ONE SMALL STEP FOR MAN, ONE GIANT STEP BACK FOR CAPE TOWN

Daily Dispatch - - Front Page - Tom Ea­ton Ea­ton is a Tiso Black­star Group colum­nist

Colum­nist Tom Ea­ton lumps city’s new mayor, Dan Plato, to­gether with Nazis, rock­ets and his mem­ber­ship with the old Na­tional Party

When Neil Arm­strong walked on the moon it was one small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind. And all thanks to Nazis.

Of course, the Amer­i­cans and the Rus­sians would have got there by them­selves even­tu­ally. But in the late 1940s the metaphor­i­cal rocket fuel at the heart of their re­spec­tive mis­sile and space pro­grammes were Ger­man sci­en­tists and engi­neers, coaxed, co­erced or sim­ply kid­napped at the end of World War 2.

In 1945 they were worth their weight in plu­to­nium. Ger­many’s cul­ture of pro­duc­ing elite physi­cists, cou­pled with Adolf Hitler’s ob­ses­sions with bal­lis­tic su­per-weapons, had pro­duced a crop of brains di­a­bol­i­cally versed in launch­ing large, ex­plo­sive ob­jects a very long way.

As the Third Re­ich col­lapsed and it be­came clear that the next war would prob­a­bly be a nu­clear one be­tween the West and the Soviet Union, Amer­i­can and Rus­sian agents raced each other to scoop up as many of th­ese pul­sat­ing Ger­man brains as they could.

The Amer­i­cans did well: be­tween 1945 and 1959 they whisked more than 1,600 Ger­man sci­en­tists away to the US. The Sovi­ets, un­en­cum­bered by sub­tlety, took a more ro­bust ap­proach: in the small hours of Oc­to­ber 22 1946, se­cret po­lice backed up by Red Army troops rounded up over 2,200 sci­en­tists liv­ing in Soviet-oc­cu­pied Ger­many and hauled them and their fam­i­lies off to the Moth­er­land at gun­point, more than 6,000 in all.

In Moscow, the of­fi­cial line was that the new ar­rivals had been “in­vited” to Rus­sia. US of­fi­cials de­scribed theirs as vol­un­teers kept in pro­tec­tive cus­tody, pre­sum­ably to save them from anti-Ger­man mobs rather than to pre­vent them from high-tail­ing it with a yodel-heyhi-ho all the way back to Bavaria.

The eu­phemism was un­der­stand­able. It would have been con­fus­ing at least, and up­set­ting at worst, for Amer­i­cans and Rus­sians to dis­cover that the peo­ple now keep­ing them safe from each other were the very same peo­ple who had sup­ported Hitler’s party, built his ter­ror weapons and, at least in a few cases, had known about what was hap­pen­ing in the con­cen­tra­tion camps.

In ret­ro­spect, the pro­pa­ganda worked. Stan­ley Kubrick might have given it a ma­ni­a­cal salute in Dr Strangelove, but th­ese days the only traces of the whole­sale im­por­ta­tion of Nazi tal­ent into the West is the odd chil­dren’s car­toon or su­per­hero movie in which a sharp sci­en­tist has a Ger­man ac­cent or wears a vil­lain­ous mon­o­cle.

For the rest, the US space pro­gramme is all star-span­gled ban­ners, Tom Hanks and lipquiv­er­ing salutes.

There are a few morals to this story. One is that the prim­i­tive no­tion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can be taken to ab­surdly hyp­o­crit­i­cal lengths. But per­haps the most im­por­tant one is that a filthy past can be laun­dered clean if your skills are in high de­mand.

Which brings me to Dan Plato, Cape Town’s new mayor.

Wait, it’s not what you think. Plato isn’t a Nazi. Or a rocket sci­en­tist for that mat­ter.

But his ap­point­ment did get me think­ing about how much we’re will­ing to for­get or for­give; and that got me think­ing about those ex-Nazis beaver­ing away in their new po­lit­i­cal homes.

Plato, you see, joined the Na­tional Party in 1990. On pur­pose. I know hind­sight is easy. Back then, things were com­pli­cated.

I can, how­ever, only think of three plau­si­ble rea­sons why any­one would have gone out and ac­tively joined the NP in 1990.

The first is that you liked their pol­i­tics and re­cent his­tory. The sec­ond is that you loathed their pol­i­tics and re­cent his­tory but got of­fered a tasty deal.

And the third is that you had been kid­napped by the CCB and forced to sign up at gun­point.

Now, given that the DA is still try­ing to dis­pel the Twit­ter be­lief that it is a Tro­jan Horse crawl­ing with un­trans­formed racists, one has to won­der why it de­cided to ap­point as mayor a guy who once joined the party of to­tal on­slaught, the CCB and SADF-run Inkatha death squads.

And one is left to draw one of only three sen­si­ble con­clu­sions: ei­ther Plato is a po­lit­i­cal rocket sci­en­tist, whisked over from the dark side to give the na­tion the ben­e­fit of his ex­treme skill, or he joined the DA at gun­point, or the DA doesn’t un­der­stand how toxic even a whiff of the NP is to mil­lions of vot­ers.

Then again, per­haps the party is bank­ing on the anaes­thetis­ing ef­fects of time, which turns Nazis into nu­clear war­riors and nor­malises Nats. We might not want to for­give but most of us can’t help for­get­ting, at least the small print about small politi­cians.

Still, for those with longer mem­o­ries, this is all start­ing to feel like one small step for a man and a giant leap back­wards for Cape Town.

One moral of the story is prim­i­tive no­tion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend

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