Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Nasie and not Hector?

Why Nasie and not Hector?
Ernst Roets
18 January 2012

Ernst Roets says the victims of ANC atrocities are being erased from history

Hector Pieterson and Nasie van Eck: A "twenty-to-two" story

A wreath-laying to honour the victims of the ANC's terror attacks recently provoked strong criticism from certain quarters. The ceremony was presented by AfriForum Youth on the same date as the ANC centenary celebrations. The purpose was partly to prevent the victims of the ANC's terror being forgotten amidst the propagandist way in which the ANC concealed the dark side of its past during the celebrations.

"We should not be sold out to the biased, romanticised account of the ANC's history," AfriForum Youth's national chairperson, Charl Oberholzer, said. "It is a myth that all the people who took part in the struggle on the side of the ANC were unblemished heroes."

Dirk van Eck, a surviving victim, attended the ceremony. Dirk's wife Kobie (34), as well as his daughter Nelmari (9) and baby boy Nasie (2) were killed in an ANC landmine attack near Messina. "Freedom fighters do not kill women and children," Oberholzer said.

This was a pill too bitter to swallow for some. The wreath-laying was described by some as an "act of segregation" and the wreath-layers as "racist apartheid activists." AfriForum's youth leaders were even compared to mass murderers!

More than one person asked why Hector Pieterson did not receive a wreath and concluded that AfriForum supports Pieterson's murder and that the wreath-laying were held to encourage racism. "Why Nasie and not Hector?" was the question.

This question deserves to be treated with the necessary gravity. Hector Pieterson was shot and killed on 16 June 1976 during the well-known Soweto-protests. He was twelve. Nasie van Eck was killed on 15 December 1985 in an ANC landmine attack. He was two. Both are tragic tales with many similarities which, in my opinion, need to be mourned equally. What then are the differences between Nasie and Hector?

One difference is that the whole of South Africa and many parts of the world know who Hector Pieterson was, while most of the readers of this article will have never even have heard of Nasie van Eck up until now. Another is that wreath-laying ceremonies are annually held for Hector Pieterson, while the organisers of a similar ceremony of rememberence for Nasie van Eck are accused of racism. A difference is that wreath-laying ceremonies in honour of Hector Pieterson, almost without exception, are covered by the national broadcaster, while Nasie van Eck's wreath-laying was wiped from the broadcaster's diary.

Further differences include the monuments built for Hector Pieterson, that his name is mentioned by the President in his State of the Nation address, the day of his death was declared a national holiday and children and students in schools and universities are taught who Hector Pieterson was, while Nasie van Eck's monument is a framed A4 photo on his dad's wall, that the President has no interest in him, that those who remember his death are insulted and that 15 December goes by unnoticed every year.

Another difference is that a search for "Hector Pieterson" on Google returns approximately 144 000 results - including an entry on Wikipedia and other well-known pages, not to mention all the books in which his name is mentioned, while a search for "Nasie van Eck" only returns eight results. A difference is that Hector was on the side of the ANC, while Nasie was on no-one's side.

Does any of the information mentioned above have anything to do with the relevance or justification of their deaths? Surely not. Would those who responded with such hostility to the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of persons such as Nasie van Eck argue that Nasie was slightly more deserving of death than Hector? Surely they won't go this far!

Why then are Nasie van Eck's wreath-layers then criticised? I think it has to do something with fear. Fear in the knowledge that the ANC is universally regarded as heroes and the perception that those who dare to criticise the ANC must surely be Nazi's or something worse (ironically, the organisers of the wreath-laying ceremony refused attendance of the ceremony to a person wearing a swastika). Fear that your chances of promotion at public institutions such as a university or main stream newspaper will be hampered if you don't show loyalty towards the ANC's history.

Jill Wentzel calls this phenomenon the "twenty-to-two" principle. Wentzel, an anti-apartheid activist and founder member of the Black Sash's convictions could hardly be questioned. In her book The Liberal Slideway, she explains the moral dilemma of the former "liberals" who were galled by the ANC's necklace murders and other horrible acts. They knew that the acts were not justifiable, but feared that critique on the ANC would invite scrutiny of their own so-called "anti-apartheid credentials". Any critique on the ANC therefore had to be preceded by lengthy accounts of the evils of apartheid. For every two negative remarks about the ANC, you had to make twenty positive ones first. In her book People's War, Anthea Jeffrey of the South African Institute of Race Relations explains that this principle was also maintained for extensive periods by various media institutions in their reporting.

What resulted is an almost bizarre hero-worship for those who struggled against apartheid. A hero-worship rooted so deeply that any criticism on the ANC (and particularly the ANC's past) is met with fierce opposition.

The executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research, Prince Mashele, writes in The Death of Society about the dangers of hero-worshipping in African states. He describes it as an approach whereby former leaders are so elevated in status that they become almost super-beings; and whereby a moral obligation develops on the rest of us to figuratively (and sometimes literally) worship the ground on which they walk. He explains that politics based on this abnormal hero worshipping becomes, in time, totally dependent on the myth - to such a degree that the whole system might collapse if this dutifully constructed image of untouchability is shattered.

I saw Nasie's photos and I saw Hector's photos. I was appalled by both. Neither the downfall of state dispensations, nor even possible offence to hero-worshippers with political aspirations formed a part of considerations when the wreath-laying ceremony was planned. The purpose was merely to bring balance. If those who apply the "twenty-to-two" principle are angry because the Nasie van Eck wreath-laying ceremony was not preceded by a series of wreath-laying ceremonies for Hector Pieterson - and wish to accuse the organisers of this action of malicious conspiracies - then they are welcome to do so. We still have another 143 992 Google search results to fill...

Ernst Roets is Deputy CEO, AfriForum. This is a translation of an article that first appeared in Afrikaans on the Maroela Media website.

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