Former president FW de Klerk.   File picture: Michael Walker /African News Agency (ANA)
Former president FW de Klerk. File picture: Michael Walker /African News Agency (ANA)

A rude awakening for the ANC on issues of race

By David Letsoalo Time of article published Jun 28, 2020

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The intensity of the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, both internationally and locally, coupled with the avalanche of ongoing racism in South Africa, exposes the docility and denialist attitude of South Africa’s governing party, the ANC, on issues of race.

The defects of the “non-racial” political dispensation in South Africa have become glaringly and painfully overt. The inhumane and unjust legacy of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, as a lived reality for black people, cannot easily be wiped away by fake notions of a “new” non-racial democratic society.

It’s now a historical fact that the 1994 settlement predominantly served to maintain white privilege. The so-called rainbow nation is premised on the peace-hungry forgiveness extended to the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes in human history, committed under the banner of apartheid. On the converse, there has been less appetite for justice to counter the racial crimes and the great “injustices of the past”.

The consciousness of the new generation of black people on issues of white privilege and racial inequalities worldwide has now been sharpened. The attendant protests as a massive response facilitated by the BLM have been precipitated by a plethora of factors which included the slaughtering of black men in America and the glaring racial inequalities exposed by Covid-19 in South Africa.

One would think these factors are more than enough to prick the moral conscience of a government spearheaded by a former liberation movement, but the ANC appears intransigent and unmoved by material conditions of black people in the nation and the pandemic of racism which has been emboldened, rather than eradicated, under the democratic order.

One of the factors that have sparked anger and outrage at the anti-black establishment is how the last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, is paraded not only locally but internationally as a saint rather than a sinner. Outrage over this fantastical portraiture of a man who headed up a regime responsible for such inhumanity eventually led to the cancellation of his lecture to the prestigious American Bar Association.

It had to take a concerted objection by law academics and activists both in this country and America for De Klerk’s address to be cancelled.

The ANC government was mute. Several months ago it defended and protected the same apartheid leader in the House of Parliament.

Given De Klerk’s recalcitrant denial that apartheid was a crime against humanity, and his denial of the allegations of his involvement in atrocious crimes during apartheid, any association with him therefore serves as a legitimising instrument for him and the system or ideology that he represents.

Of huge significance here is the powerful message conveyed by the symbolism of De Klerk as the flagship of apartheid. This symbolism will be a perpetual symbol of political compromise to the ANC, who did not win liberty in 1994 but settled for a stillborn democracy. The centrality of De Klerk to the settlement has placed the ruling ANC in an unenviable position of having to defend him because he is a key component, if not one side, of the rainbow coin.

It is thus not surprising that the ANC was placed in an embarrassing situation of having to defend him earlier this year, during the State of the Nation Address parliamentary sitting.

Most importantly, this makes a mockery of the whole notion of the “miracle” nation, as it exposes the erratic steps and concessions that accompanied the formation of the so-called post-apartheid South Africa.

It makes a mockery of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in terms of which peace was prized over justice, exposes the vulgarity of a racially exclusive settlement of Orania, exposes the failure to repossess the land, and begs the question of why the apartheid Die Stem is in our national anthem. One cannot avoid questioning the logic of former president Nelson Mandela’s willingness to share the Nobel Peace Prize with De Klerk.

The joint Nobel Peace Prize also reminds us of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship, which is another example of how the ANC has legitimised or sanitised De Klerk, something which has emboldened him to take a dim view of the seriousness of the pain that his erstwhile government has inflicted on black people.

The genocidal colonial adventures of Cecil John Rhodes cannot be overemphasised. Yet the marriage and attachment of the Mandela name to these colonial and apartheid symbols is highly problematic.

Symbolically, how do we free Mandela (again) from the clutches or imprisonment of apartheid as signified by his bondage to De Klerk via the Nobel Prize, and how do we “decolonise” him from the Rhodes empire as signified by the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship?

This De Klerk matter, viewed in the context of the Black Lives Matter, should be seen as a huge opportunity to take stock, reflect and therefore free Mandela from this albatross. How so?

A proposition that may be explored is the return of the Nobel Peace Prize he shared with De Klerk, and dissolution of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.

* Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and a law academic.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Independent

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