Guest Column

Bell, De Klerk and the Manichean view of history

2017-05-11 08:24
FW de Klerk in Dublin giving his acceptance speech for the Praeses Elit award. (Anna Moran, The University Times)

FW de Klerk in Dublin giving his acceptance speech for the Praeses Elit award. (Anna Moran, The University Times)

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Dave Steward

In his recent column, Terry Bell writes with understandable feeling about the tragic event in December 1993 when five young men were killed by the SADF in a raid on a supposed APLA base in Mthatha. Bell blames FW de Klerk for having ordered the raid and claims that “the security establishment, using fabricated evidence,” maintained “the fiction that the illegal cross-border raid had been justified”.

Bell decries the fact that only a week later De Klerk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He refers to Holomisa’s call on all foreign governments at the time to desist from granting any awards to De Klerk. He also quotes Holomisa as saying “Too much has been swept under the carpet of reconciliation”.

Unfortunately, Bell failed to provide his readers with the context in which the raid took place. In its report of 15 March 1993 into APLA’s role in continuing violence, the Goldstone Commission found that APLA attacks in Queenstown and Cape Town had resulted in the deaths of 16 white South Africans - most of them civilians. The Commission reported that APLA had mounted its attacks from bases in Transkei with the full knowledge and support of Holomisa’s government.

Holomisa’s response was to attack the Goldstone Commission and to warn the South African Government that it should station men in every white home in Transkei to protect them from “the possible revenge of the people”.

On 1 April 1993, De Klerk had a meeting with Holomisa in Cape Town at which he insisted that he should cease his support for APLA immediately. There could be no justification for such terrorist attacks because at that very time the Multiparty Negotiating Forum was in the process of negotiating a new non-racial interim constitution for South Africa.

The South African government used all the peaceful means at its disposal to try to persuade Holomisa to end his support for APLA - including a blockade of the roads leading into Transkei - but to no avail.

APLA continued with its terrorist attacks -  the worst of which occurred on 25 July 1993 when it killed 11 worshippers - and wounded 58 others - at St James Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town.

At the beginning of October the SADF informed De Klerk and his security ministers that they had located a house in Mthatha that was being used as a weapons depot and refuge by APLA. They warned De Klerk that the base would certainly be used for future terrorist attacks by APLA. The information was corroborated by both the SAP and the SADF after several days of surveillance.

De Klerk was satisfied that the government had exhausted all the peaceful means at its disposal to persuade Holomisa to cease his support for APLA. He accordingly authorised the SADF to attack the house but instructed them to use minimum force. In the event, the SADF stormed into the house early in the morning and killed everyone in it because, as they later explained, they thought the occupants were reaching for their weapons. 

De Klerk was furious over the botched attack and the failure of the SADF to carry out his instructions. He deeply regretted the incident and later in the Government of National Unity supported the ample settlement of the ensuing civil damages. However, any responsible leader confronted with the corroborated information presented to him by the security forces would have taken the same decision.

Bell then goes on to question De Klerk’s recent statement that the TRC had absolved him of any wrong doing by quoting from the section of its report that had been blacked out after De Klerk had successfully challenged the TRC’s findings in court. The TRC agreed to black them out - not as Bell suggests - to facilitate the launch of the report - but because the findings could not stand up to judicial scrutiny.  

The TRC’s attitude to De Klerk was accurately described by John Allen - who was closely associated with Archbishop Tutu and the TRC process - in his book, Rabble Rouser. He confirmed that there was an agenda in the TRC to incriminate De Klerk. He writes of the TRC’s “frustration” at its failure to “pin responsibility for violations of human rights” on De Klerk and acknowledges “the embarrassing weakness” of its finding against him. He also acknowledges that “no evidence was ever forthcoming implicating De Klerk in violence.” 

The question is why Bell - and others - are so obsessed with doing all they can to destroy De Klerk’s reputation? It might perhaps result from the current Manichean analysis of South African history in terms of which everything and everyone from the past were irredeemably evil, while those who were on the side of the struggle were more or less good. The idea that a leader from the past could possibly have acted in good faith in seeking a peaceful and negotiated solution to the problems of the country - just does not fit in with their world view.

- Dave Steward is Chairman of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    fw de klerk  |  apartheid
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