Last Sunday I published a letter in the Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport addressing one Dr Marie Heese. Heese had written a scathing attack of my colleague Prof Pierre de Vos’s views on the so-called T-option language policy at Stellenbosch University. De Vos’s commentary was sparked by a motion by a doctoral candidate in law (assisted by a recently qualified advocate) to the convocation of the university calling on it to urgently take steps to prevent the further “erosion” of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

Fragment I:

A little bird chirps in my ear that the doctoral candidate behind the submission is himself writing his doctoral thesis in English. I can neither confirm or deny the little bird is correct.

Fragment II:

A commentator to my letter wrote: “Regsadvies deur ‘n leek is altyd gevaarlik. Die UK weet volgens hom nie dat artikel 29(2) vd Grondwet bepaal dat ‘Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language of their choice … ‘ ” (“Legal advice given by a novice is always dangerous. According to him UCT does not know that section 29(2) of the Constitution stipulates that ‘Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language of their choice … ‘ “)

This kind of selective reading is exactly what distinguishes the real novice from the professional. In place of the rest of the provision, the commentator conveniently slips in an ellipsis. The complete subsection reads as follows: “Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language of their choice where that education is reasonably practicable.” The section goes on to state that “[i]n order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single-medium institutions, taking into account: equity; practicability and the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.” As De Vos points out on his blog (in the part that Heese and company chose to ignore, because it suits them): “Section 30 [moreover] underscores this point by stating that while everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, these rights may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights — including the provisions of the non-discrimination clause. Using a language policy that would exclude many black South Africans from accessing the excellent education at Stellenbosch is therefore not permitted by the Constitution as it infringes on section 9(3) of the Constitution, read with section 30.”

Fragment III

Another commentator, a Cathy, writes: “Persoonlik dink ek hierdie Jakkie en daardie Peertjie begewe hulle op terrein wat vir hulle lewensgevaarlik is. Die sogenaamde ‘apartheidskuld’ is julle persoonlike ‘figment of the imagination’.” (“Personally I think that this Jakkie [me] and that Peertjie [De Vos] are entering a terrain that is life threatening to them. The so-called apartheid guilt is their personal figment of the imagination.”)

Is this person really and seriously arguing that there is no such thing as responsibility and guilt for apartheid? That thousands upon thousands of people were not deprived and left destitute for the sake of privileging the white Afrikaner. The irony of her commenting from a computer with an internet connection is clearly lost on her. The thinly veiled threat is not lost on me.

Fragment IV

But it gets worse. A Mike comments: “Ek is ‘n apartheid bevoordeelde en trots daarop. Die ander volke in SA het ‘n morele plig om vir die afrikaner dankie te se vir wat hy vir hulle gedoen het oor jare en ook jammer dat hulle hom nou sy selfbeskikkingsreg ontsê.” (“I am an apartheid beneficiary and proud of it. The other peoples of SA have a moral duty to thank the Afrikaner for what he did for them over the years as well as apologising for the fact that they are now depriving him from his right to self-determination.”)

What does one say to this madness? How does one respond to such moral bankruptcy, such Afrikaner arrogance? How does one rationalise your emotional knee-jerk reaction that tells you that it is a grave injustice that these people (my people) got away with murder. And did not just get away with murder, but also with the loot.

Fragment V

And here I will end it, so that the reader can decide for herself what kind of country she lives in and, with reference to Pieter Malan’s column in the Rapport last Sunday, what kind of house these people come from. A Pieter comments: “Nou wonder party seker nog hoekom het Abel Malan vir Prof. Anton van Niekerk van Stellenbosch blou ogies gegee. Dit klink of nog ‘n paar professors ‘snotklappe’ nodig het. Hulle verbale aanrandings en maak beslis nie van hulle ‘Pontius Pilatusse’ wat hulle bloedhandjies onskuldig kan afwas nie. Hulle misbruik hulle magsposisies wat Naspers vir hulle help skep om ‘volksmoord’ te pleeg.” (“Now some people still wonder why Abel Malan gave Prof Anton Van Niekerk from Stellenbosch blue eyes. Their verbal assaults definitely do not make them ‘Pontius Pilates’ that can wash their bloody hands in innocence. It sounds like there are some more professors who need a few slaps. They abuse their positions of power that Naspers creates for them to commit ‘genocide’.”)

Genocide? But let me acknowledge once more, loud and clear: I am an apartheid beneficiary. I am not proud of it. I am ashamed of the fact that gross human-rights violations were perpetrated in the name of my volk, that some of my fellow Afrikaners have shown absolutely no remorse, no humility with respect to the privileges they have enjoyed and still enjoy in post-apartheid South Africa. In Germany it is a crime to deny the Holocaust. Why should it be any different in South Africa for apartheid beneficiaries when they deny that they aided and abetted in the perpetration of and benefitted from a crime against humanity that remains as this untranslatable word, apartheid?


  • Jaco Barnard-Naudé is Professor of Jurisprudence and Co-director of the Centre for Rhetoric Studies in the Department of Private Law at the University of Cape Town. In the United Kingdom, he is the British Academy's Newton Advanced Fellow in the School of Law at Westminster University and Honorary Research Fellow at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London. He is a board member of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) and of the Triangle Project, Cape Town.


Jaco Barnard-Naude

Jaco Barnard-Naudé is Professor of Jurisprudence and Co-director of the Centre for Rhetoric Studies in the Department of Private Law at the University of Cape Town. In the United Kingdom, he is the British...

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