To clarify, young Pieter saw the above on TV and admitted, "Yeah, we're still worse."
What hit Pieter the hardest was simply the fact that his father had looked him in the eye and lied to him, just to avoid having to admit that the story of white racism wasn't one of a steady march toward righteous victory. If you've never had to experience it, let us point out that the complete obliteration of everything you've ever believed in isn't an enjoyable experience. It's like simultaneously finding out Santa isn't real and that every present you ever got had been stolen from orphans.
"I can't tell you how much fear and apprehension I had that night ... I went to the library the next day to see international papers on the incident. I knew the AWB wasn't liked, but every article said we were hated." And so Pieter had his moment of realization:
"We were the bad guys."
Your Views Can Change, But The Guilt Is Forever
Guy Tillim/University of Cape Town
Pieter gradually stopped showing up to AWB meetings, and his dad noticed. "He confronted me. I told him all of those rallies and fights with the blacks meant nothing. He exploded back about what the family believed, and I told him I didn't know what to think anymore. My world was shattered at this point. He calmly said, 'We'll bring you to some meetings, and you'll get the truth.'"
Guy Tillim/University of Cape Town
If you ever hear those words, turn and flee.
So Pieter started hanging out with his non-racist aunt instead. "I told her my predicament, and I was honestly surprised when she hugged me." Unfortunately, his dad soon found out, and if you're thinking this story ends with the old man seeing the light, you're greatly underestimating the power of entrenched racism. "That night, I came back home to two suitcases outside the door. Just like that, I was cut off from most of my family." Pieter's aunt took him in and helped him along the long road to rehabilitation. For starters, he had to rid himself of that annoying little habit of constantly dropping his country's most offensive racial slur.
You remember the one.
"I embarrassed my aunt at the first dinner party she hosted because I called one of the black guests a kaffir. That was quickly remedied when she told him how I was raised in an AWB household and was getting away from that, but I remember that look of hurt and anger. I saw what the word really was for the first time."
But a human life doesn't come with a rewind button, and Pieter's past can't be undone. Think about the worst thing you did as a teenager, the memory that makes you cringe, that one you'd erase from your brain if somebody invented a machine that could do it. Imagine you have hundreds of many worse memories, of terrified faces of victims, of the sound of their screams. You could try to remind yourself that it was all brainwashing, that anybody would have done the same if raised in that environment. And yet your memories are not of someone else delivering the beatings. It was you.
The South African History Archive
You were there.
"I've ... tried to come to terms with what I did. All the people I beat, all the property destruction. I need to live with that. I was a different person, but that doesn't change what I did. The neighborhoods have changed so much since I did that, so I can't apologize or receive forgiveness. I sure as hell will never get closure on what I did in the AWB."
The AWB is mostly gone now, down to around 5,000 members from its '80s peak of 70,000. That's a sign of progress, and were this an inspirational movie, Pieter's dad would have come to a deathbed realization and told his son that he was proud of him. But sometimes doing the right thing means you don't get that happy ending. Pieter never saw his father again. According to his brother, right up until he died, "He never talked about me since the day he threw me out of the house."
Evan V. Symon was honored to speak with Pieter. If you have an awesome job/experience you would like to share, hit us up at email@example.com today!
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned As A Neo-Nazi and I Was Raised As A Racist: 6 Weird Things I Learned.
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