Let's Think

Are ghosts from the past digging the grave of the future?

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The fight over the statues of public figures of yesteryear seems to be building up to what could become an extremely dangerous widespread confrontation.

In the process South Africans are allowing the ghosts from the past to dig the grave of the ‘Rainbow Nation’s’ future as the extremists of today are allowed to dominate the public space. In the meantime the voices of goodwill and reason are being drowned out by the noise.

The country is running the risk of allowing the Economic Freedom Fighters – a tiny minority, as their numbers in parliament testify – and other of the same ilk to achieve what Eugene Terreblanche and his Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging could not achieve pre-1994: tipping the country into a bloody racial conflict.

Those from within the white, mainly Afrikaner, community, responding with threats of counter-protests and conflict, are playing into the hands of the present-day Eugene Terreblanches.

We might have been a bit too slow in pro-actively highlighting and kindling the –  more than is often realised – shared heritage of our diverse population groups. Last week we, for example, made reference to the links between Afrikaners and black people regarding some experiences surrounding the Anglo-Boer War.

Against this background the reaction of the Tshwane mayor to the defacement by the EFF of Paul Kruger’s statue on Church Square in Pretoria, is to be applauded. Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa made public plans to build a single national heritage site to house hundreds of South Africa’s statues. He also threw his weight behind the ANC Youth League’s call to relocate the Kruger statue.

Wider community efforts

But these efforts to defuse the building confrontation, and indeed pro-active initiatives, need not be left to political leaders alone. In fact, efforts from the wider community already underway got drowned out by the noise caused by the hotheads.

Earlier this week we had a conversation with a young black entrepreneur, Twin Mawela Mosia, born 31 years ago on a farm called Middelpunt, 10km east of Petrus Steyn. This farm, where his grandparents are buried, was hit by a bomb when British troops during the Anglo-Boer War tried in vain to capture the Boer General CR de Wet.
Twin is in the process of realising his dream of renovating the train station at Petrus Steyn which will be housing a museum, commemorating the shared black and white heritage surrounding British concentration camps during that colonial war.

He has also teamed up with the South African Military Veteran Organisation (MVO) in organising a Concentration Camp Cycle Tour.

In a promotional letter on the planned event, Colonel Jan Malan, chairman of the MVO, , in January wrote: “115 Years ago, 50 camps for white woman and children were built as part of the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy of the British, in which 3 4011 died. Little known is that at the same time, 64 camps were erected for blacks, leading to between 18 000 and 22 000 deaths.

“The aim of the project is to take some of the lessons of the past and together build a better future for all in South Africa.

“The theme is: ‘Swords into Ploughshares’.

“The concept is to have nine teams of military veterans, schoolchildren and history enthusiasts simultaneously participating in an ‘Amazing Race’, visiting each and every concentration camp around South Africa over the period 1–15 December 2015, planting commemoration crosses as they go, and collecting two stones from each site. This will culminate in the building of a Reconciliation Monument at Petrus Steyn Heritage Site Station” – which is part of Twin’s ongoing project. (We plan a more comprehensive report on these projects in next week’s Bulletin.)

We think

The organisations, political parties and individuals that have been condemning the actions of the EFF and others in the defacing of and making threats of destructing historical statues and monuments, have been acting fully within their rights. We cannot afford to let these events pass without condemning them.

Condemnation is, however, not enough if we are serious about building a peaceful future of co-existence, and threats of counter-protests and confrontation will not only be counterproductive, they will be irresponsible. They can only intensify polarisation and increase the danger of destructive conflict.

Condemnation should be supplemented with taking hands with and supporting those who are working on projects aimed at inclusive nation-building.

We will not succeed in building a shared future without also discovering and re-discovering our shared past as a foundation to build on.

by Piet Coetzer

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