Tuesday, December 23, 2008
So, remember in school learning about the spice trade in Europe? East Indian Trading Co. and so forth? Well, for European countries wanting the spices of India, one way to go was to sail around Africa. The Portuguese set up a refreshment stand where Cape Town is now today. Here they had some guys hanging out growing crops, raising livestock and brewing beer for the sailors to stock up on. Another reason for the name "Cape of Good Hope." (Check out my blog posting on that here.) There was also trade with the indigenous population whom were later completely wiped out (sound familiar?).
Anyway, the Dutch (from Holland/ Netherlands) were also into getting spices and eventually took over this refreshment stand and formed a colony in 1652. Later, the British, in the early 1800s, fearing that the French (Britain’s enemy at the time) might take over the colony (and thus a valuable trade route stop) took control from the Dutch. Up to this point the early Dutch settlers had settled in to Cape life and developed their own distinct language and culture—Afrikaans (pronounced Afri-Khans._ The Afrikaans language was basically a simplified Dutch mixed in with some African words. The colonists and their slaves spoke it (Slaves from Madagascar, Tropical Africa and Indonesia). Though the British rule was long lasting and wide spread, the Afrikaner population wasn’t into giving up the land they stole fair and square so a bunch of wars ensued between the British and Afrikaans. The Afrikaners, having lived in the area for about 200 years were familiar with the terrain and had experience fighting in it against the Africans and subsequently were quite able to kick the British’s ass a whole bunch through guerilla warfare techniques. The British, resorting to putting the Afrikaner soldiers families in concentration camps (were over 26,000 died) and burning farms and crops, eventually won. Meanwhile, the African tribes fought on both sides and against each other including the famous Shaka of the Zulus. In fact, Zulu had a huge part to play in destabilizing southern Africa to such an extent that it made it easier for the Whites to take over.
One thing about the Afrikaners, they were very racist and thought they were chosen by god to take the land of the heathens (again, sound familiar?) The Afrikaners, after being defeated by the British, begrudgingly agreed to a shared government which they eventually won control over. It was they who created Apartheid, which simply translates to “separateness” a brutal system in which to control a population they would rather do without, but needed to exploit for labor. On the basis of skin color, they divided the population up between whites, blacks, coloureds ( a distinct population that were descended from imported slaves and indigenous Africans) and Indians (who were brought in as indentured servants. All non whites were treated badly but no one as badly as the Blacks who were forced into township slums on the outskirts of cities and could be arrested, beaten and/ or killed at anytime for not carrying a pass book, which said where and when they could come and go. Constant raids were conducted in the township and people could be taken away at any moment, sometimes forever.
I’m trying to keep this short, but the atrocities committed during the apartheid years were some of the worst human rights violations ever committed and were allowed to continue unquestioned by many of the world governments including America during the Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and (especially) Regan administrations. See, South Africa had a huge supply of minerals that much of the world wanted, like 80% of the world’s gold, a bunch of diamonds and uranium. Activists, however, around the world called for and end to apartheid and a resistance movement began within South Africa. One of the major leaders was Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 26 years for his organizing activities. He was sort of a Martin Luther King Jr. figure. Eventually, some of the world governments came to impose sanctions on South Africa and the internal resistance movement intensified to such a point that the apartheid government couldn’t afford to maintain the status quo. Nelson Mandela, although imprisoned, remained a powerful force against apartheid and began talks with the apartheid government to make moves towards a democratic, majority rule South Africa. See, throughout history and to this day, South Africa has only been about 10% white. 10% of the population ruthlessly exploited and controlled 90% of the population. Mandela was eventually freed and during the first democratic elections in South African history in 1994, he was made president.
This in no way begins to describe the complexity of this country. Think of this post as a grain of salt on an iceberg. Today, 14 years after the end of apartheid there are still millions of people (in fact the majority of the population) that live in shacks that are really lean-tos made of sheets of metal set up like a house of cards. There is one water well every 100 plus people, everyone must use a shared outhouse, and when it rains everything turns to mud as there are no floors or even streets in some places. Poverty, crime, domestic and sexual violence and government corruption is out of control all over the country. There’s a kid who looks about 8 or 10 who sleeps on the sidewalk I see on my way to work. Some politicians openly threaten each other’s lives. And this is the richest country in Africa.
There are a ton of shocking examples of daily life I could describe, but this post is long enough as it is. I will say, though, that this place is the way it is because someone made it this way. This is the result the actions and lack of action by governments all over the world. All of Africa is the world’s store of natural resources and cheap labor that governments have been looting since the 1600s. Developing countries are the way they are because of the way developed countries are. It’s exploitation, greed, heartlessness and ignorance on the part of developed country’s governments and their people that little girls here are raped by their teachers and fathers, that 8 year olds sleep on the street, that men must leave their families for 11 months out of the year to work in diamond and gold mines for dollars a day. Months ago, a huge backlash against immigrants resulted in 60 people being killed, some burnt alive, by desperate, poor people fearing that what little opportunities they may have are being taken by other Africans.
It hasn’t been easy or very fun being here, but it has made me realize a lot. One, is that Africa’s and the world’s problems are complicated beyond belief but there are solutions, it just takes the right people to want to really do something about it. The thing is, the people that can create this change don’t want to because they benefit from the way things are. So it really comes down to the people to demand that their leaders do something. It’s the same with all issues really, globally and locally. Apartheid ended because of pressure put on the government by common citizens demanding it. Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, worker’s rights and the clean air and water we enjoy today in America came about only because of the actions of normal, everyday citizens demanding the government to change. Politicians and governments won’t do things against their interests without pressure and a swift kick in the ass by its citizens—Obama included. If we really want to see change, it’s still up to us to demand and create it.