Magazine article New African

The Lessons of 1948: By Coincidence, 1948 Saw Both the Formal Adoption of the System of Apartheid in South Africa and the Creation of the State of Israel. How Do We Explain This to the Modern Generations of Africans?

Magazine article New African

The Lessons of 1948: By Coincidence, 1948 Saw Both the Formal Adoption of the System of Apartheid in South Africa and the Creation of the State of Israel. How Do We Explain This to the Modern Generations of Africans?

Article excerpt

At the time of writing, Israeli planes were bombarding Lebanon supposedly to drive out Hizbollah (the Party of God) which owes its existence to the Arab resistance against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon 20 years ago. Good old suffering Lebanon was suffering yet again. But how did it all happen? By coincidence, 1948 saw both the formal adoption of the system of apartheid in South Africa and the creation of the state of Israel.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One element of the coincidence was a pipedream seen by Afrikaner nationalists as the only way to ensure their survival as a minority from both British imperialism and the realities of black demographic superiority and natural rights. The other, as it is known, was claimed to be a Zionist resolution prompted by a Jewish Holocaust committed in Nazi Germany, but which is ominously regarded by the downtrodden Palestinians as their own National Year of Catastrophe. At the time, few in the almighty "civilised West" cared much for the grievances and claims of both black or Arab peoples.

By then I was already living in Beira, Mozambique, and working for a British shipping company which catered for the export of minerals and imports of general merchandise to and from the landlocked Rhodesias and Nyasaland (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi).

South Africa and Southern African-settler societies, including Mozambique, were divided into two racial groups. One, the anonymous mass of Africans forced to learn alien languages to make themselves understood by their European bosses, or even to pray; the other, the dominating minorities of European immigrants trying to implant copies of their countries of origin into one of the richest and climatically more amenable parts of Africa.

Such social division and the economic exploitation that went with it seemed glaringly unjust for visitors or newly arrived immigrants like myself, but then the possibility of change seemed even more remote than heart transplants or man's landing on the moon--two scientific feats that, in fact, were to be achieved within decades, the first, incidentally, by an Afrikaner surgeon with generous help by some of his unacknowledged African assistants.

Irrespective of the varying historical and/or religious claims, the crucial difference was that whereas the four million European settlers in Southern Africa disposed of a vast and rich area almost twice the size of Europe and took (some say stole) from Africans some of the best fertile lands, Jewish settlers in Palestine, on the other hand, had only an exiguous area the size of Switzerland or Wales as vital space for their occupation. This crucial disparity, and the consequent displacements of the Palestinians, was to be the source of the political violence and extreme antagonisms that are still unfolding.

I first became acquainted with the inequities of white supremacist rule in Southern Africa, by coincidence in 1948, the year I, a rebellious orphan youth, was sent by rich settler relatives to Beira, Mozambique. After knowing my way around, I soon joined the clandestine local groups of like-minded white liberals who, more often than not, were perhaps more against the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal than the plight of the mass of "natives" under white colonialist rule.

Africans in colonial times, after the impoverishment of centuries of slavery, were still thought by some diehard white settlers to work by mere force of need, i.e. food and accommodation, without the need of pay or administrative coercion. Eventually, as I learned English and became able to travel to neighbouring Southern Rhodesia and South Africa--I found that the phenomenon of exploitation only differed in degree. The whole of white-dominated Southern Africa, irrespective of differences in the countries of origin or professed aims and policies in practice, produced systems of race relations undistinguishable from "apartheid". …

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