KONTAK f ,
FREDA VAN ROOYEN
History of the organisation Kontak
Kontak, an Afrikaans women's organisation, was started early
in 1976. A group of 10 women came together to further their
knowledge of the situation of all the population groups of
South Africa. At the second meeting, in February 1976, a social
worker from Alexandra, a black town, practically in the middle
of the white Johannesburg of today, spoke to us on the living
conditions and the social problems of its inhabitants. We
were moved to become involved through lending a helping hand.
The whole group was appalled by what it heard at that meeting,
but as only one or two of us had ever visited Alexandra, we all
felt that we had to go and see for ourselves and also meet
the people of Alexandra. In short that visit and meeting
with a group of ministers of the Reformed Church of Africa
laid the foundation of what has become Kontak. The realiza-
tion that we live in a world completely removed from our black
neighbours and that furthermore we as South Africans have lost
the Godgiven privilege to make contact and to communicate, was
felt very strongly by all. This was realized by the welcoming
attitude of the black people and their statement that they so
seldom had the chance to meet and talk to the ordinary man in
the street; in other words the Afrikaner people apart from
government and church.
The rest of March 1976 was spent in meeting Afrikaners and
leaders from all the other groups to formulate, amongst other
things, the establishment of a new sort of organisation. The
one thing that crystallized from these discussions was that
starting a benevolent or welfare organisation would not in the
least help improve the situation for our future together. Of
these benevolent organizations we have more than enough in
South Africa and Kontak would have no right of existence on
such a basis.
It became abundantly clear that by doing good we would only
keep on being paternalistic we would keep on making decisions
for other groups and never give these groups the opportunity
of arranging their own affairs, which they are well able to
do. We tried to put into practice the principles of group
dynamics and community development.
Aims and Objects
Kontak is therefore not a crisis organisation. We are not a
welfare or a church group, because we felt that we would like
to meet people across the religious boundaries and because
that would also give us a wider scope. What we were trying
to do was being done as Christians and not as members of a
specific church. Kontak's aims and objectives are thus based
on the fact that we, as concerned women, want to get to know
one another better which will, we believe, lead to understand-
ing and acceptance of each other, not necessarily with the idea
of furthering a specific group, but with the interest of all
groups in mind. To succeed in creating a South Africa where
harmony, understanding and improved relations will reign, we
realized that these were amongst the essentials required:
(1) Responsible contact and communication between all groups.
(2) To meet people and in the process to gain knowledge of
one another's culture and living conditions, as well as
the important question of the views and attitudes of
(3) To keep this to ourselves would not have been meaningful
and the third decision was, therefore, to spread the
knowledge and by doing so, create mutual understanding and
appreciation of the other's identity.
(4) Finally, we realized that we would succeed if we applied
the values of Christian ethics.
This gave us, as strangers, a firm basis to start our rela-
Kontak was thus started in May 1976 on this firm basis and
developed as a well-planned organisation.
I, and others like myself, wonder why we needed an organisation
to bring people together, because those of us growing up on
the platteland worked and played together, and in those days
often saw black and white getting together discussing church
and educational matters. Relationships then were good and peo-
ple had contact and communication with one another. Looking
back over my years in the city I can think of many Afrikaners
who did exactly what we are doing as a group today but still
the Afrikaner was seen as insensitive and unconcerned. Was it
perhaps due to the fact that the positive side of these relations
was not emphasized enough and that much was made of the negative
by propagandists? Maybe the accent in the various contacts
with the other groups was wrong, and that we were still thinking
that in doing good and lending a helping hand, we were ful-
filling the need for contact and communication, and also maybe
salving our consciences? We have in the past failed in bringing
educated people of all groups together, in order to discuss
mutual problems and misunderstandings.
Groups are not only divided by culture and language, but they
are also divided by distance geographically, we are far
removed from one another and, therefore, we needed an organi-
sation to start building bridges. A sorry situation it might
be to us, but definitely one that can be rectified with
comparatively little effort and goodwill.
Changes in aims and objectives
As Kontak is a fairly young organisation, the need for change
in its aims and objectives did not arise. Kontak was not
started in a time of emotional agitation as it must be clear
to all now. We planned well, taking into consideration the
status quo and trying to foresee all eventualities. We have
tried to be objective in our outlook and we have tried to
avoid being over-emotional, believing that emotions could only
cloud the issue and that that would, inevitably, lead to pater-
nalism and a feeling of guilt and sympathy that would predominate
when people got together.
We are even more realistic in the knowledge that if we, as a
group, want to reach the Afrikaner we must not approach the
Afrikaner aggressively or by storm. Therefore, no matter what
other people say or do, or how others try to influence us, we
will do this important task in the way we believe it to be
right and just.
There is also no reason for change in our aims and objectives
at this stage, because we have realized from the beginning that
to understand other human beings, one has got to understand their
way of thinking and that we will have to have a scientific
understanding of one another's problems and situations.
To succeed in this, we believe in giving each and everyone the
opportunity of putting his own case honestly and frankly, and
from there onwards to try and avoid an attitude of reproach
and accusation. We prefer to try and find a mutual point of
view, something positive, to build a future of togetherness on.
This, however, is a difficult task because of the set ways
experienced over three and a quarter centuries. But I believe
that success lies in perseverance.
The growth of our organisation rests mainly in the people them-
selves, our ability to realise the changes that have taken place
in people's lives and also to realise that where we have
moved from a fairly superficial contact with each other, we have
moved to something more meaningful and lasting. It depends
largely on the results of exposure towards one another, in the
respect that develops for that which the other groups value,
and in a mutual understanding that each and every group has
values and norms of its own, that, furthermore, we differ, but
that that can never be a reason for total estrangement. We
have learned that in our differences lies a strength and that
that could add to an exciting future with lots of challenge,
colour and enjoyment for all to share. We grew in the knowledge
that, as South Africans, we have an inexhaustible inheritance
for our children in the different cultures and languages and a
goodwill that makes for a common future that very few other
countries in the world could share. The only real condition
is that we speed up the process of getting together and
start sharing the best that every community has to offer.
Kontak is still a small organisation because to us the building
of bridges must be meaningful and lasting we are wary of an
organisation that is there to pacify the rest of the world for
appearances' sake. What we want is lasting relationships -
meaningful friendships something that will prove to others
that we can really get along in South Africa not only as
different groups but as individuals. What we are doing is a
slow process but nevertheless rewarding in the sense that every
minute spent in working towards success will have been worthwhile.
Kontak,originated by Afrikaner women,is today still a basically
Afrikaans organisation, but we have not excluded other lan-
guage or race groups. Although our origin was Afrikaans our
members are allowed to use the language of their preference and
even if we have to translate to others, this makes for a more
open and free discussion. Often we are reproached for being
Afrikaans-orientated, but we believe that we are doing this
for the right reasons and we are accepted for this by all our
members whether they be black, coloured, white or whatever
language group. I have never heard any reaction against an
English orientated organisation of which there are many and,
therefore, see no reason for this criticism.
Kontak also believes that every branch should decide for itself
as to how it is to operate and whether it will be practical to
have mixed or separate branches, meeting from time to time under
the auspices of an umbrella committee. We believe that in a
city like Johannesburg we have done the right thing in inviting
the other groups to join us in one branch, but also by accept-
ing their decision to have their own not because they preferred
to be apart, separate (or individual), but because distance
and time made it impractical to do otherwise. By doing so we
once again moved away from paternalism. In Somerset West a
different pattern was established. The groups there got together
and started one branch for it seemed practical and desirable
in their case.
In Sasolburg we found we immediately had a fifty-fifty
English/Afrikaans language group membership, whereas in Johannes-
burg we first had to make contact from group to group before
the situation started changing. I, therefore, believe that
success lies in adaptation and giving each branch its own
autonomy in arranging its own affairs. We have tried to
accept the realism of our situation.
Method of functioning
1. We have monthly meetings where spokesmen from our
various race groups address us on various aspects of our
South African community, as well as the situation of South
Africa in Africa and World Politics. We believe that this
helps us along, by providing the knowledge so much lacking
in our South African setup. It gives our members the
opportunity to get answers to their questions and to
gain a more realistic view of the situation of others and
that of South Africa as a whole.
2. Apart from these monthly meetings we have sub-committees
working together with different race groups. This has
proved to be very successful in that some people serving
on these committees may have a greater affinity with the
black people, others prefer liaising with the coloureds,
and some feel that their task lies in working with the
children. This makes for a much more in-depth contact,
where people really get to know each other and much enjoy-
ment is experienced by all at these meetings.
These meetings seldom, at first, take place spontaneously
due to the fact that our people in the cities are, to one
another, strangers and until we get to know each other
better, we are forced to organise things!
The sub-committee meetings are the ones where we have had
the opportunity to prove that people can get together on a
basis of equality and mutual acceptance. Programmes are
shared equally by all the different people on such a com-
mittee, e.g. the coloured people invite the white women
once a month to share a day with them a visit to a
mosque, the experience of Calipha dances, Rampiessny all
colourful experiences that we never shared before. A
return visit to one of our homes might be an Afrikaans
prose evening or we might teach each other our traditional
songs or give a demonstration of our folk dances. On the
other hand, we as women might even just sit down and share
everyday problems in the home.
The youth group, which is a wonderful example of sharing
of the two main language groups, decides on its own
programme. They get together with all other groups in
South Africa and really get to know each other. The
Afrikaans and Jewish women have created firm friendships
and really work together as a team on this project.
3. Apart from this, we have a newsletter and one or two big
symposia per year, where important topics are discussed on
a much wider basis; on these occasions more people are
brought into contact with each other, e.g.
i) a congress on the Erika Theron Commission Report;
ii) the role of the women in improving relationships;
iii)the black and white matrifocal family.
4. We also have contact with other organizations and we
attempt at all times to impart the experiences and know-
ledge that we gain.
5. Even though Kontak is no pressure group, we do not
ignore statutory discrimination and the hardships
experienced by other people. To dwell on these here and
now serves no positive purpose. We, however, never demand
change, but may I add, we have been very successful in
changing conditions and situations by having discussions
on a very open and personal basis with the authorities
concerned. We strongly believe that when these people
are approached without aggressiveness and with factual
information, much can be achieved. Experience has proved
that facts and intimate knowledge of a situation go a long
way in combating misunderstanding, e.g. Alexandra, the
extended housing for the matrifocal family in the
South Africa can be a different place if people are
approached tactfully and without the feeling that they are
App. success and failure in achievement of conditions
We experienced failure right at the start when we, full of
enthusiasm, tried to organise our black branch by telling them
how to become involved in their own community. It was only
afterwards that we realized that they knew their own situation
better and preferred to be left to their own devices until
such time as they asked for help and advice. This is the only
way towards harmonious togetherness. We may have failed in
that we have not reached enough of our Afrikaans women one
of the reasons for this possible failure is a serious lack of
funds. We feel we have also failed in getting to know a
greater percentage of Indian people we find the Indian
women very wary.
Success, however, comes from unexpected quarters.
We never thought that it would be so easy to elicit the good-
will of the other groups. Once people get together the change
in attitudes is amazing suddenly we found that we had friends
and people understanding one another amongst all groups.
Success, however, also lies in the fact that the black and
brown people we work with, have often turned round and expressed
their amazement that the Afrikaners were completely different
from what they had believed the Afrikaners to be.
Success lies in the fact that where in the beginning a group
of the coloured people would not mix with their black neigh-
bours, they now enjoy getting together.
But more important than anything else, our success lies in the
fact that when we do get together now, we do not reproach each
other, we are not bent on hurting or offending other people.
We have realized that in order to gain a positive future, we
will all have to look ahead instead of to the past. This is
done with complete sincerity and frankness. Success lies in
the fact that to share and be together does not require us
to discard our identity, but leads to an as yet unrealised
inner strength. Now we enjoy the sharing of that which is
important to one another. We have become people who are proud
of what we are, and with an invaluable appreciation and
acceptance of each other, our traditions, our religions and
our different ways of life.
Future strategies and objectives
Our strategies and objectives will not be other than those
already mentioned but with the desire to spread them much
wider. We hope that we will be able to inspire and involve
all women in South Africa in doing what we are doing not
necessarily in our organisation, Kontak, but through whichever
organisation they support.
We want the women and youth of South Africa to join hands to
help us change the attitudes prevailing in our people to
goodwill and friendship. In doing so it is my belief that we
will give the government an opportunity to change hurtful
laws. I believe that if Kontak succeeds in its aims and object-
ives of acceptance, trust and friendship and if it spreads
far and deep enough, we will have no reason to go on with an
organisation called Kontak. I want to stress the most import-
ant message to all women in South Africa by saying: let us,
in our differences, find a unity and strength that will make
it easy to join hands in friendship for a future of goodwill,
joy, prosperity and peace for all in South Africa. Let us
accept our differences and use our similarities as the starting
point for a brave new South Africa.
Priority No.1: To enable Afrikaner women to understand and
appreciate the fine qualities in individuals
of other cultural groups, regardless of
differences in values or background.
No.2: To enable women from other sections of the
community to understand the Afrikaner's
patterns of thought and ideals.
No.3: Mutual trust and goodwill can be achieved
across cultural, racial, colour, political
In short, to understand and know without trying to bring
about change except as an ancillary challenge between self-
For this, an organisation like Kontak is indispensable in
providing the opportunities for gaining knowledge and