De Klerk’s death revives memories of South Africa’s ‘unresolved pain’

For South African Lukhanyo Calata, the son of a murdered activist, the death this month of the last president of the apartheid regime FW de Klerk represents a missed opportunity. “He’s gone, and he’s got the answers we needed,” Calata said.

Calata’s father Fort was killed by a racist death squad and 36 years on, no one has been brought to justice. Much of Calata’s anger is directed toward the ruling African National Congress over an agreement to suspend prosecutions of apartheid-era crimes that he says have sold off “the blood of our forefathers.”

His reaction to de Klerk’s death also reflected widespread public discontent with the man who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for negotiating a transition to democracy but as president bears ultimate responsibility for the brutality of the regime.

De Klerk’s foundation says he will be buried privately in a family-only ceremony on Sunday. President Cyril Ramaphosa, 30 years after he faced de Klerk in negotiations to end the apartheid regime, said South Africa’s flag should be flown at half-mast before the funeral and a memorial service. A state memorial will be held later in his memory as former vice president. under Mandela.

Hours after de Klerk’s death, his funds were released One video on his website, in which he apologizes for the “pain and hurt and grievances and damage” caused by racism.

Dale McKinley, a researcher and author on South Africa’s transition, said that even during the transition to democracy, people saw de Klerk as “a good talker, but with a punch iron in the back”. .

Students demonstrate against apartheid in Johannesburg in 1968. South Africa is engrossed in a debate about the legacy of FW de Klerk © AP

And as discontent with democracy has grown in recent years, that view is now “particularly popular among young people,” he added. “There is a very real desire to discover all of history. . . part of the switch deal is not to pull the skeleton out of the closet. “

More broadly, de Klerk’s legacy is “certainly disputed,” he said. “The ANC, despite its own problems and factional battles, will still see FW de Klerk as the one who helped them and needs recognition,” and others will also see him as having avoided a bloodier outcome for racism, he said. Meanwhile, “a lot of the Afrikaners think he’s sold them all out”.

The murder of Calata’s father and three other men was one of many racist crimes that were never prosecuted, although a 1993 investigation found that security forces killed the “Cradock Four” and the Commissioner. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) refused to pardon in 1999 for their killers. De Klerk attended racist state security council meetings calling for the “removal” of activists.

De Klerk’s organization confirmed in July this year that there was “an informal agreement between the ANC leadership and former members of the government prior to 1994” to suspend the prosecutions.

This month, Ronald Lamola, South Africa’s justice minister, said a judge would preside over an investigation into why the prosecutions were delayed but he stopped short of confirming whether the investigation was valid. public or not. “I feel betrayed, like many other South Africans,” Yasmin Sooka, a human rights lawyer serving at TRC, said of the lack of fairness.

“Cradock Four”. Fort Calata (second from right) along with three other activists were killed by state security forces in 1985. No one was brought to justice © The Washington Post / Getty Images

At stake is the broader credibility of South Africa’s justice system following the failure to prosecute corruption under Zuma. “There is a culture of impunity in South Africa,” says Calata. “The theme of irresponsibility is rooted in our past – our racist past.”

Despite the video being released after his death, many argue that de Klerk sought to smear that past. In his final years, he made the point that he expressed at TRC – that the apartheid regime was wrong, but not a crime against humanity. “Unless we ask the court to confirm that racism is a crime against humanity, the racist state is a criminal nation, forming death squads. . . The story will take place in about 20 years where all of this hasn’t happened,” Sooka said.

De Klerk also has answerable cases about a 1993 raid he authorized in which five children were killed in their beds, and also his government’s involvement in so-called political violence. ruled “black on a black background” as the apartheid regime disintegrated, Sooka said.

Calatas may have justice. South Africa’s national prosecutor’s office has told the family it will announce next month whether it will prosecute the case. If not, Calata will continue to fight.

“If that means I have to do this in 20, 30 years, that’s what I’m going to have to do,” he said. South Africa as a whole is “sitting with unresolved problems – unresolved pain,” he said. “For my family at least, there is a small spark [of hope] that this may soon be over. ”

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