We need to find each other

The Citizen (KZN) - - Opinion - Syd­ney Ma­joko

This past Sun­day, South Africans who re­mem­bered com­mem­o­rated that mo­men­tous day in 1990 when South African so­ci­ety set off on a course which will never be re­v­ersed. Al­though not a pub­lic hol­i­day, it ranks up there with Free­dom Day.

When for­mer pres­i­dent FW de Klerk an­nounced the un­ban­ning of over 30 po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions and the im­mi­nent re­lease of Nel­son Man­dela and the re­main­ing po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers at the open­ing of par­lia­ment, South Africa crossed the Ru­bi­con.

Whether De Klerk was pushed to make the changes or did so be­cause he was a vi­sion­ary mat­ters very lit­tle. His ac­tions put the coun­try on a course of no re­turn.

Now, 30 years later, the ir­re­press­ible op­ti­mism of those heady days has been re­placed by a con­stant weari­ness which is a re­minder that the coun­try has veered off course, not only eco­nom­i­cally but so­cially and po­lit­i­cally.

The new South Africa of which De Klerk spoke is be­dev­illed by a lam­en­ta­ble lack of co­he­sion. The huge di­vide that De Klerk and Man­dela sought to get rid of seems to be at its widest now, and the sharp lines over which black and white peo­ple are di­vided seem to get sharper ev­ery year.

The back­drop to all of this is the in­quest into Dr Neil Aggett’s death in de­ten­tion in 1982. Iron­i­cally, Neil Aggett died in de­ten­tion in Fe­bru­ary of 1982, the month of the year that FW de Klerk used to an­nounce the sweep­ing changes just eight years later.

Al­though the ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment that fol­lowed 2 Fe­bru­ary pro­vided for the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) as a plat­form through which our past was laid bare for all to see and in­ter­nalise, there was no fol­low-up on hun­dreds of cases of peo­ple who died in de­ten­tion or at the hands of the apartheid state. Hun­dreds of fam­i­lies were left hang­ing with­out any form of clo­sure.

Aggett and Ahmed Ti­mol’s in­quests have, for a short while, pro­vided a win­dow into South Africa’s un­re­solved and painful past.

Ev­ery South African, par­tic­u­larly the younger gen­er­a­tion, should use the de­tails that come out dur­ing the course of the in­quest to fully un­der­stand their fel­low South Africans across the racial di­vide.

It is not of­ten that es­teemed lead­ers like Frank Chikane will go in front of the na­tion and say that he, to­gether with Aggett, was tor­tured by the po­lice just eight years be­fore SA crossed its Ru­bi­con. The death of Aggett and a lot more oth­ers in de­ten­tion must be recog­nised as the ba­sis on which agree­ments were reached to ar­rive at a peace­ful ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment in SA.

It is quite sad that the Aggett in­quest has been gen­er­ally viewed as one fam­ily sim­ply try­ing to get clo­sure for it­self.

Be­sides get­ting the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity to re­visit all the old cases which had to do with deaths at the hands of the apartheid state, the Aggett in­quest should get those in power to come and urge all South Africans to look through this win­dow into our past so that when days like Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Day come around, no one mocks them.

Those that feel they are be­ing con­stantly asked to bear the bur­den of that which they had no hand in cre­at­ing must look back and get to un­der­stand why a lot of peo­ple think rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is a mock­ery. Only then will South Africans be­gin to find each other, and per­haps a way to live to­gether with ac­cep­tance.

Neil Aggett and Ahmed Ti­mol’s in­quests have, for a short while, pro­vided a win­dow into South Africa’s un­re­solved and painful past.

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