A Gripe, a Conversation, a Dirge

Just before he dies, the former South African president who led a white supremacist regime tries to clean up his act and hope history’s brush will paint his life with soft strokes. He records it all for public release in a last-minute mea culpa titled “FW de Klerk’s message from beyond the grave”.

I think the Mandela who sharpened Umkhonto we Sizwe as ANC’s military wing listened to it and spit on the door of de Klerk’s exit.

I’m also sure the peace-making Mandela who emerged out of Robben Island would admonish me for such a crass statement.

Then I’d say- but Tata Madiba, you know I’m right. The ancestors reject his mea culpa, don’t they! Because the tentacles of apartheid still leave the people dispossessed. Mama Winnie – who never let go of the spear you sharpened – warned you about that bad deal you made for poor people to buy back their stolen lands from the apartheid oppressor.

But you figured it came with a peace deal that would stop bloodrivers of vengeance from flowing. You were right about that part– stopping a race war that would still be raging had you in any way sparked the fires of vengeance in South Africa. But a different kind of war has filled that dangerous void of deprivation. I don’t know.. I’m with Mama Winnie here. The land reform deal was more sword, less savior.

It seems I can’t have a gripe about de Klerk without including you. Let me vent, Tata. The two of you are bound together by history.

I do understand that one plays their part and departs. The ANC you left behind is no help. It turned into a careless regime with leaders as callous and greedy as the hyenas of the Kalahari. Perhaps you hoped your successors’ better selves would rise up and dismantle what you couldn’t, or wasn’t in your place to bring down– the pillars of dispossession that de Klerk couldn’t, or refused to help destroy after his Nobel peace prize.

I bet you still get tickled by that, don’t you? You and your tormentor, side by side, getting the same award. Now he travels across the chthonic vastness, a troubled sojourner who felt he had to leave behind a mea culpa to ease his conscience.

I cannot judge the man’s love for his country, or even his proclaimed contriteness of spirit, but I do question which South Africa he declares his love for in that exit message. And what does it matter? It’s a land for the living after all. As South Africa goes, so does the rest of Africa.

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