Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying “History belongs to those who write it”. This is my contribution.
A short history of Apartheid.
Many countries on the coconut have appalling racism in their histories. My country is certainly no exception. However, in 1947 South Africa actually made race based policies the law. The law was called Apartheid.
Many race based laws existed before this act. Most of them aimed at denying bantu (native blacks) the right to own land that had been in their hands for generations. They were removed from their lands and forced to live in Bantustans, like native Americans on reservations, with the same result of poverty and hopelessness.
In 1947 the Afrikaner National Party won the leadership of the country (only whites could vote) under the campaign slogan “Apartheid” which translates into separateness. The list of specific regulations is way too long for this blogger to bother with, suffice it to say that bantus, coloreds and asians were legally segregated from whites in every way imaginable.
Whites were a very small minority in South Africa then, and remain so today. In 1947 the passage of the Apartheid laws “legalized” brutal and lethal force to keep social and economic power in the hands of the very few.
As one would expect, opposition arose both within the country and in the international community. Apartheid finally died in 1994, with a new constitution.
If a tourist of my advanced years had grown up on say Mars, you could visit South Africa today and have little evidence of this disgusting history. Blacks work and mingle with whites everywhere. There are black policemen. One of them even gave a speeding ticket to our tour guide, who grew up in the Apartheid times. I spoke with him about the changes from when he was a college student to to now. He made sure I understood that something called the Black Economic Empowerment Act, which was initiated by the ANC government to assure employment of black and black ownership in companies, made it very tough for the white man, and many packed up and left. But he also made sure that I understood that the new South Africa was not only inevitable, and too long in coming, but has made his country a better place to live. Today mixed marriages are legal. Gays and lesbians have equal rights. (Indeed I kept noticing gay couples all over Cape Town).
But I am a tourist and I have always enjoyed historical explorations of the places I travel to. So, the rest of this post will cover a few things you can experience to satisfy an interest in the Apartheid times. If this make you squeamish, maybe you should wait for a later post when I go wine tasting.
District Six, geographically anyway, is a very desirable area of Cape Town. It is just outside the main business district. It was populated by a full array of the people, blacks, maylays, asians and even liberal whites. The Apartheid era government could not stand for this blatant intermixing of people. They declared it a den of inequity and proceeded to forcibly remove over 60,000 people. All they could take was what they could carry. Every home and building, except places of worship which included churches and mosques, were razed to the ground. This happened in 1968. Of course the real reason, besides intolerance, was the commercial value of the property, being as it is within virtual walking distance of the corporation headquarters and banks.
Due to resistance the district was never developed. Even after the end of Apartheid, when the ANC led by Mandela tried to turn District 6 back to the original inhabitants, largely they refused to return and left the district as a vivid example of prejudice and injustice.
One former Methodist church,located on the cusp of District 6 has been turned into the District 6 Museum.
First, the word Soweto is an acronym for SOuth WEstern TOwnship. Township is the politically correct name for a shanty town. Townships were created as communities where the bantu could be grouped together after the white man took away their ancestral homelands. Usually a township is populated by a majority of one of the tribes, say the Zulu. But not always. In Soweto the Zulus make up about 41%, followed by the Sosotho at 18%. In all there are nine tribes. The population of the township is about 860,00. Only .04% of which is white. I wanted to get out and walk around a bit, but our guide, a white woman, was not slowing down. I think she would have run over an elephant instead of stopping.
Soweto sits on the boundaries of the mining district outside of Johannesburg. The mining companies brought people here to provide labor. To be fair in this story I will point out that they also built the Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world. It admits about 2000 patients every day, half of which are HIV positive. Originally built as a military hospital, true, but it still exists today and cares for the people of Soweto.
The people who live in the shanties are mostly illegal immigrants who come to South Africa for jobs that simply do not exist in some neighboring countries. Hygiene as you might imagine is a problem. The government puts in porta-potties, but does not service them often enough. While we were in Cape Town, the residents of a township like this had what I believe they called a poop-in and emptied out the porta-potties onto a nearby freeway that people used to get to town, right before rush hour. All I can imagine the authorities saying is “ahh sh*t”.
The ANC may not win the next election, the main reason being they cannot build enough of these houses fast enough. There are other reasons, but this is the main complaint the black majority has with the ANC.
The Soweto Uprising.
Soweto entered the international parlance and awareness as the result of an uprising on June 16, 1976. The high school students in Soweto set out to march in protest of the governments new mandate that much of the instruction in the schools must now be done in Afrikaans. Not only did the vast majority of bantus not speak Afrikaans, they considered it the language of oppression. They set out on what was to be a peaceful march to a local stadium for a rally. Police blocked the route, one thing led to another, and shots were fired. The number of students killed is estimated at 200, or more.
The photograph is of the first student killed by the police, Hector Pieterson. On the site of this and many other murders committed that day now stands the Hector Pieterson museum. It is a moving experience and an essential visit for grasping the culture of the day.
The museum does not allow photography inside. In my travels I find that the most interesting places do not. Anyway I snapped this photograph of the uprising.
The uprising turned the tide on Apartheid. The world became outraged. South Africa became a renegade in world affairs.
Soweto boasts the once homes of Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. They are less than a block apart. They are now tourist sites.
I want to take a break here. My next post will also cover part of the story of Apartheid, with a visit to Robben Island.
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