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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 296

Paragraph Numbers 129 to 133

Volume 5

Chapter 7

Subsection 19

129 If Minister Vlok is surprised at the manner in which language could create impressions, Eugene de Kock is quite adamant about the meaning of certain expressions. In testimony, De Kock indicated that orders were usually given in the form of euphemisms such as “go for a drive” ( a person wouldn’t return), “had to be removed”, “neutralise” “make a plan with these people”. De Kock laconically commented that the phrase “take them out” did not mean that “you had to take the person out and entertain them”. Referring to the orders to bomb Khotso House, De Kock expressed surprise that in this case the orders were quite clearly to “blow up”. Usually, he said, the instruction would be “to shake up a little” or “to put a couple of cracks in the wall”. Although the link between language and violence in the South African case has not yet been studied sufficiently and must form part of a future research agenda, the above examples point to the importance of the topic.

130 In the UDF submission to the Commission, the question of language and violence is discussed as follows:

The usage of militant language within the Front took place against a background of increasing struggle and general escalation of violence. We were concerned about this development and discouraged the use of militant rhetoric. But, having looked at this question hard and for a long time among us, we concede that the language used by some of us from time to time could have provided the reasonable basis for some of our members to infer that violence and even killing was acceptable.

131 Ideology is a form of power in which meaning (signification) serves to sustain and reproduce relations of domination. Language, in its many and varied forms, is the central element in ideology as power. As language, ideology ‘does things’. In the South African context, it is important to understand how multiple discourses combined, intersected and intertwined to create climates of violence. In this respect, the ideologies of racism, patriarchy, religions, capitalism, apartheid and militarism all intertwined to ‘manufacture’ people capable of violence. Ideologies in these sorts of combinations provide the means and grounds for people to act violently and yet, ironically, believe they are acting in terms of worthy, noble and morally righteous principles. Thus some Afrikaner nationalists could claim a ‘just war’ not against black people, but against Communism. There are examples of such rhetoric above. On the other side, with greater legitimacy, the liberation movements could justify violence as a means to a greater end, ‘freedom and democracy’. Although that has indeed been the result, the language and slogans deployed could nonetheless justify atrocities of various forms.

132 In this sense, the language of violence takes a form akin to a dialogue, an arrangement of sequences and spirals that enmesh each side and in turn increase the likelihood of violent acts. These steps and sequences have been described as a process of “ideological acceleration”. People in political movements take a series of steps which increasingly commit them to their ideological arguments and lead them to distance themselves from outsiders.

The sequence consists of acts of increasing violent contempt for outsiders. It may start with words and uniforms and end in killing.22

133 It is sufficiently plain that language, discourses and ideological processes are important factors in the understanding of the motives of perpetrators. Human beings act in terms of the meanings of particular situations.

22 P du Preez, Genocide. London: Bayers/Bowerdean, 1994.
 
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