No doubt there has been an avalanche of commentary on AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel denying that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
I’ve seen some of it, but I really wouldn’t go out of my way to read it all, because there isn’t much point.
Obviously apartheid was a crime against humanity.
The fact that we can still be quibbling over this in the year 2018 is evidence of several things that immediately spring to mind:
- Kallie Kriel is actually as stupid as he looks. But let’s keep in mind he may be a political idiot savant because he’s certainly aware that he’s appealing to other idiots, and there are many of them. By even paying attention to this kind of mental flatulence, we’re simply playing into AfriForum’s hands, not unlike when we hop about every time Julius Malema says something ridiculous;
- The contestation over how “bad” apartheid actually was will continue for a long time because some white people somehow seem to think they can recalibrate the requisite amount of guilt they need to feel depending on what the the “actual” quantifiable severity of apartheid was. So, the less bad, the better they apparently allow themselves to feel (though many still feel a feather, because they are naturally of the default position that apartheid was wonderful; and to hell with them, right?);
- Conversely, black people have a stake in characterising the period of apartheid as viciously as they possibly can, which often lends itself to unfortunate hyperbole and a lack of willingness to simply get on with improving our lot instead of getting bogged down in things that cannot be changed now.
I could go on, but so what? There’s so much obvious South African political theatre playing out here, including how when someone like Kriel says something daft like this it allows the social media outrage machine to kick into 11th gear so that everyone can attempt to out-outrage everyone else and emerge as the most affronted intellectual smiter of conservative, ignorant thinking in South Africa of them all.
And for many “liberal” white people it’s a moment in which they probably feel compelled to make it clear they definitely don’t agree with the Kallies of this world in any way.
Even if the least we could do was try to thank him for giving us a bit of insight into how he and the people he represents view the country, it’s not as if we didn’t know already.
Someone like Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib must feel quite justified in having compared Kriel and Ernst Roets to Hitler. Even though you’d have thought an academic would know better than to apply Godwin’s law as his opening blow, Habib isn’t entirely exaggerating – because it is always unsettling to think someone can say: “Only 600 people were murdered, you know. It isn’t so bad.”
Kriel appears to have relied on apartheid police stats disclosing how many struggle fighters were killed in detention, and then concluded that it was nothing compared with the kinds of human rights atrocities that smear the bloody pages of human history.
From Kriel’s point of view, the apartheid authorities were probably being quite restrained and magnanimous by apparently trying not to kill everyone.
But this misses the entire point that the crime of apartheid had nothing to do with killing black people and everything to do with the fact that it forced them to live in circumstances that made them wish they were dead. The legacy of that system continues to haunt us today, which the Kallies don’t want to hear about.
The attitude of, “Oh, it’s just a few dead people,” is also probably the starting point of where history’s mass murderers began. Idi Amin, Josef Stalin, Genghis Khan and so on didn’t start off by killing a million people before breakfast. It must have begun with them thinking that wiping out a few enemies here and there wouldn’t be so bad, and would possibly even prevent the deaths of many more in future. At every point, they no doubt felt they were doing something justifiable.
And once you start killing, it often means you just have to keep on doing it. To mangle a quote from another great mass murderer from a little further east: the journey of a thousand killings starts with a single slaying.
I’ll never forget how I was standing at the concourse one day years ago at the height of George W Bush’s Iraq war and seeing a headline on a big screen at Waterloo Station in London. It proclaimed that America was disputing some NGO’s claim that a million Iraqi civilians had been killed as a result of the US invasion of the country.
“But it’s only a few hundred thousand, at best,” said some Republican hawk.
Ah. “Only” a few hundred thousand. That makes it okay, then? A war “only” becomes morally reprehensible at the point you go from killing 999,999 people to killing 1 million of them?
And so, perhaps, to a man like Kallie Kriel, a state that killed “only” 600 people was not committing crimes against humanity.
Ah, dammit… I started this column genuinely convinced I wasn’t going to get drawn into an argument about what Kallie Kriel thinks. Clearly, I have failed. There will no doubt be many others who will trot out opposing statistics and views and so inadvertently flatter all the Kallies that they are engaging in some sort of “debate” with him. So I’ll leave that to them.
There will also be the others who’ll to take me on to say I’m just another ‘ad hominem’ hack who’s playing the man and not the ball.
But that’s my whole point. Kallie Kriel didn’t bring a ball for us to attempt to play with. He’s instead holding a maggot-infested, bloody, rancid old pig’s bladder and hoping we’ll try to grab it out of his hands and run with it. And he calls this decoy ball his “point”. In such circumstances the only reasonable thing to do is to tackle the man, and maybe give him a kick in the balls too, for good measure.
So sorry, Kallie. Let me just say what I came here to say, which is: I don’t want to argue with you, and I don’t think anyone else should too. I just wanted to say, go fuck yourself.