DIANNE Kohler Barnard has been in trouble before. Five years ago, she was suspended for a working week – by her own Chief Whip – for shouting an obscenity in Parliament. But this time, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow police minister has not just been demonstrating her lack of class in an assembly of fellow parliamentarians….
The row which she has now found herself embroiled in – over a social media post praising the leadership of PW Botha – is much more serious than that.
She decided to share a Facebook entry that reeked with insensitivity towards millions of her compatriots who had lost loved ones to police death squads, army assassination units and foreign-trained torturers … who had had their homes and land seized in the name of apartheid … who had been forcibly moved and resettled in barren pieces of veld, far away from cities and towns … and who had been thrust into conditions of numbing poverty, while Botha was either the Prime Minister or the President of white South Africa, or the Minister of Community Development and Coloured Affairs.
Kohler Barnard’s brainfart was picked up by users on Twitter – and it went viral.
It is inevitable that it should have done so. Her decision to ‘share’ the post was disrespectful and insulting to ALL black South Africans and, more so, it was a demonstration of ignorance of almost unbelievable proportions from a senior office-bearer, holding an important ‘shadow cabinet’ position, in a party that has pronounced itself ‘ready to govern’ South Africa.
There should be only one consequence for her thoughtless action: dismissal.
Commenting after a storm of anger had erupted over her post (the original had been composed and posted by a journalist named Paul Kirk), Kohler Barnard, who claimed she had not read the PW Botha part of the post that had been critical of Jacob Zuma, said she had wanted to resign but had been advised by colleagues to wait for the outcome of a disciplinary hearing that had been announced by party leader Mmusi Maimane (who has also demoted her from shadow police minister to shadow minister of public works).
Her decision to stay – and wait – amounts to yet another serious error of judgment. It has served only to further emphasise her lack of respect towards fellow South Africans. Everyone knows how the DA disciplines its errant members: generally, it gently strokes them over the knuckles, issues them with a ‘stern’ warning, suspends them for a few days, makes them pay a small fine and instructs them to register for a ‘cultural awareness’ course.
Or something like that.
If Kohler Barnard is not aware of the impact that PW Botha had on the lives of millions of South Africans, then, really, she should not be involved in politics.
Nevertheless, for her, and for the many other people who continue to be afflicted by that unique South African condition known as ‘apartheid amnesia’ – here is a short version of ‘The Idiot’s Guide to PW Botha’….
The story of the NP’s most renowned thug
Pieter Willem Botha was born on 12 January 1916 on a farm in the Paul Roux district of the then Orange Free State. He attended high school in Bethlehem and later enrolled for a law degree (which he did not complete) at the University of the Orange Free State.
By the age of 20, he had become an organizer for the National Party of DF Malan. As the winds of the Second World War gathered, he joined the shadowy, pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag organization (but this relationship ended in a spectacular fallout later).
After being appointed Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in the cabinet of Hendrik Verwoerd in 1958, he became Minister of Community Development and Coloured Affairs in 1961.
He was in this portfolio when he oversaw the destruction of Cape Town’s mixed-race suburb of District Six.
On 11 February 1966, Botha, declared the district a white group area. In 1968, he sent in the bulldozers to start breaking down the houses. Over the next 14 years, more than 60,000 people were moved out of the area, and to the Cape Flats – to drab townships such as Manenberg, Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel and Lavender Hill.
The destruction of District Six and many other long-established coloured communities, such as Simon’s Town, Red Hill, Diep River, Steurhof and Claremont, throughout the Cape Peninsula, caused massive social upheaval in families, with many sons and daughters succumbing particularly to the lure of drugs and gangs.
But it was not only in the Western Cape that the National Party wreaked havoc. Other cabinet colleagues gave expression to the Verwoerdian vision of ‘no more black South Africans’, by forcibly driving African people off their land and into so-called ‘Bantu homelands’.
Estimates put the number of African people who were forcibly removed from their homes at more than 3.5-million.
Botha, meanwhile, continued his relentless drive to change the spatial makeup of the country’s big cities: other communities he helped to destroy included those in Cato Manor in Durban and Pageview in Johannesburg.
After a stint as Minister of Defence in the cabinet of Verwoerd’s successor, John Vorster, Botha became Prime Minister of South Africa in 1978 (after Vorster’s resignation in the wake of the so-called ‘Information Scandal’).
For reasons that have never been clear, Botha was initially seen as one of the more ‘enlightened’ (‘verligte’) members of the party, but as internal opposition to apartheid grew, his leadership, and the methods his government adopted to maintain power became decidedly more vicious in its response to, especially, black opposition to its policies.
This was particularly so after he became Executive State President in 1984.
A state of ‘executive lawlessness’
It was the era of the ‘securocrats’ – an era in which army generals, police hit squads, SA Defence Force assassination units, shady hitmen working from within shady organisations, and police torturers (operating from torture farms such as the infamous Vlakplaas) were given carte blanche to kill, maim, bomb, kidnap, torture and to make opponents of the government ‘disappear’ – and to destabilise countries that gave refuge to Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress.
Looking back years later, law professor Laurence Boulle described the period of National Party rule – from Malan to De Klerk – in succinct terms: he said that this rule had been marked by ‘successive rampant executives casting aside rule of law imperatives as they … made their powers more intrusive and more discretionary, and less responsible and less accountable.
He especially singled out Botha for having taken these methods of governing to new levels of ‘executive lawlessness’.
But Botha and his supporters saw their actions as a ‘Total Strategy’ – a response to a ‘Total Onslaught’ by ‘Communist-backed’ opponents of his regime.
Employing the methods of torture and of how to eliminate opponents that had been perfected by the government of Israel, and by the rightwing juntas which at the time were running Argentina and Chile, Botha’s security forces spread terror throughout South Africa’s black communities.
In this respect, the 1980s were particularly devastating for many opponents of the apartheid regime. ….
Murdered freedom fighters, among whom were some of the country’s most talented individuals, were reduced to tabloid-type headlines in the national media. Among these were the so-called Pebco 3 (Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Quqawuli Godolozi), who were murdered in the killing fields of the Eastern Cape, in May 1985. Within six weeks, the ‘Cradock 4’ (Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlawuli) were also assassinated and their bodies burnt and dumped.
Other well-known activists who were also murdered included Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, and Fabian and Florence Ribeiro. And there were hundreds of others, less known, but as committed to the fight for a free South Africa, who were eliminated by the state’s roving bands of killers.
Moreover, in two states of emergency declared by Botha, thousands of people were detained without trial; many of them were brutally tortured.
This was the reality of living under the government of PW Botha.
So, when the DA top officials meet to consider Kohler Barnard’s fate, they would be well advised to remember that a Missing Person’s Task team continues to locate and identify bodies of activists murdered in the 1980s by PW Botha’s security apparatuses – and, in fact, this task team discovered more bodies as recently as this past week.
But even with all the information on the Botha presidency that the DA will have at its disposal, most people will not be holding their breath that the party will take strong action against Kohler Barnard.