Opinion: Mandela

POSTED: 12/11/13 6:58 PM

Curacao-based attorney Karel Frielink hit the nail on its head, when he posted the following remark on Facebook after Nelson Mandela had passed away. “It is unfortunate that many of the politicians that are now idolizing Mandela, speak about him in awe and recite his quotes, do not act according to Mandela’s values and standards at all in their daily practice. There is a word for this manner of hooking up with someone else’s popularity: hypocrisy.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is, some will say unfortunately, a prime example. When Rutte reacted to Mandela’s death he spoke about the special ties between the Netherlands and South-Africa.. He talked about the historical ties, symbolized in the word apartheid that of course has Dutch roots. The prime minister also said that the Netherlands had always been at the forefront in the fight against apartheid.

Is that so? That is the question that came up with Roeland Muskens, who works at the research bureau World in words and who wrote a book about the history of the anti-apartheids movement in the Netherlands between 1960 and 1990. Muskens knew of course the answer to his own question: Rutte’s memory failed him.

It is true that the Netherlands had one of the most powerful anti-apartheids movements – but the government never had anything to do with it.

Muskens notes that the fight against apartheid was everywhere. In schools, companies, government institutions (but not the government, mind you), associations and neighborhoods – Dutch people were all over the place with their opposition to apartheid and their support for Mandela’s African National Congress, or ANC. Who does not remember ANC-freedom fighter Klaas de Jonge who, together with his Belgian wife Helene Passtoors, smuggled weapons and explosives into south-Africa for the ANC. In the end he had to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy in Johannesburg when De Klerk’s regime came looking form  him. He spent two years as a virtual prisoner in the embassy before he was able to return to the Netherlands.

So yes, the Netherlands made its mark in south-Africa. South-African Outspan fruit was driven off the Dutch market, banks terminated South-African loans and the Krugerrand became a currency non grata. South African athletes and artists fell under a general boycott, and the parliament voted in favor of an oil boycott. But guess what: the government refused to execute the motion.

The Dutch government was not at the forefront at all – it was far out at the rear. The government voted consistently against resolutions in the UN security council that condemned apartheid. The Netherlands – at least, again, the government, considered apartheid an internal affair for South-
Africa and the international community ought to keep its trap shut about it. Nine huh? Wonder what Mandela thought about the visionaries that supported this point of view.

Unlike countries like France and Germany, the Netherlands did not boycott South-African coal, it did not prohibit new investments, in spite of a decision to that effect by the European Union, it did not cancel airlift to the country while Australia, the United States, Denmark, Spain and the Scandinavian countries banned all flights. The KLM and Schiphol airport even benefited from additional business under these circumstances, Muskens notes. And so on. Whether it was the oil boycott or the embargo on the sales of weapons, the Dutch government found a way around it.

When selling navy vessels (in 1965) and nuclear reactor chambers (in 1975) became an issue, the government took so long to arrive at a decision, that South-Africa went away all by itself/.

Dutch government consistently took cover behind the argument that measures had to be taken on the European Union-level, knowing darn well that the required unanimity would never materialize.

Muskens comes to a somber but just conclusion: “A comparison with the Second World War comes up. In the euphoria after the liberation we only paid attention to the acts of resistance of Dutch citizens against the occupying Germans. Only later it turned out that the line between right and wrong was vague for a lot of citizens. Many of them had ventures into the gray area between collaboration and resistance. The politicians and other power brokers that put the ANC and its detained leader in the few years before 1990 still in the same category as terrorists, scrambled later in efforts to get their picture taken with Mandela. also after the end of this war, the Netherlands has been massively part of the resistance.”

To return to attorney Karel Frielink and our present-day decision makers in St. Maarten and the wider Caribbean: how do you apply the standards of Mandela – a man you claim to admire so much – to your everyday practice of what is supposed to be transparent, accountable and integer government?

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