Melanie Verwoerd: AfriForum is taking us to the edge of the abyss

A few years after the Berlin Wall fell graffiti appeared on a building in the former East Berlin. It read: “The wall is gone, but who will break down the walls in our hearts and minds?”

I was reminded of this last week while watching the presentation of AfriForum’s Ernst Roets to the Constitutional Review Committee. It wasn’t that I expected much of the presentation, but somehow, I did not think it possible that people could still today be so patronising, so insensitive, so oblivious to historical injustices and pain and so blatantly irreverent to the impact of the content and tone of the presentation. 

What struck me most was how deeply careless and uncaring Mr Roets and the organisation he represents are about the future of this country. Let me be clear as someone who knows politics in general and the ANC specifically well, it is not the ANC or EFF that is bringing this country to the edge of the abyss, it is organisations such as AfriForum. 

As I watched the arrogance and contempt with which Roets lectured and insulted African members of Parliament, I truly wanted to despair. You don’t need to have been in the ANC or EFF to know what that would do. You only need to have been awake in this country for the last decade or two to know how damaging his behaviour was. More importantly, you only need a shred of humanity to understand how he was rubbing salt into the deep and still bleeding wounds of the people sitting across from him as well as the millions they represent. 

The thing that really bugs me is that I’m pretty sure that Mr Roets knows this. He is well educated and has been in the political game for a while. So what was he trying to achieve? He did not address the constitutional amendment even once during his presentation. So he was clearly not there to make any contribution about the issue on the table. The only logical conclusion one can come to is that he was there to bait not debate. A vile form of political blood sport. 

It is time for the members of AfriForum to understand what is happening. Mr Roets and his organisation’s main concern is acquiring more members and their membership fees. In true PW Botha style they are blatantly using the out-dated “rooi gevaar” and “swart gevaar” to scare white people into signing up – pretending that they will fight for them and protect them. 

In fact the opposite is happening. They are lying and obfuscating the truth and in the process putting the future of minorities and particularly whites in enormous danger. The ACDP’s Steve Swart was right when he said that AfriForum is taking this country back. One just had to listen to the angry responses of MPs from all the political parties after Roets’ presentation to realise the fury that AfriForum’s position and attitudes unleashed.  

The president keeps on repeating that they will handle the expropriation of land without compensation sensitively and sensibly. He constantly reminds us that whilst they need to correct the injustices of the past that they will do so with respect for property rights. But of course, AfriForum doesn’t want their members to hear that, since it doesn’t suit their agenda of (to use Roets’ words) “constructing grand fake narratives”.

Since the peaceful transition in our country, I have often felt concern, frustration even disappointment, but never a real sense of dread. 

I felt exactly that when I watched Roets last week, because I knew immediately how much it would harden attitudes amongst even the most moderate decision makers. More painfully it played into every stereotype that some black South Africans have about whites. 

It is crucial for all white South Africans who care about the future of this country, to make it clear to our fellow country men and women, that Ernst Roets and AfriForum do not speak on our behalf. In particularly those who own farms need to understand that the approach of AfriForum will not protect them, but rather harden attitudes to the extent that the voices of the moderates in the governing party could eventually be drowned out.

This week Barack Obama said at a rally in America: “Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, putting one group against one another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do – that’s an old playbook… And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in and people of good will from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.”

For the last two decades the better angels of the nature of millions of South Africans helped us to form a new country and nation. We dare not allow any small, marginal and self-serving organisation derail us. It’s time for our antibodies to kick in!

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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