At the risk (or hope
) of sparking heated discussion; as a South African, I was recently innocently toying with the idea of changing my avatar to a caricature of the first (South African) Boer Republic President, Oom (uncle) Paul Kruger, for whom the pipe shape was named.
In my rummaging on the internet, I discovered quite a raging debate concerning whether the shape name should be shunned in favour of the term, ‘Hungarian’.
You can read some of the debate here, one initiated by no lesser piping personage that the great Fred Hanna:
The debate can probably be encapsulated by the following quote from this site:
https://btheinternationalpetersonpipeclub.runboard.com/t1530“Many prefer the term Hungarian over Oom Paul, since the pipe's history is more appealing than the history of the man, with it's connotations of racism and association with apartheid.”
Now I am not an apartheid apologist, nor do I condone racism in any way, but whoa, there.
I suppose one view is that it is to be expected, as a kind of knee-jerk reaction, that South Africa should automatically be associated with the apartheid policy and racism, and that as South Africans we should just suck it up. Dealing with the legacy of apartheid is something with which South Africans of all colours must grapple on a daily basis, as we try to steer our country into a new future.
As white South Africans and beneficiaries of apartheid, there is for us too a huge task at hand. As the subjects (and we were, as opposed to victims) of apartheid we were the target of a process of political and ideological indoctrination, the like of which I do not believe has been seen since the collapse of Nazi Germany. I do not offer this as any excuse, but one wonders how many hands would have shot up in Germany in 1946, if a call was made to admit to previously being a supporter of the National Socialist Party. Similarly, we have to come to terms with our past, and consciously unlearn that indoctrination. Believe me, it ain’t easy. But we were fortunate beyond belief to be blessed with a post apartheid leader of the greatness and stature of Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is affectionately known by the vast majority of my countrymen and women of all creeds.
At the same time, and not wanting to cloak any form of racism in an air of acceptability, there are certain truths, some of which are alluded to in the replies to the aforementioned posts/video, which remain relevant to the debate.
Most importantly in my opinion is that Kruger (pronounced Kreer in his mother tongue) has to be seen in the context of his time. He was a simple man who believed the bible to be factually correct, to the extent of believing the earth to be flat! He was engaged in a fierce battle to keep his people and their republic free of the yolk of British imperialism. And boy, outnumbered as they were, them Boers did dish out some spectacular hidings. So must we also be cognizant of the fact that any perceptions gained of him at the time, must be seen through the lens of British Imperialist propaganda. (Sorry British brothers, but it’s true).
In any event, to associate him with the reprehensible aparthied policy, formulated by the National Party Government who came to power in 1948, and which entrenched racist ideologies in national and regional legislation, is simply factually incorrect.
Was he racist? Almost certainly, by the modern definition of the word. But is it fair to judge him out of hand while viewing him with the benefit of more than 100 years of enlightened moral hindsight? At the huge risk of advocating that two wrongs make a right, and offending my brethren on both sides of the pond and down under (neither of which is intended, I assure you), let me pose the following questions:
In the interests of balance, must we not compare him to others of his era? Must we not ask ourselves if he was more or less racist, better or worse, than his adversary, the British, who’s Raj dominated India at that time and for many years to come? Or the Australian colonists’ in their treatment of the aboriginal population? Or the US government in their treatment of Native Americans? Or his direct adversary on home soil, Lord Kitchener, who, as part of his ‘scorched earth’ policy, invented the concentration camps, in which Boer women and children died in their tens of thousands? Or indeed, his contemporary Cecil John Rhodes, who gave his name to another racist state, Rhodesia? I don’t think his philanthropy stretched to any of the African population (quite the contrary), yet we still have Rhodes scholars.
I shall say nothing of a certain Mr. G Washington, not knowing enough, except that there appears to be some smoke, and where there smoke. . . Yet I believe there are still numerous American icons which bear his name. We don’t see a scramble to rename these, so why now stampede toward the eradication of Oom Paul?
I my view, a country’s history, right and wrong, warts and all, cannot be wiped away. Nor do I think it wise to do so. Is that not why we strive to remember the holocaust, painful as it may be to do so? We must remember, so as to avoid repetition. Do the names not give us the opportunity to open debate with our children, and caution them on the dangers of prejudice and discrimination?
To the Oom Paul detractors: I’m sorry, I don’t get it. Let me just say, with reference to current day South Africa; we are trying our damndest to get over ourselves. Why not give us a hand by trying to do the same?
Anyway for me, I have an Oom Paul. Or at least I did, until recently. Funny thing is, the pipe just didn’t do it for me. You know how it is. Nothing wrong with it, so I gave it to a young aspirant pipe smoker. He is a very bright, dynamic, likeable chap who works in the office of a colleague, and who is increasingly becoming a very dear friend, despite our age gap. His name is Sivu. And yes, Sivu is an African name. He is from the same Xhosa culture as our beloved Madiba, or as we like to say nowadays around these parts; a South African. By all accounts, he is delighted with the pipe, so all’s to the good.
I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide where, if anywhere, the irony lies in this last. I will tell you one thing, though. If I told Sivu I was going to give him a ‘Hungarian’, he wouldn’t know what the hell I was on about.
As usual, your comments welcome.