Ernst Roets says we need to weed out double standards from our discussions of past and present
Flip Buys recently wrote that Afrikaners need to take a stronger stand against the criminalisation of their history. Of course, this is a taboo subject and any person who dares to contextualise apartheid, receives the label of racist.
Part of the problem is that some Afrikaners try to place the history in context by arguing that their ancestors were flawless, or that biological differences between races were the motivation for apartheid – a theory that H.F. Verwoerd rejected. This approach is counterproductive. It alienates listeners and only deepens the hostility towards attempts to broach the subject.
Buys’ article is hopefully the start of a greater debate about how to deal with our history. AfriForum Youth in the last year has driven a campaign to address the double standards that currently prevail in South Africa. I recently listed a series of examples of modern-day double standards at universities. The words “just imagine if it was the other way around” are mentioned more frequently between young Afrikaners when a black person says something racist without experiencing any consequences. Incitement on social media is a very good example of this.
This probably arises from the fact that history is also viewed with double standards. The Black Sash leader, Jill Wentzel, already complained in 1995 in her book, The Liberal Slideaway, that liberals cannot hold a balanced view on something like apartheid. This phenomenon she called the “twenty-to-two rule”.
In short, it means that liberal people like herself were aware of the atrocities committed by the ANC, but they were afraid of being disparaged as racists should they take a stand against these crimes. Consequently, people first uttered 20 statements about the cruelty of apartheid before uttering two lines on the ANC’s atrocities. “It was like saying grace before a meal,” Wentzel said. You were not allowed to say anything negative about the ANC before you firstly raged against apartheid.
Buys refers to the alleged number that 76 people, between 1960 and 1991, died whilst in police custody. The number is debatable for several reasons, but still needs to be condemned. It should have been zero. What is less frequently mentioned however, is that between 1984 and 1992 more than 1 200 people were burnt to death and more than half of them by the so-called “necklace” method. ANC sympathetic activists committed the majority of these murders and contrary to popular belief, there is proof that various ANC leaders encouraged this method of struggle.
Today, people who have nothing to do with apartheid are presented and condemned as “apartheid figures”. At the same time, a despicable figure such as Andrew Zondo, to name one example, is a hero in the ANC’s eyes. The only thing Zondo did was to plant a bomb in a shopping mall in Amanzimtoti. In doing so, he killed five innocent people (three women and two children) and injured approximately 40 others.
Hector Pieterson, shot dead at the age of 13 during the Soweto riots, is a national symbol. However, someone like Nasie van Eck’s name is forgotten. Nasie was three years old when he was killed alongside his mother and sister when their bakkie detonated a landmine near Messina. The ANC accepted responsibility for the murders.
The torture of ANC activists by the apartheid police’s Vlakplaas unit, is mourned and condemned worldwide. At the same time, a dark cloud hangs over the secrecy of prisoner tortures that took place during the 1970’s and 1980’s in the ANC’s own camps. When former president Nelson Mandela proposed to set up a commission of inquiry into these atrocities, Chris Hani and Jacob Zuma, both involved at these camps, strongly advised him not to do so.
Clive Derby Lewis, who was involved in the murder of Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party, is still in prison and his medical parole has been refused time after time. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) refused Lewis amnesty. On the other hand, Bassie Mkhumbuzi, Gcinikhaya Makoma and Tobela Mlambisa received amnesty by the TRC. They were involved in a mass murder at the St. James Church in Cape Town. During their TRC hearing, they testified that the party they were members of, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), considered all white people as legitimate targets. Therefore, the 11 innocent churchgoers that they murdered, in their opinion, were also political targets.
These double standards still have a strong hold today, thanks to the media. A senior journalist commented that AfriForum’s statement about Andrew Zondo was “insulting” and “extremist” and an African correspondent at an international media company telephonically told me that there is still a reason to honour a mass murderer like Zondo, even though he exclusively went for soft targets, because “at least he fought against apartheid”.
Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell) said that the most effective way to annihilate a people is to destroy their understanding of the past. We are currently living in an era of constant deceit. This arises from a misconception about the past of which not enough is spoken about. “In times of deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” Blair said.
Maybe the time has come to dump the “twenty-to-two rule” in the dustbin. What this country needs, is less deception and more truth, and that includes the history as well.
Ernst Roets is Deputy CEO at AfriForum. He can be followed on Twitter at @ernstroets