The ruling party is now saying it wants denials of apartheid’s criminality to be criminalised in a manner similar to holocaust denial in Germany.
In a statement on Sunday, the ANC condemned the views of the FW de Klerk Foundation in which it denied that apartheid had been a crime against humanity.
It described this as “a blatant whitewash”.
Former president FW De Klerk had controversially expressed the same view in an interview just days ahead of the state of the nation address (Sona). He said that apartheid was not the sort of grand mass crime that could be compared to genocide and the United Nations had been wrong to describe the former regime and its actions as such.
His remarks sparked a huge backlash and were among the reasons the EFF disrupted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Sona speech, demanding that De Klerk be asked to leave parliament on Thursday night.
The House Speaker, the ANC’s Thandi Modise, refused, arguing De Klerk had been invited as a former head of state and had a right to be there.
Many analysts said the ANC had been broadsided by the scandal.
The EFF eventually staged a walkout and was highly critical of the ANC for its stance. Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, the ambassador to Denmark, said she was “heartbroken”, partly due to what the apartheid state had done to her mother Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said on Sunday that De Klerk’s interview, “twenty five years into our democracy (sic)”, flew in the face of commitments to reconciliation and nation-building.
The ruling party called on De Klerk and his foundation not to undermine the “compact that forms the foundation of our democracy, which is that we deal with the past through institutional mechanisms and the rule of law”.
He said the decision and the motivation by first the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) and then the United Nations to declare apartheid a crime against humanity was well documented.
“The FW De Klerk Foundation, instead of continuing to plead blind ignorance, would do well to research this history.
“Apartheid as a system was both widespread and systemic, based on the belief in the superiority of the white minority and the inferiority of the black majority. This belief found expression, building on the foundations of colonialism and slavery, in the Union of South Africa of 1910, and over 80 years of systematic oppression of the disenfranchised majority.
“It found expression in land dispossession through the Land Acts of 1912 and 1936; the forced removal of people; the over 17 million South Africans, who between 1921 and 1986 were arrested because of the pass laws; the deliberate policies to under-educate the black child; the exclusion of black workers and professionals from certain professions; the destruction of food security of the majority through poll tax and land dispossession; and the list goes on.
“Indeed, apartheid was a brutal system of oppression and underdevelopment, and the United Nations in 1973 correctly declared it a crime against humanity, defined as ‘inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them’.
“The nation is therefore indeed shocked, and we are all asking: Mr De Klerk, was apartheid anything else than this definition by the entire world?”
Mabe said the ANC would not abandon the project of nation-building, however.
“Despite these deeply ill-advised statements by the FW De Klerk Foundation, we shall not be derailed from the project of continuing to rebuild our nation from the ashes of apartheid, and its legacies of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
“We shall continue to work together to ensure the human dignity of all our people, and the tasks set in the Constitution of our land to ‘recognise the injustices of the past… heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights’.”
The ANC has described the foundation’s actions as a betrayal of the memory of former president Nelson Mandela, “whose strong commitment to reconciliation saw him concede to share the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk in 1993″.
“That we chose the path of reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and not that of a Nuremberg Trial, is due to the willingness of the South African people to forgive their former oppressors.
“The FW de Klerk Foundation should not interpret this as licence to insult the people of this country with its reactionary views.”
The party called on the public to remember, as Ramaphosa himself had noted at the 30th commemoration since Mandela’s release from prison, that De Klerk had not released Mandela “out of the kindness of his heart; but because of the pressure and the struggles that the people of our country waged”.
Mabe accused the foundation of a clear and deliberate attempt to “incite race hatred”.
“The South African Constitution is clear that freedom of speech does not extend to what constitutes hate speech, and incitement to cause harm.
“The ANC urges the government it leads to tighten provisions around hate speech, and declare the denial of apartheid as a crime against humanity a crime, as is done in other jurisdictions such as Germany where holocaust denial is not tolerated in any form.
“In the interests of advancing reconciliation and nation-building, the ANC calls on the FW de Klerk Foundation to unconditionally retract its irresponsible statement and start showing commitment to the building of a South Africa we all want.”