Carl Niehaus    Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)
Carl Niehaus Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)

The time to beg apartheid beneficiaries to address the wrongs of our past is over

By Carl Niehaus Time of article published Apr 6, 2020

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A few months short of 20 years ago the Home for All campaign was launched on the 12th of December 2000, the National Day of Reconciliation, at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. The former president of the Black Sash, Mary Burton, and myself were the joint chairpersons.  

The purpose of the Home for All Campaign was to get whites to acknowledge the terrible damage that apartheid had caused and to get them to voluntarily commit to reparations for having stolen the land of black (especially African) people and having subjected them to economic exploitation and untold suffering. 

The Declaration of the Home for All Campaign stated that although we are now living in a democracy, with universal franchise, the damage that apartheid had caused with the continuing domination of whites of our economy, and the exploitation of the majority of black people, prevail. 

This was an all-white campaign, only whites could participate and sign the Declaration because it was for whites to acknowledge their guilt and the damage that apartheid had caused, and continues to inflict on black South Africans. 

The response from the majority of the white community was appalling, to say the least. They were outraged that we dared to say that they must acknowledge guilt, and even more angry at our call that they should voluntarily pay reparations. We were vilified, and called all kinds of names, from ‘weaklings’, ‘sorry excuses for being whites’, and mocked as the ‘sorry sorries’. 

When asked by a journalist if he will sign the Declaration, the then leader of the DA, Tonny Leon, burst our laughing, asking the journalist if he was crazy and saying he had “nothing to apologize for”.  

When asked the same question, the doyen of white liberalism, Helen Suzman, got angry and scoffed that she had fought her whole life as a member of the all-white apartheid parliament against apartheid, and had nothing to apologize for. Similarly, the Afrikaner business tycoon Anton Rupert, the father of Johann Rupert, stated that he will not apologize and that he had made his money “fair and square”. 

FW de Klerk and his Foundation attacked us for trying to make whites feel “uncomfortable in our own country”, and General Constand Viljoen, the former Head of the apartheid SADF, who occupied Namibia, and tried to occupy Angola, stated that he was ‘“proud” of what he had done to “fight communism”. Viljoen died last Friday at the age of 86 and is taking that same unrepentant attitude into his grave. 

Despite our best efforts the Home for All Campaign managed to get only a dismally small number, of just over 2000 whites, to sign our Declaration. Among those who signed was Dr Beyers Naudé and his wife Ilze, who did, in fact, participate full-out in the liberation struggle against apartheid, but still acknowledged that as whites they could never deny that they were privileged because of being white, and benefitted from apartheid. 

Dr Naudé was then already in his late 80’s, and very ill, but the majority of arrogant, unrepentant, whites did not hesitate to mock him and tannie Ilze for having signed the declaration. Together with the rest of us white South Africans, who had signed the Declaration, they were called “pathetic”, and “sellouts”. 

I recalled all of this when I read the excellent article by Ayanda Mdluli titled, “Coronavirus in SA: Now is a good time for those who benefitted from apartheid to pay reparations”. Mdluli complains about the sad reality that our current lockdown, “appears to be a free-for-all and jolly commercial venture for those who have their hands in all the pies that represent the different spheres of our economy”; and of course in our untransformed economy, that still represents the inequalities and power dynamics of apartheid, most of those hands are white - and the few black hands that are involved are, more often than not, also firmly held and directed by white hands.

Quiet correctly Mdluli bemoans the wrong impression that was created of a ‘lockdown donation’ by Johann Rupert, while it turned out not to be a donation at all, but simply a loan for SMME’s who will have to pay it back with interest starting after 12 months, and within the short period of five years. These loans are to be administered by one of Rupert’s very own subsidiaries, Business Partners, that will apply stringent measures to ensure that the mainly black SMME’s do not ‘misuse’ his ill-begotten apartheid money. 

Whichever way one looks at this, it is certainly not ‘help’. Instead, these apartheid money loans are the handcuffs of further control and profiteering. Evidently, the son of Anton Rupert, who so arrogantly refused to sign the Home for All Campaign Declaration, is no different. As we say in Afrikaans, “Die appel val nie vêr van die boom af nie”, or in English: “Like father, like son”. 

Today, 41 years ago, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, on the 6 of April 1979, was executed by the apartheid regime at the tender age of 23 years old. His execution was timed to take place on the 6 of April, which the apartheid regime celebrated as so-called ‘Founders Day’ or ‘Van Riebeeck Day’, because on the 6th of April 1652 the Dutch colonialists, commanded by Jan van Riebeeck, started their brutal and relentless colonization of South Africa when they stepped ashore at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’.  

To specifically execute Solomon Mahlangu on this date was meant to cause as much injury as possible to the oppressed black people of South Africa. 

I ask myself now, on this terrible day in our history, has the mentality and attitude of most whites changed at all? Has it changed when a super-rich white billionaire, such as Rupert, in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic that is causing so much hurt and damage to the hopes and futures of black entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses, can mislead us to first believe that he made a ‘generous’ donation, only to find out that black business will instead be further controlled by the shackles of his loans? This is nothing less than adding insult to injury! 

The observation by Semoadi wa Semoadi that “This period was supposed to be a moment of showing care and empathy. [However] the coronavirus crisis is turning out to be an even worse nightmare for ordinary [black] South Africans...” is correct. 

I fully agree with Mdludli that in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which even more than ever before exposes the continuing inequalities and racial fault-lines left by apartheid, the time is now that all of us South Africans from all walks of life should come together to demand that those white monopoly companies who benefitted from apartheid must account to the people of our nation. 

The Home for All Campaign tried to get these white monopoly companies, and white South Africans in general, to voluntarily acknowledge their collective white guilt, and to pay reparations. We failed dismally, and only hit our heads against a stone-hard wall of white arrogance and entitlement. Johann Rupert showed us again that there is still no white contrition, and that this will not happen voluntarily. Now, more than ever, the time has come to stop asking with a begging bowl in our hands, but to force them to pay reparations. 

I hope my beloved Liberation Movement, the ANC, as the governing party, will have finally have the courage to introduce the required steps, including reparations legislation, that will force apartheid-era companies such as Naspers, ABSA, Rembrandt and many others to pay for how they have profited from apartheid. 

I wholeheartedly agree with Mdluli’s conclusion that this is the only way that black South Africans can recover from the continuing burden of apartheid, and from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As certainly as I write these words, I know that the attacks and abuse will be unleashed on me, and others who make this urgent call on our Liberation Movement. But enough time has been wasted, now finally it is the time to act. Since we started the Home for All Campaign, the abuse never stopped. So I say: Bring it on, try as you may, we will not allow you to escape your apartheid past, and eventually justice will prevail. 

* Carl Niehaus is a veteran of the ANC. He is a former South African ambassador to The Netherlands, and a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of MKMVA, and National Spokesperson of MKMVA. He wrote this response to Ayanda Mdluli’s article in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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