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  • 21. The Problem of Apartheid in South Africa 1945 - 1995 Fifty Years of Oppression

The Problem of Apartheid in South Africa 1945 - 1995 Fifty Years of Oppression

  • Category(s): Modern Political Essays
  • Created on : 03 August 2013
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


The psychology of oppression in South Africa. The Apartheid years.

1. Introduction

This matter is very difficult to understand. It stems from the only white tribe of Africa the Afrikaans people who are still of great importance to the Republic of South Africa today. The Afrikaans love their country and have made it their home in its various provinces since approximately 1700 (three hundred years ago). Britain took Cape Colony from the Dutch when it was ceded to the British Crown at the time. The Afrikaans tribe explored new territories in the Orange Free State and Transvaal (the High Veldt) in the mid 19th Century. The land issues came to the boil in the Anglo-Boer War 1899 – 1902 – a foolish aggrandising War started by Milner the English Colonialist supported by the British Empire that achieved little. Concentration Camps made their first appearance (Lord Kitchener) with inexcusable and considerable loss of life among Boer civilians and innocent women and children at the end of the conflict.

The whole War was misconceived: Our Empire could never justify taking away autonomy from the Afrikaans in the High Veldt and Veldt separate from Natal and Cape Colony. Thus the Boer War resulted in independence being handed back rightly to Pretoria before 1914 at the end of the Edwardian period. Lloyd George and a considerable body of opinion in the Liberal Party in Britain strongly and rightly opposed this War from the outset to no avail. Lord Salisbury headed the aggressive and domineering Conservative British Government which took us into the War and prosecuted it to the Treaty of Vereeniging when the Boers accepted peace terms (1902).

2. The Period between 1914 – 1945

So far as I am aware this was a quiescent period in South Africa but for the Great War with Germany. In the German South West Africa theatre. The Germans could not reinforce and were quickly trounced. South West Africa became a semi-province of South Africa. Black people had no rights under the British Crown at this time in Empire or under the white regime in Cape Town and Pretoria in this period. No one recognised the inequality and inhumanity which prevailed through the maltreatment of blacks in this region from 1918 to 1945. Some white South Africans – largely non-Afrikaans speaking uitlanders as they were called – did serve on the Allied side in Europe (1914 – 1918) and North Africa and Italy (1939 – 1945). The South Africans toppled Germany in German East Central Africa in the Great War with British leadership and support Jan Smuts was a standout Afrikaans figure and general. General Von Lettow commanded the Germans in Africa. Smuts joined the Great War Cabinet in London as a South African who had fought in the Boer War otherwise the Afrikaans people did not serve alongside their old enemy. The crunch came at the end of the War in 1945 when at the general election in South Africa (then broadly consisting of the four regions: Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and Cape Colony) Jan Smuts the PM was roundly defeated by the Nationalist Party which derived its power base primarily from the Afrikaaners.

3. Apartheid Itself

The incoming regime and the Prime Minister Malan devised and implemented the Apartheid regime, Verwoed continued the policy later. The essence of that regime was to give no rights to blacks in the RSA itself but to allow them small “home lands” or “states” which they would control e.g.: Swaziland, Lesotho KwaZulu, Transkei, Ciskei (both those last two mentioned zones were created towards the end of Apartheid). Large numbers of tribal blacks including the Zulus (a significant tribe in Natal) worked in South Africa proper (e.g.: gold mines Johannesburg, diamond mines and coal mines or in domestic service) and then returned at intervals to their homelands – only to migrate back to South Africa proper later and so forth. They had no permanent right to reside in South Africa, no voting rights or their own parties nor parliamentary representation. There was no black Press or media yet they did have Attorneys (eg: Mandela) and could pursue Private Law legal remedies through the Civil Law Courts eg: Divorce and associated relief and presumably debt collection cases and personal injury claims. There were black trade unions. They could save money – see “old mutual” – now a vast Bank. They were not powerless but still politically disabled. They were not allowed public assembly. Segregation on public transport and in education (primary and secondary) applied. There was no black military officer class. I believe blacks may have been able to enter tertiary education if they qualified and could travel abroad to achieve it. This must all be seen against the backdrop of the South African legal and judicial system which stood independent of the Executive and Parliament and was capable of striking down legislation on constitutional grounds e.g.: the controversy over the South African Parliament in early 1950’s requiring a two thirds majority to enact certain fundamental legislation. The Courts were ultimately pressurised to support the oppressive regime e.g.: The Pretoria Blue Riverhead trial in the mid 1960’s and the savage sentences handed out for mere sabotage crimes to Mandela and his black associates in the High Court (Mandela was within a whisker of being sentenced to death). Black Advocates were unheard of. The links with Britain had been cut off (Appeal to Privy Council and Dominion status and later the Commonwealth). Clearly RSA wished to stand alone among nations and by imposing Apartheid simply placed herself beyond the pale and outside the Comity of Nations. She was expelled inevitably from the UN in due course. She had no nuclear capability, thank God. The same old spirit of Afrikanerdom that lead them to the High Veldt and separation from Natal and Cape Colony and the British returned in the espousal of this abhorred policy internationally and the consequential solitary RSA which refused to accommodate the wishes of the modern world and take down apartheid. Was it mere escapism or more deeply based?

4. Conclusion: The Essence of Apartheid

I would say determination not escapism. The centre lies in this seclusion – seeking quality of the Afrikaaner people. Not just circling the wagons to protect themselves (the Laager) from an enemy but truly and deeply entrenching their most powerful thoughts in their lives and actions. They sought fulfilment in the ultimate submission to austere and even bitter obedience to conscience. Make no mistake they believed in what they were doing or they could not have done it. They really wanted to do it. Their implementation of Apartheid was a powerful quasi-religious statement of their belief in their Afrikaaner tribe and its destiny and how they viewed the relations of that tribe should be to the black Africans and the rest of the world. You will never be allowed to enter the soul of the South African Apartheid philosophy not because it has faded away but because the Afrikaaner will never bare his soul. Their sincerity and honesty and openness is evident in their application of the policy of Apartheid and its features. It required all those qualities to bring it about. They made no bones about what they were doing in Apartheid. A highly unpopular policy diplomatically but that did not put them off – truly brave people in the late 20th Century. I do not defend Apartheid but I do defend the Afrikaans people and I always will. They did not work by sleight of hand. They were above board in their enactment and prosecution of their Apartheid policy from 1945 – 1995 (50 years of deliberately enforced policy). This was based on their belief they were right as the Confederates said they were over slavery in the USA in the 1860’s one hundred years before. They were prepared to put self interest aside for the sake of freedom to pursue and taste the bitter fruit of Apartheid. The Confederates made the same sacrifice over slavery but in the military mode. South Africa also learned the hard way as we so often do in this world.