AFRICANGLOBE – James Baldwin once said “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.
On the morning of January 30, we awoke to face a new reality that apartheid death squad leader Eugene Alexander de Kock, “Prime Evil”, had been unleashed back into a socio-political context different from the one in which he committed his most heinous crimes against humanity, particularly Black people in South Africa.
The news of Eugene De Kock’s parole by th ANC’s Justice Minister Michael Masutha “in the interest of nation-building and reconciliation” has received mixed responses from a society that is still suffering from the gaping wounds of its troubling, ever-present past.
Some argue, why would his “improved skills” while in custody and “good behaviour and co-operation” be a basis for parole for someone who has so much blood on his hands?
Others invoked the memory of De Kock’s victims, who were murdered in their homes or dragged from the back of the hit squads’ vehicles to Vlakplaas, where they would be tortured and murdered.
But how will family members of his victims, who objected to his parole, live with the reality that the man who took away the lives of their loved ones is now free. Jane Quin’s brother Jacki and her husband, Leon Meyer, were both murdered in Maseru in 1985, for example.
What will the Maponya family say when they see the man who killed their beloved Japie Maponya with a spade? This is the man who, while smoking a cigarette, could smash his victim’s head against the concrete wall of a torture chamber until the brain oozed out of the victim’s fractured skull.
Someone who conducted operations where Black leaders were burnt alive and had their hands and body parts chopped off and stored in bottles while their assassins were having a braai and beers nearby.
This is the man who, from the early years of his childhood, was indoctrinated by his Afrikaner Broederbond father to treat African people like animals and savages whose very “blackness” was a “divine” sign and indication of their collective inferiority.
The Broederbond (brotherhood), which De Kock represented, was the exclusive ultra-secret organisation, the very heart of the apartheid machinery.
They were a group of “super-Afrikaners” who proclaimed themselves the “guardians” of South African modernity. As Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom write in The Super-Afrikaners, “the South African Government…(then) …(was) Broederbond and the Broederbond… (was) the government” – in short “no Afrikaner government…(could) rule South Africa without the support of the Broederbond. No nationalist Afrikaner… (could) become Prime Minister unless he comes from the organisation’s secret ranks”.
The Broederbond set the political agenda to channel the wealth of this country to whiteness and its privileges for generations and perhaps centuries to come.
Therefore, apartheid without the philosophical grounding of the Afrikaner Broederbond would have lost its way.
This is the organisation that taught De Kock how to be so cruel to Black people.
De Kock was seen as “Prime Evil”, but he also represented an organisation, the Afrikaner Broederbond and administration, the apartheid government that supported eugenics and conducted scientific experiments on Black people in scientific and heritage institutions in an effort to fabricate a myth that Black people were subhumans and should be treated as such.
As a result, crimes committed against Blacks, no matter how severe, would not be punishable by law.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote: “Since the natives are subhuman, the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to them; conversely, since they have no rights, they are abandoned without protection to the inhumane forces of nature, to the ‘iron laws’ of economics. This denial of Black people their right to be human created an environment in which their human rights were trampled underfoot in an attempt to reduce them to the animal kingdom for political gains.”
Merciless crimes committed by this man, both known and unknown, were an expression of how a minority group of whites reduced the majority Black population to the status of animals, through laws that were designed to strip them of their right to imagine and live in the South Africa of their ancestors’ dreams.
Sixty years since the Freedom Charter was signed in Kliptown and 20 years since the advent of democracy, we find ourselves at a difficult crossroads, where we are compelled to ask ourselves questions about the nature and state of our imagined nationhood: who will speak for those people, whose bodies are buried in unmarked graves beneath the soil across the length and breadth of South Africa?
Who will finish what Terry Bell and Dumisa Ntsebeza call the “unfinished business” of the TRC?
Who will curate for future posterity the stories of those who were banished and later disappeared without a trace in the former Bantustans (Transkei and Ciskei)?
Who will bring back Mbuyisa Makhubu from exile? Who will bring back the remains of the self-exiled William (Bloke) Modisane? Who will tell the story of Thamsanqa Mnyele? Who will bring back the human remains looted at battlefields and sold to museums and countries of the global north as specimens earmarked for scientific experiments and trophies?
Who will tell us what happened to Kwanda Mbeki?
It is when we ask ourselves these very difficult questions that we will realise a simple truth – that South Africa’s transition is being forced to put pressure on victims of apartheid crimes to heal unnaturally for the sake of reconciliation and nation-building.
We are being cajoled to see past the crimes of De Kock and we are being bamboozled to accept a fabricated truth; that FW de Klerk’s relinquishing of power as the last president of apartheid’s corrupt governments was an act of kindness and generosity of the heart, thus he deserves a place on the right side of history.
Well for many of us who still remember the atrocities that were committed by his administration, we know very well that the writing was already on the wall – “no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people” – and that his government was not based on the will of all the people and that is why it was not sustainable.
What do we do now? We need to arrive at Maya Angelou’s conclusion that “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.
It is this courage that we need to regain. The courage to speak truth to power, for it is truth that will set us free.
The truth that Black people are still those “landless proletariat whose labour could be used and manipulated at will”, as once seen by Bessie Head.
It is when we speak and act upon the veracity and validity of these “truths” that we can rekindle the noble ideas as expounded in the Freedom Charter.
By: Wandile Goozen Kasibe