Monday, January 26, 2009



Fred Khumalo
Jan 25, 2009

‘National Alzeheimer’s’ is a dangerous malady which manifests itself in people who refute the existence of things there for all to see

During the annual family festivities, we disrespectful newspaper types find we have a lot to answer for, relatively speaking, of course

Until he got here and was married to a local black woman, he had never really appreciated the depth of apartheid’s impact on our national psyche

My column of two weeks ago, French Leaves Le Zoulou Blank, provoked a potpourri of reactions.

There were those who laughed with me — and at me — for my inability to comprehend, let alone converse in, Asterix’s lingo.

And there were those who expressed incredulity at my stupidity: how can you, who has always reminded us of your Durban origins, deliberately expose your puny little self to the ferocity of the chilly teeth of a European winter?

But I was enraptured by a handful of other letters that, to my mind, missed the whole point of my piece.

They focused on what I thought was a throwaway line: “Thanks to apartheid education, I am largely self-taught when it comes to English. Many of our teachers could write beautiful words in English, but when it came to pronunciation, English became an uphill struggle for both teacher and pupil. Many of us were taught by teachers who made the word ‘scathing’ rhyme with ‘scatting’; ‘determine’ to rhyme with ‘undermine’.”

One of the letter writers postulated that, sadly, apartheid only existed in the minds of those who willed it upon themselves.

Yes, you heard me.

I myself did a double take. I read it again. Yes, it was there in the black and white of my e-mail screen.

The writer exhibited a neurosis which the late Studs Terkel called “national Alzheimer’s”. This malady manifests itself in people who deny things there for all to see, the consequences of which they themselves are victims.

There are thousands, if not millions, of people in the world who deny the existence of the Holocaust.

But okay, why go so far back into history? Let’s get closer to home, to more recent historical events. There is a prominent Muslim scholar in this country who maintains that 9/11 never happened. Not that it was brought about by some nefarious elements in the US intelligence community as some people have suggested — no, he is saying it never happened. But what about Ground Zero — surely something existed there before that fateful day on September 11 2001? No, it never existed.

The letter in response to my column is of that neurosis — denial .

That I even used the word “apartheid” in my earlier column wasn’t even the point.

I was anchoring my reasoning on an established truth: that we are who we are today — in our grasp of each other’s language, in our race relations, in our uncomfortable co-existence, such as it is, as people of different cultures — simply because of our past.

To deny that past is not only foolish, but dangerous.

Some people have argued that Jews have made political capital out of the Holocaust: there are just too many books, movies, monuments et cetera.

I argue differently.

Had the Jewish people failed to raise human consciousness about the Holocaust, there was a huge possibility that some fool somewhere would repeat it.

The Holocaust is, as far as I am concerned, unparalleled in its sheer brutality in human history. Yes, we’ve had numerous genocides since, most notably in Rwanda and Eastern Europe.

But the Holocaust is still a milestone of unparalleled gravity in terms of the scale, the psychology behind it and the viciousness of the murders.

Over the festive season, I had occasion to have a conversation with a Dutch acquaintance who relocated to South Africa a few years ago.

As a voracious reader, he told me, he had read about apartheid and knew what it had done to the country.

But until he got here and was married to a local black woman, he had never really appreciated the depth of its impact on our national psyche.

He was close to comparing it to a Holocaust of the mind.

Apart from its physical brutality — thousands were forcefully removed from their ancestral lands, thousands died in apartheid prisons — apartheid’s perverse success was its ability to corrupt the soul of a people.

It created the psyche of the victim versus perpetrator, and liberation has failed to free both victim and perpetrator.

The victim sometimes still feels cheated by the past, and the erstwhile perpetrator is in denial: I never did anything wrong against anyone.

In any case, that is in the past, let’s move on.

The Holocaust happened more than 60 years ago, but we still haven’t moved on. We haven’t jettisoned it to the past. It is, and should remain, a sad beacon of human history.

So should apartheid.

In fact, we haven’t even begun to deal with the depth of that horror.

Which makes it all the more saddening that, less than two decades into our negotiated co-existence, there are those with brash egos of such gargantuan proportions that they want to deny that apartheid ever existed.