Tension is mounting over apartheid president FW de Klerk’s comments that apartheid was not necessarily a crime against humanity, with South Africans, political parties, activists and the FW de Klerk Foundation adding their voices.
De Klerk made the statement earlier in February and his foundation later issued a statement in which it said that his utterances were “soviet agitprop” – propaganda meant to agitate.
During the state of nation address (Sona) on Thursday, the EFF demanded that De Klerk be asked to leave the House, calling him an “unrepentant apologist of apartheid”.
Here is a timeline of events:
2 February 2020: 30th commemoration of FW de Klerk’s speech
On this day in 1990, De Klerk made a speech in Parliament in which he announced reforms that marked the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and several of their leaders, including late president Nelson Mandela, which led to a transition from apartheid to a constitutional democracy.
On Sunday, February 2, 2020, De Klerk commemorated the 30th anniversary of that speech and gave several interviews in which he reflected on his decision to unban the political parties.
Towards the end of one interview, SABC’s political reporter, Manelisi Dubase, asked De Klerk for his thoughts on the United Nation’s declaration that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
De Klerk replied: “I don’t fully agree with that. I’m not justifying apartheid in any way whatsoever. It did [wreak havoc for millions of South Africans, as Dubase put it] and I apologised for that. I profusely apologised for that.
“But there is a difference between calling something a crime. Like genocide is a crime. Apartheid cannot be, for instance, compared with genocide. There was never genocide,” De Klerk said.
Although Dubase mentioned that apartheid played a role in mass killings, De Klerk said more people “died because of black-on-black violence than because of apartheid”.
In another interview with eNCA on the same day, De Klerk said: “I sincerely believe that yes, apartheid has left marks which are still visible today and which people still feel today, but to blame everything which is wrong in South Africa today after 25 years on apartheid is also not true.”
On the same day, the EFF released a statement in which it said it rejected the narrative that De Klerk unbanned the liberation movement and released political prisoners.
“It is not him or his government, but the selfless theatres of struggle by the masses; the youth, in particular, Sayco (the SA Youth Congress) and Cosas (the Congress of SA Students). The organised trade union movements, religious, sports and art formations, civic organisations, in particular, those of [the] UDF. The exiles, as well as the international solidarity community. These efforts rendered the De Klerk racist regime with no option but to unban peoples’ organisations and release political prisoners,” the party said.
In the statement, the party also said De Klerk did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize which he shared with Mandela because his contribution to a peaceful transition in the country then was “fundamentally questionable”.
11 February 2020: 30th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison
Speaking on the balcony of City Hall in Cape Town alongside Mandela’s statue, Ramaphosa marked 30 years since Mandela’s release.
He said the release was a victory for the people and not an act of kindness from De Klerk.
“It was not [done] out of the kindness of FW de Klerk’s heart. It was not because he felt sorry for Nelson Mandela; it was not because he was a kind-hearted man.
“It was because of the pressure and the struggles that the people of our country waged to enable Nelson Mandela to be released. It was your victory,” Ramaphosa said.
In 1990, Ramaphosa held the microphone when Madiba delivered his first public address in Cape Town’s city centre.
13 February 2020: Sona drama
While everyone expected that the red berets would interrupt Ramaphosa’s Sona to call for the removal of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, it was, in fact, De Klerk who became the focus of the disruptions on Thursday when the party demanded that he be ejected from the joint sitting.
At around 7pm, as Ramaphosa was about to start delivering his speech, EFF leader Julius Malema rose on a point of order and asked National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise to remove De Klerk.
“Honourable Speaker, we have a murderer in the House. We have a man who has got blood of innocent people in this House which is supposed to represent the will of our people and therefore it is incorrect for you to have extended an invitation to De Klerk,” Malema said.
14 February 2020: FW de Klerk Foundation releases a statement
The FW de Klerk Foundation released a statement, labelling the notion that apartheid was a crime against humanity as “soviet agitprop” – propaganda meant to agitate. This was its reply to what it called the EFF’s “vitriolic attacks” on De Klerk.
“De Klerk has repeatedly acknowledged the grave injustices committed under apartheid and has sincerely apologised on a number of occasions to those who suffered under previous governments,” it said.
15 and 16 February 2020: Reaction to FW de Klerk’s statement
Parties and organisations condemned the foundation’s statement, calling on it to retract it.
The ANC said the former president’s assertions 25 years into democracy was in the way of commitments to reconciliation and nation-building.
But it added that the foundation’s statements would not derail it from continuing to rebuild the nation from the “ashes of apartheid”.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation also weighed in on the debate, as well as the SA Council of Churches.
The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said it was irresponsible for the foundation to debate the degree of the awfulness of apartheid, given that its effects were still felt today.
The EFF has since threatened to take legal action to ensure that a forensic inquiry is opened.
A planned protest under #DeKlerkMustFall is expected to take place on Wednesday outside the foundation’s offices.
The convener of the picket, Songezo Mazizi, told News24 on Sunday that they would hand over a memorandum demanding that the foundation and De Klerk apologise for their statements, among other demands.