Opinionista Xhanti Payi 11 June 2011

Zille should say sorry as Winnie did at the TRC

Looking back a long time into the past through the spectacles of changing voting patterns, South Africa once again sees symptoms of voting against a party to “give ’em a wake-up call” and not for a party because of its principles.

I was 15 when Winnie Mandela appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 to answer to accusations of murder, torture and other crimes.  I remember the day well, it was big news, and big media was everywhere.  It must have been a tough and humbling, if not humiliating day for her. 

In the end, when witness after witness had accused her of some or other role in kidnapping, torture and murder, and Winnie decried all as fabrication, Archbishop Desmond Tutu tearfully pleaded with her saying, ”You are a great person and you don’t know how your greatness would be enhanced if you were to say: ‘Sorry. Things went wrong, forgive me.’ I beg you.”

I believe it was necessary for Winnie Mandela, a leader and a champion among the people, to admit that under her hand, and many times in her name, horrible things were done. Those words were necessary for the people affected to have their loss acknowledged by someone who always had more power than them. That upper hand among the people was evident at the hearing. The mother of the nation, with a great deal of support from the masses, was there in her classic self. Dressed in a floral suit, with a pearl necklace and glittering spectacles, she would hold her stern posture which she had maintained through the trials of apartheid, upright and innocent of the accusations which she called “ludicrous”.  She was the embodiment of power even as she embraced the woman whose son had been killed.

So, she conceded, ”I am saying it is true, things went horribly wrong. I fully agree with that. And for that part of those painful years, when things went horribly wrong, and we were aware of the factors that led to that, for that, I am deeply sorry.”

For those who lived in those “painful years” when “things went horribly wrong”, it is difficult to forget.  The memory of apartheid and the scars that are left in the minds and the figurative hearts of black people are alive today. They are there when a 60-year-old woman collects rubbish in an apartment block in the leafy Jozi suburbs after having worked all her life. 

Also, most significantly, the memory of apartheid is alive in a racial sense, kept alive and compounded by the current attitude which many white people carry about what happened in those days, and how it relates to today and the status of black people. This memory is a significant impediment towards a “non-racial society” – ANC language – and “equal opportunity society” – DA language.

I know very few black people who are whole-heartedly willing to vote for the DA. Even those who are doing so, are not doing it because of the DA, but because they want to give the ANC a “wake up call”.  And as a friend of mine cryptically put it, “a vote for the DA is a vote for the ANC”.

The trouble is quite simple and quite general, in my view – black people do not trust white people. They cannot trust that what was done in apartheid, both by white people, and in the name of white people, would not be done again.

This is easy to understand if we borrow from Judge Albie Sachs’ wisdom that the necessity of the TRC was to allow for knowledge of what happened and its acknowledgment, and to explain the conditions that permitted gross injustice to flourish so as to ensure that these things do not happen again.  This would require calling on all sectors of society, from business to the legal profession, and from the media to teachers to admit and acknowledge their respective roles. 

In the view of many people, what Tutu asked of Mandela, the majority of white South Africa refuse to do.  This means the acknowledgement, which is necessary to ensure that these things will not happen again, is still absent.

In this environment, it is difficult to see how black people can trust a party which is viewed as white, no matter how the party denies this assertion, to not deliver them to another version of apartheid.

Remember, for example, the first test the DA had to display a different white person to that of apartheid South Africa.  When Helen Zille and the DA declared they had selected a group of people who do not in themselves constitute blacks, because their selection was about having people who are “fit for purpose”. Were they not reminding us that the system which ensured that the only people “fit for purpose” would be white males and a handful of females, and that blacks would have to sit on the sidelines, while white people exercised power, is alive today? Further it confirmed the DA is happy to base its decisions on this horrific legacy, holding black people in the position which the system of apartheid intended them to be.

In this regard, the DA can be assured that as black people elect them to local government, they are not doing so because they believe them to be good leaders, trusting them with giving black people a better life with equal opportunity, but as administrators, capable of administering billing systems, filling potholes, providing sanitation, keeping books fit for clean audits, and on occasion, “defending the Constitution”.

Tutu could have spoken the same words to Zille as he spoke to Mandela, ”You are a great person and you don’t know how your greatness would be enhanced if you were to say: ‘Sorry. Things went wrong, forgive me’.”

Until white people – and therefore the DA – acknowledge that things went horribly wrong, and that horrible things where done in their name, from which they continue to benefit, allowing them to be fit for purpose, we are stuck with the ANC, their corruption, cronyism, and as the DA would argue, unfitness for purpose. DM


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