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This past Sunday, South Africans who remembered commemorated that momentous day in 1990 when South African society set off on a course which will never be reversed.
Although not a public holiday, it ranks up there with Freedom Day.
When former president FW de Klerk announced the unbanning of over 30 political organisations and the imminent release of Nelson Mandela and the remaining political prisoners at the opening of parliament, South Africa crossed the Rubicon.
Whether De Klerk was pushed to make the changes or did so because he was a visionary matters very little. His actions put the country on a course of no return.
Now, 30 years later, the irrepressible optimism of those heady days has been replaced by a constant weariness which is a reminder that the country has veered off course, not only economically but socially and politically.
The new South Africa of which De Klerk spoke is bedevilled by a lamentable lack of cohesion. The huge divide that De Klerk and Mandela sought to get rid of seems to be at its widest now, and the sharp lines over which black and white people are divided seem to get sharper every year.
The backdrop to all of this is the inquest into Dr Neil Aggett’s death in detention in 1982. Ironically, Neil Aggett died in detention in February of 1982, the month of the year that FW de Klerk used to announce the sweeping changes just eight years later.
Although the negotiated settlement that followed 2 February provided for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a platform through which our past was laid bare for all to see and internalise, there was no follow-up on hundreds of cases of people who died in detention or at the hands of the apartheid state. Hundreds of families were left hanging without any form of closure.
Aggett and Ahmed Timol’s inquests have, for a short while, provided a window into South Africa’s unresolved and painful past.
Every South African, particularly the younger generation, should use the details that come out during the course of the inquest to fully understand their fellow South Africans across the racial divide.
It is not often that esteemed leaders like Frank Chikane will go in front of the nation and say that he, together with Aggett, was tortured by the police just eight years before SA crossed its Rubicon. The death of Aggett and a lot more others in detention must be recognised as the basis on which agreements were reached to arrive at a peaceful negotiated settlement in SA.
It is quite sad that the Aggett inquest has been generally viewed as one family simply trying to get closure for itself.
Besides getting the National Prosecuting Authority to revisit all the old cases which had to do with deaths at the hands of the apartheid state, the Aggett inquest should get those in power to come and urge all South Africans to look through this window into our past so that when days like Reconciliation Day come around, no one mocks them.
Those that feel they are being constantly asked to bear the burden of that which they had no hand in creating must look back and get to understand why a lot of people think reconciliation is a mockery. Only then will South Africans begin to find each other, and perhaps a way to live together with acceptance.
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