Monday, 25 February 2008
How bad was apartheid?
And of course the wheels started falling off in the late eighties and the system collapsed entirely in 1994.
The common image of SA was that of a violent seething cauldron with the lid kept on only through the means of a highly militarized police state. Gun-toting police and soldiers on every corner no less, whites fearfully barricaded behind multiple layers of security. If true, this would indeed have represented a damning verdict on the system.
However, it was not true.
In fact it grotesquely misrepresents the real situation. SA in fact, even in the latter decades of apartheid (the most violent time) had a police/population ratio of about 1:2000. This was lower than in most other countries, including advanced Western ones such as the USA, France and Germany. Military spending as a proportion of GDP was also lower than in most Western states. It’s anecdotally indicated that most whites left their doors unlocked at night until well into the eighties.
And by the way, since ‘freedom’ was gained in 1994 there have been an incredible 300,000 murders, despite a huge ramp-up in the numbers of police. Just like India has become an outsourced destination for call centres, SA has become one for crime management. It now stands proudly as an international centre of excellence for money laundering, international prostitution rings, drug-trafficking and child pornography services.
So how bad was apartheid?
Well, it should first be realized that South Africa as a state was the creation of (white) European immigrants. It was run for their benefit, blacks were seen as a source of cheap labour, to be kept out of sight and sound as much as possible. They were not permitted to own land outside designated areas and were of course effectively excluded from the political system. They were deprived of various other rights, frequently humiliated and subjected to rough justice.
None of this was nice, but in terms of cosmic injustice it doesn’t even register. Comparatively few people were directly killed by way of the system. Sure, executions of blacks were at a rate which made GW Bush’s Texas seem almost liberal, and then there was the infamous Sharpeville massacre.
Let’s talk about Sharpeville. 69 people killed. Let’s assume that they were all killed in cold blood (they weren’t, in fact). But how in God’s name has this become a byword for state terrorism and criminality? Leave aside the tens of millions killed by the systems of Stalin PolPot and Mao. Four million have been killed in the Congo. When Robert Mugabe sorted out Matabeleland in the early eighties (well after Sharpeville) he, within the space of six weeks, killed more than 2000 civilians. Most of the dead were killed in public executions involving between one and 12 people at a time. And he was a hero to us in the West at this time. I could in fact list 1000 other examples incomparably worse than Sharpeville or anything else under apartheid.
It should also be borne in mind, as I've mentioned in other posts, that nobody – nobody - treats, or treated Africans worse than they do themselves. It was the first thing that hit me when I went there. Africans themselves know that, which partially explained why they flooded into apartheid SA at every opportunity and at great personal risk.
The only ones, in terms of lousy treatment of Africans, to give the Africans themselves a close run are the Arabs. Arabs see, and treat, Africans as lesser humans. And they don’t make any apologies for it (their ‘holy’ book justifies it, by the way). And they still do it. Associates of mine in Abu Dhabi recoil in horror at the thought of allowing blacks into the UAE. They believe deep down that they should be treated as slaves.
Hindus see blacks, literally, as the lowest form of life
So why then, given that its offences in comparative terms were small beer, did apartheid and SA draw such odium? Let me think. No, can't think of any reason, seems no logic to it.
Ha wait! Of course – the South Africans were white! Silly me. I forgot, only whites are racists.