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South Africa apartheid and the death of Botha


There are many worthwhile lessons to be learnt from the history of South Africa, for whilst South Africa’s history is one scarred by a past of racial segregation, it is noteworthy in its achievements that it gave birth to victims who turned world heroes. In all however, South Africa is and continues to be a symbol and staunch example for the world as it exhibits a strong spirit of resilience and perseverance. The featuring issue nonetheless was the denial of human rights of minority groups who had no access to those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. Consequently, this gave birth to a rise in the consciousness of the suppressed resulting in large-scale advocacy of human rights.{{more}}

From 1948 – 1994 South Africa, through a system designed to form a legal framework for continued economic and political dominance by people of European descent, was led by the National Party. As this was implemented by the law, apartheid literally meaning apartness from day to day, meant that people were legally classified into racial groups, the main ones being White, Black, Indian and Coloured. They were geographically, and forcibly, separated from each other on the basis of this rigid legal classification. In practice, this prevented non-white people, from having a vote or influence and restricted their rights in many respects. Education, medical care, and other public services were sometimes claimed to be separate but equal, but those available to non-white people were generally regarded as inferior.

The resistance efforts of the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela in 1961 culminated in his arrest on charges of leading workers to strike in 1961 and leaving the country illegally. In 1962, Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison. Two years later, a verdict had been reached concerning his previous engagement in the ANC. Mandela was charged with the capital crimes of sabotage and crimes which were equivalent to treason and was given life imprisonment.

In his closing statement he said: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Just a few weeks ago, former South African apartheid-era President, Pieter Willem Botha died. He was the prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive state president from 1984 to 1989. Botha was a long-time leader of South Africa’s National Party and a staunch advocate of racial segregation and the apartheid system. Even under great domestic and international pressure in the later years of his career, he only minimally loosened some of the government’s most stringent racial policies directed towards South Africa’s majority black population and remained unrepentant till his death. “While to many Mr. Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country,” were the sentiments of Mandela on the occasion.

It was during his administration, the most violent times of the 1980’s persisted, when the P.W. Botha government embarked on a campaign to eliminate opposition. For three years police and soldiers patrolled South African towns in armed vehicles, destroying black squatter camps and detained thousands of blacks and coloureds without trial, while others were tortured and killed. In an interview to mark his 90th birthday he suggested that he had no regrets about the way he ran the country. In 1985 during “Crossing the Rubicon” speech, a policy address in which Botha was widely expected to announce new reforms, he refused to give in to pressure for concessions to the black majority including the release of Nelson Mandela. His defiance of international opinion was a total disappointment that led immediately to further isolation of the country, and calls for economic sanctions to be applied, which plunged South Africa into a nation-wide state of emergency.

It was this state of emergency that led to the eventual release of Nelson Mandela after twenty seven years, the abolition of the legal apparatus of apartheid, its first racially inclusive democratic elections and a new constitution. Nelson Mandela was able to rise from the bondage of apartheid and became the first Black president of South Africa at the age of seventy five. Having received over a hundred awards over four decades, Mandela is currently a celebrated elder statesman who continues to voice his opinion on topical issues. Mandela became the most widely known figure in the struggle against South African apartheid.

While we in the Caribbean have long since seen the abolition of slavery, as a Caribbean people, we must continue in the fight towards maintaining human rights. The UN Charter obliges St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a member state, to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights” and to take “joint and separate action” to that end. We must be vigilant least systems develop among us that will limit our human rights and freedoms. We have all learnt from the lessons of South Africa, now we must all act to ensure that leaders with ideals such as those proffered by Botha do not even get the chance to see the light of a political day.