On Racism, Apartheid and the Demons Within (Part 1)
By Klasie Kraalogies
(Before I start, let me state this: I am addressing racism as the issue I, and most people of European origin are familiar with, and rightly accused of. I am not speaking of other racisms. Those certainly exist, and are nefarious, but it is not the topic under consideration here.)
It might seem strange that I would begin this article from a New South Wales newspaper from nearly a century earlier, and not with the horrors following the 1948 General election in South Africa.
The Master and Servants Act was created by the British Colonial government, and was enacted in various stages across the Empire, whose influence even extended into US lawmaking. It was an act designed to empower employers against workers. The difference was of course, that in the colonies, and in particular South Africa, the abundance of cheap, non-white labour led to the intersection of class and race, which would create unique modes of discrimination.
Those who have studied the plight of workers in the Victorian age will recognize phrases such as “the great unwashed” coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (English playwright and Secretary of State for the Colonies 1858-1859). Thus, class, colour, and the concept of “cleanliness” all became associated with one another. An example from my own past – a high school teacher, whose subjects were African languages and history, told us how he had hosted a Black academic in his garden (not home), but that he carefully marked the cups the man used so that afterwards he could dispose of them.
This illustrates the racist view that people of another race are somehow unclean.
In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Bill was passed; however, it was only enforced in 1834, and even then, the emancipated slaves became ‘apprentices’ to their previous masters. It was only four years later in 1838 when the British administration outlawed slave apprenticeship. Yet, even with these acts and bills, slavery did not end – it just took on forms through being codified into laws. This is what systemic racism is.
After the horrors of the Boer War, intense efforts by the British colonial authorities (in the now four colonies of South Africa), were put in place to eliminate the Afrikaans language and create a single white national establishment. These efforts failed and entrenched a bitter hatred in many of the Imperial Authority. After the creation of the Union of South Africa, Afrikaner politicians rose to the top quickly. Various racial laws were enacted by a people feeling themselves besieged by the Empire, and yet building on the legal framework set there by that same Empire.
During the Great Depression, the two main political parties amalgamated in 1934 under Jan Smuts to form the United Party. Prior to the amalgamation there was the National Party under J.B.M Herzog, and the Unionist Party under the leadership of Jan Smuts. Nationalist right-wing members of the National Party objected to the amalgamation and broke away to form the Purified National Party under D.F Malan. During the 1930s, many of these fascist elements formed the pro-Nazi Ossewa Brandwag (OB) which included a paramilitary wing known as the Stormjaers (assault troops). The National Party broke away from the OB in 1942, because of their sabotage tactics. However, the OB got absorbed back into the National Party at the end of the Second World War.
B.J Vorster, South African Prime Minister from 1968 to 1978, was an OB member who said the following in 1942:
We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism… In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany National Socialism and in South Africa Christian Nationalism.
His brother, Reverend Koot Vorster addressed a student group in 1940, saying:
Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ shows the way to greatness – the path of South Africa. Hitler gave the Germans a calling. He gave them a fanaticism which causes them to stand back for no one. We must follow this example because only by such holy fanaticism can the Afrikaner nation achieve its calling.
The Prime Minister who followed Vorster, P.W Botha was also an OB member. Some of my readers will remember the two global leaders who unwaveringly supported Botha’s South Africa – Reagan and Thatcher.
In 1948 the National Party defeated the United Party, and Malan became Prime Minister. However, a new element was added to the rise of the right wing – the Afrikaner Broederbond (Brotherhood). Founded in 1918 to advance Afrikaner interests, it was a secret organisation of exclusively male Afrikaner Calvinists. The aforementioned Jan Smuts said that it was a dangerous, cunning, political fascist organisation. What is true is that every single South African leader from Malan to De Klerk (who started dismantling the legal framework of apartheid in 1990) was a Broederbond member. Through government and industry, the Broederbond worked to diminish the power of non-Afrikaners, including intense gerrymandering to keep progressives out.
All through this time, laws on race kept piling up in the law books. This process accelerated after 1948, especially with the infamous Group Areas Act of 1950. This quote from Wikipedia sums it up rather well:
The Act empowered the Governor-General to declare certain geographical areas to be for the exclusive occupation of specific racial groups. In particular the statute identified three such racial groups: whites, coloureds and natives. This authority was exercised on the advice of the Minister of the Interior and the Group Areas Board.
Once an area had been designated for sole occupation by certain racial groups, the proclamation would not become legally effective for at least one year. Once this time had expired, it became a criminal offence to remain in occupation of property in that area with the punishment potentially being a fine and two years’ imprisonment.
The Act also applied to businesses with racial designation being applied on the basis of the individuals who held a controlling interest in the company
(Note that the term “coloureds” refers to multiracial ethnicity created by the state, and included people of multiracial ancestry, Khoisan ancestry, and Malay slave ancestry).
Thus, the economic subjugation of people of colour, first advanced by the Master and Servants Act in 1856 was made complete.
The question is – why the obsession with race? In South Africa nationalism certainly played a role – but truth be told, it made little sense as nearly all white South Africans, such as me, have a portion of non-white ancestry. I personally count Khoisan, Malagasy, Indian (Bengali?) and Chinese ancestry. So why did the initial melting pot disappear so quickly?
Let us first ask two questions:
What is race?
Race is a social construct. Anyone who knows even a little about genetics will realise that. Genes for skin colour have nothing to do with genes for hair texture for instance. While a set of genes might dominate locally due to lack of movement, these are very minor affects. For instance, two Khoisan men living 200 km apart have a more varied DNA than a white Englishman in London, and a Han Chinese in Beijing. Why? Because the latter two groups left Africa as a rather small subset of humanity many thousands of years ago. The Khoisan ancestors did not. It should be understood that although race is a social construct, that does not mean it does not exist. It means it does not exist biologically. It certainly exists politically and sociologically. It is a created category through which suffering was meted out.
When did racism become an issue?
This is an interesting question. Race was not that much of an issue in the Roman Empire. For the Romans, free versus enslaved became the crux of the matter. Free Black Romans did exist – as traders and others. Tacitus tells us that in Nero’s days a great many Roman senators were descended from slaves. The implication here is that ethnic origin was not a major issue. So, when did it become an issue?
An interesting paper by Kubota et al (2012) explains the neuroscience of race points towards our ingroup/outgroup instincts. People from within the group are safe, people from without the group are dangerous. However, in considering this, we are left with the question asking why was race not an issue for the Romans, but a major issue in the British Empire for instance?
Consider though that for the Romans, the major question was citizen or non-citizen, freeperson or slave. This leads us to the fact that what we view as our inborn reactions, are learned or socially conditioned. Kubota et al refers to this when discussing techniques for change appraisal of perceived outgroup members:
Social psychologists already utilize techniques reminiscent of reappraisal that aim to decrease negative evaluations of outgroup members. Recent neuroeconomic research suggests that a perspective-shifting instruction designed to encourage reappraisal alters the emotional effect of choice outcomes and changes decisions, which appears to utilize an emotion regulation circuitry. It is possible that strategically instructing participants to encourage the reappraisal of an outgroup member may help to reduce the effect of unwanted implicit attitudes on social decisions, such as on legal decisions.
Therefore, we can conclude that a major societal shift caused the explosion of racism in the first place. And that moment brings an answer to my earlier question – why did racism become an issue that led to apartheid?
The age of colonization brought a shift in attitudes – conquered labour was cheap labour. During this time there was the rise of the nation state which aggravated racist attitudes as the ideals surrounding the nation-state require some level of racist ideology as a way to ‘unite’ citizens and hold on to power. Moreover, the mysticism of the nation state utilizes a religious narrative to hold power over its people. This is seen with the Afrikaner Calvinist, the Church of England, the State Church in Germany, as well as in some parts of Eastern Europe, where the church still currently operates as an arm of the state.
- Racial attitudes have deep roots in Colonialism and Imperialism
- Racial attitudes are taught and not innate
- Racial attitudes have a strong economic component, and are thus closely connected with class, gender, and power
In the next post we will get more personal.