Apartheid not a crime against humanity? Millions will tell you otherwise

Apartheid not a crime against humanity? Millions will tell you otherwise
It may have been mere coincidence, but news over the past week focused on two contrasting perspectives of how apartheid affected the lives of South Africans.

On the one hand, there was former president FW de Klerk trying so desperately to dispel any notion that apartheid, as bad as it may have been, was ever a crime against humanity.

De Klerk granted interviews this week to mark 30 years after his announcement of the unbanning of liberation movements, the release of political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, and the setting in motion of steps towards a negotiated political settlement.

In those interviews, he was at pains to assure South Africans that although apartheid could not be justified, it could not be equated to genocide.

This despite a UN resolution which officially designated it a crime against humanity.

But De Klerk does not agree with the UN’s stance.

“I’m not justifying apartheid in any way whatsoever. It did (wreak havoc on millions of South Africans), and I profusely apologise for that.”

But, he contends, apartheid cannot be called a crime like genocide.

“There was never a genocide under apartheid. More people died because of black-on-black violence,” he argued.

Contrast De Klerk’s views with some of the horrifying testimony we heard this week from anti-apartheid activists like Barbara Hogan, Reverend Frank Chikane and Treasury executive Ismail Momoniat at the inquest into the death in detention of Dr Neil Aggett.

Chikane talked of the merciless brutality of apartheid’s Security Branch policemen who did not hesitate to use the harshest methods of interrogation - to the point that several detainees died in custody.

He was personally tortured so severely that when eventually released, he was so completely disorientated he couldn’t even remember where his home was.

Hogan talked in graphic detail about her torture at the hands of apartheid’s secret police, which continued to the point where she had attempted to take her own life while in custody.

Their testimony at the inquest held a mirror to the Nazi-type oppression that prevailed under apartheid when millions of South Africans were held in subjugation - dehumanised and treated like sub-human beings to entrench white minority rule.

De Klerk may not think apartheid was a crime against humanity, but the survivors of Sharpeville and the many other apartheid atrocities will probably tell you otherwise.

So too will the hundreds detained indefinitely without trial; the thousands thrown into jail for failing to carry their dompas; the millions bulldozed from their homes through forced removals, and couples charged and convicted under apartheid’s Immorality Act because they dared to love someone across the colour line.

At the end of the day, I suppose it all depends on which side of the apartheid fence you happened to have been sitting when it all happened.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.