SA Must Take Lessons From Germany In Dealing With Nazis

By Pinky Khoabane

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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.


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  1. Whilst understanding why you cherish the German “example” of dealing with its fascist past this praise is undeserved because it has no historical merit.

    1. The Nuremburg Trials were not the way “Germany” dealt with the war crimes of its own elite. It was the Anti-Hitler coalition, i.e. the victors of WWII and liberators of Germany who installed these War Crime Tribunals. The Germans did not liberate themselves. This is one significant difference to the South African situation.

    2. It is true that the public display of nazi symbols like the swatika or the SS runes are banned in Germany. However, this ban alone could hardly eradicate the spirit of fascism/nazism. On the contrary. Fact is that the first West-German government under the Chancellership of Konrad Adenauer gave old nazi politicians, lawyers, generals etc. leading positions in the administration of West-Germany. One of the most prominent figures was Dr. Hans Globke, Chief of Staff of the Chancellery and advisor to Adenauer. Before 1945 Globke was a top nazi jurist who co-authored, amongst others, the Nuremberg Race Laws of the nazi regime. Those were the laws which inspired the Malan-Verwoerd-Vorster gang to formulate their apartheid laws. The West-German judiciary in the 1950s and 1960s was interspersed with old nazi/racist jurists. One of Adenauers “achievements” was the remilitarisation of West-Germany. Generals who organised the nazi war of aggression were part and parcel of this new army, the old spirit of German/Prussian militarism inclusive.
    These are just two prominent examples.

    3. Yes, the ban on the public display of nazi symbols in Germany is necessary, it should be upheld and enforced vigorously. You write about the black-white-red flag of the German empire, which, by the way, was also the national flag of the “3rd Reich”, i.e. right up to the 8th of May 1945, the day of the liberation of Germany. This flag has been displayed frequently by old and neo-nazis in Germany, to my knowledge without consequences (I’m under correction).
    The ban of symbols unfortunately is not the proverbial “silver bullet” in the fight against racism, xenophobia, nationalism. Look at the new ultra-right party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) of racists, xenophobes, nationalists. They have a strong caucus in the Bundestag (national parliament)since the last elections in September this year. To my mind this goes to show that the racist ideology is very much alive and kicking, not only on the right fringes but in the middle of society.

    1. You see the problem with debating these heinous crimes with people like you is exactly the kind of response we have here. You are unable to deal with the simple issue of the wrongness of the display of these symbols and the hurt they cause on others. You try to cover-up your true views with a lame attempt at condemning the display of these symbols.

      You also try and obfuscate – this is a tried and tested tactic at avoiding dealing with the issue. The history lesson on the flag is most valuable but it doesn’t change the merits of the argument I make and I get a sense you’ve missed it, for your own convenience. And it is to say, the Nazis cannot simply display the Swastika and other Nazi symbols. Those who see these protests would have to go search in history books, as you’ve done, to know what those symbols mean. The protest almost becomes self-defeating because the message and pain they wish to arouse in the Jews is severely watered-down.

      No one and not even the Germans are trying to stem -out nazism, hence they even allow their democratic right to protest. You cant change the heart of someone filled with evil – we see it here in South Africa and we saw it last week. We also read it in commentary on our communication networks. What the Germans will not do is sit back and allow their democracy and social cohesion of their nation to be provoked by this small group of evil people.

      I would wish that some day people would condemn the wrongs period without almost glorifying these evil crimes by suggesting those who tried have failed but I suppose that’s not how public discourse works.

  2. How long will it take our diplomatic debate in addressing issues such as racism and white supremacy to be heard? what would happen if majority of people in this country are as informed as you are yet injustice such as racism and white supremacy?

  3. Well there is a planned follow up march on the 29 November…….msg being circulated

    “Noudat Swart Maandag verby is, is volgende belangrike datum Wo 29 Nov. Dan vind daar ‘n baie belangrike tussenverkiesing plaas. Jy is as kieser daarvoor geregistreer en kan stem. Die VF Plus neem voluit hieraan deel. Ons kandidaat is ‘n bekende inwoner wat in ons wyk woon, Wilma Fouché – Stop om te staak

  4. Great piece. Well reasoned argument for a relook at our past. It has been proven over and over that restorative justice can’t address the unique challenges facing us as a nation. Restoration is possible if only those receiving the restoration admit their individual and collective guilt. Accepting guilt comes with repentance and forgiveness. Majority of white South Africans in both private and public have not accepted the evils of apartheid. Instead they speak of the glorious days of apartheid and how it made South Africa a shining star on the African continent. Human nature as it were always long for the nostalgia and it this nostalgia which brings the die hard racists to burn the new flag and sing the old national anthem. You need draconian laws to stem the relics of apartheid, just as the German did after the second war world. South African society is still fragile because of our past and managing race relations must be done with care, decisiveness and boldness. Otherwise, the majority shall take the laws in their hands and offer retributive Justice which can lead into a race war. It is not enough to have this beautiful constitution which give one race freedom to act with impunity.

    1. Kwame, my biggest concern with the way things are going is that we will end up with a civil war in this country. The young people are losing patience as they see no justice.

  5. Wonderful article Pinky. Well are told the compromise was for the good of all South Africans and you must accept that without question. They knew better and they continue to know better for all us all.

    I have resorted to not reading the normal SA News outlets for obvious reasons.

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