South Africa is listed in Samuel Huntington’s book as a country prone to a “clash of civilisations”. Hence the acrimonious exchanges that characterise South African discussions of politics and history.
The South African left scored a major propaganda victory some time in the 1980s when reformist National Party policies were vilified as the “apartheid crime against humanity”. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission compared us to the Nazis. Hyperbole reigned supreme.
How many death camps did John Vorster open up and how many mass graves have the BBC shown to the world? The BBC would surely have loved to find even one mass grave as testimony to Afrikaner evil, yet it could only report on rugby player Geo Cronjé’s supposed refusal to share a room with a non-white player a few years ago.
Further investigation of Mr Cronjé’s “crime against humanity” revealed it to be a red herring.
On Wednesday, I reminded listeners of 702 that all history, including apartheid, was open to interpretation. One black SABC journalist responded by saying that I was “revising history and her pain”. However, there is far more pain to come as we witness the shambles our country is turning into. Inevitably, unflattering comparisons are being drawn between the old and the new SA, unflattering to the post-1994 dispensation.
Apartheid revisionism is in the air. Historian Hermann Giliomee recently delivered a hammer blow to the truism that “apartheid withheld education from blacks” by pointing out that “syllabi of schools in the higher standard were the same as those in white schools”.
It is also completely false that Hendrik Verwoerd discouraged the study of science and mathematics in black schools; the main problem was the lack of qualified teachers, as it remains to this day. According to an insider within the Gauteng education department, the maths average among black matriculants is currently a hopeless 20%.
A refined and cultured man like Dr Verwoerd would have been highly shocked by the Limpopo schoolbook affair. No doubt he is “spinning in his grave” as that educational buffoon, Kader Asmal, once put it, but for entirely different reasons. The tragic demise of his educational legacy should fill us all with sadness.
Within an Orwellian climate of hysteria and cries of “racism!” whenever the anti-apartheid myths are exposed, historians and commentators will need great courage to rehabilitate our history to anything resembling the truth.
This piece also appeared as a letter in the Johannesburg Business Day.