A critical review of South Africa and its post-Apartheid history, culture and policies

Without knowing where you come from, it is difficult to know where you are heading. Your heritage – the history of your people and your country – is a crucial part of your identity. It influences your morals and beliefs, your perspective on the rest of the world and your opinion of those around you. And, in the heart of it, your heritage is the roots from whence the tree that is your life grows.

Without knowing and understanding your heritage, where you come from, you are like a ship at sea, forever adrift.

South Africa has a very rich and diverse heritage, and today it is celebrated on Heritage Day. Unfortunately, most of the heritage appears not to be acknowledged - rather it is suppressed, ignored or simply erased. This transgression has had a significant impact on South Africa’s current state of affairs, specifically on the bond between its people.

I am a White woman, born after 1994 when the first democratic government had been elected and Apartheid had finally come to an end. If you have grown up in South Africa, then you have probably already made judgements about me, based solely on the colour of my skin and nothing else. I admit outright that I did not live through the evils of the Apartheid era, nor did I play a role in the struggle to end that system. And yet, I am now being punished, whether purposely or coincidently, because of what strangers did, with whom I have nothing in common other than the colour of my skin, and perhaps the language I speak.

Contrary to what the current regime would have you believe about Apartheid, and Cecil John Rhodes for that matter, Apartheid began not as a way to discriminate against other races in the hopes of advancing one, but as a way to develop the different cultural and ethnic groups in South Africa at the time, to a level where they would all be equal – socially, economically and politically.

In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, there was still an extremely wide gap among the different groups descendant from former slaves and African tribes, and those with a strong European background. Most Non-White people could not even read, much less study further at a university for higher education. The different groups of Black, Coloured and Indian, who made up the bulk of the population, had different needs and abilities in terms of education, health, cultural development and labour qualifications.

It stands to reason than that one would have to address the needs and abilities of each group separately, simply because they had different needs, to achieve the best results in raising up each group individually and the collective groups in general. At its initial instalment, Apartheid was not supposed to last for more than ten years. Its aim was to bridge the gap between the different groups of society in the hopes of improving the whole of the population. It was only later that the policies of Apartheid were twisted into those of discrimination for the purpose of empowering the handful of greedy individuals at the top of the chain.

Unfortunately, for the most part of its instalment, the Apartheid system was aimed at enriching and raising the White populace at the cost of the Non-Whites (Black, Coloured, Indian). And much like Germany did to the Jewish populace in the 1930s, the White government soon added legislation that attacked the basic human rights and equality of the Non-White people.

Much like the segregation policies of the USA, everything in South Africa was separated too – separate neighbourhoods (forcibly implemented), separate beaches, separate education, separate public seating and restrooms, and so forth. Non-White people even had separate universities of their own, and were rarely allowed the opportunity of taking middle- or high-class jobs. Most of government spending went to the White populace, with the Non-White groups receiving the bare minimum, where everything was either done on the cheap – or not at all.

Eventually, the pro-Apartheid government decided to take it a step further… they implemented legislation that would force all Non-White schools to instruct their pupils in Afrikaans as the main language of teaching, with the most valued subjects only being taught in Afrikaans. To understand the gravity of this, you need to keep in mind that many could barely speak English, and that Afrikaans was not even spoken in their immediate vicinity, much less in their homes. In addition, Afrikaans was regarded as the language of their oppressors.

Black students all across the country went on strike against this, trying to force the government to change its decision. And on 16 June 1976, the Apartheid government forcibly put them down, killing some hundred. Many of them weren’t even in high school yet at the time, some of them as young as eleven years old. To this day, these youngsters are remembered and their sacrifice valued every year on Youth Day, the 16th of June.

Over the decades there were many other significant incidents in the struggle to end the oppression and cruelty of the Apartheid government – most of them were put down violently. Eventually though, in the 1970s, with other relevant changes happening in the world, the movement to end the system of discrimination arose again, and would not give in this time.

Why the long history lesson though?

I could simply lay out my argument and come to a conclusion, but… to fully understand my argument about how the history of South Africa has been neglected and manipulated, one needs a certain basic knowledge and illustration of this. Contrary to what generally appears to be believed, White people also suffered during Apartheid, though perhaps not as badly as the Non-White populace, and there were also many of them who participated in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

Is it any wonder most South Africans today don’t even know this, much less how Apartheid began, or why, when we are not taught about it in school? Nor anywhere else?

Today, the post-Apartheid government, the African National Congress (ANC), would have you believe that it was only through the efforts of Black people, led by the heroes of their political party, that the Apartheid government was forced to step down, but that is not entirely true. Although leaders like Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela played key roles, they were not the only ones responsible for the change.

Unfortunately, history is written by the conquerors, and today, in 2016, many South Africans, and the youth in particular, do not remember the crucial contributions of other groups and individuals who rallied against the Apartheid system and its enforcers. Although, Black citizens make up the largest percentage of the South African populace, it was not only them who were responsible for ending the fight against Apartheid.

Many Indians protested just as strongly. The South African Indian Congress organised and participated in the Indian Passive Resistance Campaign of 1946 and the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign in 1952, in collaboration with the ANC and other parties. Among the Indian leaders who rallied against the Apartheid government were Mahatma Ghandi, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Farouk Meer, Ahmed Kathrada and Indres Naidoo. Large numbers of the Indian community supported the ANC and joined its military force, Umkhonto weSizwe. Some were also incarcerated on Robben Island for life.

As for the Coloured people, the South African Coloured People’s Organization (SACPO) was instrumental in the drafting of the Freedom Charter in 1955 with other political organisations. Many Coloureds also participated in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign of 1952. And in 1954 SACPO organised a series of boycotts and protests against racial segregation.

For me, though, as a white person, one of the tragic examples of lost history, is that so few South Africans today recognise the contributions made by White South Africans in the war to end the discrimination against Non-White people.

After he became State President of South Africa, FW de Klerk, who was proposing to end the Apartheid system, held a referendum on ending Apartheid among all the White voters of the country in 1992. At the time, the Non-White populace still had limited voting rights and they were not allowed to participate in a vote of this magnitude. In terms of the law at that time, the decision to end the Apartheid system lay with the White citizens of South Africa. Almost 70% of the voters agreed with a resounding ‘Yes’.

This shows that the majority of the White population was against Apartheid and believed it to be wrong. Furthermore, another significant implication of the results of this referendum was that for the first time since Apartheid’s instalment in 1948, the status quo could be changed because the now anti-Apartheid government had the backing of its voters.

Without this referendum and the White members having voted as they did, FW de Klerk would not have been able to negotiate with the ANC and remain in power to change the system and legislation like he did.

Another one of my favourite examples is the Black Sash Women’s League, whose White female members would become advocates for the Coloured and Black disadvantaged families. Then there was the Afrikaans poet Breyten Breytenbach who married a Black woman and went to jail because he publically refused to divorce her. FW de Klerk was the White president who was willing and eager to meet with the ANC and other parties to work together to end Apartheid. His contributions to the anti-Apartheid struggle also go seemingly unacknowledged among the youth of today. There were also several other influential White activists Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph and Trevor Huddleston.

But they were not the only members of the White population who were against the segregation policies of Apartheid. Beyers Naudé left his church and founded an organization of theologians, including Albert Geyser and Ben Marais, which supported anti-Apartheid activities, especially where they related to religion. And Helen Suzman is regarded as the only Member of Parliament who consistently voted against Apartheid legislation and who used her parliamentary privileges to help the disadvantaged.

The ANC may have spearheaded most of the protest movement, but there can be no doubt… they were not the only heroes in this struggle. Without the support of the other racial groups in South Africa they would not have had the success they do today.

Unfortunately though, the youth of South Africa today do not know the half of it. And I am not only referring to the Apartheid era of my country’s history.

In schools, pupils of all race are taught a surmised version of the truth. When it comes to Apartheid, we are not educated in any real significance of the anti-Apartheid struggle movements that were not Black. I myself know only of the others because of my own curiosity and research on the subject. The political parties of the day and the current government only refer to these movements when it suits them to do so, which rarely happens. Most of the time, they are quite content to give the illusion that it was only Black people, their people, who were responsible for ending Apartheid, and to portray them as the only ones who suffered.

Is it any wonder then that most of South Africa seems to resent what remains of its White populace?

Today, the students call for the removal of all traces of White leadership – even the ones who had nothing to do with Apartheid – and the representations of White people that they still associate with Apartheid. There are many campaigns to remove Afrikaans as a main language of study from South African universities as it is still seen as the language of the oppressors, though it is spoken by more Non-Whites than Whites. And because of the inequality caused by the advantage given to White people in the workplace during the Apartheid era, they are now discriminated against in favour of Non-Whites, solely based on the colour of their skin and no other relevant factors, such as their capabilities and experience to actually do the job.

The dominant picture being portrayed to all South Africans and the rest of the world, is that White people resent Apartheid for being over, that it is only because of the ANC and its Black supporters that Apartheid ended at all, and that the suffering brought on by Apartheid was one sided and that White people and the oppressive remnants associated with their culture, as perceived to be the enemy who implemented Apartheid, need to be corrected and removed where applicable.

Ironically though, this public perception stems from a small minority of noisemakers who receive a lot of attention and feature prominently in the media. On the ground floor level amongst individuals, the dominant portrayal of the state of affairs does not always represent the truth – and for me, therein lies the tragedy. Most South Africans seem to be uninformed and either easily manipulated by these dominant influences, or perhaps they just don’t care enough to discern fact from fiction. It doesn’t make for an easy atmosphere of trust among the different ethnic groups.

Certain party leaders publically call out to ‘Kill the Boer!’ and everything that is going wrong in South Africa, they still being blame on Apartheid and the White citizens who benefitted from it – 22 years after the first democratic election took place. As a member of the White populace, I am being blamed for what Apartheid did and being disadvantaged by the current corrective legislation and its implementation, even though I wasn’t even born back then.

It has become so convenient an excuse and the apparent perception of opposition to all things white and Afrikaans so strong an influence that everything that formed part of South Africa’s history before the Apartheid era seems to have been erased from memory as well – history that relates to European influences on this country’s heritage. Significant events such as the Anglo-Boere War, in which Non-Whites also suffered at the hands of the British, and the colonisation period after Jan Van Riebeeck came to the Cape and settled a colony there, the end of slavery in South Africa, the history of how Afrikaans came to be (a language that was developed by the non-white citizens who did not like the tongue of their slave masters) have completely been left out and now go unacknowledged by most of the youth and those who carry the most weight in the public, i.e. the politicians, other public figures and the media.

Oh there is still the occasional museum and dusty book tucked away in the corner of a library somewhere, but for the most part, more than half of South Africa’s history and heritage has been ignored – unless it can be used to promote personal or political agendas.

The White demographic population of South Africa may be in the minority, but we are still here. And as mistaken and horrible as some of the things that White people did to the rest of South Africa in the past might be, there were positive contributions as well. For example, it was White, Afrikaans South Africans wanting to escape the control of the British Empire who founded the more Northern provinces and who, ultimately, made it possible for the borders of the country to be expanded.

As a whole there seems to be a need for South Africa to dissociate itself from all things white and European – except of course for the advanced technology, the vast amount of knowledge and research, and the perceived standards of luxurious living.

There are exceptions, of course, and many individuals do not feel hostile against White people, but as a collective, due to the power and influence given to a handful of prominent individuals, South Africa seems set in its way to destroy everything White – except where it can benefit from them. There is even an ongoing argument that White people are not truly South African.

I do not deny the evils of Apartheid nor the need for corrective action to be taken to restore equality in South Africa. But this way, where the current regime is encouraging Apartheid to take place in reverse, by discriminating against White people, their culture and their part in South Africa’s heritage, for no reason other than that they are White, is not the way to go about it.

I personally believe that the leading political organisations of South Africa are using the general population’s lack of knowledge and mistaken perceptions about the country’s history (specifically about the anti-Apartheid struggle), and their bitterness and resentment to the damage done during Apartheid, to fan the flames of hate in an attempt to gain support and promote agendas that are aimed solely at enriching themselves.

This country is exactly what it is because of its past – all of its past. And its people – all of its people – are the way they are because of how the whole of the country’s history has shaped them. South Africa does have certain roots in European countries and there are European influences along with the African ones. Denying this basic truth aids no one and adds to the damage of a uniquely, rich heritage and the population that arose from it.

South Africa may be a democracy, but the common good is not dependent on the Black group that makes up the majority of its population, contrary to public perception. The country is too ethnically diverse for that to be the case.

South Africa is my home too. I wish I could learn more about the different cultures that share this home with me, but not from an Apartheid era point of view. I would like to learn their language, their customs and traditions, their beliefs and stories, to see Africa through their eyes, be they Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho or Ndebele. Each culture that forms part of South Africa has something to offer, something to contribute. And it is only by combining the different gifts and talents of every group, and working together, that South Africa can truly make its way to a better tomorrow.

I am Afrikaans, I am White and I am a South African too. My country has had both good and bad in its history. The mistakes of the past and how they are being dealt with in the present is why the country is struggling in so many aspects today. The negative effects of the past need to be reversed and resolved where possible.

But not in a way that calls for the destruction, disadvantage and detriment of certain groups, their culture and history, because that is exactly what made Apartheid so terrible and what South Africa and the rest of the world spent so long trying to end. Unity in diversity... That was once our dream.

 

Please… Don’t destroy my heritage too.

 

Published by Lize M Franken