“Apartheid was not a crime against humanity,” this statement can only be perceived as an arrogant joke, but alas and behold these were the sentiments opined by FW de Klerk in an interview. These diabolical sentiments were further reaffirmed by the said former statesman’s foundation.
This is a clear testament that despite South Africa having majority rule the seeds sowed during the apartheid regime are still present to this very day. According to a BBC article titled FW de Klerk and South African row over apartheid and crimes against humanity published on 18th February 2020, “this position also reinforced a wide perception that many white people have never been obliged to confront, properly, the evils of the past.” This is obviously because apartheid ended in negotiations and not a military victory.
The absence of proper accountability is what allows the making of such grave statements with no regard for the effect they have. The majority of black South Africans were happy that apartheid was over in 1994 but there was no recourse for the pain and loss suffered from the system. “Far too many white South Africans continue to deny the full horror of apartheid, they refuse to admit that they or their parents actively, or tacitly, propped up the system and still reap the benefits bestowed on them by that system,” wrote constitutional expert Pierre Vos.
Clear disparities in the economy still exist in South Africa especially on means of production. According to the World Bank report on poverty and inequality in 2018, South Africa was labeled the world’s most unequal country. Katty Scott of CNN in her article, South Africa world’s most unequal country. 25 years of freedom have failed to bridge the divide reports that, “legacy of apartheid endures, previously disadvantaged South Africans hold fewer assets, have fewer skills, earn lower wages and are still more likely to be unemployed.
The constitutional transition to inclusion was a prudent move but it did not remedy already existing inequalities that exist to this very day. These crimes against humanity that were birthed by apartheid are existent to this day. The poverty and lack of access to proper housing, water, education amongst others which are required basic human rights are still issues prevalent in the predominantly black communities of Soweto, Bloubusrand and Khayelitsha to mention a few.
On November 30th, 1973 the United Nations General Assembly opened for signature and ratification the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. It was defined as, “inhuman acts committed for establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”
Furthermore, the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is quite clear in its definition of said crime of Apartheid, “as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity committed in context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” The aforementioned are quite clear and it is easy to see that the shoe fits the crimes committed under apartheid.
It is a clear attempt to feign ignorance on a topic that left many dead and set up the blueprints that set up the current South African distribution of wealth structures that see the black majority at the bottom. It, therefore, brings back the wounds that were never healed but glossed over with a constitution. The land stolen during this regime has still not been given back to the rightful owners.
FW de Klerk was clearly out of his depth by making such crude and inconsiderate averments. The attempt to try and justify that the claim of apartheid being a crime was propaganda against the Soviet Union against South Africa further affirmed his inconsideration.
There is a strong call for the legislature to tighten screws on the law around hate speech. The retraction by FW de Klerk and his foundation comes a little too late. Such statements are a clear attack on the nation-building process that South Africa has been going through since 1994.
It causes the regression and reopening of wounds that South Africa should not be dealing with. South Africa has economic challenges that it is addressing including the drop of the rand and power outages and an Airline constantly seeking bailouts.
Statements similar to those issued by FW de Klerk should be frowned upon and judged harshly. The former president was wrong and should have issued an unconditional retraction without attempting to justify a statement that can never be justified.