In the wake of news that AfriForum plans to prosecute EFF leader Julius Malema on charges that he was involved in corruption and fraud in Limpopo during his time as ANC Youth League leader, Malema has countered that AfriForum are racists with ignoble intentions.
Legally speaking, the motive for prosecution is not relevant (just ask Jacob Zuma, who had that explained to him not long ago by the Supreme Court of Appeal). However, in the court of public opinion, these things often play out very differently.
Malema may have reason to be concerned, as even those who have acted as judges before in South Africa, and continue to have aspirations to become judges, can sometimes come across as woefully ill-informed about not only what racism is, but even what the political history of South Africa actually is.
In a recording of a grilling that Advocate Corrie Van der Westhuizen received in 2016 at Malema’s hands, the senior counsel candidate was completely unable to answer even some of the most basic questions about the definition of racism.
The senior counsel advocate was hoping to be appointed as a judge to the Gauteng high courts and faced tough questions at Judicial Service Commission interviews about having been conscripted into the army during the apartheid-era and his lack of political activism.
Van Der Westhuizen has nevertheless already acted as a judge in both the Pretoria and Johannesburg seats of the high court from 2015.
In a series of cringeworthy responses to Malema, Van der Westhuizen first of all defined racism as “denying somebody not of the same creed or culture as yourself…”
He was equally clueless when it came to answering the question of how someone might become a racist, saying it was “probably by choice”.
“You just choose to be a racist?” an incredulous Malema asked him.
“You are not taught to be a racist? Can racism be a culture, a part of upbringing?”
“No,” the advocate maintained, arguing that being a racist was an individual choice.
When Malema pointed out that, in his view, apartheid had taught white people to be racist through education and propaganda, the advocate countered that people had still been able to make up their own minds.
Van der Westhuizen then offered the view that he didn’t even think apartheid had taught white people to hate black people, basing his opinion on the “many people” he had met as a child who “did not hate people from the other colour”.
A sarcastic Malema then put it to him if he thought apartheid had therefore “taught white people to love black people?”
“That’s why it was so nice, apartheid? Is that why you joined the army?” Malema asked.
The advocate refused to answer.
Eventually, Van der Westhuizen offered the squirming explanation that he hadn’t “made a study” of apartheid and didn’t know much about it, but conceded that “the main thought behind it may have been to hate others. What I’ve known about the apartheid system was that people were separated.”
Malema challenged: “Would I be correct to describe you as a defender of apartheid through those answers you have been giving me?”
“I’m not defending apartheid,” he maintained, but Malema alleged he was in “denial” about a system that most of the world had accepted was “evil” and “taught white people to hate black people”.
He then paraphrased Nelson Mandela, saying no one “is born a hater, they are taught to hate”.
“That could be one way of looking at it,” Van der Westhuizen conceded, adding that “apartheid was something that irked me, I did not understand it”.
The cringe factor did not abate when the advocate also admitted he couldn’t speak any African language because he wasn’t “a linguist”, but at least he was creating employment for interpreters by not understanding other languages.
The final inadvertent admission of complete historical lack of consciousness and awareness on Van der Westhuizen’s part was when, like so many other white people in South Africa, he denied that he had benefited from apartheid in any way; he claimed instead that his success was due to his having worked hard.
“I had to battle to reach where I am today. Nothing came easy.”
Obviously, one can only hope that whichever judge eventually does hear the case against Malema (if it ever is heard), he ends up being slightly better qualified to answer basic questions about what racism is and how it was applied in South Africa.
Legal practitioners like Van der Westhuizen, however, don’t exactly fill one with confidence about that.
Take a look at the encounter below: