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ET's murder a reflectionof Hani killing

By Dave Steward | Apr 07, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

IT WAS also in Easter on April 10 1993. I was enjoying the weekend with my wife and kids - with all the trimmings - Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies.

Since I was then the director-general in the office of former president FW de Klerk, I was among the firstpeople to be informed about the dreadful news of Chris Hani's assassination.

I then tracked De Klerk down to a small town in the Eastern Cape where he was attending a family gathering and conveyed the terrible news to him.

There was a very real threat that all the good work that had been achieved in the constitutional negotiations would be destroyed in an orgy of inter-racial violence.

De Klerk understood immediately that only former ANC leader Nelson Mandela would be able to manage the rage and grief with which the news of the assassination had quite understandably been received by black South Africans. Madiba rose magnificently to the occasion.

Even though he was not yet president of the country, he made a broadcast to the nation in which he called for calm with all the great authority that he commanded. He pointed out that the assassins had been quickly identified and arrested because of information received from a white South African woman.

The potentially explosive situation was defused and South Africans of all races were able to resume the process that led to our first democratic elections in April 1994 and the establishment of our non-racial constitutional democracy.

At 10.20pm on Easter weekend I was phoned by a reporter from Rapport with the news that Eugène Terre'blanche had been murdered.

Once again, I immediately contacted De Klerk and passed the news to him.

We both agreed on the need for strong leadership to help calm the situation. We recalled the letter that De Klerk had written to President Jacob Zuma the previous week in which he had expressed his concerns over the inflammatory tone of the national debate.

In the letter, De Klerk had said that he was worried about the negative implications that this inflammatory tone was having on inter-racial relations and the opportunities that it was creating for right-wing extremists.

He urged Zuma to "take the lead in moderating the tone of the national debate and in ensuring that it is conducted in a manner that promotes national unity and compliance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution".

That is where the similarity between the two events ends.

Hani was one of the principal leaders of the ANC alliance and was widely regarded as a future national leader.

His assassination was undoubtedly a political act - motivated by the desperate and insane idea that it would spark off ethnic conflict and derail the negotiation process.

Terre'blanche on the other hand had never been more than a minor figure in white politics - although his flair for oratory and drama always helped to ensure that he received much more media attention than his minimal support warranted.

By the time of his death he had become an even more marginal figure. There is also no evidence whatsoever that his murder was motivated by political factors.

The indications point instead to a pay dispute with his farmworkers - although we shall have to wait until the investigations into his murder have been completed before we reach any definitive conclusions.

Every death diminishes us. Every murder should be an affront to all our people.

Some 1560 farmers have been murdered since 1994.

During the same period there have been more than 300000 homicides in South Africa - compared with fewer than 13000 South Africans who died in the six years of World War 2 - and the 21500 who were killed in 34 years of political violence between 1960 and 1994.

South Africa's murder rate of 37 per 100000 people is one of the highest in the world.

We should mourn all those who have died so unnecessarily and commit ourselves to building a society in which the constitutional right to life will be a reality.

At the same time we South Africans need to remember the leadership of Mandela in April 1993.

All relationships are works in progress - especially relationships between races in ethnically divided societies like our own.

They need constant care, communication and nurturing if they are to remain healthy. (Try not communicating with your spouse for three weeks and see whether or not I am right!)

Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough honest communication between South Africans from our various communities today.

The furore over Eugene Terre'blanche's murder is a symptom of this. Everywhere relationships are under pressure. Everywhere the tone of the national debate is becoming more ideological, more vitriolic and more uncompromising.

We need to return to the time when we talked to one another - rather than shouting at one another - about critical issues. There are a couple of fundamental realities that we dare not forget: there is no chance that we will solve the great challenges that confront us - like land reform, crime, education, poverty and the pressing need for continuing economic growth and equality - unless we all work together. The second reality is that any attempt by anyone to impose their will on other communities could well lead to catastrophe.

At Easter time we should not be thinking about killing, division and hatred.

We should be thinking about reconciliation, resurrection and renaissance - and about a society in which all of us can spend this most holy festival in peace and security with our families.

l The writer is executive director at the FW de Klerk Foundation


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