Former South African president FW De Klerk arrives to attend President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation address at parliament in Cape Town on February 13 2020. Picture: Brenton Geach/REUTERS
Former South African president FW De Klerk arrives to attend President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation address at parliament in Cape Town on February 13 2020. Picture: Brenton Geach/REUTERS

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech at the Grand Parade in Cape Town in which he stated that FW de Klerk, in releasing Mandela, had acted out of pure political pressure from the oppressed people of SA, helped set the tone for events before the state of the nation address. Though Julius Malema based his argument on De Klerk’s statement that apartheid was not a crime against humanity, what both leaders have demonstrated is that the culture of reconciliation is dying in this country.

Reconciliation is based on the ability of opposing sides to see some worth in the other’s actions while each also acknowledges that certain of its actions were wrong. Based on a mutual understanding that a commonality of purpose is the best way to build a future, reconciliation is the oil to ease the way forward. It goes against the idea of opening old wounds and settling scores, which leaves both sides ultimately worse off.

Both Ramaphosa and Malema have chosen to overlook the fact that the actions De Klerk took in 1990 were not easy. The white population of SA was not then from what it is now. It held all the power, it had so much to lose, and it was immensely afraid that the loss of that power by extending the franchise universally and unbanning all political parties would mean not just the end of white power but possibly of white lives.

For De Klerk, coming from a background of high apartheid, the choice he made went against the tide of white thought, which had flowed for more than 350 years. It is easy to say he was forced to do this by economic and political pressures, but giving up armed force and political power voluntarily is not easy, especially when there is no guarantee that relinquishing it will end well. That it went well is debatable, but it could have gone far, far worse.

What is being seen now is a move backwards, a move towards bringing people such as De Klerk to answer for crimes that are now being considered his. Not only is this wrong, in that it would make him a scapegoat, it is also unwise.

As Winston Churchill said: “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”  It will not build; it will break down. It will not heal; it will divide. It will not satisfy; it will demand more and more. Ultimately, it will send SA further down the road to social disunity, political division and economic hardship.

Roger Graham
Via e-mail

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