'Reconciliation is impossible without redress'
South Africa needs something new to unite it because reconciliation has lost its traction.
“Why has it [reconciliation] lost all traction? Because it wasn’t completely and properly entangled with the issue of redress‚ which ultimately speaks to the issue of justice.”
That is what academic Christi van der Westhuizen said on Thursday during a panel discussion at the book launch of “Whiteness‚ Afrikaans and Afrikaners: Addressing Post-Apartheid Legacies‚ Privileges and Burdens”‚ at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.
“From the start‚ it always should have been hand in hand with redress‚ because reconciliation is absolutely impossible without redress. I’m talking about socio-economic justice.”
The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra) decided to publish the book after a roundtable discussion at Constitution Hill in 2015. It includes inputs from former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe‚ AfriForum deputy chief executive Ernst Roets‚ businessman Bobby Godsell and politician Mathews Phosa.
Journalist Mathatha Tsedu believes we need justice before we can have reconciliation. He added that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) distracted the new South Africa from serving justice.
“Justice denied will stay on the table all the time.”
Tsedu compared it to the Nuremberg trials after the second World War‚ where justice was sought for Jews killed by the Nazis.
“Even when those [trials] ended‚ institutions were created... going around the world looking for every SS (Schutzstaffel) soldier they could find and bring back to Jerusalem‚ and put them through the trials of that justice for the victims of Auschwitz.”
Van der Westhuizen believes the TRC should have addressed the daily dehumanisation of apartheid.
“Long before you get to Eugene de Kock‚ you’ve had daily instances‚ millions of them happening over and over again‚ of dehumanisation of people on the basis of difference‚” Van der Westhuizen said.
“They (white people) didn’t know about Eugene de Kock until Vrye Weekblad (the independent‚ investigative newspaper) wrote about it. That’s true‚ but they knew about the daily dehumanisation because they were very much perpetrating those.”
Economist Xhanti Payi believes the solution now is not simply redistributing land.
“What did we lose through dispossession? Did we just lose pieces of land… over the many‚ many years‚ we lost the skill that is now being required to rework the land?”
Van der Westhuizen believes South Africa’s current public discourse is divisive along racial‚ gender and sexual lines‚ atop high levels of violence.
She believes civil rights group AfriForum and trade union Solidarity are sowing further divisions by using a new language for old ideas‚ which tie into the rising tide of racial populism worldwide.
“Social media is a free-for-all arena for these kinds of discourses... They are drawing on all the worst aspects of Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid thinking and which they clothe in a new kind of language. That is what makes them so compelling. Racism is reinvented as culture - ‘It’s not that I have a problem with black people‚ but I just want to be with people who speak my language and look like me’.”