Controversial South African politician, Julius Malema and parliamentary members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), last week tried to remove former President F.W. de Klerk from the country’s parliament.
The occasion was President Cyril Ramaphosa‘s state of the nation address. Mr. de Klerk, the last white man to be South Africa’s president, had been in attendance on the invitation of the African National Congress (ANC).
Before President Ramaphosa would give his speech, Mr. Malema led chants to boot out Mr. de Klerk, saying, “We have a murderer in the House, adding that the former president was an “apartheid apologist… with blood on his hands”.
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The EFF’s protest pushed back President Ramaphosa’s speech by nearly two hours. Neither Mr. de Klerk nor Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, who the EFF also wanted to oust, left the House.
In the end, it was Mr. Malema and the other members of the EFF who refused to be present for President Ramaphosa’s address.
The EFF leadership was triggered by an interview that Mr. de Klerk had granted before the state of the nation address. In the TV interview, the former president refused to accept that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
February 11, 2020, marked 30 years since South African freedom struggle icon Nelson Mandela was freed from the Robin Island prisons.
As the man who shared the honors of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Mandela, former president de Klerk granted interviews on how far South Africa has come.
Mr. de Klerk’s foundation doubled down on his refusal to say that apartheid was a crime against humanity. Both Mr. de Klerk and his foundation walked the fine line between apartheid and genocide.
The foundation’s statement said:
“The idea that apartheid was ‘a crime against humanity’ was, and remains, an ‘agitprop’ project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatise white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity – which have generally included totalitarian repression and the slaughter of millions of people.”
The backlash to the defense of apartheid was swift as it was torrential.
Among the responses was one from Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose statement read: “It is incumbent on leaders and former leaders of the white community, in particular, to demonstrate the courage, magnanimity and compassion necessary to contribute to societal healing.”
Other respected political commentators, including Carol Paton, called on Mr. de Klerk to “repent” from his beliefs. Social media was also awash with vexed posts.
On Monday, the pressure seemed to have paid off. Through his foundation, Mr. de Klerk apologized for insisting that apartheid was not a crime against humanity.
The former president said: “I agree with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation that this is not the time to quibble about the degrees of the unacceptability of apartheid. It was totally unacceptable.”
Incidentally, the United Nations general assembly in its negotiations with apartheid South Africa had declared the system a crime against humanity.
However, the UK and the US vetoed that UN resolution.
However, the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 also explicitly referred to apartheid as a crime against humanity.