Talk of a wall to keep brown people out, the poorly disguised racism of the travel ban hark back to the apartheid days that brought unbearable hardship to millions of South Africans.
People of color pulled from the streets and thrown into paddy wagons. Relentless attacks on the “liberal press.” Persistent distortion of truths, nationalism and patriotism. That is the apartheid South Africa I remember and the country and system of injustice that I left in 1976. Not an act of courage, an act of defeat. The courageous stayed on and opposed the regime in whatever way they could. The courageous were persecuted, prosecuted, put under house arrest and some disappeared.
How did such a system of injustice become law of the land? The answer is that a simple and powerful tactic — fear — the “swart gevaar” won over the white electorate. Swart gevaar is an Afrikaans term literally meaning “black danger.”
Whites were told by the Nationalist Party politicians and their propaganda outlets that, given the chance, dark people would take their jobs and might also murder them in their beds. Prohibitive laws declared that black and brown people were allowed only to work in menial jobs and had to carry passes dictating where they could and could not set foot.
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As a source of cheap labor, men could work in factories and in the mines by day but were forced to sleep in townships or behind the fences of the mining compounds. The unemployed were simply banished to distant “homelands.” Without providing affordable and reliable means of transportation to and from the homelands, the South African government had effectively built a wall.
In stark contrast, America of the ’60s and ’70s was a South African immigrant’s dream — science and technology took man to the moon and research advances positioned the U.S. firmly at the cutting edge of medicine. This America challenged existing dogmas and rejuvenated arts and culture. This America, in the spirit of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson bravely fought and, at least for a while, appeared to overcome racism, intolerance and bigotry.
The election results of November 2016 didn’t exactly come from nowhere. The Newt Gingrich Revolution of the ’90s and the election results of 2000 and 2004 meant that within America there was a different core, one aroused by a renaissance of the ’60s and ’70s, but channeled in a different direction.
Stoked by fears of ISIS and mass immigration, the current American “swart gevaar” has been created to drive fear and hostility deep into the spirit of the nation. Subterranean groups such as Breitbart News used “news” for the purposes of deception and political gain. Now, deception and propaganda coming from the highest office in the land attempt to delegitimize and threaten mainstream media.
The wall and fences to keep brown people out, the poorly disguised racism of the travel ban as well as the attacks on the press hark back to the apartheid days of Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster who brought unbearable hardship to millions of South Africans.
The difference in the circumstance of “undesirables” born within South Africa who were citizens, versus the “undesirables” coming from outside of the U.S. are obvious. But what is common is that when presidents and prime ministers goad their countrymen to focus on differences between people’s appearance, speech and customs, they ignite an ugly cultural shift to tribalism. In apartheid South Africa, prejudice focused on skin pigment, but dominant strains of Afrikaner nationalism were, from the outset, anti-British and became vehemently anti-Semitic.
South African apartheid was finally defeated by shame and through financial pressures brought to bear by America and by Western Europe. Who will shame and pressure Trump America if not Americans?