Don't take us for fools, Mr Mcebo Dlamini

Mike Berger says what the Wits SRC really admires in Mugabe and Hitler is their hatreds and ruthless cruelty

Dear Mr Mcebo Dlamini

I together with some friends, all of us white and most of us Jewish, recently visited Sutherland, the home of SALT the largest single optical telescope in the Southern hemisphere situated on the summit of a kopjie. There it stands surrounded by more than 15 other telescopes, host to a small international army of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and communication experts probing the secrets of the Universe, of which we are an infinitesimally tiny part.

Together with the exquisitely delicate but intricate and robust technology on which this endeavour rests, the Sutherland hilltop represents all that is best and most hopeful in the imperfect human spirit: cooperation, focussed intelligence, dedication and patience and the transcendence of the individual human ego in the service of something greater than any single individual, group or nation. Contemplation of this project, itself part of a global network of similar enterprises, and the infinitely fragile and precious nature of human consciousness induced in all of us a sense of awe and hope – but also a feeling of vulnerability.

To explain the sense of “vulnerability” further let me describe our trip home along the N1 freeway into Cape Town. Driving South one passes through impressive hills growing in stature into mountains until one suddenly bursts upon the vast fertile alluvial plain of De Doorns enclosed by the imposing barricades of ancient mountains. Within this valley is enclosed much that is inspiring and terrible in the South African story. Here it was that white farmers once forcibly dispossessed the previous indigenous inhabitants and inducted them into slavery.

But out of this historic injustice has arisen both the beautiful vineyards and wines of the valley and the vast inequalities still existing between the descendents of the white colonists and the Khoisan peoples who once roamed free over this valley and surrounding mountains. And out of this injustice has also arisen the magnificent freeway connecting the hinterland with the coast, the spectacular railway and all the modalities of modern technology on which the future prosperity and hope of our country, South Africa rests. It is simply impossible to contemplate a future deprived of the technology and expertise brought to these shores by Western culture, the same society responsible for the subjugation and oppression of the other inhabitants of this continent - the very same Western civilisation which is largely responsible for the Sutherland Observatory.

These painful paradoxes are a microcosm of the rest of South Africa, indeed much of Africa. It is acutely uncomfortable for most of us, but more especially for those who were once the conquered and oppressed. How do they embrace the skills, technology and indeed the cultural foundations which made this possible, while hating the actual people who brought both pain and salvation to their land? All of us in the car driving home that day from Sutherland looked with a mix of foreboding and fragile hope at the task of building upon this flimsy structure a robust, prosperous and inclusive South Africa. I could not detect a trace of Adolf Hitler in any of us.

The realities of this fear was brought forcibly home to me when I listened to your interview on e-NCA. Under the pressure of public exposure you tried, totally unsuccessfully, to reduce your admiration of Adolf Hitler (and Robert Mugabe) to respect for their “charisma” and “organisational  ability”.

Do you take the rest of us for fools Mr Dlamini, when we all know that what you admire in these two  dictators is their hatreds and ruthless cruelty which mirror your own feelings as you expressed time and time again in the interview.

Have you ever heard of “projection” Mr Dlamini? It is the process whereby you superimpose on others the emotions which afflict your own personality. I watched you on television, a robust, casually but well-dressed young man of an age which made it impossible for you to have experienced directly the indignities and marginalisation of Apartheid. I respect your identification with your own people but much of your anger is second-hand, based on smatterings of history carefully selected to justify your self-righteous rage. 

This is not to deny or minimise the reality of white racism, indeed of Jewish racism. The primitive emotion of racism is buried within the DNA of every human being, including black people. So please do not try to define the reality of black racism out of existence. No-one buys it except other racists or really foolish academics. It is culture, self-awareness and thoughtfulness that enable us to rise above our most primitive instincts to view other ethnicities and religions without stereotyping.

This is a complex and delicate undertaking which admittedly does not yield the emotional release of  hatred and revenge, and none of us is perfect. But the choice is stark: your path, Mr Dlamini, will lead to the utter ruination of South Africa. You may have your revenge and perhaps you may be a “big man” in the new South Africa, the product of your “philosophy”. But for millions of your fellow blacks and for most of the peoples of this country your vision will be a nightmare from which they may not escape for centuries.

Perhaps I’m being incredibly naive Mr Dlamini. You are young but I think you’re potentially a much better man than the ignorant and hateful views you expressed on camera would suggest. So on that very flimsy basis, you are welcome at any time to visit my wife and me. We were the beneficiaries (as well as ardent opponents) of Apartheid but worked hard for our modest comfort. You will find that we are also pro-Israel and that our views on many things will differ profoundly  from yours.

But you may be interested in our black grandchildren and the story of our lives and the contributions we both have made to the emergence of the new South Africa. And just possibly this experience will shatter the stereotypes you hold so close to your heart; the stereotypes that permit you to stigmatise whites in the manner you do; the stereotypes that enabled Hitler (whom you admire) to set out to systematically murder all Jews that he could lay his hands on from old men and women to the smallest babies - the same stereotypes that encourage Muslims to kill fellow Muslims, whites to kill blacks and black people to murder other black people. The stereotypes which Mr Mugabe uses to justify his corrupt dictatorship. 

The shattering of self-justifying illusions is a painful experience but the invitation stands if you wish to avail yourself of it.

Mike Berger