My name is Carla Joubert. I was born in Barberton, Mpumalanga, South Africa just as the Apartheid era ended. When I was eight, my family moved from our idyllic small town, where our home abutted a mountainside filled with lush vegetation, and the occasional baboon, and replaced it with snow packed mountain ranges, and the occasional bear, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Since immigrating, I have lived between two worlds. South Africa was, and remains, my homeland. Many people ask me about this, because I moved at a young age. But anyone from South Africa knows: you can’t shake it just because you leave it. South Africa is a part of who I am, and always will be. Even so, Canada is my new home, and I am grateful for the many opportunities living here has given me. While it wasn’t effortless, my family was privileged with what many would consider an ideal immigration experience. While I will never come around to liking snow, it’s not hard to fall in love with the Rocky Mountains, or the Great Lakes (now that I live in Ontario).
Caught as I am between these two worlds, and forced from a young age to be intellectually curious about the things I thought I knew about South Africa, and the things I learned about it once I left, I have always been curious about its past, and how it compared to Canada. It’s easy to draw comparisons: both lands were governed by British settler colonial regimes. Their federal governments often aligned their interests during the First and Second World Wars to promote greater autonomy from the British Empire, and both signed the Treaty of Westminster in 1931. Despite this shared background, large differences remained. 1) Canada’s settler colonial regime started very much as an extractive colony, rather than a settler colony, and included a period of close co-operation between Indigenous people and the small group of fur traders who first arrived here. In South Africa, the Dutch colonists who arrived almost immediately settled the Cape Colony, at cost to the local Xhosa. 2) The arrival of the British in both lands instigated a period of friction with the other empires already establishing dominance in the region. In Canada, it was a conflict between the British and the French. In South Africa it was a conflict between the British and the not-quite-yet self-identified Boers. But, while the British all but erased French autonomy in Canada, the Boers expanded their reach in South Africa to move into “the interior” from the coastal regions of the Cape Colony and, later, Natal. 3) Canada’s history of settler colonialism is well recorded in the historiography, though the country has a long way to go to reach the goals of their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission towards recognition of the consequences of colonialism on Indigenous sovereignty, history, and culture. While British settler colonialism in South Africa is relatively well understood in the context of the greater history of the British Empire, the history of settler colonialism in the old Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek has been sidelined for a more populist history of Boer resistance to the encroachment of British imperialism, and the subsequent darkness of racial oppression during the Apartheid regime.
In 2015, I began my doctoral research in history to understand the historic relationship between South Africa and Canada. I seek to take these two histories, between my first home and my second home, and bring together what aligns, while parsing apart difference. In order to do that, I start with a base understanding that both South Africa and Canada are historically settler colonial states. I hope to pull the ZAR into the same settler colonial narrative that already exists for Canada’s prairie west, by showing that the narrative of victimhood and salvation common in Boer nationalism was similarly employed by immigrants to Canada’s interior provinces to skirt around their agency in establishing settlements to the detriment of Indigenous access to land, or autonomy. I also recognize that the marked difference between settler colonialism and other empiric pursuits was the dependence of empire on women to participate in settlement by giving birth to white children and educating them in the cultural practices of the empire, be it Dutch, French, Boer, or British.
My research does not seek any villains. But it also does not make excuses for the fact of Indigenous displacement and discrimination in either South Africa or Canada. I am a Boer, and as an immigrant I am a benefactor of the Canadian settler state’s migration policies. In order for either of this states to move forward towards a process of reconciliation with the Indigenous people who lost in order for my family to gain, historically, they must start at a basis of honest historical reflection about the root causes of division and racism. I hope that my doctoral research contributes to that.