Apartheid was morally repugnant ... full stop

In response to former president FW de Klerk's words, the writer says even if apartheid had resulted in good, it would be morally repugnant for its philosophical underpinnings.
In response to former president FW de Klerk's words, the writer says even if apartheid had resulted in good, it would be morally repugnant for its philosophical underpinnings.
Image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We take it for granted that everyone understands what it means to live in a democracy and the moral basis for SA's constitutional democracy, in particular.

If FW De Klerk, one of the main architects of the negotiated settlement that produced a democratic SA, can time and again defend or deny apartheid's dehumanising nature, many others do not comprehend the significance of this democracy.

The achievement of universal suffrage - one person, one vote - is significant in its affirmation of equal humanity.

Pat White puts it well in an article titled Political Education in a Democracy - "The rationale for universal suffrage is that everyone's interests matter, and matter equally, and as a moral agent each must have an opportunity to bring his point of view to the decision-makers' attention."

Freedom and moral agency are inalienable rights and are the essence of being human. Apartheid trampled on this essence and thus deprived blacks of their humanity.

The glaring omission of our transition from apartheid to democracy is that De Klerk and the National Party were not compelled to repudiate their ethos.

Apartheid was built on a theory that whites were the only race truly human, making other races less and sub-human, specifically black African people.

In his apology in 1993 De Klerk characterised the atrocities committed by the state under apartheid as unintended consequences of a well-meant system.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview in May 2012 put it to him that Nelson Mandela and members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission expressed regret that he did not renounce the principle and take responsibility for what the National Party did.

"I have made the most profound apology . about the injustices . wrought by apartheid. What I haven't apologised for is the original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states.

"But in South Africa it failed and by the end of the '70s we had to realise and accept and admit to ourselves that it had failed and that is when fundamental reform started but I have made a profound apology for the injustices caused by apartheid."

Asked whether apartheid was morally repugnant, De Klerk offered this qualified response: "In as much as it trampled human rights, it was. morally indefensible. There were many aspects which were morally indefensible but the concept. of saying that ethnic unities with one culture, one language can be happy and fulfill their democratic aspirations, in an own state, that is not repugnant. The goal then was separate but equal but separate but equal failed."

De Klerk does not deny that there were injustices committed under apartheid. What he denies is that the underpinning principle of apartheid is itself abhorrent and deplorable.

Article 1 of the 1973 UN Convention on Apartheid as a Crime Against Humanity condemns apartheid itself as a system premised on the dehumanisation of groups of people because of their race.

Even if apartheid had resulted in good, it would be morally repugnant for its philosophical underpinnings.

Apartheid was a theory and policy of segregation on the basis of racial superiority of whites. It is only by acknowledging this that we can honestly address the trauma and effects of colonialism and apartheid in SA.

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