Quote of the week

Mr Zuma is no ordinary litigant. He is the former President of the Republic, who remains a public figure and continues to wield significant political influence, while acting as an example to his supporters… He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law. As this Court noted in Mamabolo, “[n]o one familiar with our history can be unaware of the very special need to preserve the integrity of the rule of law”. Mr Zuma is subject to the laws of the Republic. No person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of our laws… It would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office are not bound by the law.

Khampepe j
Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State v Zuma and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 18
17 January 2007

Robert McBride, reconciliation and “fatuous” remarks

A reader took umbrage at my “fatuous” remarks about many white people not liking Robert McBride. For me the complaint illustrates quite vividly why the past still haunts our political landscape and why many black people are disillusioned with the whole discourse of “reconciliation”.

Anonymous writes:

If you do not understand why Robert McBride is not liked – and why he should never have been appointed to a position of authority – you should read the TRC’s decision on his amnesty application. It includes not only an accounting of his conduct, but the names of the victims he attempted to kill, those he actually killed, and those who were simply maimed. Perhaps then you will stop making such fatuous remarks.

I am, of course, well aware of the fact that Mr McBride was involved in the Magoo Bar bombing in which people were killed. I do not know Mr McBride, but given his shenanigans regularly reported in the press, I suspect I won’t find him a kind and generous man and would not want to be his friend.

But Mr McBride was an ANC member who formed part of the military resistance against the apartheid regime. This regime oppressed the majority of the citizens of this country solely on the basis of their skin colour. It was surely ethically praiseworthy of him to oppose this regime and to try and bring it to an end.

One might disagree with the methods used by him (as Anonymous clearly does), but then one must be consistent. If you say it was not acceptable for Mr McBride to plant bombs that he knew would kill innocent people, you should also condemn the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima that killed thousands of innocent Japanese and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Germans by RAF bombing raids towards the end of the Second World War.

(“Innocence” itself is of course a loaded term in all three these cases because like the Germans and the Japanese most white South Africans either actively supported the oppresive regime or passively enjoyed the benefits that the regime offered them. We were all, to some degree or another, less than innocent.)

I suspect that Anonymous would not condemn those killings because he or she would say that the Germans and Japanese were evil and had to be stopped. This suggests that the animus towards Mr McBride is at least party based on the notion that the apartheid government was not really that evil or even that bad.

“Maybe they were a little bit bad but at least they built roads and schools.”

This is the crux of the problem: So many white South Africans believe that there was a moral equivalence between the ANC and the apartheid government. (“We did bad things but they also did bad things and are doing bad things now, so we are quits.”) If one does not accept that the one side (the ANC and other liberation forces) had the moral high ground, one cannot acknowledge the pain and hurt caused by the system that one was inextricably part of.

Without accepting that apartheid was really evil (I am not saying it was as evil as Nazism) and that those who fought against it were ethically justified to do so, one cannot really begin to understand how the new South Africa works and one cannot begin to demand respect and reconciliation from those who suffered from it.

Of course, now that the ANC has been in power for 12 years, they often act (wrongly) as if apartheid has never ended and then claim to still have a monopoly on moral outrage. But people like Anonymous assist them in this folly by continuing to act as knowing or inadvertent defenders for apartheid. Without such “bad guys”, the ANC won’t have any enemies left to blame for things that go wrong.

I strongly believe (here is the text verse now!) that until we all recognise our past for what it is, until we acknowledge that only one side was the morally just side, we will not be able to create even the beginnings of a non-racial society.


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