16 January 2015
There has been a lot of talk about the “former apartheid President” FW de Klerk having a boulevard named after him by the City of Cape Town. One knows immediately that those who coin such a description simply don’t like him very much.
It is forgotten that if it weren’t for De Klerk – and probably a number of his senior advisers who told him to change course – the National Party could have dug in its heels for another few decades. We could have carried on with a low-scale civil war. We could have continued to be a virtual police state, which managed to keep the “revolution” in check for 30 years (from about 1960 to 1990). Under his predecessor PW Botha, people could be detained without trial. Many opponents of apartheid and white minority rule died either on the battlefields outside the country or in the jails or the streets within the country. People were terrified of the security police. South Africa wasn’t a very savoury place to live in, especially for those who faced the wrath of the state. But it is a mistake to believe that external pressure, sanctions, public demonstrations by the UDF and the military might of Umkhonto we Sizwe forced De Klerk to surrender. If he had wanted to stay in power he could have, by simply tightening the political grip he – and his party - had on the state: Look at one authoritarian regime close by. Who would have thought that Robert Mugabe could last for 35 years in power? He clearly had lost the support of the majority of Zimbabweans by the year 2000. Rigging elections, using violence against or dividing the opposition have kept him in power way past his sell-buy date. Mugabe and his cohorts have destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy, pushed millions of desperate people out of his country (mainly to South Africa), yet he is still in power. He still insists on being driven to the opening of the “parliament” in his 1950s Rolls Royce. De Klerk, viewed from within his ruling National Party as a hawk and a conservative, took his own party by surprise and on February 2, 1990, opened the doors wide to a non-racial democracy in South Africa. For that alone, we can, surely be extremely grateful.
De Klerk also went on to serve as deputy president of the democratic South Africa for two years under President Nelson Mandela. His party withdrew from government in 1996, but that is another story. It is not popular to say negative things about Mandela, but I believe that he unfairly blamed De Klerk for the horrors of apartheid rather than PW Botha, who for some reason Mandela personally liked despite the fact that Botha had initiated the states of emergencies and took the army into the townships to squash “unrest”. Mandela never liked De Klerk and although he was a creature of the apartheid era, De Klerk deserved to be given some political slack for taking his party by the scruff of its political neck - and out of its 45 year apartheid rut.
Renaming streets is a community function, not driven by City of Cape Town politicians. It is a pity that all the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are not honoured in the same way. While Albert Luthuli is honoured by a plaza in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela boulevard already honours an unquestionably deserving man, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is not honoured in this way. It is something the community and the city should be thinking about. Arguably Tutu especially deserves it because he was a leading light in the anti-apartheid struggle and was Archbishop in the city of Cape Town. Notably Tutu himself supported the renaming of the boulevard in honour of FW de Klerk.
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