Defend Truth


Lustration: With Zuma gone at last, we will forgive but never forget


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not offer our people a proper catharsis at all and the culprits who did not seize the opportunity to tell us the truth must surely now come clean. For if we don’t deal with it, it will come back to haunt us, as we observe now with Jacob Zuma. Shall we bay for their blood?

The second oldest profession comes under the spotlight, thanks to none other than our very own Jacob Zuma. The dark art of espionage has reared its ugly head in our modern body politic again, and old unconfirmed lists of collaborators and apartheid spies are making the rounds.

We have all always wondered when will we be exposed to the list containing all the names of those progressive forces among us that collaborated and spied for the apartheid government. We heard rumours that such a list was made available to Mandela during his presidency and that he rejected it, possibly knowing full well what the consequences of it would be, but also how it would potentially derail the then strategy of reconciliation.

It goes without saying that a clever few of the security apparatchiks would have wanted to make sure that they have some security or insurance post-1994 because no one had a clue of how things would pan out with the negotiations at all and whether there would be a push for justice to trump peace.

Now, as you know, all societies post-conflict, war or revolution have to contend with their own Cossacks. These were the collaborators that worked with Nazi Germany to betray their own people in Russia and the Ukraine during World War II and, when they attempted to flee to the United Kingdom after the war, were summarily returned by the British to Russia where they were executed en masse.

Thus my question, have we reached our Lustration period?

Lustration refers to a policy that seeks to cleanse a new regime from remnants of the past. It is generally the process of making something clear or pure, usually by means of a propitiatory offering. And before you wonder what propitiatory means, it is from the Latin word, propitiatorius, meaning atoning, conciliatory, expiate or appease. It is most associated with post-communist Europe and World War II.

Examples of these can be found in the Czech Republic, where they decided not to resolve such atrocities in courts but to pass a law to blacklist all such collaborators from designated public office including levels in the civil service. This law only expired in 2000. In Poland the first lustration bill was passed in 1996 and from 1997–2007 declarations was entertained by collaborators, and further proceedings could flow from such.

In the Ukraine as well, collaborators and spies were excluded from public office and being in the civil service for up to five to 10 years. Is it time we learned from these lessons?

I once met a former collaborator who worked for the security police – he was rather notorious in his day – and he told me that they (Special Branch operatives) took a so-called oath in 1994 never to divulge the names of those that spied and collaborated with them from the ranks of the progressive forces. But this was the killer for me: when he actually said that the decision to never divulge names was their contribution to the Struggle. Because to do so would undermine the progress made thus far and would simply be counter-revolutionary, when you actually think about it. Too much progress was made by Mandela for a small group to mess it up by wanting to expose collaborators and spies, he said. At the time I was torn and not sure I fully agreed with his logic, but there you have it.

Raymond Suttner tells us in his book The ANC Underground in SA about ruptures in continuity and continuity in ruptures. He reminds us that when there is a rupture, such as getting universal suffrage in 1994 after having fought the apartheid system for so long, continuity also persists in that we still inherit apartheid monopoly capital institutions and will still have to contend with skilled white bureaucrats in the civil service for some time to come.

Is this another critical juncture or rupture that we have arrived at in 2018? What effect has the spying had on us all and what about the culpability of these atrocities?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not offer our people a proper catharsis at all and the culprits who did not seize the opportunity to tell us the truth must surely now come clean. For if we don’t deal with it, it will come back to haunt us in future, as we observe now with Jacob Zuma.

We must ask the question: what has been the residual effect on our struggle and how should we manage the residual risk associated with it? Shall we bay for their blood, like in the case of the Cossacks in Russia, or not?

Here’s the point, Mr Zuma, when we decided to negotiate a truce with the enemy, to forgive them and to force ourselves through a truth and reconciliation process, much as it was a very bitter pill to swallow, I can confidently contend that we also did so indirectly with the very collaborators and spies from our own midst.

This might be a very hard pill to swallow for comrades out there but let’s be clear: if we can find it in our hearts to forgive the very people who killed and maimed us, who imprisoned and tortured us, who belittled and humiliated us, why would we want to exclude those that collaborated and spied on us?

They were the scum of the earth yes, they were responsible for most of us being on the run from killers for months, they were responsible for us being wanted individuals at very tender ages and they were ultimately responsible for us being caught, interrogated, beaten up, and locked up. They made sure that our mothers were fed with half-truths and untruths about our whereabouts, which police station we were being held at and ultimately which prison you were taken to and whether you were still alive or not, just to torment our mothers.

They were responsible for exposing our safe houses and ultimately they were the ones that made it possible for some of us to be murdered at the hands of the Security Branch and the Vlakplaas types.

Forgiveness is a very difficult thing, a very personal matter indeed. But closure and looking towards the future are of much more importance, I reckon. We will forgive but we will never forget. History will record it thus.

So for Zuma to threaten us with a list, a list he himself could very well have been on but has been altered already; seriously Mr President, is this the last card you are playing in this desperate attempt to cling to power? Is this it, that’s all you’ve got?

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.

So pathetic, to grovel like this, take my advice, Mr President, leave now or spend the rest of your days in prison with your precious list. DM


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