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Charl-Pierre Naudé

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Will someone train the frog choir please?

The implied equation of apartheid to the Nazi extermination of Jews by a law professor at the University of Cape Town recently was utterly shabby, highly dangerous to a safe future, and really embarrassing.

It just once more highlighted one of the more shameful aspects of our current public discourse. And that is the inflationary use of moral outrage to win quick points.

A few years ago, newspaper editor Jon Qwelane on numerous occasions compared apartheid directly to the extinction of Jews. To my knowledge nobody ever corrected him on this. It was, you see, still “early days” for the “new South Africa”. We were still allowing one another our fantasies.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost.

I want to mention another, related example of inflationary language which amounts to myth. Like Julius Malema, thousands of people believe the ANC’s military wing won the military struggle against apartheid. The truth is that they lost the war fairly and squarely at all given junctures during the struggle (as pointed out by Rian Malan recently in the press and on PolitcsWeb).

Back to my main example. The equation of apartheid to the mass extinction of Jews is a gross insult to the suffering of Jewish people. And, more relevantly, it denies the actual nature of the evil that apartheid was. To gloss over this actual nature, amounts to putting this country at risk of a repetition of exactly the kind of suffering that apartheid constituted.

We should not hesitate to expose the unbridled myths that are so prevalent in our populist-driven politics nowadays. Resorting to such myths to bolster an argument has short-term currency. But in the long term we will all pay the price.

Apartheid was indeed a crime against humanity and is rightly classified as such by some international law agencies. It was (in its effects) an ontological and structural crime against “the other” on an intensive and very organised scale. That is what it was. It certainly was not a deliberate physical extermination such as the Nazi’s did with the Jewish people.

In fact, the documented experience of apartheid’s victims in many ways resemble the experiences of people under Communism in eastern Europe – the very place where the vision of many a current ANC leader was shaped.

And this fact is alarming.

Yes, a number of the very ones who are now wanting to reshape South Africa have had their vision for doing so shaped in a system that structurally and effectively resembles the one they had fought against!

This is where the concept “National Democratic Revolution” becomes problematic.

If apartheid was mass extinction, where does the very large choir of moral indignant come from? Should they not also be in the grave? Has Germany got a monument for every single fallen one, as is in the offing here? Then there would be no place for any German left.

I am not saying we should not be thankful, as a society, that we have the names of fallen ones. We should. I am saying let us honour that grace with distinction, not with hot air.

Survivors of populations who in actual fact had experienced real physical extinction, often cannot talk about it. This I recently experienced firsthand in Algeria. Apart from the Congo, Algeria probably had the cruelest colonial struggle of all African countries (cruelest wars aside).

It was genocide. And if you try to speak to anyone about it there, it’s like nobody can remember! It is (in the words of the writer Breyten Breytenbach) a form of “practised amnesia”. And this fact is beyond heartrending.

In South Africa? Not just does “everybody remember”, they talk. And by God, how do they talk. Even those who were not yet born at the time have their place in the choir. Especially them. And then there are the parrots, the ones who echo everything without thinking twice. Call this the parrot wing of the Indignation Choir.

Now compare this to the situation of the voice-bereft ones of Africa’s real genocides, and you cannot avoid the impression that a kind of smug, hyperbolic contempt for historical truth too often governs moral indignation in South Africa.

The morally indignant have come to sound like a frog chorus. And would someone care to provide these “genocide” wannabes with some singing lessons, please?

For Pete’s sake. Or shall I rather say, for Tutu’s sake?

Apartheid had its propaganda, no question. It was deep and utterly encompassing (more so, I believe, than in Nazi Germany, because we were a rudimentary and far-flung country). But never were those myths so uncritical and pervasive as the ones under the ANC in current times. They were wrong, but rooted. Rooted in something. Something more substantial than sloganeering.

There are reasons for our current mythmaking malaise. Public spokespeople in these postmodern times are no longer governed by the injunctions of either faith or science. Their lodestar is the advertisement. These “copy writers” of the new history don’t even believe their own nonsense! What is important to them, is that other people believe it.

Another reason why mythmaking is so prevalent and goes so unchecked, is that the struggle against apartheid was chiefly won by “advertisement”. (Sure, good on ads, one might say.) Not by the gun and not by the bona fide struggle. It was international perception that destroyed apartheid. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr (or Ms) Mythmaker.

However, the main reason why apartheid’s real nature is so often denied (and at his height a treacherous and devious enough form of oppression it was) – why apartheid is so often portrayed as a different genus of oppression than it really was – is much more sinister.

Consider again: Apartheid was structural violence, systematic extermination of cultural identities, institutionalised attrition, extensive centralised planning with a bogus “democratic” face to it, erosion of normal rights under the guise of emergency planning, suppression of free speech and state-forced emigration, among other things.

Now tell me, does this not sound somewhat like aspects of our present government’s way of governing? Has the structure of what apartheid really was, its genus, in fact really been rejected, as it should?

First published in Afrikaans in Beeld


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