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Remembering those we’d rather forget

My friend Dumisani Nyoni was frustrated by coverage of the death of P.W. Botha, the former president of South Africa under Apartheid. Botha, unlike his successor De Klerk, was unrepentant about the racism of the Apartheid regime, and refused to testify before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission. Dumi feels like the Times coverage of his death was far too sympathetic:

it’s interesting how the NY Times gives this extra long obituary, but doesn’t even paint him in the negative light that he deserves. the whole thing tastes like a cucumber. plain and bland. this guy, who was responsible for one of Africa’s most brutal regimes
EVER gets this, as an obituary? He is not even refered to as a racist in this article. not once. infact, the WORD “racist” comes up once to refer to “racist policies.” When people like Idi Amin died, i bet their obituaries didn’t read this rosy. when other african ‘dictators’ died, there are articles of good riddance to bad rubbish. this guy was a dictator. let’s call a spade a spade. he was a horrible, cold, mean, racist, unrepentant brutal dictator who led one of africa’s worst governments ever…

The BBC has a roundup of reactions in Southern African newspapers to Botha’s death. They’re harder edged, including this comment from the Pretoria News:

PW deserves only crocodile tears – Ultimately history will show that Botha, despite having the opportunity, did little to bring South Africa into the modern democratic world. If tears must be shed at his passing, they can at most be crocodile tears.

But they’ve got nothing on some of the English newspapers, like the Mirror, which led with “Racist Botha Dead at 90“. (Then again, that’s the Mirror – it could have been worse, something like “Cracked Croc Croaks”.)

How does one react to the death of arch-villians? When Richard Nixon, probably my nation’s most divisive president before our current one, died, many on the left complained that papers, including the New York Times, whitewashed his disgraceful behavior in office and emphasized his triumphs, like his contacts with China. Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury ran a set of strips that repeated Nixon-era cartoons, hastily recaptioned with (sarcastic) praise for the late President. (UClick, which hosts the Doonesbury archives is evil, poorly designed, money-grubbing and basically makes it impossible for me to show you the cartoons – you can read about them on Daryl Cagle’s site instead…)

One possible response is to look at the words from those who were most affected by Botha’s actions as South Africa’s president. Botha steadfastly refused to release Mandela from prison, leaving negotiations with the ANC to fall to his successor, De Klerk. But Mandela proved his extraordinary character yet again with this commentary on his old, fallen enemy:

“While to many Mr Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country,” Mr Mandela, 88, said yesterday. “His death should remind us how South Africans from all persuasions ultimately came together to save our country from self-destruction.”

May God grant me a tiny fraction of the compassion and grace necessary to issue a statement with such compassion for a man who kept you imprisoned for years in a 2m x 1m cell.

3 thoughts on “Remembering those we’d rather forget”

  1. I’d likely agree with you on that characterization, Quixote. But who are the other six?

    Thanks for sharing that link, Hans – lots of important stuff in there, as well as some useful history lessons for me. Much appreciated.

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