Max du Preez
The old South African flag on the jacket of American race murderer/terrorist Dylann Roof has made a lot of white South Africans very uncomfortable.
He’s just a loony, some say. He doesn’t properly understand the meaning of the flag and the regime over which it flew, say others.
Well, perhaps he didn’t misunderstand completely. When a monster such as Roof associates with apartheid, we white South Africans should seriously think long and hard about it.
Most of us would today say yes, apartheid was wrong, and then we would add a “but”. We nod when some say most black people were better off under apartheid because the state functioned better then. Or we would agree with the last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, that the original motives behind apartheid were noble but that it went wrong later. We have a lot of “buts” when we talk about apartheid.
Some of us think that we got rid of the apartheid in our systems when we fell in love with Nelson Mandela.
An extremely violent ideology
No wonder most of our black compatriots are sceptical about whether we had really changed deep down.
No, apartheid didn’t aim to wipe out black South Africans. It is perhaps even true that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir had more of their people killed than was done under apartheid.
But that doesn’t change the fact that apartheid was an extremely violent ideology and state policy. It robbed millions of people over generations of their dignity; it tried to convince them and their children that they were inferior to whites; it destroyed their families and societal structures through forced removals, pass laws and migrant labour; it stole black people’s land and made sure they couldn’t take their rightful place in the economy. And when they protested, they were detained, tortured, sometimes killed.
In short: at the heart of apartheid was the belief that a black life was worth less than a white life. Dylann Roof believes that too.
If you think I’m overstating the case, please go read the files of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; not only the testimonies of victims and survivors, but the confessions of policemen applying for amnesty.
Let me remind you of something that happened 27 years ago – something that immediately came to my mind when I first heard of 21-year-old Roof’s mass murder and made me think that his identification with apartheid wasn’t so inappropriate after all.
Barend Hendrik Strijdom was 23 years old when he walked onto Strijdom Square in Pretoria on 15 November 1988 and killed seven black people as if they were stray dogs. A day earlier he had killed another black man as a “trial run”.
A year later Judge Louis Harms sentenced him to death eight times, saying: "There is no hope of rehabilitation for you. You have no remorse and you would happily repeat what you have done. Your crimes were barbaric, the consequences indescribable. It was premeditated and carried out without feeling. In the interests of the community, you should be removed. You remain a danger."
Strijdom only spent three years behind bars. In 1992 the De Klerk government swept Judge Harms’s words off the table, declared that Strijdom was a political prisoner and set him free.
After his release he told the newspaper Rapport: “I am not sorry. To have regrets would have implied I did something wrong. I did nothing wrong. If necessary, I would murder again. My action was not impulsive but fully planned ahead of time.”
In a bizarre and disturbing television interview Strijdom declared himself a “Boer freedom fighter”. He smiled when he walked with the journalist around Strijdom Square, pointing out where and how he had shot his victims, saying it made him “feel good”.
When the journalist asked him whether he would like to shoot the black people around them if he were handed a gun, Strijdom giggled and said “yes, definitely”. (Watch the interview here)
Strijdom is still active in right wing circles and has even written a book about his 1988 murders.
We would all be outraged if Dylann Roof were granted political prisoner status and allowed to go home.
White South Africans were not so outraged when their elected government released Barend Strijdom as apartheid’s political prisoner.
Makes one think, doesn’t it?
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