

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] abomvubuso.livejournal.com
*innocent* 0:-)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alphistia.livejournal.com
that's a very nice photo of you and your loved ones...and who knew you were so handsome and so young ;-)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
If you mean that I sound like an old confused nerd most of the time, I have to admit you are right ;-)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 09:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alphistia.livejournal.com
I did think you were older, and my image of you in my mind's eye had more to do with the alien creature in your lj icon!! ;-)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
This is Mahnmut, a Moravec. Biorobotic android from the books Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons. These creatures live in the satellites of Jupiter and are various in size and characteristics, each of them has adapted to its environment. Mahnmut is from Europa where the surface is covered by thick ice and a vast ocean beneath it, and because Mahnmut lives on a small submarine, he is small, clever and curious. His passion is studying Shakespearean plays, which he shares with his friend Orphu (the other big fat creature in the background). But most of all they share their humanism which ironically is bigger than that of the Humans and the Superhumans and the Gods. The whole story gravitates around these biorobots and their adventure on Mars.

And if you were curious how old I am and how I look like, the easiest way would have been to click on that little icon next to my username... you know, the blue figure :-)

This was inspiring!

Date: 2008-04-10 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myriad-mirrors.livejournal.com
Ok. I read over the post again and I'm still blown away. What a powerful and moving past for you and your father. He was wise enough to know when to leave and strong enough to fight when he thought it best.
It is excellent that you have found a beautiful woman to be with and have gone to the country you wanted to live in.
Bet the sociology background gives you insight into the situation there.

Re: This was inspiring!

Date: 2008-04-10 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
Yeah... sociology makes me think I know something about people but it's actually just an illusion that I have ;-)

WOW! WOW! WOW!

Date: 2008-04-10 05:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ramsesthesecond.livejournal.com
this is one of the best days of my life and it is even getting better what an inspiring heroic story.
South Africa became a great nation today because of all the struggle in the past, for all the suffering your dad, Family and leaders of ANC did.
Wow this is really indescribable. your dad almost sacrificed his life for a cause he believed in this is an idol for every one of us.
coming back to South Africa is a great achievement I am so happy to know that you followed your heart and made what you wanted. your family is one big story of a South African gallery that started by pain and ended by freedom
I wish you all luck in your life and whatever you decide to do next and especially with making a family, I am sure you have lots of stories to tell to your son /daughter.
after all I know the honor of any organization just seeing how does it treat its heroes, being a member of ANC is the least thing after all the efforts your family did for the sake of a free SA

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-10 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
Oh take it easy if there's someone we should talk of as a hero it is not me. My biggest heroism in life so far has been when I told Karen that I love her :-))

ANC has drawn a lot of criticism lately because it is slowly turning into what it was fighting against: self-sufficient, over-fed, corrupt autocracy who think they can rest on their old laurels forever. Well they're mistaken. It took a generation to defeat white supremacy, if it'll take another one to defeat black totalitarianism, I'm ready to go for it. Maybe it won't hurt them to hear one or two different opinions especially from inside their own party, and that's what I've been doing at ANCYL, if only at a local level in my university.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ramsesthesecond.livejournal.com
when I told Karen that I love her :-))
believe me this is more brave than any thing I have ever seen!
It is so sad that most of good organizations loose its real meaning with time and turn to a bad copy of the evil it was trying to face in the first place.

here the democratic party (now headed by Mubarak) was established in 1908 to face dictatorship in Egypt but now it just became the same evil!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 12:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] abomvubuso.livejournal.com
"a bad copy of the evil it was trying to face"
-- I loved that.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 12:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
believe me this is more brave than any thing I have ever seen!
What, are you trying to make an individual cult of me.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 11:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anfalicious.livejournal.com
It's good to have some insight into your past, it helps explain a lot of things, especially the difference I see in you compared to the South Africans I know here (racist and arrogant are two adjectives that spring to mind).

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 12:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
That's true (in general). I've lived among them long enough and I was truly disgusted by some of their delusions.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 01:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nairiporter.livejournal.com
This really sounded dramatic... I know you for some time and I know your story and it is true but the way you present things... I mean the expressions that you are using and the suspense, etcetra... it makes me think that you probably have chosen the wrong profession and instead you should be a theatre playwright! :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
I've thought about it... You know that I used to write short stories before?

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 08:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nairiporter.livejournal.com
You know what you missed in your story? You said nothing about your personal character!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 09:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mahnmut.livejournal.com
Oh, nothing special there! I'm actually a rather shy guy as you know :-)
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