Afrikaner rights organisation AfriForum should unconditionally retract a documentary that “soft-soaps” and “sanitises” apartheid, says the director of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), Frans Cronje

The IRR issued a statement on Tuesday slamming AfriForum for a documentary in which apartheid premier Hendrik Verwoerd is venerated as a “philosopher” who attempted to recreate Europe in South Africa. According to the IRR, the documentary, titled “Disrupted Land”, “seemingly sanitises the motives behind apartheid and the brutality of its practices”.

Cronje on Wednesday went further: “In principle, any organisation that drives the right issues deserves support on that issue, although that will be very difficult here now. On this issue we are utterly at odds. They must unconditionally retract, and more.”

Cronje says the IRR has tried to influence AfriForum and to “impart some common sense”.

“But I must say on this issue I think AfriForum are so far off the mark that even that may be tough.”

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The IRR has in recent times worked with AfriForum on a number of issues, especially land reform. The IRR is also advising the AfriForum-funded and newly-established agriculture lobby group the Southern African Agriculture Initiative.

Verwoerd’s apartheid plan presented as benevolent

AfriForum has in the past paid the IRR to conduct research. In addition, AfriForum and AfriSake, another AfriForum offshoot, are listed as “sponsors and donors” in the IRR’s annual reports of 2015 and 2016.

Cronje, however, says this was done in error.

“AfriForum have never funded the IRR. Someone put their name under funders in some of our documents and website which I only discovered once it was reported in the media.”

The controversial documentary, produced by AfriForum deputy chief executive Ernst Roets, looks at land reform and expropriation. It also presents Verwoerd’s plans for separate development and apartheid as benign and benevolent, arguing that he merely wanted to give different ethnic groups the opportunity to develop “along their own lines”.

The film is only available on YouTube.

In its statement on Tuesday, the IRR said abuses of human rights were an inherent part of apartheid.

“Forced removals, for example, uprooted millions of people from their land and homes, while influx control kept millions more penned up in the homelands and unable to seek a pathway out of poverty. Pervasive racial discrimination was also a fundamental assault on people’s dignity.

“In soft-soaping the evils of apartheid, AfriForum has failed to provide an accurate perspective on an extremely painful chapter in South Africa’s history. This is disrespectful to the country and all its people, and especially to those with personal or family memories of the injustices they suffered. It harms us all,” the statement reads.

When asked whether he was considering retracting the documentary, Roets replied via text message: “Neewat, we have no plans to retract it.”