/ 19 November 2021

Let us not allow FW De Klerk’s death to tear us apart

Funeral Procession For Slain United Democratic Front Activists
A priest leads a funeral procession for four United Democratic Front activists from Queenstown who were abducted and murdered by the South African security police. Those slain included Matthew Goniwe and Sparrow Mkonto. One mourner carries a small ceremonial spear within his black power salute, symbolic of Umkonto Wa Sizwe, which means "spear of the nation". (Photo by Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images)

In his last days, FW De Klerk appears to have been poorly advised by those around him. His statement has disturbed the psyche of our nation. Instead of bringing closure, it has unleashed memories that are difficult to process. It required a monumental effort from many to stop apartheid. And it still requires a monumental effort to undo the damage.

When the news came of his death, the feelings were muted and there was a sense of a customary respect for the dead. He had died taking apartheid’s secrets with him. I expected there to be muted politeness with outbursts of anger here and there. Mandla Mandela set the tone when he sent sympathies to the family and tried his best to give emphasis to Madiba’s positive statements about the man.

Then up popped a video clip on our telephones that stripped bare the emotions. At first, I thought it was an old clip being shared in his memory. But then the content told another story. He was saying sorry for the hurt apartheid had caused. It provoked a feeling of deep sadness and then anger. Sadness as the mind immediately connected to all those who had suffered, those who had lost their lives. 

Steve Biko, the Cradock Four and others did not die because they took up guns and went to war. They died because they stood up for us to have the basic right to be human in our own country. My daughter’s father was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks because he was part of the Black Consciousness Movement that centrally asserted that we should free our minds and be proud of who we are.

Sadness but then anger that he did not tell us the truth about the crimes committed under his watch. Instead he sought to ease his mind with a blanket apology I assume in the hope that this would cast him in the light of a man of principle. Instead it has cast him in the light of a man of cowardice. This is not something that one would hope for any South African. 

His message leaves us with more questions than answers. Perhaps somewhere in the hidden crevices of the apartheid machinery, there remains a few people who have those answers and will come forward to explain the circumstances that led to the apartheid choice of consciously killing our leading minds.

 The country inherited amongst other things separate education departments, separate health departments and spatial living arrangements based on race. This is De Klerk’s and his party’s legacy. For him to preach to us about constitutionalism and the independence of the courts further adds strangeness to his last message. It may have made a difference if he disclosed the truth and then explained how he and those close to him were making efforts to repair the damage done. But instead it is once again an assertion of superiority, knowing better than everyone else.

It is time that we all face both our frailties and capabilities and understand that we have inherited a country crafted on the privilege of a few. If we are to break this pattern decisively, it is going to need putting aside our pride and lending a hand wherever we are. Let us not allow De Klerk’s death to tear us apart but instead focus on climbing the large mountain that lies on our path towards a fair and just South Africa.

Perhaps a start could be that our government engages the surviving families of apartheid crimes with greater kindness through open communication. Perhaps the FW De Klerk Foundation can demonstrate a greater humility in righting the wrongs of the past and bring forward those who can ease the hearts of families gripped with pain. It would be a marvellous moment for our country and in some way may allow De Klerk to truly rest in peace.

This article first appeared at www.zubeidajaffer.co.za