06 November 2006

What to do with old dictators

Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death while PW Botha is offered a state funeral and flags fly at half-mast.

Is that the difference between Muslim values and Christian values, or what?

In South Africa there is much talk of the need for moral regeneration, and every now and then there are reports in the media about religious leaders and political leaders, and even sometimes business leaders deploring the "culture of violence" and calling for the teaching of values.

There is a problem in teaching values, say, in schools in a multicultural society, where some are quick to complain about other peoples' values being forced down their throats. But it is at times like this that one realises that ubuntu is alive and well, and that one of the core Christian values of love of enemies come to the fore, and that projects to promote values, like Heartlines, are not just whistling in the dark.

PW Botha was not in the first rank of dictators of the 20th century. He was not up there with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. He belonged a bit lower down the list, along with Pinochet of Chile, Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and a few others. Unlike many, he did not create the evil system he presided over, he inherited it from his predecessors, and his contribution was to prop it up and prolong it with ever more brutal repression of those who opposed it. There were signs, just before his fall from power, of his willingness to change, when he invited Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the opposition, to tea at Tuynhuis, his official residence. But, unlike Adriaan Vlok, his minister of police, he showed no indication of repentance or remorse.

Nevertheless, the South African government, including President Thabo Mbeki, showed the kind of magnanimity that indicates the enormous difference between the values of the new South Africa they are trying to create, and those of the old South Africa that PW Botha was trying to preserve. It's at times that these that I feel proud to be a South African.

And I wonder what would happen if these values had been (or were to be) applied in the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel/Lebanon/Palestine instead of raining down bombs on people?

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