Burger said Hani’s assassination was a good example of how strong leadership prevented a tragic situation from becoming the focal point of a race war. “You’ll remember how tense things were then,” he said.
“Peace and political negotiations were extremely fragile, and the wrong kind of utterances and attitudes from leaders could have tipped the country into violence. Fortunately, we had a man like Nelson Mandela calling for calm.”
At Hani’s funeral Mandela urged supporters “not to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for.” He continued, “Let us respond with dignity and in a disciplined fashion.”
Asked whether fears of a right wing resurgence in response to Terre’Blanche’s murder were warranted, Dr Burger said, “My concern is not the AWB, but rather the possibility that some radical might attack someone. The AWB is sending out a message of control. It’s that one lunatic – and you only need one – that concerns me. An attack on the wrong person might start a fire.” But Burger said he had confidence that the security forces – the army and the police – could extinguish such a “fire” should it occur. However, “in an environment of intolerance, the fire might spread, and then our security forces will have difficulty.
This is where the need for strong leadership comes in. So far, our leaders have appealed for calm, which is impressive, but in my opinion, there’s something missing, and that’s for government, from the president down, to take an unequivocal stance against inflammatory statements of any kind. Mandela did this by censuring Peter Mokaba for his singing ‘Kill the Boer, the farmer’.”
South Africa’s a very young democracy which at some points borders on conflict, said Burger.
“We can’t afford for anyone to make statements or sing songs that advocate killing. Our leaders especially need to respect the judiciary. Julius Malema defied the Gauteng High Court’s interim interdict of the ‘Kill the Boer’ song by singing it recently in Zimbabwe. This is when our leadership must step in – you can’t have people openly defying the law and being seen to get away with it. That’s not a way of preventing conflict.”