Guest Column

Max Du Preez 'sanitises history'

2016-01-27 09:12

Moloto Mothapo, ANC Parliamentary Spokesperson

I respect columnist and veteran journalists Max Du Preez. He possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of South Africa’s political history and he is not shy to regularly proffer historical lessons to the rest of nation through his columns. The only problem, however, is that he seems to have this irrepressible propensity to sanitise history when it doesn’t suit his preconceptions. This is the problem particularly with old hands at news commentary; they often become prisoners of their own personal prejudices, thereby veer towards dishonesty or sanitisation.

His latest column, ANC’s election strategy 'reckless', reminds one of veteran American columnist and author Eric Alterman’s lamentation regarding columnists’ inability at times to resist “self-satisfaction and plain old burnout”. Only a negligible number of pundits, observes Alterman, manage to pull off the simultaneous feats of intellect, reporting and integrity required to write an honest analytical column about the panoply of issue facing the nation. Could it be that our Du Preez is confronted with similar strain? His column seems to bear all the hallmarks of a burned out columnist Alterman warned about.

Du Preez’s contribution to the crucial ongoing debate on racism in the country is forked-tongued, replete with contradictions and thus difficult to comprehend its very purpose. What is clear though, is that Du Preez disapproves of the ANC Parliamentary Caucus’s characterisation of Paul Kruger, former colonial ruler of the Transvaal Republic, as ruthless and bloodthirsty colonial era racist ruler who presided over the mass killings, torture, harassment, and cruel destruction of the Black people.

Du Preez also does not like that we referred to Kruger as an apartheid pioneer who led the enslavement, dispossession, economic deprivation and subjugation of Black people. He particularly takes exception at our portrayal of his hero as a “killing machine that carried out brutal attacks on various African tribes and condemned Black people to death in the Anglo Boer wars, whose purpose was to preserve the racial subjugation, slavery and colonial looting of resources.”

Du Preez calls all these historical facts “just a dirty propaganda trick” and vehemently denies that Black people were used as pawns by both sides of the Anglo Boer war. He argues that “black South Africans did get caught up in it (Anglo Boer war) and suffered greatly, but they weren’t the reason for the war”. The war, he says, was not about Black people but over the discovered gold. One is not sure whether Du Preez is ignorant or simply dishonest. However, what is clear from his flagrant sanitisation of history is that he has a scant regard for the pain caused to Black people by both the Boer and British colonialists for over 350 years.

The Boers and the British, apart from dispossessing Black people of their land and raiding their livestock, fought over their mineral resources, condemning them to further economic deprivation, impoverishment and subjugation. Even worse, Black people were violently forced to participate on both sides of the war which, far from benefiting them, further aggravated their conditions and treatment as subhuman and outsiders in the land of their birth. The late Eskia Mphahlele wrote of his grandmother’s stories of the Anglo Boer war, in which Black people were buried alive and women’s breasts cut while alive if the Boers suspected them of spying for the British. Because Du Preez has never stumbled across this historical detail or deliberately chose to ignore it, he dismisses it as pure “nonsense”. Such ice cold indifference for the great suffering of Black people is just revolting.

Du Preez accuses me personally of engaging in a Goebbels-like propaganda to “classify Kruger as a Eugene TerreBlanche type figure”. TerreBlanche was a killer and an unrepentant racist to the end, but he would be a small-time township tsotsi compared to Kruger. This might hurt Du Preez’s feelings once again, but Kruger (I repeat) was a heartless monster and a mass killing machine that carried out brutal attacks against various African tribes who dared resist the looting of their livestock, theft of their land and capturing of women and children for slavery.

Amongst numerous deadly raids Kruger participated in was the cruel extermination of over 2000 Africans belonging to the chieftaincy of Chief Makapan in 1854. The Boer Commando drove the villagers into a cave and guarded the mouth of the cave so that anyone who tried to escape was shot. The Africans were forced to hide in the cave for months until they finally died a slow and excruciating death due to starvation and dehydration. Those who tried to escape were shot. Kruger would later proudly write in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Paul Kruger: “It was absolutely necessary to shoot these cannibals, especially as none of the culprits were delivered up and the chief (Makapan) had disappeared”. Only a coldblooded thug can do such to a fellow human being.

But this is not surprising as Kruger didn’t regard Black people as  humans, but as uncivilised "savages who must be kept within bounds"’. In terms of his supremacist philosophy “South Africa has room for only one form of civilization, and that is the white man’s civilisation; and, where there was (sic) only a handful of white men to keep hundreds of thousands of Black natives in order, severity was essential.” The black man, he said, had to be taught that he came second, that he belonged to an inferior class which must obey and learn.

Du Preez dismisses all these irrefutable historical facts, some of which are gleaned from Kruger’s own Memoirs, yet nowhere in his column does he provide his own account of history to counter ours. Like a typical latter-day colonial and apartheid apologists, he instead engrosses himself in an orgy of inconsistency and illogicality, repeatedly stating “I don’t glorify Kruger, (but)…”; “what he and his contemporaries did to local communities caused great harm, (but)…”

At the end, one cannot help but sense from the column the effects “self-satisfaction and plain old burnout” that Alterman warned about.

The likes of Du Preez and DA’s Anchen Dryer would wish that we fall for their sanitised history and ignore their hero’s atrocities and destruction of Black lives.  We are not gullible. Those who shamelessly justify, defend or sanitise such monstrous colonial and apartheid rulers essentially promote and celebrate acts of criminality they committed against Black people.

Du Preez would be well-advised, both as a columnist and a citizen of our democratic land, to free himself from the prison of his narrow racial prejudices.

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.


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