Last night at the opening of SONA, FW de Klerk, former President and Nobel Peace Laureate, and his wife Elita had to endure wave after wave of vitriolic attacks by Julius Malema and EFF members of Parliament, clad in their trademark red boiler suits. They claimed that his hands were dripping “with blood”, including the blood of those who had been slaughtered at Boipatong. Worst of all, FW de Klerk had denied - in a TV interview the previous week - that apartheid was “a crime against humanity.” Their demands that he should be removed from the chamber were rejected by the Speaker, Thandi Modise. De Klerk - who will turn 84 next month - sat impassively in the public gallery as he watched the spectacle below.
De Klerk has repeatedly acknowledged the grave injustices committed under apartheid and has sincerely apologised on a number of occasions to those who suffered under previous governments. These were more than empty words: he dedicated his entire presidency to the abolition of apartheid and the negotiation of a new Constitution that would entrench the rights of all South Africans regardless of race. He oversaw the process that culminated in the repeal of all the remaining apartheid laws.
But was apartheid a crime against humanity?
First we have to look at the origins of the charge: In November 1966 the UN General Assembly declared apartheid to be a crime against humanity - and in 1973 it adopted the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
Both the Resolution and the Convention were political initiatives of the Soviet Union - which had itself committed atrocious crimes against humanity that involved the killing of millions of people. In 1976, when the Convention came into force, 23 of the 31 signatories were, according to Freedom House in New York, “not free”. Six were partly free - and only two were free. Ironically, South Africa was classified as “partly free” - and had a better human rights score than 27 of the signatories.
The 109 states that subsequently joined the Convention included none of the core democracies. According to the United States delegate:
“Deplorable as it is, we cannot, from a legal point of view, accept that apartheid can in this manner be made a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity are so grave in nature that they must be meticulously elaborated and strictly construed under existing international law...”
The idea that apartheid was ‘a crime against humanity’ was, and remains, an ‘agitprop’ project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatise white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity - which have generally included totalitarian repression and the slaughter of millions of people.
By contrast, some 23 000 people died in South Africa’s political violence between 1960 and 1994 - of whom fewer than 5 000 were killed by the security forces. Most of the rest of the deaths occurred in the conflict between the IFP and the ANC. In Kenya, the British interned more than 320 000 people during the Mau-Mau uprising and hanged more than a thousand Mau-Mau members. In Algeria, the French killed more than 140 000 people in a war that claimed some 700 000 lives.
None of this is meant to whitewash the injustices that were undoubtedly committed under apartheid. However, we need a balanced understanding of the past - not one based on a simplistic black/white, good/evil framework - but on a framework that reflects the infinite shades of grey that actually characterise history.
John Allen, a close associate of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, acknowledges in his book “Rabble Rouser for Peace” that “no evidence was ever forthcoming (at the TRC) implicating De Klerk in violence.” This was despite the fact that Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) clearly had an agenda 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.”
As for Boipatong, the TRC’s amnesty committee found in November 2000 that the IFP supporters who perpetrated the Boipatong killings in June 1992 had acted alone.
It is ironic that Julius Malema who launched the vitriolic attack on De Klerk, threatened to commit a real crime against humanity when he said on 7 November 2016 that “We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people - at least not now.”
In a way, an attack by Julius Malema and the EFF, is the sincerest form of compliment. We have seen his kind before: those who wear colour-coded uniforms; who use bully boy tactics to disrupt democratic processes; who whip up race hatred and call their leaders “Führer, or Duce, or Commander in Chief”. The words of a WB Yeats, (whom Malema would not doubt regard as a ‘colonialist’), came to mind while watching the EFF debacle in Parliament:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
14 February 2020