Cemoné, I can only hope one day you understand

2013-11-03 14:00

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Dear Cemoné,

I cannot understand the pain you and your sisters, Sonja and Lorraine, are experiencing right now.

It can’t be easy for any child with a parent in jail. Particularly if your father had been the “strategist” and “military leader” of the Boeremag.

For us, your father is a criminal – someone whose actions could have destroyed South Africa’s young and fragile democracy in one fell swoop.

You simply call him “pa Mike”.

Tuesday’s photo of you and your dad in Beeld touched me deeply.

The love between you is visible. Your face glowed – it appeared as if you were telling him about something interesting that had happened to you. Possibly about your recent netball match or a good book you read in the library?

He holds a pink gift bag in his hand. It’s a pretty bag in pastel pink with blue polka dots.

The caption tells us the parcel contained an iPod your dad bought you for your birthday. You turned 11 yesterday. When your dad is released from jail, you will be 31.

Mike du Toit, convicted leader of right-wing group Boeremag, gives his daughter Cemoné a gift for her 11th birthday before going to prison. Picture: Theana Breugem/Foto24

It is a beautiful photo of the two of you. It could just as well have been taken in a shopping centre or at home.

You probably don’t have many photos like this. I read you were only six months old when he was arrested in 2002.

It must have been terrible growing up without your dad.

I wonder whether you visit him in jail over weekends and what you talkabout. I wonder whether you asked him why he was in jail, and what his answer was. I wonder whether you talked about Nelson Mandela. And Mary Mokone.

I’m sure your mother, Ester, has been through hell over the past 11 years. I’m sure she is a good mother and a strong woman.

I read in the paper she says your father Mike “did nothing wrong”.

Maybe you are still too young to understand. Or maybe you aren’t.

I hope you discover the truth for yourself one day and that you find peace.

I don’t know which school you go to, Cemoné, but I believe you have read and learnt about South Africa’s history by now. And about Mandela.

You are part of the born-free generation, as the media and marketing world refers to children born after 1994.

You are supposed to be free of the baggage of the past. But all of us in this nation carry the heavy baggage of the past 300-plus years.

The Afrikaners, the cultural group you and I belong to, have been both victim and perpetrator in South Africa’s sad story.

You have probably read about the Anglo-Boer War in your history textbooks. Of how thousands of Boer women and children died in British concentration camps in a fight for freedom.

And about apartheid, the dreadful system that judged people by the colour of their skin.

You won’t remember, but do you know there was a time in South Africa’s history when black and white people had to form separate queues at the post office?

And that some beaches were reserved for whites only? And that black people had to carry passbooks when they walked in the streets, or risk being arrested? That was an inhumane system, Cemoné.

In 1990, our nation was on the brink of a civil war between black and white people. You’ve probably seen some war movies on TV.

War is not nice. It is a terrible thing. People die and families are ripped apart.

Fortunately, we had someone called Mandela. He was the leader of the ANC, a movement that promoted the rights of black people who had been oppressed by apartheid.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail because he fought for the liberation of black people: basic rights such as a good education, housing and clean water.

When he was finally released from jail in 1990, Mandela did not take revenge on a white regime that had oppressed him and his people for many years.

He did not take white people’s homes and jobs, or chase them into the sea.

No, he asked for peace.

And in 1994, all of South Africa’s people, white and black, could for the first time vote in an election to choose the nation’s leaders.

Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first democratic president.

During his inaugural speech, he said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.” He also said: “Let us forget the past, what is over, is over.”

I wish you peace and freedom, Cemoné. I wish you could truly live a free life in this sorrowful land, free from the shackles of the past and free from the shackles of your father. You deserve to know what really happened here.

Happy belated birthday. I hope you listen to beautiful songs on the iPod your dad gave you.

Best wishes,

Adriaan

» Basson is editor of Beeld

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