Society and Culture
Five Things That Co-existed with Apartheid
This week the entire world is mourning the passing of one of the greatest individuals of the twentieth century: Nelson Mandela. The man began as a militant revolutionary fighting back against an oppressive Apartheid regime, became the visionary figure we know today while incarcerated for twenty-seven years on a prison island [think Alcatraz but without Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage], and ended up as the first Black President of a nation nearly 80 percent Black. When news of his passing swept across the globe, there was an outpouring of emotion from everyone from present and former heads of state, to people in small villages throughout South Africa.
I am as astonished by the story of Mandela as I am the brutal regime he helped to topple. Apartheid, which is an Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart,” was enforced by the National Party of South Africa which was in power from 1948 to 1994. It is ridiculously astounding that Apartheid lasted so long. I mean, think about it: the Civil Rights Movement in the United States managed, for the most part, to cripple Jim Crow by the mid-Sixties. But seriously, why did the world tolerate this brutal regime for so long?
This post is primarily designed to put Apartheid in perspective and convey my own shock at the failure of action by the international community to stop this regime. A nationwide institution of legally-imposed oppression co-existed with so many things of the modern era.
1. X-Men: The Animated Series
Yes, perhaps the preeminent cartoon of the Millennial generation co-existed with Apartheid. While Wolverine was fighting Sabretooth in the frozen tundra on Fox Kids, Nelson Mandela was breaking rocks with a pickaxe on Robben Island.
2. The Lion King and Pulp Fiction.
Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “this is really two things and not one.” My response might be, “this is my post and I can write what I want.” I might also say, “they are both in the same class of things that co-existed with Apartheid, namely, great movies that came out in 1994. The Apartheid regime existed while Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa sang their way through the jungle. Samuel L. Jackson was giving one of his most famous monologues, and Travolta was explaining the nuance of naming American fast food in countries using the metric system while Mandela was reciting the poem “Invictus.”
3. President Bill Clinton
I think Bill Clinton is the quintessential President of my childhood. While I was technically brought into this world during the term of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton is the president I remember. His jogs on the mall. How he enjoyed McDonald’s and interns. Everything from Whitewater to his saxophone playing on Arsenio Hall occurred while 80 percent of South Africa couldn’t sit at the lunch counter or even vote in elections.
Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Sometimes you want to stand up for the essential human dignity that comes with being a part of the civic and social life of a nation you call home without being subordinated to a transplanted, colonial, European population. To each his own, I guess.
5. Everyone on Earth Over the Age of 19.
The thrust of this post has been humorous. But much truth is said in jest. The most poignant point I am trying make here is the responsibility of everyone alive to fight back against injustice in any form, whether racially-based or not. Government around the world turned a blind eye to Apartheid for far too long. American conservatives like William F. Buckley said Nelson Mandela belonged in jail. While the President was on campus campaigning against Apartheid and encouraging divestment, others like Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff felt no need to speak out. But a threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.
It cannot be emphasizes more how we all have an obligation to make sure our laws are more just for more people. While the law certainly cannot make the White man love the Black man, it can make the White man respect the Black man.
That Apartheid co-existed with so many things in even my own young life is a testament to the failure of the spirit of governments and people the world over. It is an indictment of freedom-loving peoples everywhere. It is a stain on the moral fabric of this world. We should all look around to highlight and decry institutions, legal or otherwise, that oppress people.
Do your part, speak up, because the world beyond your iPad screen can be a nasty place.