By Uche Onyebadi
No one could have imagined that the ghost of “apartheid” would resurrect and become a factor in discussions about Dylann Roof, the young man who last week picked up his gun and, driven by bone-deep hatred for black people, murdered nine of them in the house of God in Charleston, South Carolina.
For people who might have forgotten about the inhuman apartheid doctrine or were too young to really know what it meant, it is important to revisit that philosophy. In 1948, the white minority Afrikaans government in South Africa officially introduced the apartheid system of rule. It meant dividing the country and ruling it along racial lines. In those days, South Africans were classified as white, coloured or black. Black people were treated as the wretched of the earth; as non-persons virtually without rights and worse than slaves.
By the late 1980s South Africa’s President Frederick de Klerk came to the realization that such barbaric and brutal form of governance was no longer sustainable and began the systematic process of dismantling apartheid. The African National Congress (ANC) was un-banned. Nelson Mandela was freed in 1991. A new constitution for South Africa was drawn up and ratified. And by on April 27, 1994 apartheid was officially dead as black South Africans voted for the first time and Mandela became the first black president of the rainbow nation.
As South Africa wallowed in apartheid, Ian Smith’s minority white government was implementing the same race-based system of government in what was called Northern Rhodesia. However, Zimbabwe was born in 1980, Comrade Robert Mugabe became prime minister, and the ghost of apartheid was exorcised from the country.
Back to the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. Shooter, Dylann Roof had not been born when Ian Smith’s government that was the result of his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) for Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, metamorphosed into modern Zimbabwe in 1980. Shooter, Roof, was born in 1994, the same year that apartheid officially ended in South Africa. So, how come Roof adorned himself with the official emblems of apartheid South Africa and Northern Rhodesia in some of the photographs that have emerged from his Facebook site?
There is hardly any plausible explanation of Roof’s love for the obnoxious apartheid system than the fact that he must have been indoctrinated into that racist philosophy that considered black people as sub-human beings. The question, is who initiated him into that cult of racial hatred for black people? His parents? His peer group? The “southern” environment in which he grew up? No one can tell for sure. What is not in doubt is that sometime, somehow, he got indoctrinated in believing that black people had no right whatsoever to share this planet with him and people of his ilk. Hear what he allegedly told one of his victims during his massacre of the innocents inside a Church: “I have to do it (kill you)… You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”
This is vintage apartheid talk, simple. Roof did not have to proffer any evidence in support of his claims. He was intuitively sure about his “facts” and convinced about the righteousness of his mission to eliminate those who raped his white “women” and appropriated his “country”. Is it any surprise that in many of Roof’s photographs that have been so far circulated, he is seen posing with the southern Confederate flag which symbolizes white supremacy and the southern states opposition to the abolition of slavery?
This brings me to the now over-used attribution of “mental problems” to people like Roof. Each time someone goes berserk and commits heinous offenses, the so-called experts are always quick to embrace the reductionist analysis that “mental problem” is the motivator of the mayhem. While we cannot reasonably dismiss this “mental problem” prognosis being at the bedrock of such criminal and mindless activities, it would simply be naïve to use it as the omnibus answer to all incidents where people pick up their guns and go on a killing spree.
Roof’s case appears to challenge this “mental problem” excuse. According to emerging official reports, Roof himself acknowledged that he pre-planned the attack, chose his venue because of its historic significance, noted when the people held their prayer-meeting, drove several miles to the venue and stayed with his would-be victims for one hour apparently studying and discussing the bible before he embarked on his mission of savagery. In that period, he might have been doing a mental analysis of his victims to see the person who would be the first to be executed. Such cold-blooded communion with people who were about to die in his hands does not seem to be what a mentally deranged individual is capable of pulling off. People who have labeled him a home-grown terrorist do not appear to be off the mark. His, is an inflammable mixture of racial bigotry and terrorism. As a commentator on a US television pointed out, let us not lose sight of the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man who has been sentenced to death in the 2013 Boston Marathon deadly terrorist attack with his brother, killed three people; Roof has killed nine, and could have killed more if more people had been present at the prayer-meeting.
In addition to killing his victims, and the cool and calculated manner in which he planned and executed his mission, Roof is reported to have spared a victim so that she could tell the world what had taken place because he had also planned to take his own life. But, he didn’t. He calmly drove away and politely surrendered to the police when they accosted him, even though he had a gun and could have opened fired at the law enforcement agents in the spirit of truly having “mental problems”.
President Obama’s initial response to the Charleston murder once again points in the direction of the menace of uncontrolled gun ownership in the US. In his speech, the president said this: “Hate has once again been let loose in an American community. And the senseless actions of a coward have once again cut short so many lives with so much promise….We have no doubt the coward who committed this heinous act will be brought to justice. But as a nation we must confront the ravages of gun violence and the stain of hatred that continues to be visited on our streets, in our schools, in our houses of worship, and in our communities.”
An insight into Armageddon is when guns find their way into the hands of racial bigots like Roof.