Why Cape Town should not name a street after FW De Klerk

| Terry Bell
FW De Klerk. Photo by US State Department via Wikipedia (public domain).

Once again, there is a furore about plans to name a major Cape Town street after former apartheid president FW de Klerk. As well there should be, although there is considerable support for the proposal.

It was much the same nearly a decade ago when the proposal was made to name Adderley Street after Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the linking Wale Street, after De Klerk. Lawyer and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigations head, Dumisa Ntsebeza, and I publicly opposed this — and were rebuked by Mandela, who referred to us as “wayward boys”. But the proposal never got off the ground.

Our reasons for opposing the honouring, not of Mandela, but of De Klerk, remain just as valid today as they were then. Perhaps even more so since De Klerk continues travelling the world, effectively as an apologist for apartheid. Yet, in Mandela’s own words, shortly before the joint award to both men of the Nobel Peace Prize, De Klerk was “a man with blood on his hands”.

Mandela was referring to the fact that De Klerk admitted authorising a cross border raid into the then still nominally independent Transkei in which five school students were murdered. A total of 72 bullets ended the lives of twins, Samora and Sadat Mpendulo, Sandiso Yose, Mzwandile Mfeya and Thanda Mtembu as they lay asleep on mattresses on the floor of a house in AC Jordan Street where they had apparently been watching television.

De Klerk, in an obvious attempt to placate his still restive right wing, declared, with the support of the police and military, that a base of the Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army had been attacked. Five “terrorist” who had offered resistance, had been killed. There were also colour photographs of the bodies and, said De Klerk, he had been “fully informed” of every aspect of the raid.

But he, the death squad and others implicated in the killings obviously did not bargain on Dumisa Ntsebeza calling in independent forensic and other experts. In the process, a rather clumsy attempt by the police and military to manufacture evidence was also exposed.

De Klerk was eventually forced to acknowledge that there was no evidence of an Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army base, that there had been no resistance and that the five were school students, two of them, Sandiso and Mzwandile, just 12 years old. He finally conceded, describing the murders as “a mistake”.

There was little publicity at the time and none about the fact that, only days before De Klerk and Mandela flew to Oslo for the Nobel prize giving, Dumisa Ntsebeza filed an indictment for murder in the Transkei Supreme Court. It listed De Klerk, then foreign affairs minister Roelof “Pik” Botha, law and order minister Hernus Kriel and defence minister Kobie Coetsee.

By then, the process of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had begun and although Mandela, on his way to Oslo, referred to De Klerk having “blood on his hands”, he made no mention of this in Norway: the fantasy of the rainbow nation was starting to gain traction. At the time I did attempt to publicise the fact of the murder charge and details about the North Crest killings, but no major newspaper, radio or television station took up the issue. As then BBC correspondent, Fergal Keene noted: “Who wants to bugger up a fairy tale?”

The civil action for murder was also shelved as it might have jeopardised the functioning of the proposed TRC and De Klerk allocated state money to pay for the funerals of the dead boys and provide financial compensation to the families. In the name to reconciliation, a blanket of silence fell over the massacre.

But the families were not “bought off”. They looked to the TRC to provide answers as to who had pulled the triggers that killed their sons, who had provided what was now claimed to be “erroneous information” and who had ordered the attack. They looked in vain, because the TRC provided no answers and nor did De Klerk or any of his ministers. As a result, Sigqibo Mpendulo, father of 16-year-old twins Samora and Sadat, was one of the first claimants in a class action suit launched in New York in 2002. He wants the murder of his children to be seen as the logical extension of system that made victims of millions of people.

This is the very point that De Klerk continues to refute as he first did in 2012 when he excused the policy of apartheid as the recognition of historically justified ethnic homelands that had, unfortunately, resulted in hurt and harm. It has also now become clear that De Klerk, only when he became president, was informed that a negotiations process with the ANC was already well underway. This process was apparently steered on the apartheid side, by security chief, Daniel Barnard and his Afrikaner Broederbond head, Pieter de Lange. The die was cast, De Klerk had only to comply.

But De Klerk went much further. In what I have described as a “paper Auschwitz” he ordered the destruction of tons of documents, of tape recordings and files as negotiations for a non-racial transition drew to a close. Into the flames and shredders went the voices of thousands of victims, along with evidence of the torturers, the killers and their chains of command. Included in this act of gross vandalism was much of the evidence that could point to guilt or innocence or levels of complicity in those units of the apartheid state claimed to be a “Third Force”.

Given this background, is it any wonder that many people in South Africa and abroad feel that nobody should compound the travesty of awarding the Nobel prize to De Klerk, by honouring him any further?

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. No inference should be made about whether these reflect the editorial position of GroundUp.

TOPICS:  Politics

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I am Miliswa Mpendulo, last born of Mr. Sigqibo Mpendulo, whose brothers were slain by Mr. Dr Klerk's government. My family has never been the same ever since. We have never been able to achieve our intended goals because we were severely psychologically affected by our brutal loss.

Our plight is destitute. We are unemployed, living under difficult conditions. We keep consoling ourselves but the reality is that life came to a standstill with the loss of our bothers. We wish for a living wage, something to give us a better life than it is now, so as to reconstruct our livelihood.

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