Apartheid “was better”

Devlin Brown, digital editor. Picture: twitter

Devlin Brown, digital editor. Picture: twitter

Diane Kohler-Barnard got the country talking. She shared a Facebook post about life under PW Botha and the twitterati felt it imperative to attack each other – after all, the safety of banging keys while sitting in your bedroom is quite an attractive way to spend an evening.

Angry people have hit back at those criticising her, reminding everyone of the unforgivable things members of the ANC have said about cockroaches and more. And they are right, the ruling party has set a terrible precedent for allowing members to go unpunished for inciting comments. However, the most interesting slant of the Kohler-Barnard brigade has been the insistence that the post actually told the truth.

Yes, it was better under Apartheid. Who will deny that the schooling system operated far better? Public hospitals were good enough for me to be born in and roads were free of potholes. Suburbs were attractive and people felt safe shopping in the Johannesburg CBD. Apartheid had not only a functioning health system, but it also made sure that young men who were not well educated got wholesome jobs at the railways or some other public entity.

Children rode their bicycles in the streets until after dark and we didn’t have to listen to Julius Malema. No one would dare throw paint over a statue and everyone just got along. Apartheid was wonderful. If you were white.

Just for the sake of argument, imagine the ANC – as corrupt as the public believes it is – took 80% of the population, gave them pass books and booted their families to remote homelands. What would the schools and public hospitals look like? In fact, imagine they created a state of emergency where being in a group of four people was a crime – there wouldn’t be irritating loiterers hanging around looking for casual labour, whistling at cars as they stop at traffic lights. Yes, PW Botha never ordered concomitant action against strikers – that would be too formal – instead people fell from building windows and mysteriously slipped and died in jail cells.

There is a tendency in this country to only read what you want to read, nothing more and nothing less. Last week I was taken to task, and told to leave and shut up because I dared to try and see the E-Tolls mess-up holistically. Nowhere in that column was I speaking for the people of South Africa, nor calling for people to buy e-tags. I was stating the obvious: they are a terrible idea, there is too much concern around where the money will go, most people will never pay for them and the gantries will become white elephants. Indeed, I wrote that scrapping debt would be Sanral’s only (albeit slim) chance of saving the project. But South Africans tend to read keywords and get into a huff and puff without calming down and thinking about what they are saying.

The same applies to Kohler-Barnard. It makes no difference what ANC seniors have said, nor the angry nonsense spewed by Malema: in a country where 80% of the population have scars, memories and hurt (either their own or institutional), writing romantically about Apartheid is in terrible taste and rubs salt into wounds that will take generations to heal. If your father was a “garden boy”, try convince yourself life was better in the ‘80s.


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