A Letter to Frederik de Klerk
DEAR President De Klerk:
I have done a mental toyi-toyi three times in the last two years - once when the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress were unbanned, once when Mr. Nelson Mandela walked free from Polls-moor Prison, and then last month, when white South Africans agreed to support you in your negotiations within the Convention for a Democratic South Africa.
This latest act of exuberance on my part surprised me, as in the final days leading to the referendum I was beset by an anger, frustration, and despair that, once again, I and millions of other black South Africans were standing aside while whites decided our future. (You will forgive me that I don't dwell on the "voting rights" your government gave me in 1983. I pride myself in not having exercised that "right.")
But only the most cynical would suggest that the landslide vote by whites in favor of reform means nothing. For whatever reasons whites voted "yes," they are to be commended. The vision of a non-racial democracy now seems less of a mirage.
You have shown great courage, leadership, and insight. That must be remembered in the difficult days ahead - and there will be many. But, for a moment, I return to our inglorious past.
In an interview after the referendum, you were asked if an apology was not in order for the hurt that the National Party's (NP) apartheid policy has caused. You said that while you apologized for the hurt, "separate development" remained a sound political doctrine, albeit unworkable in South Africa. Like apartheid demagogues in the NP's 40-year reign, you referred to Europe's example: French, Germans, Italians, and others who pursued separate political and cultural identities.
Inherent to the political justification of your government's pol-icy is the appeal to the moral righteousness and soundness of apartheid. In fact, you have steadfastly refused to apologize for or concede the immorality of apart-heid. That you believed fervently in the apartheid cause is not doubted. And clearly your political justification for this policy might find a sympathetic ear in a world where ethnic separatism is increasingly the norm. But don't try to hoodwink us about the morality of your faile d cause.
Appeal to the moral correctness of South African apartheid ignores the following: That for decades this policy was enforced against the wishes of the majority of South Africans; that apartheid held hostage the political aspirations of that majority; that your government engaged in brutal enforcement of laws emerging from "separate development." The effects of that policy have been felt by families torn apart; by mixed couples caught by sex police; by neighborhoods (you call slums) like Sophiatown, Distri ct Six, and South End, bulldozed under the Group Areas Act; by "black spot" communities forced from white areas into the bantustans.
ALSO hidden behind apart-heid's veil are millions impoverished in bantustans, and the poorly paid worker-victims of the marriage of capital and race living in dehumanizing shanty towns. It hides, too, the majority in our black communities who lack the most basic education (available to their white compatriots) because, according to the NP's foremost thinker on apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, blacks should not aspire to the same things as whites.
The morality you assume for apartheid's implementation hides the actions of your security forces, not only police and army units operating in black townships but also, throughout your party's rule, the hated "SBs" or special branch. Their accomplishments, you might recall if you remove the "morality" cloaking their actions, include surveillance files on 300,000 anti-apartheid activists and the detention of over 40,000, including children. Of course it was moral goodness which sent to their deaths those p hysically and mentally broken detainees who died in suspicious circumstances - including the couple who slipped on soap while taking showers in police cells.
No, Mr. De Klerk, there is no place in a new South Africa for moral or political white-washing of your party's history - though that history was "white."
If what the NP government has undertaken will be more than clever maneuvering, the evil brutality of the government's past must be faced. Our hope for a new South Africa is premised on the horrors of the past, not on a selective memory which points to the good that could have occurred, if only our circumstances were European. A corporate mea culpa by your government for apartheid, rather than an attempt to couch this immoral policy in moral terms, would be a start on the road to a better future.