A is for Apartheid – a response to Mike Van Graan

By Sabelo Kotswana
Pic: Wikipedia

I have to admit, when I read Mike van Graan’s article, I jumped into the list of items he mentioned. By the time I reached E, I was thoroughly confused, not by the contradictions and fallacies in Mike’s article, but how badly researched and clearly a “black flag” (red flag being the communist fear tactic) his article was becoming. I was ready for a massive internal debate, but instead I found a childish combinations of terms which had very little to do with the title of the article. One would expect, from an article entitled “The A to Z of things we cannot blame on apartheid” the A to Z of items that cannot be blamed on apartheid. So, I start with A, as I suspect Mike had intended his reader to; Arms Deal. I have to admit, this was not a bad start for Mike. The Arms Deal would seem from the casual observer to have had nothing to do with apartheid, by extension the apartheid regime and its policies. Mike’s article does however make it hard on himself in that it puts no condition on how each of these items has to be viewed, how far back ones has to go. So, it makes it far easier for anyone who bothers with research or understand world politics to rebut these often with a simple one liner. I am not one for one liners and so where possible I hope to show the absurdity of the logic employed in compiling the list. Like Mike, I will start with the Arms Deal.

Arms Deal: The apartheid regime was practically bankrupt by 1994. They had been denied an opportunity to acquire or even sell arms, except through the state of Israel. Denel had little or no markets, other than Israel and perhaps private sales to some Middle Eastern countries. Our Navy could hardly defend against rogue fishermen off our coast with the sanction busting technology we had managed to acquire the US, UK via Israel. The lack of funds made Denel a white elephant. So, the Arms deal was an equivalent of “Hello” world, especially after the end of apartheid and after we voluntarily gave up our status as a nuclear power (a discussion for another day). So, did the arms deal have nothing to do with apartheid? No. It had everything to do with apartheid, through the apartheid regime. The border wars and the attempt to maintain a façade of a working apartheid state caused a massive drain on resources. While we were a pariah state, we still got loans from European countries and so these needed to be paid. Instead of the ANC giving these powers their middle finger, they agreed to repaying the apartheid debt which means in order to get leeway, agreements and pre-agreements on arms and SAA fleet purchases had to be made even before the ANC took power. In any case, the ANC never blamed the Arms Deal on apartheid (and this is true for many of the items in the list).

Black Economic Empowerment: Seriously!!!  You do not think the fact that just about all opportunities were only open to white males had something to do with BEE?

Crime and Corruption: Either Mr van Gaan has missed his calling as a stand-up comedian, or he seriously needs to understand what crime and corruption means. I grew up in a township in the outskirts of Cape Town and I remember the members of the community who were trying to stop gangsterism being arrested instead and gangsters being entertained at a stadium playing a soccer match against the police. If that does not encourage crime, nothing does. Also, crime is caused by many things from greed to socio-economic issues. Is Mr van Graan implying that apartheid had nothing to do with these socio-economic factors a direct consequence of Group Areas Act, Forced removals, bantu education, etc? As for Corruption; the Nats prevented anyone from finding out about it, despite the way they created it through bailing out companies that benefitted the connected, homeland pals, etc. The Nats invented corruption. The ANC simply learn from the masters, after they decided to expose it.

Democracy:  Democracy is good. Lack of democracy, as in apartheid, is not good. So, doubt the ANC would blame democracy on the Nats.

Education: Bantu Education. Need I say more?

Factionalism: Remember how the Groot Krokodil was pushed aside by the De Klerk faction? How many factions actually came out of the NP? If I remember, the CP was one?

Gupta: I will give you that one, though even Mac has not blamed this on apartheid despite apartheid giving honorary whiteness to anyone who would bust sanctions and come to the country.

Housing: Houses were largely non-existent in apartheid days. While the apartheid regime built houses that resembled trains (I am sure Mr van Graan) has been to places like Gugulethu, these were limited and more as a tool to entice those moved due to Group Areas Act and other racist laws. The fact that the government is building houses, perhaps ones without a pool, tennis court or putting green, I would think that building houses would have only been necessary if the apartheid regime did not build enough houses. That they are small and lack the middle income amenities maybe because these are better than nothing?

Inequality: If apartheid was an abbreviation, I would stand for Inequality. It was a cornerstone of the system, where white males had no more rights than anyone else.

Justice:  Under apartheid, there was little or no justice. Even the disparity we experience today is far better than the lack of justice under apartheid.

Killing: Mr van Graan shows his confusion here. He admits that killings under apartheid were a norm, and yet somehow does not see a world where life was considered dispensable could affect how life is viewed today? So, yes, when police officers sit around a fire and enjoy a braai, while in the process burning a human being in the next fired, one would expect that they would struggle to see value in human life.

Land:  which was taken away from people, who were then forcibly removed to townships? District Six anyone?

Marikana or Massacres:  are not new to South Africa as Mr van Graan points out, though he could have mention many more. In no way does that justify Marikana. Marikana made me sick and is a demonstration of excesses of a police force that often was a law unto itself. This too is directly linked with how human life was valued by the apartheid regime. This is a stretch, though one can argue that this capital being protected was conferred party by apartheid.

Nkandla: Corruption is despicable in any dispensation, but I doubt the ANC can take sole credit for resources limited to their ruling elite.

Opposition: In many years of the apartheid regime, there was hardly any opposition. There were exclusively white elections with sham elections for Indians and Coloureds. We have far more opposition parties than one would find in most democracies and interestingly, note how Zille deals with opposition parties in the Western Cape.

Poverty: Poverty, according to Mike Graan declined from 53% in 1995 to 48% 5 years ago. Unless the argument that there was 0% poverty just a year before in 1994, I am not sure what Mike’s point is.

Quackery:  Talking of quackery, the apartheid regime would not even allow the advertising of condoms on media, let alone allow sex education due to the Calvinistic belief. HIV/AIDS started in the 70s and emerged in South Africa in the 80s. It is highly disingenuous to blame those at the death end, when more could have been done earlier on. Uganda started its HIV/AIDS prevention message back in the 80s, while the regime here was content to hide behind the bible. Regardless of Mbeki’s own science or pseudo-science, no one was prevented from taking ARVs. What was not available was state sponsored ARVs. Indeed, it was the Mbeki government that fought the pharmaceuticals and ensured that generic drugs were available. This was one of the rare collaborations between TAC and the Mbeki government before the relationship went sour. Under the Mandela government, I am sure you remember the Sarafina debacle which while a disaster, was another attempt to create an awareness campaign using a world reknowned play. The Zuma government has indeed reversed many of the Mbeki losses and is credited with not only stabilising the pandemic, but also reducing the numbers. Again, it would seem that Mr van Graan’s purpose is politicking rather than tell the truth linking apartheid with making little or no effort to acknowledge HIV or its prevention.

Racism: You cannot spell apartheid without racism. Van Graan admits as much, and so really see no point is debunking this myth any further.

Spear: Freedom of expression did not exist under apartheid. At least today, we can discuss a painting of the president in the public domain something not tolerated by the apartheid regime. Ask Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First what freedom of expression means in the apartheid regime. Brett Murray did not lose his life, did not get an explosion that took out his hands like Michael Lapsley and Albie Sachs.

Transformation:  Transformation is transforming the legacies of apartheid.

Unemployment:  Unemployment has spiked since the demise of apartheid because only white males were considered potential employees. The rest of the African population were catered for in the homelands.

Vanity:  Yes, included in these vain projects is the electrification of many homes, the bringing water closer to the people such that cholera is not as prevalent as it was under apartheid. Cape Town was recently declared by the New York Times as the best city to visit and am sure the vanity projects like Waterfront, airports, tourists’ amenities as well as the Fan Walk coupled with the Cape Town stadium had nothing to do with it. As mentioned earlier, over a million of houses have been built and massive infrastructure improvements including OR Tambo. Furthermore, the economy, despite the problems is still improving. Thanks to a large part to this vain government building stadiums during 2008, the effect of the global meltdown was felt less in these parts of the world. Sometimes, truth sounds stranger than fiction.

Women: Violence against woman is a sad reality today, as it was against apartheid. Politicising this can only be achieved by someone who really does not care. Fact remains, there is a direct link to how women were treated by the apartheid regime and so the ANC can indeed blame it on apartheid. The patronising attitude towards women, and the discrimination women suffered under apartheid would clearly show a direct link to what happens today and what happened under apartheid.

Xenophobia:  The fact that South Africa remains a destination of choice for both legal and illegal emigrants is only possible now. Under apartheid, they would have been killed or summarily sent back home with no hearing.  Our population is not Xenophobic else they would have turned on the whites long ago.  The outbreaks of violence against foreigners are indicative of a much wider social malaise which is rooted in poverty and scare resources and not hatred of foreigners.  Middle class people use this as a way to demonise the black in South Africa in a vacuum of socioeconomic analysis.

Youth:  Suicide is rife amongst our youth? Can you please provide proof that this is different to what happened under their apartheid regime? Indeed, since the young people tend to be more promiscuous and bound to experiment, it is likely that new infections would come from this group. I presume under apartheid this was not the case?

Zimbabwe:   Zimbabwe is an independent country across the Limpopo. It was a country whose negotiated settlement predates ours and several apartheid operatives entered that country illegally seeking to target South Africans who sought refuge there. Oddly, unlike Swaziland, Mozambique and Lesotho, the fact that whites were perceived as victims seems to create all the publicity for Zimbabwe. Anyone demanding a report on the recent pull out of CAR, our failed invasion of Lesotho? Of course not, no white people were affected, but Zimbabwe holds a place in our minds before the purported victims were white farmers who owned much of Zimbabwean farming. Interestingly, despite the prophets of doom, Zimbabwean agriculture is re-emerging with small farmers now dominating the tobacco auctions and actually improving lives of more individuals. That is not the Zimbabwe Mr Graan and his surrogates want to talk about