Visit from Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada, a member a the Parliament in South Africa and anti-apartheid activist came to the University of Kentucky to talk about apartheid and the effects that it had on his country, as well as the effects it continues to have upon the country now.
He talked a lot about his time in prison. He said that he was able to keep up his logical mind in a hostile environment because he knew the consequences of his actions before he carried them out, and there were always ways that his situation could be worse. He was one of 25-30 men on Roben Island who were completely isolated, so he did not have the opportunity to do social activities or sports like many of the other prisoners, but he did have the chance to become more educated, and these studies helped him to take his mind of the conditions to which he was subjected. He also said that he kept himself hopeful throughout the long struggle by being mindful of the fact that there were new people turning to their cause every day. The oppressed of South Africa far outnumbered the oppressors, so he never had any doubt that they would eventually win. He also said they always expected to win by themselves because they didn’t really think that anyone would intervene for them, and they always knew that it was a political war to be won, not an arms war, despite the fact that there were arms. They could not simply kill the opposition, because their oppressors were still South Africans, and there had to be a reconciliation of both sides, rather than revenge.
Mr. Kathrada greatly emphasized the importance of nonracial thinking. There is a freedom charter in South Africa, which states that South Africa belongs to all its people. The Constitution and the Cabinet are representative, but there are no quotas to fill as far as race. There was participation and sacrifice from every race in the fight against apartheid from the very beginning, and so the legacy continues. The main problem with the idea of nonracialism is the ignorance of the people, especially the youth of the country. Mr. Balton, a member of the panel that was speaking with Mr. Kathrada, also added that they were trying to work on the idea of a national identity rather than racial identity alone, and trying to promote knowing more about people as far as their values, religious beliefs, etc. instead of just their race.
As far as the problems still plaguing the country, there are many. The new country of South Africa is only 16 years old, and as such, is still trying to adjust and fix the residual problems of the old South Africa. There are expectations of the people that have not been met, such as good houses, hospitals, water, electricity, and roads. Many of these things have been provided for some, but not for others, and the government is looking for a way to remedy this. There has been much progress, but there is still a lack of people with education, expertise, and skills, and investments from other countries. The field is wide open and in need of help. Mr. Kathrada said that he is proud of South Africa because of all its progress in such a short span of time, but the South African government could only be satisfied when every child goes to bed with a full stomach, wakes up smiling, and goes to school well clothed and well fed, and this dream is still far away.

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Umdabu Dance Company of South Africa

As a part of the Cultural Diversity Festival at UK, the Umdabu Dance Company of South Africa came to perform and teach us a little about the culture of South Africa, particularly the Zulu and other indigenous cultures, through song, dance and story-telling.
During the first part of the performance, the men came out dressed in skins  that acted as skirts and headdresses, as well as something that looked like leg warmers. They also wore armbands and colorful beads across their chests. The women were wearing colorful beaded skirts and necklaces. They all began singing a prayer “Africa, I love you. You are my voice”.  The sound of the song was very primitive. There were animal noises, birds warbling, and a heavy beat. Then, there was a song dedicated to the Zulu king. There were both group and solo performances in each of the songs. It was make clear by the performers that dance was done socially in South Africa, and without inhibition, so there was a lot of stomping, whistling, and clapping at seemingly random points in the songs. We were also informed that there are 9 provinces and 11 official languages in South Africa, due to the rich diversity of their cultures. One of the performers demonstrated the “click language”, and encouraged the participation of the audience in saying a few simple words and phrases.
In the second segment, there was a costume change so that the men were dressed in coveralls and hard hats like mine workers. They then proceeded to do the dance of the mine workers, which is where the dance style “stepping” originated. The dance seemed less primitive, but it was used as a way communicating, and also of relieving frustration after working 16 or more hours in the mines of Johannesburg. The men who worked in the mines were taken by force and made to work. In one year, they might only get to see their families for three days.
The next part was the story of reverence to King Shaka of the Zulu tribe. The performers acted out the scene at which his parents met. Intermarriage was forbidden between their tribes, and Shaka’s father was supposed to marry into a larger clan to form an alliance, but he really liked Shaka’s mother, so he danced and sang to impress her, as was the custom for their tribes.
The final part was pure participation on the part of the audience. We were taught a warm up that the dancer do before they perform. The performers made it clear that in Zulu culture, there are no spectators; everyone participates, dances, and entertains for everyone else. The very last song that was performed was moving for me. It was called “This is Who I Am” and it was about pride in being who you are, in particular, it was about the pride of being different, of being South African, of being Zulu.
I greatly enjoyed the performance because it was a demonstration more than a lecture, and those kinds of educational experiences are always more useful to me. The performers taught me a lot about the culture in South Africa without saying very much. They just showed it through all their song, dance, and dramatic actions.

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Film 5 of “Have You Heard from Johannesburg”

Divestment: Putting Economic Pressure on Apartheid South Africa

Beginning in the late 1970s, people in the United States really started to take a stand in opposition of apartheid in South Africa because even with bans from sports, consumer boycotts, and the United Nations sanctioned arms embargo, the violence in South Africa was not getting any better. In fact, it was escalating on the part of both protesters and the government. The Prime Minister had said “We must maintain control”, and so he gave the government nearly unlimited power, which the police used to detain almost 700 people in two days. The media began to show that conditions in South Africa were worse than ever, so people started to change their opinions about foreign policy concerning South Africa.

The members of the Congressional Black Caucus had been trying to get people to listen since 1972, but it wasn’t until 1977 when TransAfrica was started that people were really informed about the problems in South Africa. The Congressional Black Caucus tried to get a bill passed toward the idea of divestment in South Africa, but President Reagan had a different approach and was trying to shut down any talk of economic sanctions. Finally, during the 1980’s students at many colleges and Universities throughout the United States began protesting against the injustice of apartheid and pressuring their institutions to cut any ties with companies connected to South Africa. Many students were arrested during these protests, and it seemed as if there would never be any progress made, but Columbia University divested, which pressured others to do the same. This sparked mass divestment in individual states all over the country, and finally the issue was again taken before Congress, and in 1986 the foreign policy was overturned. The amazing thing about this change is that “[d]ivestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people at the grassroots”(Desmond Tutu, Of Occupation and Apartheid: Do I Divest?, www.counterpunch.org). The change in policy in the US also instigated change in other countries, making apartheid South Africa much closer to an end than ever before.

Eddie Daniels is a South African who lived under the apartheid regime. He was classified as “coloured” during this time, and he resents being classified by color. Daniels began protesting apartheid when he was 12 years old and eventually joined the Liberal Party because they didn’t classify themselves by race. He was a member of a sabotage group that blew up power stations and other economically based targets. He was caught and imprisoned for sabotage for 15 years at Robin Island. There he was isolated from other prisoners, along with 30 others who were imprisoned on similar charges. Nelson Mandela was one of these prisoners. He became good friends with Mandela and found him to be a truly compassionate man. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories that Mr. Daniels told because they made apartheid seem much less abstract. I was born 2 years before apartheid was done away with, so it has never really been a big issue to me personally, but when Mr. Daniels spoke of his experiences it made me realize how truly important this issue really was. Eddie Daniels, Nelson Mandela, and countless others were real people that were greatly affected by the apartheid regime. It dictated where they could live, who they could marry, and where they could work. Apartheid controlled every aspect of their lives, and they had no real choice but to fight against it. The men and women of the anti-apartheid movement were brave people who were simply standing up for their rights as human beings, but they risked everything in order that their freedom might be restored to them. I was very moved by Mr. Daniels, especially by the fact that he was so thankful to the United States for helping to put international pressure on the South African government. I was rather disappointed in the US for not coming to the aid of the anti-apartheid movement sooner, even more so when considering the fact that we had gone through the Civil Rights Movement, and we knew the consequences of racism, but Mr. Daniels had nothing but praise and thankfulness to give us. It made me admire him all the more.

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Segregation vs. Slavery, Passbooks, and Human Dignity

While apartheid in South Africa shares characteristics with both American slavery and the Jim Crow era, it was more closely related to American slavery. Even though no one “owned” people during apartheid, there were still many aspects and restrictions of the government rule that closely resemble slavery in America.
In both eras, blacks were oppressed and treated as inferior beings. During the time of slavery in America, slaves were watched closely to ensure that they didn’t escape. If they did attempt escape, they were hunted and punished severely if caught. During apartheid, South Africans who weren’t considered white had to carry passbooks that authorized them to work in cities, and if they were caught in a city without one, they were fined or imprisoned. While slavery was in place, whites lived in houses, and put slaves in separate quarters that were like small shacks. Under apartheid, whites lived in cities, while blacks lived in townships, which were more or less shanty towns. In the time of slavery, blacks were not allowed to be educated, and they had to work all day long doing manual labor. Under the apartheid regime, the government mandated that blacks had to be educated in Afrikaans, which was offensive to many black South Africans, and their education was of a lower quality than whites, so most ended up doing  manual labor for their whole lives because the government mandates made it very difficult for them to rise any higher. In the time of slavery, slaves counted as 3/4 of a person for population purposes, and they got no vote whatsoever, nor did they have any say in what happened to them. They weren’t treated as citizens, but as property. Under apartheid, the government was a democracy, but only whites could vote, and toward the end of apartheid, Indians were also allowed to vote, but never blacks. Blacks were expected to uphold the laws of the land, but they had no choice about what these laws would be. During slavery, slave marriages were not recognized by whites. Under apartheid, interracial marriages were outlawed, so people couldn’t necessarily marry whomever they wished. In the era of slavery, violence was used to keep the slaves in check, and to strike fear into them so there wouldn’t be any resistance. Under the rule of apartheid, police would beat protesters, or people they considered to be a threat, they even shot children because they wanted to quell the rebellion with fear.
Slavery was based upon the idea that whites were in all ways superior to blacks, and therefore had the right to own them. Apartheid was based upon similar ideology, but it was limited to treating them as inferior rather than actually owning them as property. While apartheid in South Africa was generally less extreme and less harsh than slavery in America, it was based upon many of the same principles, and consequently held many of the same types of indignity and oppression that made slavery so repugnant and wrong.
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The passbooks that we had to carry to class were similar to the passbooks that black, Indian, and coloured South Africans had to carry under the apartheid regime in that they had to be stamped by someone of a certain authority and if we forgot them, we could be punished. Our passbooks were for attendance purposes, for the films, so we had to have them every time we saw one of the films, the South Africans had to carry them in urban areas because they weren’t allowed to be there without documentation. If we forgot our passbooks, our attendance would not be counted for that film, but if people in South Africa forgot their passbooks, they could be fined or imprisoned.
Our passbooks were merely a teaching tool, while the ones used during apartheid were a sign of oppression that was a very real indication of the inequality present under that system of government. Everyone had to carry their passbooks to class, no matter who they were. Under apartheid, whites did not have to carry passbooks because they were allowed to go anywhere they wished, but the same was not true of other racial groups. In the case of our class, an extra assignment could be done to make up for the points if you forgot your passbook, or you could come back to the second showing of the film and bring your passbook with you, but under the system of apartheid, the police didn’t care why you didn’t have your documentation, you would be arrested, regardless of the reason, and punished.
In my experience with our class passbooks, they were merely a source of annoyance. Having to remember to bring it every time we watched a film was difficult because we only watched the film one day out of the week, so it was even more difficult than remembering something else because it was not a daily habit. I, personally, never forgot my passbook, but I remember, especially at the beginning of the semester, many people got angry if they forgot their passbooks and had to do an extra assignment because they felt that they were not being trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. I think this is probably similar to the way many South Africans felt when being caught without their passbooks. Even though they were allowed to be there, if they didn’t have documented proof, they were not given the benefit of the doubt, because the people in the police and government did not trust them. While the passbooks for our class were clearly not the same as the passbooks that South Africans carried under the apartheid regime, I feel as if we’ve all been given a very small taste of what it would be like to have to carry something similar to them. It has given me a new perspective as to why the people of South Africa fought so hard for so long to get their freedom. Those who were not white South Africans were not treated with the dignity and respect that they deserved, and the passbooks are just one example of the inequality that was inherent to the system.
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Human dignity is a term used to describe the worth of a person, which, as a matter of principle, should be equal in all people. When one is humiliated, their self-worth is harmed, and because of this, their human dignity is being violated. Human dignity is about being treated as a person, regardless of any distinction of race, sex, or religion.
In the eras of American slavery and apartheid in South Africa, there are many examples of human dignity violations, which is the main reason why people fought so long and so hard against these institutions. Under slavery, slave marriages were not recognized by whites, so families were often split up at sales, with no regard as to what that would mean to the enslaved people. Enslaved women were often the victims of sexual exploitation by their owners, and it was tolerated because they were considered as less than human. Brutal punishments, such as whippings or brandings, were used frequently by slave owners to strike fear into their slaves to make them behave the way they wished. Under slavery, a slave counted as 3/4 of a person for population purposes, but could have no vote. Under slavery, blacks were treated, not as people but as property. Under the system of apartheid, black South Africans could not live where they chose. They were moved into townships, which were no better than shanty towns, while the whites lived in the cities. Black South Africans were also not allowed to work in cities without permission and documentation, so they were basically tracked, as if they weren’t trusted to be where they were supposed to be, even though the white South Africans were not subjected to this same treatment. Even though, black South Africans made up the majority of the population of South Africa, they were not allowed to vote. Brutal measures were also used against black South Africans when they voiced their opinions about these injustices. Many times during protests and marches, they were thrown in jail without any known cause, and sometimes they were even shot down. Even children were sometimes killed by police in the midst of a march. Black South Africans were not treated as citizens, but as animals.
The fact that the Emancipation proclamation was formed is a validation of the human dignity of the slaves in America because it showed that people understood that “owning” another person is a clear violation of their human dignity, because it implies that the “owned” person is inferior. All the boycotts, protests, marches, and even the ultimate divestment of international companies in South Africa were all a validation of a universal belief in human dignity. People saw the way non-white South Africans were being treated, and they stood up and fought against it because of the understanding that the people there should all be treated equally.
Dignity of a person depends greatly upon their culture. For example, there are many tribes of native peoples around the world who dress only in loincloths, and that is the way they live their daily lives, but if we were made to dress in that manner, it would be utterly embarrassing because that is not our culture. Human dignity is subjective, and more important in dealing with human rights than one’s physical condition. What may be normal to one person, may be horrifying to another. This is why human dignity must be defined by a person with their own culture and set of values, not by an outsider who believes differently, and consequently has a different perspective than this person.

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Film 7 of “Have You Heard from Johannesburg”

In the final installment of the documentary, Connie Field focused on the end of apartheid. This was largely accomplished by giving the anti-apartheid movement a “face”. In order to exemplify the suffering and injustice brought about by apartheid, the anti-apartheid movement used Nelson Mandela’s image as the representation of their movement. Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner at Roben Island, and Oliver Tambo, along with other activists, called for his release from prison. Nelson Mandela became the poster child for the anti-apartheid movement as people marched in the streets of countries around the world with his face on posters and signs. Buildings and streets were named after Mandela, and some scientists even named a particle after him to show their support for the anti-apartheid movement. The goal of this strategy was to make apartheid more personal to those who were not experiencing it first-hand. Putting Mandela’s name and face on everything made the suffering of the South African people seem all the more real for those who had never been oppressed in such a way. It also drew attention to the anti-apartheid cause, especially when President Botha censored the media to try to keep everything quiet. He was also trying to keep the struggle out of the media because then people in the outside world would begin to forget about South Africa, making them less likely to stand up against the apartheid government. Anti-apartheid activists did not allow this censorship to hinder them. A concert was organized in 1987 for Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday as a tribute to him and his struggle under the apartheid regime. Many different kinds of artists took part in this concert and it was shown live on television so that all kinds of people got to participate, not just the people who were present at the concert. The artists wrote songs about apartheid and about Mandela, and the reaction of the crowd was astounding to those who had organized the concert because it went beyond any of their expectations in the kind of response it elicited. After this concert, there were a rash of birthday parties for Nelson Mandela that sprung up in countries around the world, and people sent him birthday cards and letters.
All these things went into the eventual release of political prisoners like Sisulu from Roben Island, but then the government in South Africa got scared and they tried to keep Sisulu under control, as if he were under house arrest rather than truly freed. This outraged the people, and finally the new president decided to make a complete turn-around in his policies, and Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. He went on tour around the world to speak about his experience and when the liberation of black South Africans came in 1994, he was elected President of South Africa.

Connie Field’s visit helped me to understand more about why she didn’t focus on Nelson Mandela until the end of the series. She explained that she really wanted to tell the story of Oliver Tambo, because even though he was not as renowned as Mandela, he did far more work in organizing the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement because he went into exile and traveled and started coalitions while Mandela was imprisoned.
I also understand more about why she chose this topic for her film. It wasn’t really about apartheid for her, it was more about global involvement, which is an aspect we have focused on since the beginning of our class. She also talked about the sense of “global morality” that the UN is supposed to supervise and set as a standard, but in this case, the job was done, not by the world peace-keeping body, but by normal people around the world who protested for change. The “grass roots” of the world came together as one and stood up for what they believed to be right.

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Film 6 of “Have You Heard from Johannesburg”

During the era of mass divestment  from South Africa, there were many  companies who did not wish  to withdraw, mostly because of financial  reasons, but also, some  of them thought that they could help with the  struggle of apartheid  better by remaining and implementing programs to  better the lives  of their South African workers. Many companies such as  this signed  a set of guidelines called the Sullivan Principles, which  said  that the company would “develop and implement company policies,  procedures, training and internal reporting structures” in order  to  “achieve greater tolerance and better understanding among  peoples, and  advance the culture of peace”(www.thesulivanfoundation.org).  Some of  these principles involve educating workers, making sure  they are payed  enough to provide for basic needs, and standing  up for basic human  rights, especially for their own workers.
When  Leon Sullivan first  developed these principles, I believe he was  very genuinely trying to  help the people in South Africa. When  he was first put on the board of  GM, he said that they should  divest in order to support the  anti-apartheid movement, but when  that didn’t work, he simply found a  way to compromise. Many people  did not like this because they didn’t  think that the South African  government deserved any kind of compromise,  but it was likely  the only way to get anything started as far as  improving the quality  of life for those living under the apartheid  regime.
Despite  the intentions of Leon Sullivan, I think many  companies signed  the Sullivan Principles simply to appease their  customers without  having to remove themselves from South Africa. These  guidelines  were merely a temporary solution, and they didn’t affect the  whole  of apartheid at all. It’s true that the Sullivan Principles helped  a lot of people within the companies that followed the guidelines,  but  as soon as the South African workers went home for the day,  they were  immersed, once again, in oppression, with the possibility  of being  jailed or unjustly punished at any time; they still had  to live in  townships, they still had to carry pass books, they  still were  controlled in every aspect of their lives: these guidelines  did nothing  to change that. In fact, the companies who remained  in South Africa were  still paying taxes to the government which  were 52 times greater than  the money they were investing in programs  involving the Sullivan  Principles, so they claimed to help, but  really they were still funding  the oppression and violence of  the South African government.
On the  other hand, companies  like Polaroid, who decided to completely divest in  South Africa,  were no longer contributing anything to the South African  government.  Eventually, when most companies started to pull out, the  apartheid  government began to collapse. This was especially true after  Chase  Manhattan decided to end its loans to South Africa because it was  becoming “unbankable”; they decided to cut their ties, and  their losses,  and many others followed suit, at which point a  change in government  was imminent. If many the companies who signed  the Sullivan Principles  had simply divested entirely, this could  have come about much sooner,  bringing about the much awaited end  of apartheid much earlier.

The most interesting part of  Dr. Uzuegbunam’s discussion with us was his  emphasis on, not one  bottom line, but two. He talked about social  responsibility being  just as important as profits to a company because  “doing good  is doing well” economically. According to him, when a  company  deals with social problems, they profit far more than if they do  not. I thought this was particularly intriguing because all the  big  powers of the UN were thinking only of profit in the early  stages of the  anti-apartheid movement. The US, Britain, and France  all opposed  economic sanctions because of financial reasons. Rather  than deal with  the problem immediately, they took almost 40 years  to do the right  thing, losing popular opinion and money all the  while. The same can be  said of large companies who refused to  divest. They lost money due to  boycotts and South Africa’s debt  when they could have easily divested,  simultaneously supporting  the anti-apartheid movement, and saving  themselves a lot of future  trouble, but they chose only to focus on  profit, rather than their  social responsibility

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Film 4 of “Have You Heard From Johannesburg”

In the early 1960s, after the  anti-apartheid movement had failed to  convince the major powers  of the UN to impose economic sanctions on the  South African government,  protesters turned to sports as a way to put  pressure on the South  African government. Sports were a big deal in  South Africa, and  if the anti-apartheid movement could somehow get them  banned from  sports, they would be extremely isolated from the rest of  the  world. Dennis Brutus was one of the leaders of the sports boycott.  He wrote to people from prison and organized a worldwide campaign  to  exclude South Africa from the Olympic games. Brundage and the  IOC  refused, but many African countries said they would not participate  if  South Africa was allowed to play, so the IOC compromised and  said that  they would allow South Africa to participate in the  1964 games only if  they pledged not to discriminate in the future,  which South Africa  refused to do. This ban was lifted after the  ’64 Olympic games, and  people were outraged. 90 countries threatened  to boycott the Mexico  games, so the IOC had to make the ban permanent  for as long as South  Africa practiced discrimination. Eventually,  international sports  leagues followed suit and South Africa was  banned from nearly every  sport but rugby. People in the United  Kingdom and Australia protested at  the games while the South African  team, the Springboks, were on tour,  and after many protests, the  Springboks finally stopped touring in those  countries. This method  of protest was effective because “[s]port has  the power to change  the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to  unite people  that little else has…It is more powerful than  governments in  breaking down racial barriers.”(Quote from Nelson  Mandela, John  Carlin, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game  that Made  a Nation) As was said by one of the people interviewed in the  film,  it was very hard to attack a government through finance,  especially  when most nations were still trading with them, but sports  were  something that could be changed by regular people: it was one of  the only avenues that was really open to people who wanted change  in  South Africa. Most people could see the contradiction between  playing  fair & discriminating against who was allowed to play  the game; it  made logical sense, and that gained a lot of support  for the movement  internationally. The victories in this area were  relatively small  compared to the goal that the anti-apartheid  movement was trying to  meet, but every victory, no matter how  small, was an enormous gain  simply because it made their cause  seem all the more possible. This  method was ineffective at times  because some people could not see what  sports had to do with politics  and the apartheid regime. They just  wanted to be entertained,  and it did not seem to them that they were  supporting apartheid  or racism by doing this. This boycott was also  imperfect because  of its focus on the participants of the sport. The  Springboks  were not to blame for their government’s policies, but they  became  the whipping boys for South Africa during the protests in the  United  Kingdom and Australia. I definitely think that this form of  protest  was worth while because it gave the average person a way of  becoming  involved in the anti-apartheid movement. I, personally, am not a  big sports fan, but I understand that it unifies people under a  common  banner, and with this boycott, it united many against apartheid  because  of everything that South Africa was doing to keep people  separated. It  also helped those people who were oppressed in South  Africa to glean  some hope from the fact that the world could come  together against  things they believed were wrong. Consequently,  this also gave the  oppressed hope for themselves and the idea  that someday they would come  together for their cause and they  could be free of apartheid forever.

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