There is only one word for the present ANC policy to cynically abuse race and racism as an election strategy: reckless.
I don’t do this lightly, but I do think it is appropriate to remind readers of the cockroach strategy of dehumanising a whole population group that we saw unfold in Rwanda in 1994.
The rhetoric is getting more extreme and threatening every week. One day soon a spark in the right environment could ignite something really dangerous.
Wild, irresponsible posts on social media by unstable hotheads are one thing. I’m talking about the behaviour of senior figures of the ruling party – and some other politicians, for that matter.
And right in the middle of this storm the Afrikaner interest group AfriForum launched a crude anti-ANC propaganda film called Tainted Heroes that chose to ignore a large part of the truth behind the violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s: the apartheid state’s role in fomenting the violence between the IFP and ANC/UDF and the sinister role of its Third Force. The facts are readily available: the Goldstone Commission Report, the TRC reports, the Trust Feed, KwaMakutha and other court cases, Eugene de Kock’s confessions, etcetera.
It’s as if AfriForum wanted to tell its supporters: see how barbaric blacks are.
This is equally reckless.
How do we save a nation with such opportunists?
Many whites don’t want to hear this, but there’s no use sweetening this pill: white racist attitudes are not only morally wrong, they’re threatening our stability.
Sure, bad governance, weak management of the economy and corruption are also threats, but it’s simply stupid and dishonest to say these are the reasons for racism, or that these issues are more important than racism and we should just get on with it. Racism must be fought hard and culprits criminalised.
But there can be no denying that our battle against racism is being seriously undermined by parties using it for party political gain.
The ANC leadership is using its Youth League and some of its apparatchiks, like parliamentary spokesperson Maloto Mothapo, to do its dirty work.
The Youth League’s latest lunacy is that “white supremacists” are behind the student protests to prove that blacks can’t govern.
Another example is the violent removal of the Zuma Must Fall Banner from a Cape Town building and the charge by local ANC leaders that the banner was a white declaration of war on blacks.
Now the DA-MP who had her picture taken next to a cutout of former Transvaal Republic president Paul Kruger (he died 115 years ago) is, according to Mothapo, a nasty racist and apologist for apartheid and her party a “sanctuary of hard-core racists”.
At some point in his political education Mothapo must have read some Goebbels, the Nazis’s chief propagandist. “Kruger was a ruthless and bloodthirsty colonial era racist ruler who presided over the mass killings, torture, harassment, and cruel destruction of Black communities”, he says. “Kruger was 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.”
Really, Moloto? Have you ever wondered why it was called the Anglo Boer war? Not an inkling in your mind that this was the British Empire waging war on the tiny, impoverished Boer republic because of the discovery of gold? Yes, black South Africans did get caught up in it and suffered greatly, but they weren’t the reason for the war.
There’s more: “He buried alive Black people that he suspected of spying or fighting on the side of the British and cut women's breasts while they were still alive. He was a heartless monster.” Now I can’t personally testify that this never happened because I wasn’t there, but I must have read pretty much the vast majority of publications on his life and on the Boer War and never came across this. More Goebbels, if you ask me.
My interactions with Mothapo tell me that he’s quite a sharp guy. Could it be possible that he’s so badly informed about history, or was this just a dirty propaganda trick? The problem is that many others, including some I always thought were vaguely progressive, swallowed Mothapo’s nonsense and now classify Kruger as a Eugene TerreBlanche type figure.
Someone should try and explain to these people that South Africa went through a process of state and nation building during the 19th century and that, like happened in the rest of the world, it often involved violence and the subjugation of other groups.
I’m referring to Shaka who established the Zulu as a group, Mzilikazi the Ndebele, Sekwati the Pedi, Sobhuza the Swazi, Moshoeshoe the Sotho and so on.
I have personally written a lot about, and hero-worshipped, Mantatisi of the Tlokwa, mother of Sekonyela – the navy has named one of its submarines after her. What made her famous was that she succeeded in leading her clan away from attackers, the first being Mapangazitha’s Hlubi, who were in turn fleeing from Matiwane’s Ngwane, and that she succeeded in killing many of her opponents.
Paul Kruger, tribal leader of the Boers (Afrikaners outside the Cape) should be seen as part of these processes.
Sure, the case of Kruger and the Boers of the Transvaal and Free State is a little different in that they had distant European ancestors, but they did regard themselves as from this soil. Unless, of course, one chooses to see them (and their descendants) as unwelcome immigrants who didn’t belong anywhere in Africa. (Perhaps this is the real issue…)
The much-admired Founding Fathers of the United States George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were all slave owners who had cruelly robbed the Native Americans of their land. When Kruger was president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, Teddy Roosevelt was president of the US. While he was president, he famously declared: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians [referring to Native Americans] are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
Kruger’s Australian counterpart was Edmund Burton, the man responsible for the White Australia Policy who had once declared: “The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.” Mahatma Gandhi, who was in South Africa during Kruger’s presidency, commonly called black South Africans the k-word. These people were all, according to today’s sensibilities, nasty racists. As an Afrikaner I don’t glorify Paul Kruger. I recognise that what he and his contemporaries did to local communities caused great harm, some which is still felt today.
At the same time I accept that he was a crucial figure in my ethnic group’s past and a man of his time and circumstance. Leave him be, please.
We really should be more nuanced when we deal with our past.
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.
'I did not justify anything Kruger did' - Max du Preez
Max du Preez
“We South Africans have hugely underestimated the real impact and legacy of colonialism and apartheid. …Think of the enormous dispossession of land and its ramifications, culminating in the 1913 Natives Land Act. Think of the devastating consequences to families and communities of the migrant labour system. Think of the trauma of forced removals; the humiliation of pass laws; the psychological damage inflicted by treating generations of black South Africans as humans of lesser worth and capability; Bantu education; the ‘Whites Only’ signs in public amenities; police brutality; the torture and killing of anti-apartheid activists; and the ceiling put on black development by job reservation.”
Are these the words of an “apologist of colonialism and apartheid”, of someone who “shamelessly justify and defend monstrous colonial and apartheid rulers”?
It is an extract from the chapter “Multiply wounded, multiply traumatised” in my book,A Rumour of Spring, the winner of the 2014 Alan Paton Award.
In his response to my News24 column of Tuesday, ANC spindoctor Moloto Mothapo confirms every suspicion I raised about the ANC’s reckless abuse of race and racism as an election strategy and about his role as a crude propagandist.
Mothapo believes readers are too lazy to check what I actually wrote and bargains that any argument, however false, that accuses someone of being a “colonial and apartheid apologist”, as he calls me, would immediately be accepted as real just because the accused had a white skin.
My column tried to put Paul Kruger in an historic context – he was part of the turbulent, often violent process of state and nation forming of the 19th century, just like Moshoeshoe, Sekwati, Shaka, Sobhuza, Mzilikazi and Mantatisi.
Kruger was the tribal leader of the Boers of the Transvaal (he died 116 years ago). We cannot simply judge his actions and words according to today’s mores – if we did, we would also have to do that with revered leaders such as the violent militarists Shaka and Mzilikazi – or, as I wrote, with any other world leader during the early 1900s, including Mahatma Gandhi and the American Founding Fathers, all of them proper racists by today’s standards.
I was very specific in my column: “As an Afrikaner I don’t glorify Paul Kruger. I recognise that what he and his contemporaries did to local communities caused great harm, some of which is still felt today.” And no, I didn’t add a “but” to this as Mothapo says. This was the sentence that followed: “At the same time I accept that he was a crucial figure in my ethnic group’s past and a man of his time and circumstance.”
This was my plea in my column: “We really should be more nuanced when we deal with our past.” I tried to do this in the four popular history books that I have published. Much of my material focus on the evils of colonialism and apartheid.
Mothapo clearly can’t even comprehend the concept “nuance”; it interferes with his project to demonise those who dare question the ANC’s racial strategies.
A primary tool for the propagandist is to use a pinch of truth and a truckload of falsehood. I did not justify anything Kruger did or stood for. I did repeat Mothapo’s extreme, adjective-ridden language to demonstrate his propagandistic style, but only questioned his statement that the “purpose” of the Anglo Boer War “was to preserve the racial subjugation, slavery and colonial looting”. I pointed out that the war, as its name depicts, was primarily between the British and the Boers and added: “Yes, black South Africans did get caught up in it and suffered greatly, but they weren’t the reason for the war.” (My two grandfathers fought in that war and my grandmother survived a British concentration camp – her mother and sisters didn’t.)
I did question his statement as fact that Kruger “cut women’s breasts while they were still alive”. This allegation was made by one old woman many years after the war in a conversation with her grandson, has never been supported by any other source and is regarded by researchers as apocryphal.
Nowhere did I “vehemently deny that black people were used as pawns” in the war; I never “particularly took exception at our portrayal of his hero as a killing machine”. Mothapo just makes this up to heap up the “evidence” that I am one of those who “shamelessly justify, defend or sanitise such monstrous colonial and apartheid rulers”.
Ironically, on the same day that Mothapo was writing his reponse to my column, I was involved in a vicious war of words on Afrikaans radio and Twitter with AfriForum because of its anti-ANC propaganda film Tainted Heroes. I protested that they sanitized history by ignoring the ample evidence that the apartheid state had a strong hand in the conflict between Inkatha and the ANC/UDF between the late 1980s and the early 1990s; evidence such as the Goldstone Commission’s Report, the KwaMakutha and Trust Feed court cases, the TRC testimony that the SADF trained Inkatha militia in Caprivi, the confessions by Eugene de Kock that the Vlakplaas unit had delivered truckloads full of weapons to Inkatha, etc.
I earlier sent Mothapo a link to the strategies of the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Now I realise that Mothapo had that covered already. If you think this is harsh, please read my original column.