By Jacob Dlamini
WHEN Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, was zapped by a crusading Spanish prosecutor for gross human rights violations, millions of progressives around the world cheered. Pinochet might have been in his twilight years, his body might have been frail, but none of that mattered. The man was getting his just desserts.
The dictator?s prosecution for a series of crimes delighted millions because it was about more than just a man who had sincerely believed himself in direct communion with God. Never mind that his was a vengeful and rabid anti-communist god.
We welcomed the bastard?s prosecution, which came after the fall of the Soviet Union, because it meant that the US, Pinochet?s key backers, could no longer walk around proclaiming itself the bearer of freedom to the world. It , too, had bloody hands.
Pinochet and his military chums had worked out a lovely deal for themselves in Chile. They stepped down from power after more than two decades of military rule but gave themselves lifetime immunity and acted like a caste of untouchables, while constantly blackmailing the country?s democratising state with threats of a military coup should the victims of their excesses demand justice. The Americans quietly supported them in this.
So when the Spanish judge pounced on Pinochet while he was in Europe attending to his deteriorating health, we jumped for joy because the move meant the man could no longer act as though he was untouchable.
Some of us took to dreaming that after Pinochet would follow former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and many others. It truly did feel like an entire system was about to be put on trial.
Sadly, I do not find myself as excited about the imminent prosecution of Adrian Vlok, one of the last apartheid police ministers, and his police chief, Johann van der Merwe, as I think I should be.
There is something pathetic about going after pathetic men, and I do not know if anyone will find any sense of closure from these men?s prosecution.
The prosecution of Vlok and Van der Merwe has something of a cheap shot about it.
Having gone after and failed to nail bastards such as Wouter Basson, who not only delighted in the pain caused by apartheid but looked keen to continue to rub our faces in it ? even as they enjoy the freedom we brought them ? we seem to have found it easy to go after miserable old men who have spent the past 13 years trying to atone for their sins.
There is something odd about going after Vlok and not the thousands others who were just as responsible for the crime that was apartheid.
What about the thousands who saw to it that apartheid worked? The various public servants ? from the black teachers who had no qualms about subjecting their pupils to Bantu education, the millions of black and white clerks who processed and issued the tons of documents on which the apartheid machinery depended, to the policemen and women who loyally served the state while it lasted.
It is, it seems to me, to misunderstand apartheid fundamentally to think that its excesses consisted only of the outrages committed by the likes of Vlok and his men.
The real crimes of apartheid were not the poisonings, beatings and arrests that marked that tragic period of our lives, sad and unfortunate as those were . W hat made apartheid a crime against humanity was the daily and constant assault on human dignity, the systematic devaluation of human life, the daily violence that attended especially black life in this country. Can anyone be prosecuted for that?
We know that apartheid was not some faceless force that somehow had both a direct and indirect effect on people?s lives.
Apartheid was the local policeman who took pride in knocking your door down in the middle of the night just so he could check that everyone sleeping in there had a dompas; the ?madam? for whom you did not exist except as a pair of hands to clean her house and cook her food; the bureaucrat to whom you had to justify why you should be allowed to go to a ?white? university instead of your own tribal college.
Are any of these people ? and they are still out there ? going to be charged for making apartheid survive for as long as it did?
It is said that when the East German state collapsed, many of its secret police and spies re-invented themselves as estate agents and private investigators.
In SA, many apartheid-era bureaucrats took their ?skills? to the private sector, especially the security industry.
How many of these people have been called to account for their crimes? Will the National Prosecuting Authority go after them when it is done with Vlok?
I do not think Vlok should be forgiven his sins (that is a matter for him and his god) but I do think a debate is called for about what the demise of apartheid meant for SA. Was it a revolution? Was it a negotiated settlement? Was it a stalemate? Were there victors and vanquished?
Answers to these questions will help us understand whether prosecuting Vlok is the right way to go about righting past wrongs.
?There is something odd about going after Vlok and not the thousands others who were just as responsible for the crime that was apartheid