By Pinky Khoabane
WHITE SUPREMACISTS in Germany who wish to demonstrate their longing for Adolf Hitler and Nazism have no choice but to find “creative” ways of showing their nostalgia than to boldly display the Swastika and other Nazi symbols.
A silent march on the outskirts of Berlin in August this year for example, was hardly recognisable as a neo-Nazi protest. It was attended by hundreds of Germans wearing white or black shirts. They waved white, black and red flags – which was a flag of the German empire until World War 1. Some had placards which read “I do not regret anything” – a quote from the final statement by Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, at the Nuremberg Trials. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The protestors would not speak to journalists and instead turned their backs to anyone who sought to speak to them.
Contrast that to the celebrations that took place in South Africa last week under the banner of #BlackMonday where white farmers publicly waved the old South Africa flag, sang Die Stem and burnt the democratic South Africa flag. These are the symbols of the heinous crimes of apartheid against Black people. In order to understand the pain Blacks go through when they think of apartheid, one need only go back to the testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as victims, weeping, spoke about the horrors of apartheid. The testimonies revealed many cases of rape, torture, deaths in detention, and human burnings whose ashes were then thrown into rivers.
Like the holocaust which was genocide and a crime against Jewish people, apartheid was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations. These were deliberate and structured attacks on a people.
The difference between the two countries is that democratic Germany, unlike democratic South Africa, focussed on retributive justice and not amnesty and restorative justice. Instead of the TRC where perpetrators were forgiven by victims and amnesty was granted in the name of peace and reconciliation, Germany held the Nuremberg Trials where Allied powers – Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States—presided over the hearings of twenty-two major Nazi criminals. Twelve prominent Nazis were sentenced to death. Nazi criminals are hunted-down all over the world and face criminal prosecutions.
In addition, modern day Germany does not allow anyone to display the Swastika, Nazi memorabilia, invoking Nazi-era slogans and making racially derogatory statements. The supremacists are allowed to protest but they are legally prohibited to display these items.
In democratic South Africa, ministers of the ruling party which entered into the TRC compromise with the apartheid government, can simply issue statements condemning “the display of apartheid symbols”. They can do nothing else because these symbols are not outlawed.
The usual outcry at the sight of apartheid symbols is simply misplaced and is a contradiction in terms. These symbols of the horrors of apartheid are not outlawed and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) can only offer a sad whimper. Die Stem, for example, continues to be part of what should be a symbol of a nation’s pride – the national anthem.
Germany’s intolerance for neo-Nazi’s hate is careful deliberations over decades, on how to strike a balance between democratic freedoms and democracy itself.
South Africa would do well to take lessons from Germany and save its Black populace the pain of persistent provocation by right-wingers.