A topic I don’t really want to think about



What follows is the most recent note on a topic I don’t really want to think about. If more than ten people regularly read what I write, notes on this subject will definitely get me in trouble. Nobody – but especially not white people, and then especially not white men – is supposed to form any thoughts on this subject that are not in line with approved mainstream ideology. “Why would you after all have any other types of thoughts about it?” anyone might ask. “Are you a bad person? Are you wicked? Are you the devil?”

As is often the case with normal people, thoughts form in my head while I’m in the shower, or on my way somewhere. And because I’m not in the habit of placing a proverbial guard at the gate of my mind, all sorts of strange questions come up. And seeing that the question was then asked, I must address it. Or, I certainly don’t need to address it – especially when I know we’re only supposed to have pre-approved thoughts on certain topics. But I will be constantly aware that it is on the table and that I am ignoring it.

Anyway, here’s the thought. How did the policy known as Apartheid become the reality for so many people – of all races – in South Africa, between at least 1948 and 1990?

A simple explanation is that Apartheid was allowed to become and remain the practical reality for so long because the majority of the population – and the majority of the population were black people – had accepted Apartheid. Naturally people had a negative view of the policy and the political leaders they held responsible, but a critical percentage of the affected population accepted it as the way their society was managed.

Why was Apartheid eventually replaced by a better policy? Because a critical minority among the black population, with allies among other population groups, did not accept Apartheid, and dedicated their lives to undermining it and destroying it as a framework and policy by which the state was governed and the population controlled. This critical minority, which included people like Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement in the fifties and sixties, as well as Steve Biko and other activists in the seventies and eighties, but also thousands of other leaders who had close ties with the community on a daily basis, finally convinced a critical percentage of the population that they should be supported in their efforts to end Apartheid, and that everything would be better for them when they, the new leaders, were in control of the state.


The fact is, almost thirty years after the end of Apartheid, there are still white people who believe that Apartheid was “not so bad”, and that “even black people were happier under Apartheid than under a black government”. And there are black people who believe that they were passive victims of something bigger than them, and that they could mostly just wait until their leaders rectified the matter. Both of these opinions are wrong because the truth is a bitter pill to swallow.

(By the way, never trust an academic who doesn’t have a source of income that is independent of the institution, school, or university where they work. By the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is common knowledge that academic institutions follow political agendas, and if academics do not endorse the dominant political ideology, their salaries – with which they pay rent and buy food and clothes – are at stake.)



Does it make the misdeeds of the man who physically abuses his wife less evil because she stays with him day after day, month after month rather than escaping with her life?


But what message does it send to women in abusive relationships to refer to them as powerless victims? What hope does it give to women in such relationships?

In the end, you are left with two options:

Option 1: See the woman as a powerless victim. In this case women who never left their abusive husbands don’t have to feel that they could have done anything to improve their own situations. The message to women who are currently involved in such relationships is that they should just hope someone saves them. Because they themselves are powerless.

Option 2: See the woman in a relationship with a man who is physically and emotionally abusive as someone with the ability to do something about it. She would probably have to be smart and courageous to protect herself and possibly her children, but she does have the ability and power to improve her life. This is good news for women who are currently trapped in such a relationship. But the message to the woman who had been in such a relationship in the past, and only got away because her husband died or something else happened to him, is that she could have done something about her situation – but unfortunately never got that far because perhaps she always thought of herself as powerless.

* * *

Seeing that I’m already politically incorrect, and stepping on sensitive toes, another question: When did the oppression of the black population begin in South Africa? Libraries full of research have been done on this, and perhaps my argument could be shot down with a battery of artillery fire from people smarter than me.

At this point I must also make clear that I am referring specifically to the black tribes and other black groups as was known to political leaders and white citizens in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The history of power politics between white people and coloured people in mainly the Western Cape, between white people and the San in initially the Southern and Eastern Cape, and between white and Indian people in originally KwaZulu-Natal, is different from the history between white groups and various black tribes and nations. Slaves revolted from time to time. The San waged guerrilla war against white farmers and communities. The Griquas forged alliances with other groups and also came into military conflict with white communities on their own.

But between whites and blacks, there were at least a dozen conflicts that qualified as war. There were the nine border wars in the Eastern Cape, and a few uprisings. There were three wars between the Basotho and the citizens of the Free State. There were several bloody wars between the Voortrekkers and later citizens of the Transvaal and Natal and the Ndebele under Mzilikazi, and the Zulus under Dingaan and later other leaders. And then there were several wars between British colonial powers and the Ndebele, and the Zulus. Most of these military conflicts had come to an end by 1880. Up to this time, black and white fought each other as equals. One could argue that white soldiers had guns and cannons, but black warriors had other advantages, not to mention the fact that they could also get their hands on guns – and did use them, as in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

My point here is that I have difficulty swallowing the narrative of the black person in South Africa as a powerless victim of white domination for 300 years. This narrative clearly has political value in the South Africa of the twenty-first century, but I find it extremely strange when people dismiss as insignificant the military power of black nations in the eighteenth and especially nineteenth century. Have these people never read descriptions of Xhosa or Zulu warriors? Have they never read of the military victories that Mzilikazi and Moshoeshoe achieved over white commandos?

My question is again: The oppression of blacks by whites that was such a feature of twentieth-century South African society – when did this chapter begin in the conflict between whites and blacks in Southern Africa? I think the 1880s are a good place to look for an answer.

My next question: After at least a century of sometimes successful resistance – where armed warriors stood against armed militias, how did it happen that the oppression of black people was carried out so extensively after 1880?


I don’t see black people in South Africa as long-suffering historical victims. There were events like Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976, and there were government policies like the passbooks and forced removals, but those were all in the last hundred years. When I think of historical black figures, I see the Xhosa warrior on the Eastern Frontier; I see the imposing figures of Mzilikazi and Moshoeshoe; I see the intimidating figure of the Zulu warrior on the green hills of Natal; I see intellectuals like Sol Plaatje and Steven Biko; I see political leaders like Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and their wives Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu. I see the period 1880-1990 as a historical anomaly during which a critical percentage of black adults in South Africa seemingly accepted that they were second-class citizens of their country of birth, and when a critical percentage of black adults accepted that their children would become factory workers, gardeners, road workers and domestic helpers rather than engineers, doctors, dentists, scientists, and academics.


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