It is morally and politically intolerable to tell people to “get over apartheid”, a cynical form of social, political and economic oppression. Worse, it left millions of people with psychological scars by subjugating them to unfair treatment. It violated the dignity of the many in favour of the advancement of the few. Many died in apartheid chains, including the psychological imprisonment arising from being demeaned as second-class citizens in the land of their birth.
Against this backdrop, it is unreasonable to tell people to “get over it”. The pain and devastation, the legacies, still hang like a dark shadow over South Africa and will for some time to come.
It is not unreasonable, though, to admonish one another to overcome apartheid. To “get over it” implies moving on, abruptly leaving the pain behind and never looking back. To “overcome” is something entirely different. It means looking at the casket of loss and saying, “I will continue to live in spite of what was lost.” Overcoming is about erecting a memorial, but not building your home next to the grave.
The EFF’s agenda in Parliament this week, of redirecting the attention of the nation from the President’s State of the Nation (SONA) address to former President FW de Klerk, is a destructive distraction.
What the EFF’s behaviour amounts to is that “we cannot look ahead at 2020 until we eject the apartheid denialist”. What Julius Malema did was to persuade the Speaker of the House, the media and millions of South Africans that FW de Klerk is a more important subject of discussion than the agenda of the current democratically elected government – that being outraged at De Klerk’s view, that apartheid was not a crime against humanity, is a more important psychological project today than the construction of a better future for all.
Mr De Klerk’s view of apartheid is irrelevant, because he is today irrelevant. He is an old man who iconically represents the past from which we have come. Is he a black child in a township? Is he a student learning a trade on a college campus or in an agricultural school? Is he a black businesswoman striving to pay her employees? No. To spend one iota of South Africa’s public imagination on De Klerk is a grotesque waste of time and of personal and public resources.
Any sensible human can look at apartheid objectively and see that it was a crime, and that people’s humanity was undermined, and that the character of the system was evil. De Klerk’s view will die with him, as it should.
Malema, however, by turning Parliament and the country from looking forward to Ramaphosa to looking back to De Klerk was basically an emotional hijacker, who used the vulnerability of the wounded to control the political discourse – to the benefit of who? Himself.
Apartheid dies when we live
There is no use in longing for a better past. South Africa has only two choices to make. First, “what future do we want?”, and second, “what will we do in the present to create the future we want?”.
We should not tell people to get over apartheid. Nor should we spend a moment engaging those who romanticise the past. Julius Malema must focus on the past, because he has no vision for a better future, only anger over the past. South Africans deserve better, and want more.
I see millions of South Africans getting up in the morning and trying their best to secure their future and that of their children. What they need is a capable, responsible government. They need a thriving and responsible business sector. They need a vibrant and engaged civil society. They need, dare I say, the leadership to overcome apartheid. This, and only this, will silence the irrelevant margins who don’t believe in Mandela’s dream of a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, united in diversity. DM