Voortrekker Monument, n.d., photograph , in Picturesque Pretoria publicity brochure, 1965.
going commando

In 1949, a year after the Nationalist Party had been voted into power, a grand ceremony announced the dedication of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. The Monument was designed as a focal point for celebration of Afrikaner nationalism, in the context of the "Day of the Vow," a mythic event in 1838 when the Voortrekkers, greatly outnumbered by their enemy in Zululand, made a covenant with God in exchange for the defeat of the Zulu impis at the Battle of Blood River. Lets compare two pictures of the Voortrekker Monument. The one is from a brochure, "Picturesque Pretoria," published by the Pretoria Publicity Association in1965, and includes the following caption:

The Voortrekker Monument, a national shrine commemorating the Great Trek, was dedicated in 1949. It is a visible tribute to a group of people who played a mayor [sic] part in the establishment of Western civilization in South Africa. Famous for its marble friezes and museum, its piece de resistance is the crypt in the basement hall of the monument, where, precisely at noon on 16 December each year, a beam of sunlight shining through an opening in the dome, illuminates the words "Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika" (We for thee South Africa) chiselled in gold letters on a sarcophagus in the centre of the floor1.

"Inheemse blom van die maand: Dina" photospread, Loslyf#1, June 1995
The other is a strip-tease spread from the first issue of the first Afrikaans-language pornography magazine, Loslyf, published the year after South Africa's first general election. The text reads (in translation):
Loslyf (loose life) indigenous flower of the month Dina.

Dina, Loslyf's very first indigenous flower, is a Boer gal in her bones and marrow. " My great-great grandaddy, Hendrik Potgeiter, was my hero since I was very small. He was the sort of man who could inspire people to walk barefoot over the Drakensburg mountains, so that our Boer folk can live in freedom and peace in the Transvaal. If only today we could have a leader of his calibre," she sighs.

The 24-year-old nurse from Pretoria doesn't change her nappies (i.e. is very direct/coarse) when she speaks about her love of Afrikaans language and culture.

"All those people who want to chastise the Afrikaner folk and want to trample and to profane their monument, are playing with fire. They must know: when you lay you lay your hands on my symbols, you lay your hands on me."2

The Loslyf spread of Dina at the Mounument is clearly subversive. The intention of J.T. Publishers, a South African subsidiary of Hustler magazine, was simply to sell an "entertainment" magazine to a local niche market of Afrikaner readers3. But the editor of the magazine during its first year of publication was Ryk Hattingh, a dissident member of the Afrikaans literary set. Hattingh was known for his work as sub-editor at the left-leaning Afrikaans newspaper Vry Weekblad, and for the scathing critique of the South African military in his 1988 play "Sing Jy Van Bomme (Sing about bombs)"4. Under Hattingh's direction the first issues of this pornography magazine had a distinctively literary twist, including articles with famous writers, irreverent and obscene cartoons by Joe Dog and Konradski of Bittercommix, and copy shot-through with double meanings. According to Hattingh, "Afrikaners have always been portrayed as khaki-clad repressed people and I wanted to show them as normal, sexual, fucking human beings.5"

"Dina at the Monument" does more than that. It iconoclastically re-inserts what the Monument itself, as a quasi-divine symbol of Afrikaner nationalism, is meant to censor out. It openly miscegenates the divine and the profane, the native and the European, aspects of the Monument. The photo shoot of Dina is strategically set in the landscape of indigenous wildflowers at the base of the monument-- placing her "in nature". In the 1965 brochure, in the same location below the Monument, there are rebuilt versions of traditional Zulu beehive homes (which are still standing today). Unlike the "kappie" girl in Voortrekker drag in the 1965 brochure, Dina stands barefoot in the veld. Dina pretends to be an innocent, as in the days of crossing the mountains with her great great granddaddy and the Voortrekkers, but she is also dressed (temporarily) in a commando's belt and vest. She wears leopard-print shorts, suggestive of a randy sexuality but also of camouflage. She is white and a "Native girl" at the same time.

In an incisive essay, Annie Coombes identifies what she terms the "hybrid nature" of the iconographic schema of the Voortrekker Monument. She points out that other indigenous African monumental architectures, in Egypt and at Great Zimbabwe, were important models for the architect of the Voortrekker, Gerard Moerdijk. These models, she argues, point to the, "anxiety of the Afrikaner's originary claims," and to, "the imperative for the Afrikaner nationalists to appropriate Africa to itself.6" Further, the Afrikaner myth brings civilization to Africa by taming nature and subdoing the local inhabitants, which amount to one and the same thing. For Coombes, "The conceit of Dina as an 'indigenous flower' plays with the implicitly sexual content of such an ideology and the violence which underscores it.7"

Notice the "L" in "indigenous blom (flower)". It is a poppy, in Afrikaans slang, a little doll (a "sweet little girl"). Pluck the poppie and the blom becomes a bom, the flower becomes a bomb. Dina says "Don't screw with the monument or you screw with me" in the context of a girlie magazine where one is supposedly desirous of screwing the models.

Dina, like any porn star, is not merely a model parading as a naked amazon to be gawked at or dreamed about at a distance. She is also a model for the viewer's own self-image and behavior. Alfred Gell, in his reading of Michael Taussig's Mimesis and Alterity makes a related proposition: "To see (or to know) is to be sensuously filled with that which is perceived, yielding to it, mirroring it-- and hence imitating it bodily.8" In other words, in order to fully see, or enjoy, the pictures of Dina, one must also imagine oneself in her place, doing what she does. Thus Ryk Hatting's, and Dina's, subversive spread works not only to bring down the Monument, metaphorically-- it also means to make the Afrikaner appear less "repressed," and to give the Boere a new self-image for a new South Africa.

Andre Brink, whose writing was banned in the old South Africa, once remarked in relationship to state-sponsored censorship, that when, "the lie has become established as the norm: truth is the real obscenity.9"" If the Voortrekker Monument, and the divine myth it concretizes, represents a "cover-up," then assailing it, in the blatant manner proposed in Loslyf, consists in denuding it, revealing the naked truth, and thus making an obscenity of it, not just for the fun of it. Afterward the monument itself is tainted, debased, brought down, and left to stand for more than it was intended.


1 Due to astronomical shifts, the light from the dome no longer lands on the words on the cenotaph on December 16. An apt metaphor for the demise of false, and millinarian, rationalism of Apartheid science?
2 My gratitude to Anton Kannenmayer, who worked on this issue of Loslyf, for assistance in translation of the idomatic Afrikaans in the text.
3 Mark Green, editor of Loslyf, interview with the author, 1/10/03.
4 See Bafana Khumalo "Tales from the heartland" Weekly Mail September 20, 1996.
5 Ibid.
6 Annie Coombes "Translating the past: apartheid monuments in post-apartheid South Africa" in Coombes and Brah (eds) Hybridity and its discontents London: Routledge, 2000, p.188.
7 Ibid. p. 191.
8 Alfred Gell Art and Agency Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, p. 100.
9 Andre Brink Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Seige London: Faber and Faber, 1983, p. 247.

censorship and iconoclasm -- unsettling monuments

John Peffer
2003, used with permission of the author


introduction
going commando
image breaking: wayne barker's pierneefs, 1989
cocooned
conclusion