FW De Klerk road rage: A sophisticated Steve Hofmeyr

2015-01-18 15:00

The crux of the debate about the renaming of a road in Cape Town after FW de Klerk is the question of whether the former president should be honoured at all.

It is about whether South Africans should forget the bad that he did and just remember the fact that he freed Nelson Mandela and set the country on the path to democracy. The question is whether we should regard him as a great South African and celebrate him as such.

In essence, it is about whether we should develop amnesia about the real FW de Klerk and his role in our dark past. This amnesia trap is one into which we have so easily fallen in the past two decades as we got drunk on the wine of reconciliation and nation-building.

What we should not forget is that while there were admittedly no angels in the conflict of our past, there was a good side and a bad side. On the good side were the liberation movements, the religious community and broader civil society who sought to remove apartheid. On the bad side were the National Party (NP) and its Bantustan surrogates – one of whom is still politically active and who also wants to rewrite history – which sought to prolong the apartheid system.

Apartheid was a system that De Klerk served loyally for most of his adult life. His rise through the ranks of the NP was due to his skills, his political acumen and, very importantly, his enthusiasm for his party’s apartheid policies. He energetically supported and implemented them in various capacities as party executive, MP and senior member of the John Vorster and PW Botha cabinets.

Are we now to forget that at the height of apartheid, he was the chief enforcer of separate and unequal education? Are we supposed to forget his assaults on academic freedom at universities in the form of the 1980s “De Klerk bills”? Are we to forget that he served in cabinets that oversaw cruel repression of anti-apartheid formations, a cabinet that presided over death squads and torture chambers?

We are told that his February 1990 speech paved the way for change and he negotiated the National Party out of power. That it was Mandela and him who led us across the River Jordan.

This view ignores the fact it was during the early 1990s that his security forces ran the so-called Third Force that fanned the flames of violence in the black townships and villages.

It was on his watch that people were butchered on trains and massacred in places like Boipatong, Sebokeng and Edendale.

The post-1994 De Klerk has been a consistent anti-transformation voice, using every opportunity to excoriate the necessary restitutive actions of the government.

Instead of leading his former constituency – which still holds him in high regard – into the common South African future, he has been sounding like a sophisticated Steve Hofmeyr. He has opted to be a spokesperson for a section of the population rather than the elder statesman that his apologists tell us he is.

De Klerk has already been erroneously rewarded by the Nobel committee, which gave him the peace prize alongside Mandela in 1993. He does not deserve any honours in a free South Africa. To honour him would be an endorsement of the evils he took part in as one of apartheid’s leading lights.

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