Editorial: Dealing with the sins of yesteryear

The sincerity with which the Economic Freedom Fighters confront real political and social problems is sometimes questionable, such as when they created their disruption at the State of the Nation address in questioning the presence of apartheid’s last president, FW de Klerk, at the proceedings. What the red overalls have done, albeit inadvertently, is remind South Africans that there was a terrible crime against humanity that was committed not so long ago called apartheid. That we should need reminding seems ridiculous. But here we are.

In recent months there has been a growing frustration with the snail’s pace of the National Prosecuting Authority in bringing the perpetrators of state capture to book. Most recently, a motion has been brought to ensure the Zondo commission does not skip over the role white-collar criminals — corporate entities like Bain Capital, KPMG and Deloitte — played in bringing so many state-owned entities to their knees. Considering the scale of the looting, even the recent extension sought by the commission is unlikely to offer enough time to finish its critical work.

And although we should rightly be frustrated with authorities, this week has served to remind us of the failure to effectively deal with a much more heinous crime that involved every aspect of life in this country — apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to be a start to the reckoning and the healing, but for this government it conveniently became an end unto itself. Attempts to hold to account many of those people who were instrumental in perpetrating this crime against humanity largely came to naught: first in South Africa and again, more recently, in United States courts. On numerous occasions it has been this ANC-led government that has scuppered attempts at retribution. It was former minister of justice Penuell Maduna who made representations in the US courts opposing action against apartheid criminals, arguing that this was the ambit of the South African government.

In the 1970s and ’80s some principled businesses withdrew from South Africa in protest at the racist laws of the country. Others stayed, while others even went further to directly play a role in financing the illegitimate apartheid government. For those principled businesses, they have had to restart their operations from scratch, taking on competitors that have cemented their positions in their respective markets. And for many South Africans, especially black South Africans, it is as if they are being told to take all those decades of subjugation, humiliation, terror and pain and bury it deep, deep, down.

Life moves at a heady pace in South Africa and with it the march of history. In dealing with the sins of yesterday we must realise that we have to also deal with the sins of yesteryear.

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