Attention Media Houses: For Immediate Release


Media Statement: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

Institute for Justice and Reconciliation Statement on Apartheid as a Crime Against Humanity

 18 February 2020

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) joins other organizations in condemning the recent statements of the former deputy-president of South Africa and the FW de Klerk Foundation which bears his name.  While we recognize the retraction that came on the 17th February 2020, the damage of the statements has been done.

That apartheid was a crime against humanity should not be in dispute.  To say anything less is to deny the trauma and experiences of those who suffered under this pernicious system.  We need to have conversations which take the country forward to promote justice and reconciliation and not discussions which are divisive and ultimately are not fruitful.

The IJR’s South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) 2019 report shows that 83.2% of South Africans viewed apartheid as a crime against humanity.  It is important to note that this represents the majority of all South Africans.   Equally important is that only 5% of people do not believe that apartheid was a crime against humanity.  What we are dealing with is a small minority of people who are in denial about what the system of apartheid was and the lasting impact it has had on our society.

It is unfortunate that such a view has been expressed by former deputy-president De Klerk.  His public position gives credence to those who hold this view and gives license to them to express the same.  What we need is a public dialogue that will take the conversation forward.  We need to be addressing the continuing legacies of apartheid as well as the contingent challenges that we are facing.

To this end we are heartened by our research findings that show that the majority of South Africans feel that reconciliation is needed (77.1%) and more than half (56.9%) feel that some progress has been made (Elnari Potgieter, South African Reconciliation Barometer, 2019).  It is upon this basis that we believe it is important to hold conversations about apartheid and its legacy.  Rather than discussing the merits of calling apartheid a crime against humanity, it is far more important to look at practical ways to reconcile and to achieve much needed justice for those who have and those who continue to suffer from the effects of apartheid.  We are a country in transition and reckless statements from people who should know better are not useful.  De Klerk would do well to bear in mind that one of the key principles of transitional justice is truth seeking and truth-telling.

It is no coincidence that those who were least affected by the oppression of apartheid continue to deny its impact.  What is required is for ‘society to understand and remember its divided past in order to create a different future’ (Elnari Potgieter, South African Reconciliation Barometer, 2019 p53).  This means working with those who continue to deny the effects of apartheid.  We cannot have a just and reconciled society without engaging with all of its members, including those with whom we do not agree.  Those conversations are hard, uncomfortable but necessary.

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