When Oscar Pistorius’s father Henke caused an international stir last week by commenting in the British media that Oscar needed guns because the ANC government was failing to protect white people, my younger brother Levy, an ANC diehard, nearly choked on his coffee.
He told me he felt as though a fierce fire was burning his reasoning capacity. He said he felt like he was a feverish ghost that had been released from the fires of hell.
When I asked him why he was so disturbed, he said it was because the ANC government had done everything it could to embrace white people, but that some whites such as Pistorius sr remained thankless.
This kind of ingratitude, he felt, was like spitting at the generosity of the democratic government.
To me, he is right. Henke’s statement really rattled many minds. The ANC government has always championed inclusivity as well as the triumph of civilised human values over barbarism. And it has long proven that it is not racist but the epitome of democracy.
Since its inception in 1994, it has been a living symbol of a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa. It’s only fair to acknowledge that the challenge of crime affects all people equally – black and white, rich and poor. Just this past Saturday a family of six members was gunned down with AK47 rifles in KwaZulu-Natal.
So Henke’s statement is inaccurate and it has surely joined other racist expressions that constitute an embarrassment to progressive humanity the world over.
I think what is important is for all of us to accept the fact that the old man is a product of his time – a victim of the propaganda of the bastion of white power who cannot be rehabilitated by history or by anyone in any way. And condemning him publicly is like kicking a granite rock with your bare foot. He is merely a leopard that is showing its spots.
And he is surely not alone in this kind of bigoted thinking. Numerous years of racist propaganda have caused irreparable damage to some white people in this country.
After the dawn of democracy they did not change as some would have us believe, but were driven underground by the emergence of the new political paradigm.
So it should be expected that we will occasionally witness sporadic outbursts of racial prejudice because the apartheid generation is still with us.
To illustrate this point, on February 6, 1986, the then-National Party political gladiator, poet and prophet Pik Botha, the former minister of Foreign Affairs, held a press conference in Joburg.
It was at that conference that Thomas Knemeyer, a foreign correspondent for several German newspapers and the Miami Herald, asked Botha if he would be prepared to serve under a black president.
Botha’s answer was: “As long as we can agree in a suitable way on the protection of minority rights, in terms of the structures to be jointly agreed upon, it could possibly become unavoidable that in future you might have black presidents of this country.”
This expression was Botha’s concession that South Africa would one day have a black president. That was a well-timed ambush on the psychology of the white establishment of that time. That day at midday, The Argus newspaper carried the screaming headline: “SA could have a black president – Pik Botha.”
The uproar that erupted from the white establishment was deafening. Instead of thanking Botha for highlighting what was coming their way and preparing themselves psychologically, they went for his skin. A special parliamentary sitting was organised where a decision was to be taken on Botha’s political future.
And in that sitting, Botha was roasted like a Sunday chicken by the lily-white cabinet.
Dr Ferdi Hartzenberg of the Conservative Party tore into him. When the then-president of the country, PW Botha, opened his mouth on the issue, his words were daggers that were also aimed at the prophetic Botha.
He said: “The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs gave his personal opinion on what could happen if, in future negotiations, an agreement was reached on structures and a state president to a foreign journalist and subsequently in an interview with Die Burger.
“I have informed the Honourable Minister that in my view he expressed an opinion on matters about which the government and the National Party did not hold such standpoints.”
Fortunately Botha, a man of phenomenal political acumen, stuck to his guns and was not fired. But time held an ace for his revenge when Nelson Mandela became president in 1994. And all those who had stood against Botha for his prophesy ended up with egg on their faces. Those who had attacked him for his prophesy went into hibernation instead of congratulating him for being a true prophet.
They became politically destitute because of their historical irrelevance. They had blamed and verbally attacked Botha because they were blind to the fact that his words were an answer to the call of the times.
And having underestimated the power of change, PW Botha exited the political scene.
History will perpetually tell that the ANC government’s devotion to justice and non-racialism has always been embedded in the fibre of its being. History will tell that, through freedom and democracy, this ANC government has brought about a vibrant celebration of humanity in this country.
It will tell that the ANC government has revealed South Africans to themselves.
Yes, it will tell that the formation of this government was the golden moment of South Africa’s plural political realism. It is true that this country has an inglorious past which is still influencing how some of us think – but fortunately for all nations, unlike living organisms, there is life after death..
* Abe Mokoena is an independent commentator based in Polokwane.
The Star Africa