On “Singling out” Apartheid

Perhaps the most common objection to the boycott is the accusation of  “singling out” Israel.

It is the United States, however, that singles out Israel for exceptional treatment — by providing it with billions of dollars in annual military aid and blocking any effective action for peace at the United Nations. By supporting the boycott, the American Anthropological Association would be protesting U.S. policy as much as Israel’s.

Aside from its logical flaws, the “singling out” accusation has a disturbing colonial genealogy, having been used by all sorts of abusive regimes to justify their behavior. The article below from The Christian Science Monitor in 1989 presented nearly identical arguments to defend apartheid South Africa. Please consider sharing it with colleagues and friends who may be interested.

Reminder for those coming to the AAA Annual Meeting in Denver: vote NO on Resolution #1 (anti-boycott resolution) and YES on Resolution #2 (boycott resolution) at the business meeting — Friday November 20, 6:15-7:30pm in Colorado Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 2&3.

South Africa Shouldn’t be Singled Out

WHILE the violation of human rights is the norm rather than the exception in most of Africa’s 42 black-ruled states, the spotlight remains on South Africa. The images of racism, white supremacy, Nazism, etc. are a most effective part of a campaign to play on white guilt and to condition hatred for South Africa. While it is true that there are many things wrong in South Africa, the facts are sensationalized and distorted. A cheap political campaign to get black and also well-meaning (though not as well-informed) white liberal votes, is being run by using the white “racist regime” in Pretoria as a unifying issue.

Contrary to popular belief, the whites did not take the country from the blacks. When the Dutch settled in the Cape in 1652, they found a barren, largely unpopulated land. Together with French and German settlers, they built a dynamic society.

It was not until 100 years later, as they advanced across these vast unexplored territories that they met with the blacks who were moving south. Contrary to myth, the blacks were never run off their land. They settled in tribal lands of their own choice. When the whites met the blacks, the blacks had no written language, no technological knowledge, no cure for infectious diseases. In the 20th century, economic activity organized by whites gradually drew blacks out of their tribal lands into the cash economy and into the cities.

Earlier this year Randall Robinson, executive director of the anti-apartheid lobbying group TransAfrica, said: “All we want is a better life for the people of South Africa.” In an article in this newspaper last February, Michael L. Boyd of the University of Botswana referred to South Africa as “a system that will never provide a decent life for millions of the blacks who live under it.”

Yet South Africa is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that can feed itself. Blacks possess one of the highest living standards in all of Africa. Although black living conditions in South Africa (as in America) cover a wide spectrum, the housing is unequalled anywhere on the continent. Soweto is a proper city complete with schools, stores, theaters, sport stadiums and tennis courts. In some areas, blacks drive their children to private schools in German cars. Few states in black Africa can boast such a range of features. In Mamelodi (Pretoria) four bedroom houses are made available to blacks at a total purchase price of $250.

Although the country accounts for only 4 percent of Africa’s surface area and 6.5 percent of the continent’s population, it is credited with 25 percent of the continent’s gross national product, 40 percent of its industrial output, 45 percent of mining production, 66 percent of all steel consumption and electricity generated, 46 percent of all motor vehicles and 36 percent of all telephones.

South Africa’s health care complex is the best on the continent. In Soweto, for instance, there is a large hospital facility known throughout the world as a great center for the study and treatment of traumatic injuries. Blacks going to outpatient departments of hospitals are treated by the best physicians and pay an average $2 per visit, regardless of treatment. Major surgery, performed by the best specialists in the country, costs less than $5 per day.

World Bank statistics show that the country has the lowest infant mortality rate on the continent – 82 deaths per 1,000 compared to 146. Likewise, life expectancy is the highest – 55 years versus 48.

In South Africa the literacy rate is 70 percent for blacks compared to average 40 percent in the 51 independent African states. Education is the single highest budget item as opposed to military and security spending in most of the black-ruled states.

Income in South Africa is higher for blacks than in any other African state. In reality, there is a strong emerging black middle class. There is a steady increase in the number of dentists, doctors, lawyers and other senior positions. South Africa’s black prosperity and emerging black middle class is rarely mentioned.

Once vibrant, the 42 black-ruled states have now disintegrated into a political, social and economic nightmare. Under colonial rule, these states produced 95 percent of their own food. Today, despite their richness in natural resources and manpower, these countries increasingly have become beggar states. Adding to the problem, Africa’s population is growing at an alarming rate of 3 percent a year. Experts warn of the worst disaster the world has yet seen – mass starvation.

Many of these states had one man one vote – but historically, only once. Those one-time elections were followed by one-party rule, or military dictatorships. In many countries it is practically impossible to vote the top leaders out of office. Any opposition always somehow just seems to disappear. The people are absorbed by the institutions of the ruling party.

There are few checks on arbitrary action by rulers, and corruption generally prevails because some of the major guarantees against public malpractice – a strong opposition and a free press – are largely absent. Such is the case with George Bush’s friend Muboto [sic] Sese Seko, who has been in power in Zaire since independence. He actually claims to have 100 percent support in his country.

Control over the movement of people is a common practice throughout Africa. In Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria shanty towns are demolished, people forced to relocate.

There are endless lists of human rights violations – mounting atrocities of black against black. Political prisoners are tortured in Zimbabwe. There are 200,000 to 300,000 people behind barbed wire in Mozambique. Escaped SWAPO detainees tell of torture – in some cases until death. The list goes on and on, and yet it never seems to get the attention of the media or the anti-apartheid campaigns.

An estimated 1.9 million legal and illegal black people from neighboring states work in South Africa because their own black-ruled economies are not able to support them. Remittances from foreign workers provide much needed foreign exchange for these countries.

Although few African states are prepared to admit publicly that they trade with South Africa, there was a reciprocal flow of goods between 47 African states and South Africa in 1987. During 1988 there was an 80 percent increase in trade with Zimbabwe.

South Africa is, however, a useful tool for the African countries to marshal outside support for their efforts to achieve “economic liberation.” There is in fact a direct relationship between the destabilization propaganda on the part of the “frontline states” and the responsiveness of donor countries in granting aid.

The western world closes its eyes to the true situation in Africa. All the hand wringing over South Africa turns to hand washing when it comes to condemning black Africa. The West soothes its conscience by injecting development aid. Nobody seems to have noticed that despite the aid, the situation keeps getting worse.

Why is South Africa so harshly condemned while completely different standards apply to black Africa? Despite human rights violations in Zaire, President Bush applauds Mr. Muboto for his contribution in the Angola talks, while mentioning the atrocities in South Africa.

Is it that one form of repression is more acceptable than another, or is it that black/white oppression hits home? Or is it maybe that better conduct is expected of a white-ruled country than from black-ruled Africa?

Looking at the facts of Africa, is this the “freedom,” the “democracy,” the “decent life,” “a better life for the people of South Africa” that one-man-one-vote black majority rule has to offer?