Kids must know our painful past

16 February 2020

Conscience of a Centrist

Who is De Klerk, papa?” quizzed my nine-year-old son as we watched the fracas that took the shine off the state of the nation address (Sona) on TV on an otherwise beauti­ful Joburg night. This as the red berets nonchalantly demanded that the last strongman of the apartheid regime be ejected from the house of the people.

The inquisitive, bright-eyed soul paid attention as I took his young mind on a journey of which I myself cannot claim to have first-hand experience. Herein lies the importance of history, no matter how ugly it is.


Such was the interest in who FW De Klerk was from my offspring that I had to begrudgingly allow him to watch the rest of the Sona, which end­ed way past his strict bedtime.

Should my son love De Klerk now that he has an idea of who the man is and the era he comes from? Prob­ably not. But should he embrace our collective history, as messy as it is? I certainly hope so. Social cohesion can­not be an abstract. It must be a lived experience and yes, white South Af­ricans have a special role to play in mending the fences and a point of de­parture is to stop denying that apart­heid was indeed a crime against hu­manity and evil.

De Klerk ought to refrain from try­ing to rewrite history to clear his con­science. And every time he and those of his ilk deny this historic fact, we should be quick to condemn them. Ejecting De Klerk from parliament would not have served any purpose but to deny the reconciliation process we have embarked on in the past 30 years, as fragile as it is.

As much as I want my boy to learn and know who Thabo Mofutsanya­ne was, I want him to know in equal measure who Hendrik Frensch Ver­woerd was. The contrast in history be­tween good and evil is the best teacher.

The question from my son also raised in my mind poignant questions.

Have we as parents taken care to educate our children of the dark and bitter past of South Africa and what role they must play to ensure coloni­alism does not muddy the future that belongs to them?

Are we as parents and society en­gaged with the curriculum taught at our schools or are we excited that our kids learn feel-good subjects but know so little of themselves and their histo­ry as a people?

We cannot afford to abdicate teach­ing our kids about our past nor should we relegate it to social media. History is inescapable – far from being a “dead” subject, it is the link between the past and the present.

It’s only when we understand this that we will understand why the call for radical economic transformation cannot be postponed any further, and De Klerk must be sitting in parliament when one day we finally declare eco­nomic freedom.

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