By Johan Smith
There is a tendency in Western countries to condemn and erase their history under the banner of Western liberalism and an accompanying newfound morality. Examples of this are the surrounding and or removal of statues as well as the changing of names. In South Africa, the politically expedient name change of schools such as the DF Malan High School, without much pressure from the school community, is a good example.
One of the problems with the often uninformed who change names for moral reasons is that by implication they believe they know better than decision makers who lived, say, a hundred years ago. A further problem is that this action gives momentum to the radicals (such as the ANC or EFF) and this while decision-makers precisely want to prevent the institution from being targeted.
If I falsely accuse you and you give in; aren’t you guilty then?
However, given that people today cannot agree on complex political issues, the question is: how can we be so sure about the actions of others in the past? Don’t we tend to oversimplify the past and perhaps make exactly the mistakes we accuse others of?
It’s worth illustrating the point with a few examples. For example, how does history go for a dr. Remember Allan Boesak? Is it correct to dr. To summarize Boesak as a convicted criminal while many hold him in high esteem as a champion of justice who made many sacrifices? Although he was indeed found guilty of fraud and had to serve a prison sentence, reasonable people and liberals will certainly not be so single-eyed at dr. Boesak doesn’t look.
Winston Churchill’s legacy is a similar example.
Today he is recognized by many as the greatest British leader of all time. If it weren’t for Churchill’s courage and exceptional leadership, Western democracy might have died an early death. How would Europe and the West have looked if Hitler had won World War II? However, Churchill was also an imperialist (advocate of colonialism) and made hurtful racist statements. Is it then fair or wise to dismiss him as a colonizer and racist?
Mahatma Gandhi, who today enjoys iconic recognition in South Africa and India, also made hurtful racist remarks. Should he be canceled too? And of course Nelson Mandela. He was a terrorist because he supported violence against civilians as part of the ANC’s fight for freedom. However, I need not elaborate on how the world remembers Madiba.
The foregoing illustrates that history, like the present, is complex and that one must look at the historical leaders’ legacy in a nuanced way. However, this does not stop the momentum for cancellation, which comes from two groups with different motivations.
First, there are the so-called previously disadvantaged or victims who are politically motivated. In the South African context, they are represented, among others, by the ANC. In America, for example, it is black Americans, most of whom vote for the Democrats.
The second group is those who want to change names under the banner of progressivism and their own moral convictions. In America, the latter are the liberals who vote for the Democrats. These two groups with diverse motivations then in fact conspire against the community whose history is being targeted. In America, of course, it is conservative Americans or conservative American ideals; in South Africa it is mostly Afrikaners.
While the politically motivated are driven by revenge, the liberals are driven by their firm moral conviction. However, the unifying factors are intolerance and undemocratic actions typical of the left side of the political spectrum driven by emotion. Action is therefore judged in the context of how people feel about it bird and stand in line with classical Western values such as democracy, rationality and Christian values.
While liberals are therefore prepared to look pragmatically at previous leaders, they do not allow the same space for Afrikaner leaders such as Dr. Not DF Malan or even PW Botha. In the process, they fall into the trap of double standards that lead to polarization. And this at the expense of moral high ground. The foregoing is then the first domino to fall to transform the culture of the institution. What happens next is common knowledge.
Briefly about Malan.
In a challenging time in 1948, he became the prime minister of the Union of South Africa, which was still subservient to the British crown. This after a long-standing English-minded liberal government which initially followed a one-stream policy against Afrikaans and which was vehemently opposed by Malan as a campaigner.
Segregation was firmly established following the recommendations of the South African Native Affairs Commission, appointed by Lord Alfred Milner in the early 1900s. This formed the basis for the systematic territorial segregation of whites and blacks, the creation of locations, as well as the political separation of these groups.
In the late forties the writing was also on the wall for colonialism and in the 1950s one colonial power after another withdrew from Africa with catastrophic consequences such as civil wars and the decade-long rule of corrupt despots and mass murderers like Idi Amin. According to Hermann Giliomee, the majority of black people were still illiterate in the early fifties and this after 155 years of British rule (1795-1950) and Malan was among other things responsible for the then Bantu education which by the early eighties was well on its way to to put an end to black illiteracy.
How did Malan have to react to his firm belief that a black majority government would bring South Africa to its knees and cause tragic loss of life? Aren’t those who emigrate today just as “racist” as Malan? They also have no hope that things will ever improve under a black majority government! And isn’t apartheid just another ideology, like imperialism and transformation?
In closing. Zealous moral signalers’ emotional and often ill-informed decisions to erase history are not the solution to South Africa’s problems. Especially not if the knee is bowed to the narrative of the day, which lays everything that goes wrong at the door of apartheid.
Leadership demands precisely that one does not move with the flow. What is needed instead is that communities stand strong and, in the case of Afrikaners, regain their self-confidence and take their position in order to continue to fulfill a valuable role in South Africa. Not doing so is asking too high a price.
- Johan Smit is a businessman, farmer, Christian and patriot.