Professor Frederik van Zyl Slabbert is probably the nicest, best all-around liberal goodie that one could come across in white South Africa if one searched all year. In consequence it is painful to have to admit that his book, The Other Side of History, is a load of complete asinine rubbish from beginning to end. With incredible consistency and facility, Slabbert misreads his sources and misinterprets his anecdotes, including things which happened to him, until he is safe and extremely happy and smug on Planet Bizarro.
This sounds a bit unfair, doesn’t it? Consider, however, his introduction which he devotes to identifying what he considers to be the contradiction between Mbeki’s inclusive “I am an African” speech and the fact that the concept of black economic empowerment identifies indians, coloureds — and africans. “I am an african too!” Slabbert wants to say, on the grounds of living in Africa. Now, Slabbert lived in the Western Cape in the 1980s. He should have been aware of the whole race debate and the conflicts within the UDF and some Trotskyite movements regarding racial differentiation, and why coloureds and indians were viewed as differently disadvantaged from africans, unless he was living in a cocoon. Apparently he was.
There are a number of comments which are simply pitiful. For instance, Slabbert quotes a Hoover Institute fellow named Sowell saying that “The advance of European imperialism around the world marked the retreat of the slave trade and then of slavery itself” (p.7). The Hoover Institute is a bunch of reactionary numbskulls among whom Sowell is one of the numbest, but this definitely takes the cake for bumptious nonsense. Of course European imperialism around the world created the slave trade and slavery in its mass sense, introducing industrial-scale slave plantations to the whole of the Americas and southern Africa. It is true that European imperialists helped to end the slave trade – except in the United States, and except for the fact that European imperialists then invented “indentured labour”, which is slavery under another name. The fact that Slabbert can endorse this scale of balderdash suggests either that he has become extraordinarily stupid, or that he has an altogether other agenda in view than telling the truth.
Also, he says, for good measure, “when the Berlin Wall came down . . . the ANC . . . became a movement with no discernible dominant ideology” (p.10). Yeah, he really says that, and he calls himself a political scientist. But he goes on, “The fact that it then proceeded to negotiate a liberal democracy . . . and a market economy . . . is the clearest evidence of this” (p.11). In other words, a liberal democracy and a market economy is not the product of an ideology. While Slabbert doesn’t seem to realise that he is saying this, it is pretty clear; an ideology is something that Slabbert doesn’t like, and thus by definition, it is wrong.
Indeed, he makes this quite clear when he says “do not let us invent the past or make ourselves and others ideologically hostage to it” (p.13). In other words, we must either ignore the past (which obviously he does not sant, or else he would not be talking about it) or we must not view it through an ideology, but we must rather understand the truth of the past. This truth is what Slabbert is unveiling to us. Just believe Slabbert and all will be well.
Well, fair enough; what is the truth? The truth is perfectly simple to Slabbert. He heard Frederik Willem de Klerk say “I made sure that I had my party, my people and the state behind me” before he unbanned the ANC and liberated Mandela. However, he says that De Klerk must be lying, because “the scope of De Klerk’s reforms, and the complete lack of consultation to prepare for the consequences, caught the security establishment off guard” (p.16). Note that De Klerk does not say he had the security establishment behind him; he says he had the state behind him. In fact it is quite clear that the apartheid military and police opposed De Klerk’s reforms, because they implied a grave weakening of their position. On the other hand, once they were in place they had no alternatives to De Klerk’s plans, as even Slabbert admits. So Slabbert is jeering at De Klerk completely unnecessarily.
However, take a closer look at this. What does Slabbert mean by the need for the armed forces “to prepare for the consequences” of unbanning banned organisations? Surely he is pleading that De Klerk should have given the armed forces a greater opportunity to head off the threat of democracy and freedom. In other words, the leader of the Progressive Federal Party until 1986, the light of the liberal world, is saying that De Klerk should have worked harder to undermine liberal democracy.
Does this seem too extreme? Surely not. Throughout the earlier parts of the book Slabbert relies heavily on the word of General George Meiring, former head of Military Intelligence and Chief of the SADF in the transition period. Meiring was strongly opposed to De Klerk, and Slabbert quotes him with approval. Slabbert’s sympathies for the military and police take him so far as to complain that “those in security felt that they were subjected to a witch-hunt” (p.19) when some of them who had committed murder were brought to trial for this, and when others who had defied the orders of their elected President, F W De Klerk, were dismissed from the armed forces (with full pensions and perquisites, of course). Slabbert, who has never heard a gun go off in anger, just loves a man in uniform.
Take Colonel Jan Breytenbach, commander of 32 Battalion, South Africa’s Angolan mercenary force largely expended in fruitless fighting in Angola and then dumped in the South African desert to starve. Slabbert practically sucks the good Colonel’s boot-blacking off. At one point he observes that “by killing SWAPO’s ‘terrorists’ and communists he was playing an indirect political role” (p.21). They gave this guy a Professorship, and then he writes things like this! No, Cde Slabbert, it was not an “indirect” political role, he was murdering Namibian freedom fighters and civilians and Angolan defenders and civilians in order to sustain white racist dominion in South Africa and he knew that perfectly well. Jan Breytenbach is not an idiot. But it certainly seems that you think your readers are, not so, Professor?
Just one more special quote on this little subject. Slabbert is quite proud of having helped the apartheid state keep it a secret that their army had invaded Angola in 1975. “I have not met one senior SADF officer of that period who was not convinced that the SADF could cope with the military side of the conflict, including the ‘famous battle of Cuito Cuanavale’” (p.21). Yeah, right, they were stabbed in the back by the Jews and the Catholics and the Freemasons, weren’t they? Or why is it that the SADF fled Angola with its tail between its legs in 1977 and again in 1988? Is Slabbert saying, as he ought to be, that this proves that SADF officers of that period are deluded fruitcakes? Sadly, no.
But, boy, does he admire them! Sperm flies all over the place when he talks about the Reconnaissance Commandoes: “These recces were soldier’s soldiers, but were thoroughly led up the garden path and betrayed by their political masters” (p. 25). Dolchstoss! Dolchstoss!! At least, he says approvingly, some of them are earning lots of money as gunmen for the American occupiers in Iraq . . .
It isn’t only soldiers that Slabbert worships. He also copies, almost word for word, an apartheid policeman’s line on Operation Vula, as follows: “Vula . . . was created in 1980 in exile [no, it wasn’t, you ignorant twit] . . . . during early July 1990, and as a direct result of information at its disposal, the security branch of the South African police conducted certain follow-up, search-and-seizure operations . . . to reveal the existence of an SACP/ANC plot aimed at utilising the space and freedom of movement created by the negotiation process in order to bring about a revolutionary and violent overthrow of the government” (pp.32-3). This pompous jargon might as well be printed on paper with a Security Branch letterhead.
Actually, as is well known by now, Vula was an attempt to set up an internal command structure for uMkhonto we Sizwe established in 1988. It was reasonably successful, but with the unbanning, security got sloppy, especially because it was known that the ANC leadership was about to suspend the armed struggle (which had been on ice anyway for six months). Technically, since MK was no longer illegal, there was nothing wrong with Vula, yet Slabbert makes a tremendous fuss about it, precisely the same fuss that apartheid’s secret police made –
With an exception. Nobody involved with Vula did anybody any harm. Yet in the clampdown on Vula, dozens of people were detained without trial (a practice which Slabbert once pretended to oppose). Most of them were tortured. Several of them were taken to the countryside and murdered. Slabbert doesn’t say a word about this. It’s bad, it’s very bad, to attempt to overthrow an evil government. Meanwhile, if that government wants to torture and murder people, you got a problem with that? Not if your name is Slabbert, obviously!
This is especially because Slabbert proudly declares, on the word of General Meiring, that “there was not the slightest prospect of a successful war of liberation being waged by the armed movement of the ANC” (p.34). In other words, Slabbert believes that Operation Vula had no prospect of success. But better detain, torture and murder people anyway. Why not, if you can get away with it?
Indeed, Slabbert’s whole line on the end of apartheid is a bit mysterious. He says that the ANC were useless and MK helpless and the South African government, army and police were always in full control. Mbeki (whom Slabbert generously promotes to total dictatorship of the ANC, brushing aside trivia like Tambo and Mandela and Sisulu) played no role in anything. No, the only man who did anything was Cyril Ramaphosa, whose negotiation skills destroyed apartheid all by themselves and who should have been made dictator for life, or something, instead of being democratically voted into a junior position to Mbeki’s (he then dumped politics for money). This is an interesting take on South African history. It is pretty obviously wrong; political struggles just don’t work like that. However, Slabbert hates the ANC and the post-apartheid settlement so deeply that he cannot admit that they ever had anything going for them at all.
One’s gob gets really smacked when he says that after the fall of the Berlin Wall “’the West’ was no longer available to help the apartheid government to fight against communism . . . . support for the ANC to combat racism and oppression became universalized and – especially – the USA embraced it” (p. 36). Jehoshaphat, gag me with a jukskei set! Slabbert is actually unaware of the long anti-apartheid campaign of the 1970s and 1980s! Apparently he never watched SATV in those years. He thinks the USA suddenly began supporting the ANC in 1989! He thinks support for apartheid was all about Communism – in fact, he is perhaps the last person who still believes all that bull coming out of the Bureau of Information in Pretoria in the 1980s!
Now, you may say that this is trivial and innocuous. The Creator is not so sure. Just because a former white liberal has gone over, lock, stock and two concrete-filled barrels, to the kind of apartheid propaganda that would have embarrassed Connie Mulder, is not cause for concern. But it may be a straw in the wind, like the recent canonisation of Eugene Terre’Blanche and the Afrikanerweerstandsbeweging in the press. (Slabbert is also a big fan of the white enclave of Orania, by the way.) It is not just about racism, it is also about endorsing terrorism.
Note this carefully: “Mandela milked every ounce of sympathy for the ANC being the victims of a dirty-tricks campaign . . . . The violence of Boiphatong in June 1992 provided fertile propaganda” (p.40). Jesus! Anyone remember what happened at Boiphatong? No? Well, a bunch of people supporting the Inkatha movement went on the rampage through the town. Inkatha was known to be financially supported by the Security Police whom Slabbert so admires, and it was also known that Inkatha’s chief killers had received military training from the apartheid state in the Caprivi Strip five years earlier. Inkatha was murdering people all across the country, and in Boiphatong they murdered a couple of dozen – shooting some, hacking and stabbing others – for no reason other than to terrorise them not to support the ANC.
The story was that the South African Police escorted them in and out of Boiphatong from the hostel where the murderers were staying. Maybe that isn’t true, but everyone in Boiphatong believed it. This was the “violence” which Mandela “milked”, according to Slabbert. Three days later F W De Klerk tried to visit Boiphatong and the people of the settlement stoned him until his bodyguard drew their guns and fired randomly into the crowd, murdering three more people.
This is the kind of behaviour endorsed by Slabbert. At least he is consistent about it. The Creator will not waste time quoting more; it is repetitive and pretty dull. But this is what white liberalism leads to in South Africa, folks. This is where the state of play now is.