Sunday, September 23, 2007

Botha, King of the Congo.

Just after Louis the 16th’s head had been severed by the guillotine, a citizen leapt on the platform, grabbed a handful of royal gore, and flung it over the crowd.
“We were threatened that the blood of Louis would be on our heads,” he said. “And now it is.”

This is from Fatal Purity, a biography of Robespierre by Ruth Scurr. It’s not an easy read, but what a plot! What a story! Moving from great moral adventure, with concerned citizens taking control over their country’s destiny in the face of Royal idiocy, to black Orwellian farce when the Committee of Public Safety becomes the greatest danger to those very citizen’s life and limb.

My daughter is taught in 1st year politics that what happened in South Africa in 94 was not a revolution. But there are a few disturbing similarities. Like the kind of language used in the aftermath. “Enemy of the revolution.” “Traditional enemies of the struggle.” And the fact that the revolutionaries use these words about previous comrades. And the continual accusations of conspiracy and corruption. And the use of state organs to prosecute vendettas.

A crucial difference is that France was invaded by Marie Antoinette’s family in Austria. The fact that hordes of armed Austrians, including Goethe, oddly enough, were approaching Paris tended to ratchet up the tension. Thank God FW de Klerk didn’t have a cousin, Botha the 7th, King of the Congo.

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