The world over, apartheid in South Africa is condemned as this evil dogma. While I don’t disagree with that, I do have some understanding of its roots and how it came about.
I need to be clear here, I am not in favour of any component of what Apartheid did or did not do, I only offer an understanding of how it came about and possibly a perspective that it’s original intention was not as evil as the final outcome.
|This is what a typical Afrikan may look like – very often the farming community of the land and the greatest benefactors from apartheid in South Africa|
The history of apartheid in South Africa is covered elsewhere on this site.
To understand apartheid in South Africa, you have to understand the architects, which is the Afrikaner people. Few people outside the Afrikaner nation understand how young and fragile this nation (of which I am part) really is and why apartheid in South Africa was a survival tactic much more than tactic of greed.
When Jan van Riebeeck established the first European settlement in the Cape in 1652, (see history of South Africa) there was no Afrikaner in existence (it always blows my mind to see buildings and artifacts from that time and earlier in Europe and to realise that my nation did not even exist by then). Afrikaners came into existence as a result of Dutch people mixing with the French predominantly but also German settlers with some inter-marrying of British and local people. It is no coincidence that the Afrikaans language resembles Flemish 99% as Belgium is tucked between the Netherlands (Dutch), France (French) and Germany (German).
|This is typical Great Trek wagon or Ossewa|
Toward the early part of the 19th century a new nation and language started to emerge with a nation that was adamant not to be under British rule. The now renowned Groot Trek (Great Trek) was a result of this new nation’s determination. The British were quite happy to see these people go as, was the assessment that north of the Orange River there wasn’t much of value for the British Empire. So the Afrikaners established three republics, the Republic of the Orange Free State (1837 recognised in 1854), the Republic of Natalia (today KZN) (1839) and the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republic or Transvaal Republic (1852) . I find it beautifully ironical that they could not work together and as a result of disagreement three separate republics were established!
The British found no value in the ZAR and OFS, but Natalia had economic significance because of the harbour at Durban.
|The flag of the ZAR, today used by the AWB|
|The flag of the Republic of Natalia, today used by Die Voortrekkers|
Soon (1843) the British annexed Natalia for the empire leaving the Afrikaner without access to vital economic trade routes through the harbour.
For a while all was fair and dandy, but in 1866 a 21 carat diamond was found near the town Hopetown and in 1871 a 83.5 carat on a hill that is today the town Kimberley (or rather what is today the largest man made hole in the world in Kimberley). All of a sudden the British were very interested in this find and even though this was in the Republic of the Free State the British lodged a dispute and through a British appointed arbitrator, Kimberley was found to be part of the Cape Colony rather than the republic even though it fall within the natural borders of the republic namely the Orange and Vaal Rivers.
This knowledge of mineral wealth lead to the British annexing first the ZAR (1880) and later the ZAR and OFS (1899) for themselves.
If you are wondering what the relevance is to apartheid in South Africa, it is of great relevance as it builds to a continuous threat for existence that the Afrikaner people experienced.
Still the Afrikaners had their republics, albeit without the wealth of the diamonds at Kimberley and was content. Then in 1886 gold was discovered in the ZAR (now Johannesburg) and where their first attempt to annex this mineral rich area were unsuccessful through he first (and lessor known) Anglo-Boer war (1880-81), their resolve strengthened after this discovery. The second annexation lead to the second Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) which after loosing this war, yet again saw the Afrikaner loosing their economic means and means of survival to the mighty British Empire – the major driving force behind apartheid in South Africa.
|The first concentration camps in the world were deployed during the Anglo-Boer war. This was a major contributor to Afrikaners feeling threatened which ultimately lead to apartheid in South Africa|
Let’s just pause for a moment on HOW the Afrikaners lost the war. Sadly the victor writes history and so very few people in the world know the detail of how this victory was orchestrated. By 1900 the British were nowhere close from winning this war. Through Genrl. C.R. de Wet a new type of warfare (guerilla warfare) saw the British unable to respond on the battlefield. They did, however, respond through Lord Kitchener that established the first recognised concentration camps. Lord Kitchener deployed a strategy whereby boer farms (and supply source) were burned down, while woman and children were placed in concentration camps around the country.
|Lizzie van Zyl died in Bloemfontein in a concentration camp. She is one example of 26 000 that died|
This had a devastating effect on the boers. While they were prepared to find alternative means of supplies, they could not bear the suffering of their woman and children in these camps – 26 000 thousand died (estimated at 15% of the population – sounds like genocide doesn’t it?) in concentration camps (see also Afrikaner genocide). If you analyse this number it is shocking as concentration camps were only deployed for 18 months. Quick maths show that 48 people died daily. In some cases woman were fed glass in their food portions, left without care in sickness and when fever broke out in the camps, there was little in form of healthcare.
With tears in their eyes the Afrikaners surrendered on 31 May 1902 with the knowledge that without the concentration camps, the British could not defeat them.
So now this young nation, having been thumped to the ground so many times had an even stronger resolve. A resolve that said they had to stand together in every way: economically, politically and socially. Every threat to the nation’s existence should be dealt with swiftly and without hesitation and above all, they resolved to regain their independence, which was lost in such a cruel manner.
In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed between the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the now annexed Afrikaner republics the ZAR and OFS. This meant that the Afrikaners were under British rule once more and the wealth of their minerals were leaving the country to go to the empire’s treasury.
|This book first opened my eyes to the inner-workings of the Broederbond, propeganda, apartheid in South Africa, etc.|
In 1918 the Afrikaner Broederbond (Brotherhood) was established with it’s soul aim to protect Afrikaner interest – much like apartheid in South Africa. From this numerous economical establishments arose of which Sanlam and Volkskas (ABSA today) were the most prominent. The Broederbond devised that if Afrikaners invested their money with Sanlam and only banked with Volkskas the economic wealth of the Afrikaners remained sovereign and could be protected. At the same time, the Broederbond infiltrated influential positions throughout society: church ministers, bank managers, police commissioners, government office bearers, etc. In so doing it slowly started to gain control over particularly policy in South Africa and off course with a view of influencing it to favour the Afrikaner.
Ironically the ANC, with similar objectives for African people, were established in 1912 and most likely as result of Africans feeling the same threat from British rule and Afrikaner dominance.
By the early 1940’s the Afrikaners through their alliance with Britain recognised the threat of the Soviet Union or Rooi gevaar (red danger). The ANC’s pressure for political recognition of black Africans were perceived as a Swart gevaar (black danger) and the combination of these two threats were significant enough for the strong resolve to mature. The gevaar (danger) was the old threat of loosing independence and the right to existence that had haunted the Afrikaners from the early 19th century. The resolve was stronger than ever to not be bullied into submission again by any threat or gevaar.
So when the National Party of dr. DF Malan defeated the United Party of Genrl. Jan Smuts, the emergence of apartheid in South Africa was eminent. This was not a new idea, rather a age old colonial idea deployed by the British and other colonial powers. It was merely formalising the idea that some party, in this case the Afrikaners, had earned the right (either through warfare or any other) to govern another party in a manner suitable to themselves. Since the Afrikaners felt that they had earned the rights to the Union and most definitely the ZAR and OFS and that had Britain not deployed dirty tactics through concentration camps, these republics would were earned.
This was no different from the British’s view that they had earned the right to govern India, Singapore, Australia and other colonies even though this was at the expense of local (or historical) inhabitants. In Australia, the problem was solved in a much more crude fashion. Hunting parties would go out and hunt Aboriginal people to such an extend that the resistance of the local people were minimal. Had it not been for Mahatma Ghandi, India would still be under British rule where a minority (that supposedly earned it) were ruling the majority. The USA exist today because colonial power took the land in the a most inhumane way from the local inhabitants.
So when the national party proposed apartheid in South Africa it actually had a humanitarian slant to it (bear with me!). Afrikaners recognised the value of the local population’s economic value, but were not prepared to give up the hard-earned sovereign status by giving these people political power (again just as little as Britain was giving that to Indians in India). Rather than just killing these people as was the case in Australia and the USA, they were offered sovereign states within the confinement of the republic.
The idea on paper was that African people would be given self-governing right in their own states. That is ultimately what the word apartheid means and where it had it’s origin i.e. separateness (and not Apart + hate as it is often interpreted).
Look, I don’t justify this as right nor do I think that there was any justice in this type of thinking, but in context of the times and how political organisation worked and given the history of the Afrikaner, I can understand that to them, this seemed like a viable solution.
In my mind the true evil of apartheid in South Africa lies in it’s execution. As a political philosophy it had merits and as illustrated were in line with global trends, but it was in the execution at operational level where the Afrikaners got it very wrong.
Let’s just briefly look back at racial segregation around the world.
Globally in the 17th to 20th century non-European races were occupied and subjected to European rule. Many and mostly African nations were invaded and the people sold as slaves. This created a perception in most western (or Europeans) minds that Europeans are superior to particularly African people.
So couple this perception, which by the 1950s were 200 years old with some hatred toward anybody that had subjected the Afrikaner or threatens to do so and you have a lethal combination. Couple that further with the growing perception that the communist had their eye on South Africa as a vital strategy position and that the Africans (through the ANC) were aligning themselves with the communist and the danger gets very big and the threat even bigger.
Every South African believed (through propaganda mostly) that apartheid in South Africa was saving the west from communist rule; that the Africans had to be subjected through every and any means in order for Christian and western civilisation to be preserved in South Africa.
So with these perceptions strong and the propaganda from government fueling this (I am not always sure how much the actual political leaders believed of their own propaganda), the police force (mostly Afrikaners) were given free reign to subject non-European people. Here is where most of the horrific human-right violations came from. European young boys were conscripted into warfare against black-Africans on the Angolan border to Namibia (then South-West African and under protection from South Africa).
At home police forces (also subscripted) were fighting black-Africans in the townships. The ANC was public enemy number one as it’s alliance with the communist were seen as major threat.
When South Africa gained independence from Britain in 1961, the Afrikaner goal was achieved and in their minds, nothing and nobody should ever take this hard-fought freedom from their people.
When the world started to become aware of the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa and showed some opposition, South African leaders had a very arrogant stance toward the world. Globalisation was nowhere to be seen, the South African Rand was stronger than the US Dollar and the gold-wealth made South Africans feel that they didn’t need the world.
Ordinary white South Africans were taught in schools of the rooi gevaar and swart gevaar, young men were called to do their duty to protect the freedom of the west (sound familiar, mr. Bush?).
At the same tame media were censored and the propaganda machine made sure that ordinary white South Africans had no clue as the the mechanisms of apartheid in South Africa. At some level we all knew that this could not be right, but were enjoying first world rights in a third world country.
Apartheid in South Africa was and will always be evil. Yet, I have empathy for my people as it could have been so different. The motives were not evil at first – similar to that of the ANC, but sadly the execution got out of hand. I condemn the system of apartheid in South Africa, but will always understand that it had it’s origins in my people fighting for existence and merely following colonial examples.
I find it sad today that we could face our past and repent from what we did wrong, but that nations such as Britain, Australia and the USA remain blind to their own and often much more evil systems that gave them right to existence.
I hope this piece bring some perspective to apartheid in South Africa.
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