Many of us have heard of populations in other parts of the world that have known fascism and brutality by some against others either claiming, later in life, not to have known what was done to others in their name and for their comfort, or of having been too scared to act even when they knew that bad things were happening.
It happened in Germany, following the Holocaust; it happened in the Ottoman Empire, following the Turks’ genocide of Armenian populations; it happened in Rwanda, following the genocide; and the same will likely be said of many Chinese people, of the alleged cultural genocide in Tibet.
South Africa is no different. We’ve heard many people tell us over the years that they were totally oblivious to what was being done to black South Africans over many decades for the comfort of white South Africans. Some have blamed their ignorance on the (white) media blackout of life in black townships.
We can never know for sure who is telling the truth in such instances and who is lying, probably out of shame. And it really should not matter today whether some knew and did nothing or not. Sad as it is; it is what it is. The past cannot be changed, but we can prevent it being repeated.
Yesterday shouldn’t cost us tomorrow
What we should be concerned about is whether we – those who are here today – are doing enough to avoid finding ourselves in the same positions as the people described above.
Are we also going to be the ones claiming not to have taken Malema and the EFF’s racist rhetoric seriously, when lives would have been lost at the hands of overzealous, misguided followers who might take their leaders’ threats too seriously and act on them – if it’s not already happening on farms? Or when fellow South Africans would have fled their own country in fear of their safety and that of their families?
The South African public discourse is increasingly being dominated by opportunistic revisionists who seem bent on giving the false impression that there’s a straight line drawn in the sand, with all whites on one side and all blacks on the other side.
The same opportunists have recently added another line in the sand, with South Africans of Indian origin progressively under their spotlight.
The truth, we should know, is that things are not like that today and they were never like that during apartheid. There were many white South Africans who were caught on the wrong side of apartheid over the years. They provided money, hid or transported weapons, sheltered freedom fighters, supported detainees or their families, and even refused to serve in the SADF. Many, like Durban University lecturer Dr Richard Turner, Wits University lecturer David Webster, and several others were assassinated by the apartheid security police for doing one or a combination of these things.
In addition, many will remember the End Conscription Campaign that supported young white men who became conscientious objectors and refused to serve in the apartheid army. Some of them were either arrested or forced to flee the country for refusing to serve.
Human rights begin at home
We should ensure that the history being taught to our children doesn’t focus only on the heroic acts of one group of South Africans, the victors of today. We should remember and salute all patriots of all racial and ethnic backgrounds – particularly those who are being singled out as foreigners who do not belong in their own land today, and particularly those who, by their actions, played a role in South Africa’s long march from darkness.
Many of these South Africans, their children, and others whose eyes were only opened up in recent years to the mess that was apartheid, continue to do good in communities and for disadvantaged children. They do so in silence, away from the glare of the media, because they understand that when some members of our society remain poor, weak, and vulnerable, the future of all of us cannot be described as safe.
Those who know of or have witnessed the patriotism of such individuals and families – and might even have benefited personally from their humanity – have an obligation to stand-up and defend them against the growing racist onslaught led by opportunistic political revisionists of our time.
We should not wait for when it will be too late to act, and we find ourselves lost in a murky sea of “I should have, I could have, or I would have…”
In defending our fellow South Africans as they increasingly come under racist siege, purportedly for our benefit, we also defend our country and the values enshrined in its founding documents. We should do this to enable South Africa to lead again when it comes to the defence of human rights; for it should all begin at home.
Divide and conquer
Today, all whites might be privileged because of the colour of their skin, thanks to past social engineering, but they’re not all wealthy. And not all blacks are poor. Not all whites work against the interests of our country and, definitely, not all blacks work to enhance the constitutional democracy so many have given up so much for – or to protect its institutions. Many whites are doing a lot to contribute to skills, socioeconomic development and to the building of bridges, where none were allowed to exist in the past.
It cannot be right that the rest of us, victims of the political system yesterday and its intended beneficiaries today, stand aside and do nothing when opportunists pretending to be fighting on our behalf go about destroying the very fibre that should hold our country together. If we allow them to build racial wedges to separate communities today, we shall have nothing to hold on to, when we finally wake up to realise that they do everything for their own selfish ends, to divide us in order lord it over us.
For the sake of the country we love, right-thinking South Africans must hold hands from across historic divides and, together, push back against nascent fascism. We should also work together, in sober minds but with determination, to address the stubborn material legacies of apartheid and prevent them from serving as low-hanging fruits for opportunists to use against the interests of our country and diverse nation.