'His hands are dripping with blood' - calls to cancel FW de Klerk talk in US on Racism, Rule of Law

Guernica 37 Member, Howard Varney, raises concerns as to apartheid denialist former South Africa President, FW De Klerk plan to address the America Bar Association.



FW de Klerk. (Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24)


Article originally published on News 24 by Karyn Maughan and can be accessed here

  • News that former president FW de Klerk would be delivering a speech at the American Bar Association has drawn fierce criticism. 

  • Some of the objectors argue that De Klerk is an apartheid denialist and complicit in apartheid-era crimes. 

  • De Klerk's spokesperson said he would comment after liaising with the US organisers. 

In the midst of anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the American Bar Association has drawn fierce criticism over its announcement that former president FW de Klerk will speak about "rule of law, constitutional democracy, minority rights, social change, racism and global security" at its upcoming 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting.


Among those who have appealed to the ABA - which describes itself as "the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world" - to reconsider its choice of De Klerk as a speaker are Lukhanyo Calata, the son of slain anti-apartheid activist Fort Calata, former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Dumisa Ntzebeza, and Howard Varney, who worked closely with the TRC.


The Pan African Bar Association of South Africa (PABASA), which recently expressed its outrage over "the brutal murder of George Floyd", has also condemned the ABA for providing De Klerk with a platform to speak on racism.


PABASA says the invitation is an "insult" to families like the Calatas, whose loved ones were murdered in state-sanctioned killings that it says De Klerk is clearly implicated in.


Asked by News24 to explain why it had chosen De Klerk to converse on "Lessons Learned in the Crucible of Courage and Conscience", the ABA's Bill Choyke said the association would only be in a position to respond by Tuesday next week. De Klerk's spokesperson Dave Steward said he would only comment after communicating "with the organisers in the US".


'Failure to take responsibility for apartheid'


In a press release about De Klerk's upcoming speech at its "empowerment"-themed conference, the ABA describes the former president as having "negotiated with Nelson Mandela to bring the apartheid system of racial segregation to an end, ushering in majority rule".

But that is not how De Klerk's critics view him. Calata, Ntsebeza and Varney have all taken particular issue with what they describe as the former president's failure to take responsibility for his complicity in apartheid-era atrocities - as well as his assertion during an interview with the SABC in February this year that apartheid was not a crime against humanity. The FW de Klerk Foundation later said he expressed regret for "the confusion, anger, and hurt" his remarks might have caused.  


However, as Varney points out, De Klerk has repeatedly stated that "apartheid was not so bad". "If he had the courage and statesmanship to admit his role and that of the National Party honestly, then he would deserve such a platform," Varney states in an email to the ABA. 

He added:

Since he persists with his charade of denial and ignorance he certainly does not. I urge you to replace this event with one that looks seriously and honestly at racism in South Africa and the role of key stakeholders, such as De Klerk.

In his response to ABA's invitation to De Klerk, and in apparent reference to growing global anti-racism protests, Ntsebeza further stresses: "Now is not the time for De Klerk to talk on any public platform that purports to promote, at the very least, the rule of law, nor is the ABA the platform that should give De Klerk any legitimacy which he did not earn, and does not deserve." Lukhanyo Calata has directly appealed to the ABA to reconsider its decision to invite De Klerk, who he maintains was complicit in the 27 June 1985 state-sanctioned murders of his father and fellow teachers Matthew Goniwe, Sicelo Mhlauli and Sparro Mkonto. The men became known as the Cradock Four. 

'Hands dripping with blood'

In an e-mail to the ABA sent on Thursday, Lukhanyo Calata recounts why he believes that "De Klerk's hands are dripping with my father's blood, and the blood of his comrades".

He refers to evidence that the order to assassinate the men, via "a military signal, which called for their permanent removal from society on 7 June 1985" was "approved by highest echelons of the Apartheid State, these being the State Security Council (SSC) and Cabinet of Ministers". 

"In 1985, De Klerk was a member of both the SSC and Cabinet. As the Minister of Basic Education and Training, he was often called upon for input in these meetings, with regard to the revolutionary activities of teachers Calata and Goniwe in the Eastern Cape. (There is evidence of this in government notated minutes of record).

"The 'signal' appeared as an agenda item for a meeting held in Tuynhuys (the president's official residence in the parliamentary precinct) on 12 June 1985. Record of attendance shows that De Klerk was present at this meeting."

He said: "Despite all the evidence of De Klerk's knowledge and involvement in the murders, he has always hidden the truth about what his contribution was to the meetings in question and what he knew then and now about the murders of my father and his comrades. A secret I'm sure that he plans to take to the grave with."

He added:

Just because successive ANC administrations have failed to prosecute De Klerk for his crimes, (due to them being politically compromised and corrupt) does not mean that he is innocent.

Steward previously strongly denied that De Klerk had played any part in the deaths of the Cradock Four. In a previous statement to Newzroom Afrika, Steward said: "Mr De Klerk was never aware of any instruction at any meeting of the State Security Council (SSC), or any other body, to murder anyone."

'Made atrocities possible'

In his e-mail to the ABA, Varney reiterates this assertion: "De Klerk declares that he is 'not prepared to accept responsibility for the criminal actions of a handful of operatives of the security forces...' In fact, he was part of the apparatus at the very top that made those atrocities possible.

"In my respectful view, he does not have the honesty or integrity to admit his role since he is not a statesman. He only acted the way he did in 1990 because South Africa was bankrupt and a pariah state; he knew the writing was on the wall and he wanted to secure the best possible deal for white South Africans.

"While I would not normally object to anyone exercising their right to free speech I find it quite disturbing that a proud organisation with a history of promoting human rights would provide a platform for De Klerk to speak about courage, conscience, minority rights, social change and racism in these momentous times, when it is becoming abundantly clear how expendable black lives are. 

"De Klerk was involved in the machinery of violence against black people in South Africa and countless black lives were snuffed out while he sat on the SSC and during his tenure as President."  


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