It often seems South Africans “reach with easy familiarity for identities forged for them by historical figures they loathe, values they reject or forces they regard as spent”. I used these words a few years ago as a prelude to saying: “Asking South Africans to change their political allegiance is still often akin to asking them to deny who they are.” Yet, this was “not universally true, or fixed, today, and it was not universally true of the past either”, I went on, citing as an arguably obscure example National Party MP Bruckner de Villiers “being carried shoulder high into parliament by coloured supporters who, in the 1929 election, had helped him secure the Stellenbosch seat”.

I thought of De Villiers and the meaning of that historical vignette after reading two fellow columnists in recent weeks against the backdrop not only of the May elections, but the greater battle of ideas — as we at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) call it — in favour of principles and policies ...

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