We dare not forget, we dare not trivialise the suffering under apartheid

If ever there was a time to pass a law criminalising apartheid denialism, it’s now. It shouldn’t be that hard to do if the groundswell of disgust – cutting across class, creed and colour – is anything to go by after FW de Klerk’s utterances in the 30th anniversary interview marking his freeing of Nelson Mandela.

This week, De Klerk unequivocally and unconditionally retracted his statement that apartheid wasn’t a crime against humanity. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but he won’t be praised for it or acknowledged for that anymore than his role in helping set this country on a path to democracy with Nelson Mandela will be.

In fact, the nation’s saint and founding father, the late great Madiba himself has found his own legacy under increasing revision by people who should know better and those who don’t know at all – but do have opinions.  That unfortunately is the state that we find ourselves in. We now live in a post truth era, where opinions particularly outlandish ones, trump (pun intended) facts if they are repeated often and stridently enough until the voices of reason are drowned out.

Apartheid was a crime against humanity. It is not measured solely by the body bags of Sharpeville, Soweto, Boipatong or all the others, but because of the fact it dehumanised millions of South Africans across generations for the benefit of a minority, aided and abetted by the many collaborators within and without the Bantustans.

As memories dim – or never existed – there’s a tendency to revise history especially as pressure mounts to distract rather than debate current crises. Last Thursday night, the EFF pulled a masterstroke at the very moment President Cyril Ramaphosa was trying to do just that, because the wonderful distraction of putting the boot into an old – and wholly irrelevant – man is far more alluring than actually putting real solutions on the table for discussion.

Dali Mpofu wants to launch a bid to have de Klerk stripped of the Nobel prize De Klerk won with Madiba, glossing over the fact that while the two of them were trying to chart a way from apartheid to democracy, Mpofu’s most public contribution was to break up Mandela’s marriage to Winnie. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi wants Mangosuthu Buthelezi to get the Nobel prize instead, airbrushing the carnage in the Vaal townships and the killing fields of KZN.

If apartheid denialism was criminalised, we wouldn’t have to stomach the Opportunist-in-Chief Julius Malema, in the off phase of his on-off-on sycophancy towards Jacob Zuma infamously railing that black South Africans had it better under apartheid. We dare not forget, we dare not trivialise the suffering or sanitise it, not just because it’s cravenly wrong, but because if we do forget we allow the oppression to happen again – this time with new oppressors.

We worry about children not being able to read for meaning, but we are busy creating a society so confused and so gullible that it could actually believe Tchaikovsky wrote Swan Lake after being inspired by Barbie’s Swan Princess.

Just look at Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Originally published on 22 February 2020 in the Saturday Star