By Khathu Mamaila
I GET it now. FW de Klerk is a hero. He is a liberator who not only walks on water but also performs miracles. Little wonder that South Africa?s transition from apartheid to democracy is admired the world over as a miracle.
But there may be some unforgiving, ungrateful people who are opposed to bestowing sainthood on De Klerk. With good reason, though.
After all, it was during his reign that more than 20 000 black people were brutally murdered on trains, at taxi ranks, in hostels and townships by the Third Force. Does anyone remember Boipatong, Swanieville and the other countless massacres of people in various townships on the Reef?
Those who perceive De Klerk as a villain do not isolate him from the apartheid system. They refuse to see him as the baas who loved blacks so much that he broke ranks with the system and charted a path that led to freedom for South Africa.
They see him as the principal defender of minority privileges that saw him serve the apartheid government with honour for decades.
But then, how is he a hero? And more directly, whose hero is he?
On the surface, there are several things De Klerk did that qualified him as a hero. The man had courage. He released Nelson Mandela, the feared ?terrorist? who, according to some of our compatriots, should have died in jail.
In addition to releasing ?political prisoners, De Klerk ?allowed exiles to return home. He unbanned political parties. In his historic speech on February 2 1990, he decreed that apartheid was dead. The speech transformed him from a feared and hated caterpillar into an admired butterfly. A complete metamorphosis.
De Klerk steered South Africa from a possible Kosovo to peace. And for that he even got a Nobel Peace Prize.
But beneath the surface, the ?actions of De Klerk were not selfless. He should be credited as one of the most effective strategists of our time. De Klerk spotted an opportunity and made his move.
In 1989, the communist block was disintegrating. It is common know?ledge that the ANC ?relied heavily on the military and financial support of the Soviet ?Union. Its collapse would have left the ANC extremely vulnerable. De Klerk knew this and used it.
He knew that if he negotiated with the ANC at that particular time, he would retain the upper hand. And he did.
Instead of becoming a victim of change, De Klerk became a principal agent of change. He understood that when you lead change, you can determine the outcome. He ?secured the best deal for his constituency.
Those with myopia may accuse the man of selling out whites. But those with vision know that he freed them from being the polecats of the world. Now they can play rugby without threats of cultural boycotts. They can operate in various countries without threats of economic sanctions.
On the domestic front, the sun-set clauses guaranteed that the white bureaucrats retained their jobs. The South African Defence Force assimilated Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Azanian People?s Liberation Army to form the South African National Defence Force.
White wealth acquired through decades of oppression and the economic exploitation of blacks was to be left in white hands through clauses that protected private property.
Materially, blacks had very little to show for their liberation. But they were happy with symbols. They have a new flag. They have a black-dominated government. They were happy that their leaders had been released from jail, that exiles had returned.
It was the best deal for De Klerk?s constituency. It was a miracle. The new ANC-led government had the job of protecting private property, a euphemism for watching over the wealth of mainly white people.To use a presidential phrase, De Klerk is a hero to some among us.
But to expect those who were shortchanged by his tricks to embrace him as a hero is to insult their intelligence.