De Klerk ‘a problem with national dialogue’

Posted on May 8, 2017


The inclusion of South Africa’s last apartheid era president, FW de Klerk, in a “national dialogue” initiative launched by former president Thabo Mbeki has opened up several old wounds. And it has, once again, thrown into sharp relief the failings of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

It has also perhaps highlighted the need to gain a clearer and more detailed insight into South Africa’s recent and traumatic history. As former Transkei president and now United Democratic Movement leader, Bantubonke Holomisa notes: “Too much has been swept under the carpet of reconciliation.”

In a more emotional and exaggerated vein, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has accused De Klerk of “mass murder”, saying it is an insult to include him in any dialogue about the future of South Africa. Other critics have repeated a comment made in 1993 by South Africa’s first president in the non-racial dispensation, Nelson Mandela, that De Klerk “has blood on his hands”.

That reference was to the massacre of five school students in the North Crest suburb of Mthatha, an act that De Klerk admitted to ordering. He initially claimed that an Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army (Apla)base had been attacked and five “terrorists”, who had offered resistance, had been killed.

A week later and before a thorough investigation had begun, it was announced that Mandela and De Klerk had jointly been awarded the Nobel peace prize. While the media concentrated on this award, the gunning down of the 16-year-old Mpendulo twins, Samora and Sadat, 17-year-old Thando Mthembu and their young friends, Mzwandile Mfeya and Sandiso Yose, both just 12 years old, was all but forgotten.

Only the New Nation newspaper, financed by Catholic Bishops’ Conference, checked the facts on the ground and produced a banner front page headline: SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS. The ages of the boys, and the fact that they had apparently been shot while asleep, was vehemently denied by De Klerk and the security apparatus, but subsequently proved.

At the time Holomisa promptly called for all foreign governments to desist from granting any awards to De Klerk. Dumisa Ntsebeza, then a human rights lawyer and later TRC Commissioner, represented the families of the murdered boys and reported feeling “physically ill” when the peace award for De Klerk was announced.

Very little of this was reported in the mainstream media as the world celebrated the concept of reconciliation and the birth of the “rainbow nation”. There was also a concerted attempt by the security establishment, using fabricated evidence, to maintain the fiction that the illegal cross-border raid had been justified. This was also supported by De Klerk.

What has angered many of those involved in the TRC process is the fact that De Klerk last week again maintained that the TRC had absolved him from any wrongdoing. In fact, when the final TRC report was presented, it contained one blanked out page. This, enforced by a legal injuction, was demanded by De Klerk and threatened to sabotage the carefully ochestrated launch of the report.

That page noted: “The Commission finds that former State President De Klerk displayed a lack of candour in that he omitted to take the Commission into his confidence and/or to inform the Commission of what he knew, despite being under a duty to do so.

“The Commission finds that Mr De Klerk failed to make full disclosure of gross violations of human rights committed by senior members of government and senior members of the SAP, despite being given the opportunity to do so.

“The Commission finds that his failure to do so constitutes material non-disclosure, rendering him an accessory to the commission of gross violations of human rights.

“The Commission finds Mr De Klerk morally accountable for concealing this from the country when, as the executive head of government, he was under obligation to disclose the truth known to him.”

“These are facts, known not only to Holomisa and Ntsebeza, but to many others. And they seem now to be providing fuel for an attack on the latest dialogue process. Says Holomisa: “What De Klerk should have done, was to apologise for the hurt and harm caused. But it seems this new initiative is just trying to recreate the a past of ANC-National Party reconciliation.”

That past is clearly buried, but its resurrection by former presidents may undermine any hope of the mooted national dialogue they hope to promote.

Posted in: Commentary