Johan van Zyl,
I also read the article (“A history of Somerset West”, Bolander, January 30) and fully expected that one or more letters like that of Suben Govender would emerge (“Disturbing article”, Bolander letters, February 6). We unfortunately live in a currently volatile, charged political environment and interchanges vary from irritated finger-wagging admonitions to incriminations on racial grounds that defy reason.
First of all, I really don’t think that Ms Meyer’s idea was to present an exhaustive treatise on Somerset West history. I believe she explored Peggy Heap’s book because of her interest as a resident, and then she probably got the idea of sharing her interest with Bolander.
Everything she wrote about, including the descriptive names many today find hurtful, comes out of the book. It is the product of one researcher’s pen.
Of course it is to be understood that there can be various versions of the same history, depending on who the authors are. We don’t all write from the same viewpoint or perspective.
I am not a historian professionally, but I have also researched Somerset West’s history. I have gone with a fine-tooth comb through quite a number of books and articles on the subject, in order to get a proper understanding of the life and times of the Hottentot-Hollanders in days gone by. I have learned that one should not limit oneself to sources dealing only with the Helderberg Basin, but also delve deep into the history of the Cape since (and even long before) Van Riebeeck. I have even gone so far as to look up facts pertaining to the countries from where slaves were procured to supply labour in the colony, of which Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi are but three.
Many studies can be brought into the equation of trying to compile a picture of understanding: geography, architecture, archeology, anthropology, economy, natural science and cultural history of peoples, to name a few.
I hasten to add that many of my recent sources were in fact not authored by whites. The broader history is the better history, and gives rise to more accurate conclusions.
It also takes the wind out of the sails of people who throw accusations willy-nilly.
Secondly, I find that Bolander’s editor is being taken to task unnecessarilly harshly. It is not fair to “assume that Bolander believes that Ms Meyer’s views constitute a solid argument to be taken into consideration by (the) readership”. Why should we have a problem with the publishing of this article, as weakly sourced as it may be?
I would rather think the editor found the article valuable in that it can stimulate other residents’ interest and encourage healthy debate. This letter is my humble contribution.
Please understand that I am not trying to defend either Ms Meyer or Bolander’s editor. I just want to earnestly steer us away from the constant finger-pointing on racial grounds that form the bulk content of news reporting today.
Don’t we tend to be on the lookout for sticks to beat the proverbial dog with, and disregard the realities of yesteryear? The article mentions the “aggression” of the indigenous people and that they were “notorious for theft”. Surely this is not a blatant untruth!
I believe they were a peace-loving people by nature, but the settlers brought with them a culture vastly different to their own. It led to a situation in which they started to realise that their way of living was being seriously threatened.
From there on it is easy to understand that indignation must have set in, followed by growing dissatisfaction, then deep resentment. Yes, they became aggressive and turned to a kind of vigilantism, from the perspective of the colonialist government.
Let’s please talk and write about these issues, but have respect for our different cultures.
Colonisation did take place, peoples and their way of living were trodden underfoot and human dignity fell by the wayside. There’s no argument about that. But there are more sides to the story than just one.
Life goes on and we have a lot to learn from our mistakes. Let us go out of our way to think and act with genuine respect towards all South Africans who share with us a desire for lasting peace and harmony.