After establishing this perceptual link, Du Preez later concedes that “apartheid didn’t aim to wipe out black South Africans” and that Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir had “killed more of their people killed than was done under apartheid”.
In fact, however wrong their policies may have been, there was not a single pre-1994 leader who would not have been filled with the deepest revulsion at Roof’s cold-blooded killing of nine black worshippers at the Emanuel Church in Charleston – or who would not have been equally repelled by Strydom’s actions.
Nobody should whitewash the injustices of apartheid. However, it is unacceptable to equate in any way Roof’s actions – and the heinous killings of Barend Strydom – with the values and policies of previous National Party leaders. Such accusations serve only to perpetuate the ANC’s divisive version of history – which Du Preez evidently shares – in terms of which the pre-1994 white establishment was uniformly evil, while all those on the ANC’s side were uniformly good. The ANC uses this white/evil, black/good analysis of history at every opportunity to justify its own increasingly aggressive racial agenda.
We need a balanced understanding of our past that reflects the infinite shades of grey that actually characterise our history. Together with the injustices of apartheid we should consider
- the complex history that created the situation in which white South Africans found themselves in the 80s;
- the existential fears and concerns of former governments – including the future of minorities; the fragility of democracy in Africa; and the dominant influence of the SACP within the ANC (which, in retrospect do not appear to have been so misplaced);
- the substantial – but never sufficient – socio-economic progress made by black South Africans during the 70s and 80s;
- the far-reaching – but contemptuously dismissed – reforms introduced by PW Botha together with his genuine search for a solution to our complex problems; and
- the courage of white South Africans in seeking to come to an equitable solution by putting their faith in our non-racial Constitution.
Barend Strydom was a sociopathic aberration who was deeply opposed to the transformation policies of President De Klerk. Du Preez willfully misleads his readers by creating the impression that the De Klerk government somehow or other sympathised with Strydom and in 1992 played an active role in overturning his death sentence and setting him free because “he was a political prisoner”.
In fact, Strydom was released under the Further Indemnity Act that Parliament adopted at the end of 1992 as part of the ANC’s price for returning to the negotiations – which it had boycotted since June of that year. In terms of the Act several hundred ANC prisoners – who had committed egregious crimes including necklace murders – and who therefore did not qualify for release in terms of the Norgard principles, were set free. The only requirement that a panel of judges had to consider was whether they had committed their crimes with a political motive. The De Klerk government could not prevent Strydom from making use of the same provision to escape justice.
In his memoirs De Klerk writes that acceptance of the Further Indemnity Act was one of the distasteful actions of his presidency – and that he had been prepared to break off negotiations on the issue. However, it proved to be essential for the resumption of the constitutional negotiations.
The man to whom Du Preez dismissively refers as the “last apartheid president” together with his colleagues in the National Party, took the lead in ending apartheid. It is like calling Abraham Lincoln “the last slavery president”.
Du Preez is one of our most colourful and battle-scarred journalists whose articles have usually been characterised by a passionate sense of fairness. However, when it comes to the past his passion tends to cloud his fairness.
By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation