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From going between to working together: Learning from structures and attitudes in South Africa’s transition

J Malan


In the old South Africa, with its inhabitants divided into two worlds by an ideology-driven white minority, H.W. van der Merwe was one of the first white Afrikaners who took the risk of crossing the boundary which in the culture of his own group was upheld as divinely ordained. On account of the radical change in his socio-political convictions, and his resulting research and teaching, he was appointed as director of an institution aiming at improving intergroup relations through applied research and educational programmes. He also took the lead in founding an association for conflict intervention. His remarkable contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle and the eventual resolving of the white-black conflict was not only a structural one, however, but also an interrelated attitudinal one. His outreaching understanding and his courageous quest for justice and peace enabled him to bring adversaries together, and also to confront the unflinching guardians of apartheid. It behoves us, therefore, to celebrate his example and to emulate it in our current context. We may be grateful for the degree to which transition has already taken shape in the new South Africa, but so much remains to be done to minimise sociocultural distances between sectors of fellow-South Africans. H.W.’s legacy may indeed help us to respect ‘them’ and ‘us’ where appropriate, but also to promote an ‘all of us’ orientation as far as fellow-humanly possible.

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eISSN: 2309-737X
print ISSN: 1562-6997