Further thoughts about apartheid

23 September, 2010 at 12:38 | Posted in Politics | 2 Comments
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My first post on this blog deals with what I perceive as overuse of the term apartheid – overuse that amounts to abuse. I have noticed that many people who accuse certain countries or societies of practicing “apartheid” refer to the UN-brokered “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”, which was opened to signature in the UN headquarters in New York City on 30 November 1973. People often think of international treaties as some kind of holy scriptures, formulated by the word’s sages and acceptable on all. There are indeed treaties that almost became a modern version of the Ten Commandments, but these are few. In most cases, international treaties are documents that are meant to serve political interests of certain countries. Despite their legal language, they are not necessarily binding laws, especially in cases where many countries refused to sign the treaty. Actually, this is exactly the case of the “counter-apartheid treaty”.

The South African system of apartheid was condemned by nearly all countries in the world. This condemnation translated into strict international boycott. However, many of the countries that condemned the South African apartheid and used to boycott the South African government did not sign the “counter-apartheid treaty”. This fact becomes even more significant when considering that most of the non-party countries are veteran democracies.

 

Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"

Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"

 

Here is an incomplete list of such non-party countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, West Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Benelux countries, Scandinavian countries, Japan and several others. Also, when Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Greece became fully democratic, they did not accede to the treaty. How come such countries with respected record of fighting apartheid and racism declined to join a treaty countering apartheid? Actually, according to the data I could find, even post-apartheid South Africa did not bother to accede to this treaty. How can someone treat such a treaty seriously? Could it be that certain countries politically abused the just fight against racial discrimination in South Africa?

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Time to be indigenous

17 September, 2010 at 09:23 | Posted in knowledge, Politics | Leave a comment
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A San (Bushman). Probably the most indigenous people in southern Africa.

A San man (Bushman) who pertains to what seems to be the most indigenous people in southern Africa. (Image via Wikipedia)

How long does it takes before a group of “immigrants” becomes “indigenous people”? In our days of post-colonialism, the term “indigenous” has taken all positive aspects that used to be associated with the word “pioneer”. These days everyone wishes to have deep roots stretching from his feet down to the bottom of the earth, and if s/he cannot find such roots, s/he would invent them. The truth is that people are not trees, and immigration is an essential aspect of our lives. Had it not been the case, we would all live in central Africa to this day. It is also a fact that many peoples who present themselves as indigenous had a history of colonialists. The most striking example is perhaps the Arab peoples. The heroic Arabic term futūħ can be described as a series of colonial conquests of people from the Arabian Peninsula who stormed the Fertile Crescent, North Africa and Persia during the 7-8th centuries CE. It took a few centuries before the vast majority of the Middle Eastern peoples gradually Arabized, either willingly or under pressure. But if the contemporary Middle East is to be regarded as indigenously Arab, then one has to admit that it does not take too long before the immigrant or colonial culture becomes the indigenous.

All that begs the question, why does it all matter? What difference does it make if a person or a people is immigrant or indigenous? Actually it doesn’t. As I said, people are not trees, they wonder around all the time. Interestingly enough, the Apartheid regime in South Africa is often described as despicable discrimination of indigenous peoples by colonialists. The facts suggest otherwise. People of European origin have been living in South Africa for hundreds of years, and most people of African origin, particularly the Zulu and Xhosa peoples arrived in South Africa about the same time as the first Dutch settlers, after constant migration from central parts of the continent down south. Furthermore, had the Apartheid discrimination been based upon religion rather than race – suppose Christians of all races had been favored over non-Christians – would it make the discrimination less despicable?

Post-colonialist theories are a mirror-image of the colonialist ideas, and as we all know, the face reflected from the mirror is not much prettier than the one present before the mirror. Switching the villain-righteous roles between the “indigenous” (formerly known as “savage”) and the “colonialist oppressor” (formerly known as “pioneer”) leads nowhere. Also, ignoring the complexity of identity, whether it is an individual’s identity or a people’s identity, is just another form of oppression. Are the people called “African American” really African, having been born in North America to families who have been living in the “New World” for at least 300 centuries, and being part of a culture that is closer to European traditions than African ones? Is a French citizen who immigrated from Algeria a Frenchman or an Algerian? Considering the long French government of Algeria, is he really an immigrant? Where exactly should we draw the line, and more importantly, why should we draw it at all? If our objective is to minimize oppression of peoples and individuals, why do we need to divide them into “indigenous vs. colonials/immigrants” categories?

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