Twenty Years After Apartheid – Religious Segregation Takes Over

It has been a weekend of festivities in South Africa and for many Africans across the globe who share the solidarity. Sunday in particular was glammed by street parades, speeches, prayers, music and military salutes and and many more fanciful displays.

Credit: SAnews
Credit: SAnews

 

While a parochial glance at the African continent makes such a celebration worth the while, a more synoptic view will only reveal one fact: as far as segregation and conflict go, Africa is in a relay race. So, while South Africa celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first ever all-race, democratic election that ended decades of sanctioned racial oppression under the apartheid system, other countries in Africa have taken the baton of segregation and mass murder. In most cases, it has not been much about race or ethnicity but about religion.

The paradox of it all lies in that Christianity played a crucial role in providing theological rationalisations for maintenance of apartheid, in the same manner it did with colonialism. The South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church was unwavering in its support of the regime until the late 1980s. There were only a few voices, like that of Desmond Tutu, crying in the wilderness. Little wonder the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Volume 4 Chapter 3 clearly states that:

Some of the major Christian churches gave their blessing to the system of apartheid. And many of its early proponents prided themselves in being Christians. Indeed, the system of apartheid was regarded as stemming from the mission of the church…Religious communities also suffered under apartheid, their activities were disrupted, their leaders persecuted, their land taken away. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – often divided amongst themselves – spawned many of apartheid’s strongest foes, motivated by values and norms coming from their particular faith traditions.”

So today, being Low Sunday, the Sunday in the Octave of Easter, the Sunday in which Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonised and millions gathered at the Vatican to witness the event,  in the Central African Republic, another kind of service was being held by ‘Christians’ in a Mosque.  In a conflict that has already accounted for thousands of deaths and 700,000 IDPs and a further 290,000 who have fled to other neighbouring countries, am apt to wonder if many Churches or Church leaders so much as thought of what is happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) in their sermons and prayers as they marked this Easter Octave.

The conflict in the CAR began since March 24, 2013. Muslim rebels known as the Seleka seized Bangui, the capital of the CAR, sparking the division between Christians and Muslims. As soon as François Bozizé was ousted, the Social Contract ceased to exist and there was a swift return to the State of Nature where chaos an anarchy is the only language the people understood .

central-african-republicIf there is one thing I know about Christianity and Islam, it is that the adherents of these religions have an almost unquestionable loyalty to their leaders. The mind-boggling question remains therefore whether the leaders have not spoken to them in this instance or whether they have simply decided to kick the can down the road and look the other way as has been the case with other past atrocities.

In the case of South Sudan. its church leaders have urged expansion of peace talks to include the religious leaders probably because many Christians played a crucial role in South Sudan’s independence, reconciling fighting factions, providing services and building structures. But the fragility of the first mediation must be questioned and questions asked of this conflict which began  after Salva Kiir alleged that his former deputy Riek Machar was planning a coup and arrested several senior politicians.

In Nigeria, it seems as if Boko Haram is the only faction gaining from the many Inter-religious Dialogues that have been taking place. The recent kidnapping of 230 young school girls and the bombing in the Nigerian Capital Abuja  are silent testimonies that much more has to be done by the religious leaders in Africa than holding dialogues.

Wole Soyinka was spot-on when he said that The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” And since according to Henri Frederic Amiel “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence“, the silence or half-hearted condemnation by religious leaders, of the mass murders going on in different African countries under the banner of religion, makes the leaders not only ‘dead men’, but given that these religions claim to be based on truth, out-rightly challenges the core of whatever these religions profess. 

“My Football Field/Tram Experience” – Racism, Ignorance, Stupidity or Nationalism?

ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD…

It has been with some degree of amusement or should I add fascination, that I have read stories today about Suarez’s 8 match ban and possible fine for being found guilty by the FA for racist remarks! This comes on the same day the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision to bring charges against John Terry for allegedly racially abusing another player. My amusement and fascination was not really provoked by these two incidents but rather one that took place a few weeks ago.

ON A TRAM…

What I find a bit difficult to get over is the renewed ‘concern’ being shown towards victims of racial abuse.  The woman on the video titled ‘My Tram Experience‘ that went viral within a few days simply said what so many people in the world want to say but lack the courage. Watching her, I felt nothing for her but pity – not only for her but also for the innocent child she was carrying on her laps. While views differ so much on the woman’s attitude, I have not ceased to ask this question as I watched the video several times over – Is she really RACIST; IGNORANT, SIMPLY STUPID or A NATIONALIST?

BY INTELLECTUALS…

I want to dispel the thinking that this woman is as  bad as she has been made to look especially after she got arrested. Do not get me wrong… I am no supporter of discrimination of any form but we need to get the facts straight.

From the 18th and 19th Centuries, most European views of Africans for example had been one of a distinct category of humanity, a view based on the supposedly irreconcilable foreignness of African mental processes. For example one of the most celebrated scholars in Western thought argued that that Africa falls outside the boundaries of world history. He boldly argued that  “We [Europeans] cannot feel ourselves into [the African’s] nature .…Only by means of thought can we achieve this understanding of his nature; for we can only feel that which is akin to our own feelings.” (1) Hegel‘s argument was based on the original distinction between normative  existence and the African being.  He did not mix words then when he came to the conclusion that “Africans have not  achieve full self-awareness, as “their consciousness has not yet reached an awareness of any substantial objectivity.”  According to this view, Europeans, with their exclusive access to objective rationality, were the only ones capable of interpreting and understanding the African’s essential character. Was Hegel RACIST? MAYBE! IGNORANT? PERHAPS! STUPID? MAYBE NOT!

BY A PSYCHOPATH…

When Hitler, decided to incarcerate millions of Jews because of their race, the world did not react – about 6 million died in concentration camps. It was only when he started his re-militarisation  and re-occupation campaigns, that war was declared on him – in fact the world went to war against Hitler because he invaded Poland (the same Poland whose people are insulted by the woman in the video). Was Hitler RACIST, IGNORANT, STUPID or A NATIONALIST? All will say he was none of the above as all of them fall short of describing him – HE WAS SIMPLY A MONSTER OR A PSYCHOPATH! I concur.

BY COUNTRIES….

At the end of the war the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came up as part of peace processes in the world just three years after the United Nations was formed to curb any such Hitler-type aggression. It begins with the WONDERFUL WORDS “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”,

Wonderful! Is the simple word for such giant strides taken to stop a repeat of what Hitler had done. But under the watchful eyes of the UN with the declaration of human rights very much intact, it was a fierce battle before African States could gain political independence from their erstwhile colonial masters. It was with the existence of the UN and  paradoxically in the same 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights that  South Africa’s governance was built on a system of racial segregation called ‘apartheid’. Was apartheid Racism! YES!  Were its perpetrators Ignorant? MAYBE! Were they stupid? I doubt it!

That same fateful year, a new State called Israel was born and they have denied Palestinians all that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, effectively doing to them the same things that Hitler had done. Strangely enough, all those who demonize Hitler welcomed Apartheid and will die to support what is happening in the Gaza. Are Israelis and their supporters RACIST, IGNORANT, STUPID OR NATIONALISTS?

It would seem that the problem is not really who is abused or whose rights are denied in the world today but rather who does it. Or perhaps I just happen to have a nuanced view of what these terms mean.

RACISM, IGNORANCE, STUPIDITY OR NATIONALISM…

Racism is usually considered to be a belief that there exist  inherent differences among the various human races that can be said to account for cultural or individual achievements.This believe in a way usually involves the notion that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. The first aspect could have been fueled by views such as that of Hegel, Levy Bruhl and others who used it to justify the slave trade. The myopia in such a doctrine does not lie only the fact that it is something that has no empirical basis but also because in reality there is no homogeneous race – one in which all are either achievers or all are failures. Some societies have made more technological or industrial or infrastructural advancements than others, but given the cyclic nature of history, this is not a given that the presently more advance society translates into a superiority of race. It is only a matter of priority in time. Also within each of the societies is a mix of greater and lesser persons. My point here is that going by the first view of racism, it amounts to nothing more than myopic egocentricism which is tantamount to STUPIDITY.

Closely linked to the second aspect about having the right to rule others, racism is seen as a case where a policy or  system of government is based upon fostering such a doctrine. I can recall vividly a great speech on immigration made by the British PM David Cameron in April, 2011, in which he argued that “When there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods, perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods… This has been the experience for many people in our country and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it.”  Cameron was simply observing an issue of national policy that is aimed at protecting the UK.

The question then is: HOW DIFFERENT IS CAMERON’S VIEW OF IMMIGRANTS AND THE WOMAN’S ON THE TRAM? While the woman has been branded racist for saying that immigrants had destroyed ‘her’ country, Cameron is right when he says the same thing. I am not insinuating here that Cameron is or was racist. What I am highlighting is that National policies will always ‘discriminate’ against foreigners but it is not simply in a bid to protect the country. IT IS CALLED NATIONALISM – the general attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity.

A third aspect of racism is that which is expressed in form of hatred or intolerance of another race. This is the one that calls for serious concern as it usually amounts to actual physical violence against the discriminated race. What I do not seem to understand is that footballers are banned or fined and a woman is arrested for making comments that are similar to those made every day in policies about immigration in a country that is supporting the ethnic cleansing and extermination of a town because of their race… AND NO ONE SEEMS TO SEE ANYTHING WRONG with it.

 I personally do not think calling me any name makes me that – because in most cases those calling the names are usually suffering from an inferiority complex. If people like Nelson Mandela were called Kaffir and they rose up to get over a hundred awards within a decade, then I daresay that he has ‘glorified’ the name, and only an idiot should think using it makes someone inferior.

If the President of the United States of America is called ‘Boy’ and ‘Tar Baby’ within a week, then I daresay that it is an honourable thing to be a White House ‘Boy’. The names did not qualify Obama, rather I think Obama has qualified those names. The people who called those names far from dishonoring their revered Presidency made me understand that another name for the US President could be ‘Boy’ or ‘Tar Baby’. If it is honourable to be the US President then it follows that it is an honourable thing to be a ‘Boy’ or ‘Tar Baby’.

In conclusion then, one can rightly argue that most of what is happening today in the international scene is a re-enactment of the acts committed by Hitler – when governments trade in arms, support rebels to topple governments, deny people the right to self-determination – all in the name of foreign policies, they sponsor genocides, support racism and perpetrate the highest levels of Human rights violations which they so much claim to want to protect.

NO PLAYER DIES FROM BEING CALLED NAMES BY ANOTHER IN A FOOTBALL FIELD; NO ONE DIES WHEN A WOMAN EXPRESSES HER FRUSTRATION ON A TRAM BY CALLING HER FELLOW CITIZENS NAMES… BUT MILLIONS DIE WHEN GOVERNMENTS ARM DICTATORS IN THE NAME OF FOREIGN AID; MAKE THEIR FOREIGN POLICY THE DEGRADATION OF OTHERS IN A BID TO PROTECT THEIR COUNTRIES; DENY OTHERS THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION FOR SELFISH REASONS AND SUPPORT ILLEGAL TAKE-OVER OF GOVERNMENTS WHILE EMPOWERING OTHERS TO KILL. 

1. G.W.F. Hegel.  “Africa” in “The Natural Context or the Geographical Basis of World History” in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975. (177)