On De Klerk Boulevard

Harry Stopes

Table Bay Boulevard in Cape Town is to be renamed after F.W. De Klerk, subject to city council approval at a meeting tomorrow. When Eastern Boulevard was renamed after Nelson Mandela in 2011, the council chamber burst into rapturous applause. That’s unlikely to happen tomorrow.

Tony Ehrenreich, the Western Cape secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, earlier this month called De Klerk ‘an accident of history who just happened to be the leader of the National Party and was forced to negotiate with the ANC... If a monkey had been standing next to President Mandela he would also have received a Nobel Prize.’ He has a point.

De Klerk has also failed to show real regret over apartheid, continuing to insist that it was based on the principle of ‘separate but equal’ lives for black and white South Africans, no worse than the idea of self-determination for Czechs and Slovaks.

Both the city of Cape Town and the Western Cape province are controlled by the Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party nationally and the most popular among white voters. The DA espouses an ostensibly race-blind neoliberal politics, but frequently ties itself in knots over whether, and how, to increase support among black voters by appealing to notions of ‘African’ identity.

Ehrenreich, who is part of Cape Town's large mixed-race ‘coloured’ community and a former ANC candidate for mayor, frequently frames political differences in racial terms. When the ANC held its 103rd birthday celebrations on 10 January, party figures accused DA officials of putting obstacles in the way of the event at Cape Town Stadium. Ehrenreich commented that the ‘subtext’ is that the ANC are ‘the “other”, meaning they are “African”’, and that ‘a sense of separateness’ is being fostered in Cape Town.

Whether or not it’s deliberately fostered, the sense is made worse by the persistence of the city's apartheid geography. White, black, coloured and Asian people continue to live separate lives, as Adrian Frith’s maps of population distribution by race and household income make clear. The black and coloured middle class in Cape Town is tiny. With the exception of Afrikaans-speaking northern suburbs such as Durbanville (towards which F.W. De Klerk Boulevard will head as it leaves the city), most whites live on the Atlantic Seaboard or tucked up against the mountain in suburbs like Constantia and Newlands. A white South African friend once told me, sitting on the beach in Clifton, that for many of his peers Table Mountain is ‘a huge fucking shield, holding back all the shit from the rest of the country, and we're hiding behind it.’

The Western Cape premier, Helen Zille, recently promised to follow up personally any allegations of racism in the province. She’ll have her work cut out. There are plenty of stories of hostile service in restaurants and bars, or letting agents whose flats are unavailable to black tenants. And 15 cases of racially aggravated violence have been heard in Wynberg Magistrate’s Court in the past year.


  • 27 January 2015 at 4:15pm
    Wessel van Rensburg says:
    I'm not a fan of FW de Klerk, but this article conveniently ignores history and the political and academic literature about De Klerk circa 1991 to 1997. Those works offer many theories but have one thing in common, bewilderment and puzzlement - how does one explain De Klerk's unexpected actions.

    In 1992 Vrye Weekblad - the left wing magazine that exposed apartheid death squads published an issue with De Klerk on its front page, and inside much of it was devoted to understanding the De Klerk 'miracle'.

    The most cogent explanation of De Klerk comes from a paper by historian Herman Giliomee, Surrender without Defeat: Afrikaners and the South African miracle, and he certainly does not think that it did not matter who the leader of the National Party was then. Would Vorster or PW Botha have done what he did? No. To be sure Giliomee does identify structural reasons for the change in direction by the Afrikaner Nationalists, namely the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the move by the Nationalists away from an Afrikaner petty bourgeois, working class alliance, ie. politics based on ethnicity, towards capital in general.

    The fact is we have ample evidence of leaders not making the choices De Klerk made. Just look at Assad, or Egypt's Sisi today. Monkeys seem in short supply.

    PS: The Ehrenreich quoted approvingly here was condemned recently by South African progressives for sprouting lies in an overt attempt to foster violence.

    In response, anti-apartheid and Aids activist Zackie Achmat, tweeted: ‘ "An eye for an eye" @TonyEhrenreich is that really you? Unlawful, wrong & harms’.

  • 27 January 2015 at 6:55pm
    Harry Stopes says:
    I quoted Tony Ehrenreich because I agree with him on De Klerk, and because I somewhat agree with him on the racial tone of the DA's hostility to the ANC. It's got nothing to do with his views on Israel or how he expresses them.

    The gradual dismantling of apartheid was already underway before De Klerk became president. It's true that he greatly accelerated that process, against the resistance of the right wing of his party and other racist extremists, but with the support of many whites (even Die Beeld editorialised for Mandela's release in 1988), and under overwhelming pressure from South African and foreign capital, and foreign states. Sure, if you want to put it in these terms then yes, De Klerk is better than PW, or Assad. I'm not sure that's a particularly great thing to be, or an adequate basis for honouring in this manner.

    • 29 January 2015 at 4:48pm
      John Cowan says: @ Harry Stopes
      Monkeys (of the type required) are indeed in short supply, but so are Mandelas: neither Syria nor Egypt has one at present.

  • 28 January 2015 at 1:54pm
    Wessel van Rensburg says:
    So you use a quote that reads - ‘an accident of history who just happened to be the leader of the National Party and was forced to negotiate with the ANC… If a monkey had been standing next to President Mandela he would also have received a Nobel Prize.’

    But at the same time you seem to agree that PW would not have done the same, and that De Klerk had plenty of agency, resisting pressures from his own party otherwise? Incidentally Joe Slovo in November 1992 - during a key stage in negotiations remarked "The enemy is not defeated".

    So should we then presume you don't actually agree that it was "an accident" and any "monkey" could have gotten the Nobel prize?

    If yes, I can't see the point of using this quote - many other South African luminaries expressed disagreement with this decision - yet you chose this one? Except of course as a fuzzy and imprecise insult that you liked. I don't know you, but if I'm a betting man I'd say it's just one more example of the casual unreflective racism English speaking whites show towards Afrikaners.

    The odd thing is the road in question leaves Cape Town which have several streets (and a grand hotel) named after Lord Milner, and it stretches in the direction of Milnerton - also named after the man.

    In the New York Review of Books, Neal Ascherson described him thus: "As a racist politician, Milner is the only important British leader (Sir Oswald Mosley’s importance declined in proportion to his racism) who deserves some comparison with Adolf Hitler." He makes a pretty convincing argument why he says so.

    Similarly Gen Smuts, who famously used the South African air force to bomb striking workers and then squatters - murdering dozens, is honoured all over South Africa. Over against the slopes of Table mountain we have the homage to the proto colonial-capitalist, the huge Rhodes Memorial to Cecil John Rhodes.

    I'm not saying we have monuments to lots of monsters, lets have more. No. But it says a lot about how power worked and still operates in South Africa that an attempt to name one road after De Klerk, an Afrikaner leader that (admittedly for complex reasons) tried to move his tribe out of the lager into a more inclusive South Africa, causes such a stink (and insults).

    I'd say it's not only a revision of history, but looking to the future - it's myopic and short-sighted.

    • 28 January 2015 at 11:29pm
      Robert says: @ Wessel van Rensburg
      I'm a little confused. De Klerk spent his entire career as an active member of a viciously racist party. Did I miss his heartfelt repentance? So, when the backs of the Whites were against the wall he helped ensure the end of apartheid and the continued economic dominance of the Whites. Why exactly honour him? I agree that just because racist monsters of the past such as Milner have places named for them, we shouldn't feel obliged to continue the tradition. And yet you seem to think this is anti-Afrikaner sentiment speaking. Tell that to my Afrikaner cousins who share my views. I'm also a little confused about your reference to the famous Afrikaner, Smuts. You talk of how power worked in the past. Do you mean Smuts wasn't really an Afrikaner? Roads never got named for famous Afrikaners? I didn't follow that bit at all. Maybe moving away from this preoccupation with Afrikaner/not Afrikaner will help us. You probably won't believe me but I don't really think of FW as an Afrikaner, just as a man who led a disgusting party and did less harm in the end than he might have done. A suitable epitaph perhaps. "He could have been worse". Perhaps that's a cynical statement from a bilingual South African.

    • 29 January 2015 at 9:07am
      Harry Stopes says: @ Wessel van Rensburg
      Ehrenreich is illustrative of the tone of the controversy the renaming has raised - a more temperate remark from someone else wouldn't achieve the same effect. He's quoted as an example, not as an authority - I thought that was obvious to be honest. He's also a senior Western Cape ANC figure, which is relevant later in the article.
      That said, I'm quite happy to quote insults leveled at De Klerk, for reasons outlined in the paragraph directly following the one on which you have focused all your attention. As for my motives in doing so, well you said it - You don't know me.

    • 2 February 2015 at 8:17pm
      Wessel van Rensburg says: @ Robert
      Gemsbok you say - I’m also a little confused about your reference to the famous Afrikaner, Smuts. You talk of how power worked in the past. Do you mean Smuts wasn’t really an Afrikaner?

      > No. But he was sanctified by Empire. To you Smuts might be "famous". But what did Smuts do during the miner's strike (200 dead) and Bulhoek (more than 200 dead)? Yet Smuts is hailed as a hero, the acceptable Afrikaner face. That is how power works in South Africa, it turns Smuts into somebody "famous" because he served the interests of capital and Empire.

      Your reference to the National Party as merely a racist party just shows a total lack of understanding of the nuance of South African history. Pre 1948 the National Party was almost obsessed more than anything on fighting British Imperialism.

      They first came to power as the lead party in a coalition - The Pact - with the SA Labour Party. Dan O'Meara: "Despite the contradictions between the class forces represented in the Pact, their alliance sprang from a violent common clash with monopoly capital."

      As Dan O'Meara also notes "white domination was taken for granted as one of life's certainties, yet an explicit concern with racial issues only came to the fore after the 1943 election."

      The fact of the matter is that if you were Afrikaans you were not very likely to support an English party, for the same reason as the Irish kept on voting for Fianna Fáil for so long, and the ANC has a very loyal support from black South Africans.

      From a 1989 survey conducted by Gagiano amongst white students:

      "Less than 13 per cent of Afrikaans students read any English newspapers and less than 10 per cent of English speakers read anything printed in Afrikaans. An even smaller percentage, in either group, read newspapers that were more sympathetic to the liberation movements."

      But supporting the English party was often for English speakers an ethic rather than an enlightened political choice. From the same survey:

      "Amongst Afrikaans-speaking students, some 25 per cent supported right wing parties, 60 per cent supported the National Party (NP) and 15 per cent supported the Democratic Party (DP). Amongst English speaking students, the same parties received, respectively, around 1 per cent, 18 per cent and 70 per cent of support.

      Sixty per cent of students who said they were members of the opposition DP expressed support for repressive action taken by the state against the protest initiatives of the ANC or the UDF.

      The United Democratic Front (UDF) and the African National Congress (ANC) had less than 5 per cent support in white student ranks."

      Finally this. The new dispensation almost certainly will spell the end of Afrikaans, not only as a language of public life, but in general. Poet NP van Wyk Louw famously said it's better for a people to cease to exist than to live in injustice. That is exactly part of the decision De Klerk made.

    • 3 February 2015 at 5:45pm
      Robert says: @ Wessel van Rensburg
      I didn't say the NP was "just racist". I said it was viciously racist. How would you describe the Pass Laws, job reservation, The Immorality Act, Bantu Education, Forced Removals? A little local difficulty? The fault of those crafty Imperialists?
      Nowhere did I say that SA isn't and wasn't in part divided on language grounds. As to your quotes about student opinion, well so what. This is about FW remember. You don't seem to think Apartheid was deeply racist. I do. I've always felt profoundly sad at the possible demise of Afrikaans. But if all we are going to offer the future is convoluted obfuscation, or in the case of other posts, unreconstructed white supremacy, then we may as well walk in to the Karoo and let the darkness swallow us up.

  • 28 January 2015 at 5:18pm
    Elliott Green says:
    I can only add to wildebees's accurate comments. It is both interesting and sad how De Klerk has been increasingly ignored as a peacemaker in recent years. The fact that he wasn't chosen to speak at Mandela's funeral speaks volumes, despite the fact that he was instrumental in preventing a large scale civil war in South Africa. (In fact no Afrikaners spoke at the funeral, which is something I doubt Mandela would have been happy about.) As former LRB contributor Mahmood Mamdani has noted, if scholars of Africa had been asked in 1989 which country would be more likely to descend into genocide within five years, Rwanda or South Africa, almost all would have chosen the latter rather than the former.

  • 29 January 2015 at 4:26pm
    Imperialist says:
    De Klerk should be given some credit for being minimally rational in choosing to negotiate a transfer of power amongst elites rather than waiting for the his bankrupt country to slide into civil war. But he hardly deserves a whole street.

    The above comments were written in some parallel universe.

    • 18 June 2015 at 2:30pm
      TOM says: @ Imperialist
      Today trying to find rational statesmen is not easy (even minimally). Most leaders of questionable regimes hang to power..So yes a street (or boulevard) is well deserved wether his motives were completely pure or not should not diminish the positive results of his actions. Like my good friend activist keeps good action is completely unalloyed.

  • 30 January 2015 at 8:47am
    henri.leriche says:
    Some facts, regardless of FW. Ehrenreich is a Marxist stirrer and racist, likes to cry racism like the good hypocrites Marxists are.

    Cape Town, is the only working province in South Africa as it's not overtaking by Marxist/Communist failed ideological thinking.

    The rest of the country is imploding and the ANC/ Communist alliance would like to get their bloody hands on Cape Town. I hope they do. The faster the better. The country is getting close to a saturation point.

    *Health - Hospitals closing, downgraded (Also partly to affirmative action. People are not "called" to become nurses, but are given "jobs" thanks to their race.)

    *Crime totally out of control and getting worse. Police force in the news currently, again, as infiltrated by criminals. (Partly thanks to
    Affirmative Action, choosing people on race, and not character and merit - Renata Barnard court case a great example) hate crimes against minorities very concerning but downplayed by the black nationalist government that "needs" victimhood to stay alive. You cannot get sympathy from the international community if you're an aggressor. Kind of goes again the feel sorry for myself strategy. Plus, it helps if you want to enforce racism, because then you can use "racism" as an excuse till kingdom come.

    *Roads and towns crumbling while ANC champagne socialists use tax payers money to travel the world

    *Education under Apartheid now deemed better than under "Demo-CCCP- cracy"

    All above can be googled to verify. Trouble is brewing exponentially and the "rainbow Marxist utopia flagship" of the worldwide left will eventually implode on itself.

    The "new" South Africa is not going to last another 20 years at the current rate and the country will look very different in a 100 years from now. Split up. What Apartheid "achieved" in 40 years, the current state couldn't even do in 20! If the "old" flag stood for "racism" which meant making leaps in technology (first heart transplant, Atomic energy, Atomic Bomb, Cat-Scan etc.) Then the "new" flag which represent "democracy" put South Africa on the world stage as rape, murder, unemployment capital.

    Cape Town is to South Africa is what Hong Kong is to China. Smoke and mirrors. The "true" Afrika happens beyond those Drakensberg mountains, away from the last European outpost at the tip of Africa still trying to function.


  • 30 January 2015 at 9:17am
    Mark Turpin says:
    For the record, it is useful to review De Klerk's record as a politician. De Klerk was just 34 years old and had only just become an MP when the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 deprived people of their South African citizenship. I do not know if De Klerk actually voted in Parliament for this piece of legislation.

    De Klerk was however Minister for Internal Affairs between 1982 and 1985 when many of the forced removals happened, so either he was actually responsible for forced removals, or he was negligent in that things happened without his knowledge. He was not such a young man then of course.

    The FW De Klerk Foundation has sought to justify De Klerk’s naiveté as a young politician by affirming that he grew up in an Afrikaner society that was deeply aggrieved by defeat in the Boer War, and that the central theme of Afrikaner politics was a desire for self-rule. Fortunately there were a few brave Afrikaners who came out of the same tradition, such as Bram Fischer, who took a different route. Bram Fischer died in 1975 after being cruelly treated in the apartheid goal - when De Klerk was still only an MP. Perhaps he never heard of Bram Fischer and how he was treated, or, if he did, did he care?

    A separate question that arises is whether De Klerk deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Terry Bell has reported (in Johannesburg's 'The Star', 15 May 2012) De Klerk's admission that he ordered a massacre of supposed Azanian Peoples' Liberation Army fighters shortly before going to Oslo in 1993. In fact, teenage children were seemingly killed on De Klerk's orders. People can make up their own minds.

    • 2 February 2015 at 8:28pm
      Wessel van Rensburg says: @ Mark Turpin
      Hi Mark

      I agree with most of what you say. But not all.

      De Klerk was from the "verkrampte" (conservative) faction of the National Party. He in 1989 ran against Pik Botha (and Barend van der Merwe) both "verligtes", and won the support of the National Party.

      But it is precisely his position as a conservative that gave him the platform to act. Thus far Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Lebanon, has been the only Israeli PM to effect a pull back of Isreali settlements. And it is precisely his legitimacy within his group that gave him the leverage to do so.

      For that reason you can not compare Bram Fischer, Nico Smith, Beyers Naude as commendable as as all of those people were.

      This is essentially a binary question - if Assad had negotiated with the original protestors and an end to his power he would have been hailed a hero and probably have gotten a Nobel prize. There's no grey when it comes to giving up power.

      PS: If anybody wonders what name is - it's Wessel van Rensburg.

  • 31 January 2015 at 3:47am
    hairyslopes says:
    The author supports the ehrenreich comment but omits mention of the ANC's attempt to racialise politics in Cape Town.
    Cape Town is no more racially divided than the rest of SA.
    It is singled out uniquely by the ANC.
    Stoking violent division in the South African racial tinderbox for political gain is easy
    putting it out again, not so
    De Klerk helped the cause of reconciliation at the time.
    Ehrenreich's ANC leadership is a significant part of the tiny black elite mentioned, who have maintained the status quo.

  • 31 January 2015 at 11:06am
    Marie Luyt says:
    Here is the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille - herself a union stalwart - setting the record straight regarding the ANC's 103th birthday bash in Cape Town:

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