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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 294

Paragraph Numbers 124 to 128

Volume 5

Chapter 7

Subsection 18

Language and ideology

124 It is commonplace to treat language as mere words, not deeds, therefore language is taken to play a minimal role in understanding violence. The Commission wishes to take a different view here. Language, discourse and rhetoric does things: it constructs social categories, it gives orders, it persuades us, it justifies, explains, gives reasons, excuses. It constructs reality. It moves certain people against other people.

125 Apartheid discourse constructed socialised categories, enshrined in the language of laws, which forged differences and distance between groups. As the spiral of conflict escalated and the ANC and PAC turned to armed struggle in the 1960s, so the language of the apartheid security apparatus broadened. From the late 1970s onwards, the language of ‘total onslaught and total strategy’ enmeshed people increasingly in a discourse of militarism, side-taking and construction of ‘enemies’. From the side of the liberation movements, the apartheid regime was similarly constructed as the ‘enemy’. A spiral of discourses increasingly dehumanised the ‘other’, creating the conditions for violence.

126 Language calls people up, motivates people for action. Mr Clive Derby-Lewis testified in his amnesty application for the murder of ANC leader Mr Chris Hani:

Dr Treurnicht had called us up for the third freedom struggle, Mr Chairman, which in Afrikaner history means only one thing.

127 Language instructs and advises people. Here again is Mr Clive Derby-Lewis:

In terms of the Bible teachings … we as Christians are told that it is our duty to fight the anti-Christ in whichever way we can … the impression I got from Dr Treurnicht was that under certain circumstances it would be permissible to even kill in the battle against the anti-Christ.

128 Former Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok noted with some surprise in hindsight that language could potentially construct a climate of violence, but he conceded eventually that this could be so.

It is a fact that our country, especially during the conflict of the past, was plunged into a war psychosis where … words and expressions which were derived from the military became part of the vernacular, just as other expressions with the same import became part of the revolutionary language. At that stage there was nothing unnatural or unusual in the use of these expressions. It is however so, as already said, that with the benefit of hindsight, it is an indisputable fact that there wasn’t necessary consideration of the perspectives in interpretations of other people who did not attend those meetings.
I realise with shock now, with shock and dismay that this language usage obviously and apparently gave rise to illegal actions by policemen whereby not only victims were prejudiced but from which also certain negative results came for policemen and their families.
I don’t know how the man on the ground saw the position. Perhaps because of the greater pressure we exerted on them, they experienced greater pressure to act illegally … and perhaps then … we pressurised them to such an extent that it led to people being killed and that policemen landed up in problem situations. Once again it was a case of perceptions which we perhaps had a hand in creating because I said to the policemen and the men on the ground, you have to achieve and perform, you have to solve this problem and this matter. So perhaps, if that led to that kind of pressure, I’m sorry.
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