Jeremy Gordin, not Anthea Jeffery, "omits" the "moral context"

John Kane-Berman responds to the critique of "People's War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa"

Jeremy Gordin's review on Politicsweb of my colleague Anthea Jeffery's recent book People's War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa accuses her of omitting the "moral context" which supposedly caused the Vietnamese to develop their strategy for such a war. Nowhere, he writes, does she mention that the Vietnamese had been "colonised and oppressed" for "literally thousands of years".

Jeffery could no doubt have stuck in a chapter giving all the details of this thousand-year horror, but that history would not justify the merciless brutality which the Vietnamese National Liberation Front used in their quest for power. Nor were the horrors of apartheid any justification for the ruthless disregard for life which the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies in Umkhonto we Sizwe and the South African Communist Party (SACP) used in their quest for hegemonic power.

The "context" of the Nazi rise to power was the vindictive terms imposed upon Germany by the victorious Allies after the First World War. More than three million ethnic Germans were incorporated as a minority in the new state of Czechoslovakia created by the Allies. Germany was itself split in two and the port of Danzig detached from Germany and isolated at the end of a "corridor" designed to give Poland access to the sea.

The folly and injustice of much of this was widely recognised by the British and the French, which helps to explain their policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich and earlier. But none of it could justify either what Hitler called his "unshakeable will to wipe Czechoslovakia from the map" or the blitzkrieg he unleashed against the Poles – let alone anything else that he did.

In one of the endnotes to his review, Gordin takes Jeffery and myself to task for being so "unfair" as to "whack the media retrospectively". But we did so at the time, for example in a study of violence published in 1993. Journalists were then indeed "operating in extremely difficult and very confusing conditions", as Gordin argues.

No doubt this was part of the "context" in which they worked. But it did not stop many of them from making political choices. One wrote in February 1990 that he had "worked clandestinely" for the ANC for ten years on the "South African commercial press". The editor of one supposedly "alternative" newspaper admitted that "progressives" had been "silent on certain problems". Many black journalists were terrified to report the truth about the terror that the ANC unleashed in the townships. Many white journalists chose to suppress it.

Some of these supposedly "alternative" newspapers (and some mainstream ones) were as slavish in their attitude to the ANC as many Afrikaans newspapers once were in their attitude to the National Party (NP). This was obvious at the time to anyone willing to look, not a question of the "20/20 hindsight" to which Gordin refers.

As for the so-called "third force", which Gordin says Jeffery overlooks, the editor of one supposedly "alternative" papers acknowledged in 1992 that its allegations about such a force were based on "patchy evidence" that was "not always reliable". More recently, one of the journalists on another "alternative" paper wrote that "we went after what we called the 'third force' even though "there was never hard evidence" thereof. Despite this lack of evidence, "week after week we published ghoulish front pages with specially commissioned paintings of monstrous visages towering over their victims".

He added, "This belief in rogue forces so assiduously cultivated in the alternative media played a huge role in the negotiations between the NP and the ANC". Inter alia, it led to concessions "that might not otherwise have been made". The success with which this belief was so "assiduously cultivated" despite "patchy evidence" was straight out of the ANC's Green Book incorporating its lessons from Vietnam. As Raymond Suttner of the SACP once wrote, it was vital to win the propaganda war about violence.

The ANC, with the help of its allies in the media, won that war. Jeffery's book, as I said at the launches in Johannesburg and Pretoria, "is a unique contribution to setting the record straight". Indeed, as Gordin himself admits, it is a "compelling counter narrative" to the received wisdom that the ANC is a "warmhearted and loving liberator and champion of the people". Anyone seeking to understand the depravity of the ANC in power need only bear in mind the depravity of its strategy to gain power.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.