No Kidding

South Africa

new internationalist
issue 159 - May 1986

[image, unknown]
Children are children; adults are adults. These pages are
for NI readers who don't fit into either of these categories.

Schoolchildren in South Africa are taught history
with a white bias. Chris van Wyk sets the record
straight, with illustrations by Mzwakhe.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] What we now call South Africa was originally the country of black tribes such as the Khoisan. In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch sailor, landed at the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip of Africa. The Khoisan people who lived there greeted him and gave him food and shelter. If only they had known that he was once jailed for stealing in his native country they might never have given him a place to stay for a while. But they did, and he and his people stayed forever. Today his face and the three ships with which he came adorn the South African currency.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] The Dutch began to take the land by force. At first they were contented with a few acres. Then they started to claim more and more of the land as their own. With no land to live on with their cattle, the Khoisan and later other tribes were forced to work as slaves.

The African tribes didn't just stand by and watch their land being taken from them. They fought back with spears and shields - but the white people had guns and thousands of African people died fighting to keep what was theirs. By the early 1800s the British had arrived too and forced the Dutch (now called Boers) to go even farther north on the Great Trek. This meant fighting a war with the Zulu people, many of whom were killed at the Battle of Blood River. The British warred with the Zulus too, trying to strengthen their power over the country. They finally defeated King Cetewayo's army in 1880.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] The Boers and the British didn't only fight Africans - they also fought each other in a war between 1899 and 1902. This was because gold had been discovered in the Boer province of Transvaal and the British wanted to get their hands on it too. But eventually they decided to join together in a united South Africa to be ruled by white people alone. In 1912 the African National Congress was born. It had a different name at the start but for the first time black people came together as one nation and not as different tribes. They resolved that they would talk white people into sharing the land with them.

Instead, in 1913, the white parliament passed a law saying that 87 per cent of the land belonged to white people. The remaining 13 per cent was arid land where hardly anything grew, so thousands of black men had to leave their wives and children and go to work in the gold mines. They did hard and dangerous work underground making white mine owners rich while being paid next to nothing.

In 1920 70,000 of these miners went on strike for higher wages. One of them commented: 'The white man goes below, does not work and gets big money. The African gets all the gold out of the ground and gets very little money. How is that fair?' The miner was arrested.

[image, unknown] In 1948 the present National Party Government came to power and brought in APARTHEID. This meant keeping white and black people apart. It also meant a plan to make black people feel that they were an inferior race. And a plan to ensure that white people would always have the best jobs, schooling and housing.

Here are some of the laws passed by the apartheid government:

Marriage between blacks and whites was made illegal.

[image, unknown] Black people were banned from receiving unemployment benefit.

Black and white people had to live in different places, and the black townships were much poorer and more crowded than the white areas.

Black children had to go to different schools and had to put up with an inferior education system. A South African prime minister once said that blacks did not need to be educated as they were all servants of whites.

[image, unknown] In 1955 the ANC decided that they were wasting their time asking the enemy to free them. 'We must free ourselves,' they said. So they called thousands of black and white South Africans to 'the Congress of the People' in Kliptown. At this meeting the Freedom Charter was born. Here is part of the Charter - compare it with the apartheid laws:

[image, unknown] South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white.

The people shall govern, and share in the country's wealth.

But many blacks didn't believe that whites should 'share in the country's wealth'. 'Whites,' they said, 'are thieves who stole the land from us. Why should we share it with them now?'

These black people broke away from the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Their slogan was 'Africa for the Africans'.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] In 1960 the PAC and ANC began the Anti-Pass Campaign. Every black person over sixteen has to carry a passbook. This makes it possible for a small white government to control a huge black nation. Hundreds of black people are jailed every day for simply not having their passbooks with them. A man could go to work in the morning and not be seen for months. Why? Because he left his passbook at home.

The anti-pass campaign was launched to fight this unjust law. The plan was that all black people would march to the nearest police station, where they would hand over their passbooks and demand to be arrested. In Sharpeville hundreds of people did this. Police fired into the peaceful crowd. 69 people were killed.

The PAC and ANC were angered by these killings. They realized that the white racist government was prepared to murder even peaceful demonstrators. They decided to fight back.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] In the early 1970s Black Consciousness was born in South Africa. The man responsible for this was Steve Biko. Black conciousness is popular because it makes blacks proud of their colour and their culture. The white government teaches blacks that it is a shame to be black. They do this in many different ways; at school, through newspapers and through the Bible. Once the Government even banned a children's book called Black Beauty. They didn't bother to read the book themselves and so didn't realise that Black Beauty was really the name of a horse. They were afraid the book would teach black people to be proud of their culture and their colour.

The Government saw this pride growing among the black nation. They did not think it was a good thing. It was cheekiness and had to be stopped. And so they decided that all schools should be taught in Afrikaans. Imagine having to learn Biology in Latin. Would it anger you? It did anger students in South Africa. And to show this anger they marched the streets of Soweto in their thousands on 16 June 1976. Police opened fire on them. Within a few months almost 900 students were killed. And in 1977 Steve Biko was arrested and killed in jail.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] In the 1980s the South African Government has been trying to persuade people that it is prepared to change. This is because it is under pressure from big business, which is scared that it won't be able to make money so easily if there is a revolution. But it is also under pressure from its own racist white voters which don't want any change. In 1982 'Coloured' (mixed race) and 'Indian' people were given the vote - but only for their own parliaments without any real power. And 'African' people - 74 per cent of the country's population - still have no vote. This injustice angered black people so much that they became more determined than ever to fight apartheid and the Government. And the more they have stood up for their rights, the more repressive the Government has become. This is what has led school students of all ages to boycott their schools and fight soldiers on the streets. It is what has led to the street warfare that you might have seen on the TV news.

Nelson Mandela, the jailed ANC leader, once said: 'There is no easy walk to freedom'. All freedom-loving South Africans know this. But every day they walk the road to freedom. The dying and the jailed and the starving and the maimed all urge each other on saying 'Come brother, come sister. Look, freedom is in sight'.

Chris van Wyk is an editor at Ravan Press, a radical South African publishing house. He lives in the 'Coloured' township of Riverlea and is one of the country's best-known poets. He has also written a children's novel called A Message in the Wind.

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New Internationalist issue 159 magazine cover This article is from the May 1986 issue of New Internationalist.
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