A BRIEF HISTORY OF APARTHEID (1948-1991) AND SOUTH AFRICA (1652-PRESENT)
While apartheid was only ended in South Africa 15 years ago, the roots of the system date back several centuries.
The country we know as South Africa was originally home to the San, hunter-gatherers who had migrated through the territory following game. Archaeological records of their ancestors date back 10,000 years. Subsequently, records of the habitation of the Bantu tribes go back 1,500 years. The Bantu migrated south from central Africa, bringing to their new region skills as iron-mongers, cattle ranchers, and produce farmers. By the mid-17th century, there were large tribes spread throughout South Africa, with different languages and cultures.
It was then that the country was first settled by white people, in 1652, once Dutch East India Company ships sailed to the Cape of Good Hope to create a way-station. Waves of immigrants from Holland, France, Germany, and England arrived over the next two centuries.
By the turn of the 19th century, the Cape was a British colony, a fact deeply resented by the descendants of the original Dutch settlers, the Afrikaners, who had become a distinct tribe with their own language and religion. Fiercely independent and deeply pious, they resented British efforts to end slavery. In 1834, a community of Afrikaners set out on an epic journey towards the country's interior, to free themselves from British rule. Known as the Great Trek, the journey brought the Afrikaners into conflict with black tribes resisting their advance. One of the Afrikaners' decisive battles was with the Zulu army, at a place now known as Blood River. An astonishing victory - not one Afrikaner life was lost, while Zulu fatalities numbered over 3,000 - contributed to the Afrikaners' belief that they were chosen by God to civilize what they saw as "barbarian" races.
In 1910, South Africa's four provinces merged into a national entity, placing millions of blacks under white rule. The central focus of government immediately became how to deal with what was referred to as "the native problem." The resulting Natives Land Act of 1913 reserved 87% of the land for whites, dispossessing millions of blacks of their homes and farms. Blacks' resistance to their dispossession evolved to become the driving political dynamic in the country for the next 80 years.
Afrikaner identity had long been characterized by the frontier/pioneering spirit of the Great Trekkers and their - mostly farming - descendants, who had been brutalized and oppressed by the British during the Boer Wars. By the mid-20th century, though, this identity had hardened into a conviction that their survival
depended on self-reliance and isolation. It found expression in a form of nationalism that was inward-looking, defensive, and profoundly conservative. At its heart was a fear that their survival in South Africa would always be precarious, given that blacks outnumbered whites so dramatically.
Thanks to a campaign which exploited white fears of "swart gevaar," "the black menace," the right-wing Afrikaner National Party rose to power in 1948. The party's agenda consolidated and vastly extended existing racial segregation into an ideological and legal system that regulated every aspect of South African life, from birth to death, according to race. This system was known as apartheid. The goals were to shield the Afrikaner race from miscegenation; to entrench white power; and to force blacks into wage labor. As a direct result, hundreds of black communities were forcibly removed and dumped into the increasingly impoverished tribal areas. Blacks were subjected to the notorious Pass Laws, forced to carry a document that had to be produced on demand under threat of imprisonment and that allowed authorities to further curtail their freedom.
Vociferous black resistance to apartheid came to a head on March 21st, 1960 in Sharpeville, a small township south of Johannesburg. Police fired on protesters rallying against the Pass Laws, killing 69 people and wounding 180; all of the protesters were unarmed, and most shot in the back. The government instituted a state of emergency in response to the outcry that followed. The African National Congress (ANC) and other left-wing political organizations were banned. Within a couple of years, most black leaders were either in exile or in prison, including anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. The United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity.
A new generation became radicalized when student demonstrations in Soweto in 1976 led to more deaths. As a direct result, many youths joined the ANC military wing.
By the 1980s, South Africa was in a state of virtual civil war. The army occupied the townships. Any protest was met with maximum force, resulting in thousands of deaths. The whole country was almost completely isolated from the world. South Africa had been expelled from all international sporting bodies; its consumer goods were being boycotted; and international disinvestment and oil sanctions were destroying the economy.
With daily reports of atrocities fueling worldwide pressure on South Africa, President F.W. de Klerk bowed to the inevitable. In February 1990, he lifted the ban on the ANC and other political parties. Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. Exiles were finally able to return home. Apartheid was dismantled.
In 1994, South Africa's first free elections brought the ANC to power, with Nelson Mandela as President, and marked the end of Afrikaner rule in the country.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ANC AND THE ANC MILITARY WING (MK)
The African National Congress (ANC) was formed by a caucus of tribal, political, and religious groups in 1912, in response to the increasingly oppressive laws of the South African government that were depriving blacks of their rights, land and freedom.
The organization was radicalized in 1949 by its Youth League, headed by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. In June 1952, they launched the Defiance Campaign, a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience against apartheid. The government (now controlled by the right-wing Afrikaner National Party) responded with mass arrests. As a result, ANC membership swelled.
In 1961, following the Sharpeville massacre and the brutal state of emergency that followed, the ANC abandoned its policy of peaceful resistance for one of armed struggle, founding its military wing (MK) Mkhonto we Sizwe [translation, "Spear of the Nation"]. Mandela was named MK's commander-in-chief. After an MK campaign of sabotage against government installations, Mandela was arrested in 1962. Along with other ANC leaders, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Within South Africa, the ANC had been, for the moment, defeated.
But the movement was kept alive by exiles and activists who waged an international campaign to politically isolate South Africa, and an underground military campaign within the country's borders. In 1978 (following a trip to Vietnam), MK's chief of staff Joe Slovo set up Special Ops, a unit dedicated to armed propaganda. Special Ops engineered dramatic acts of sabotage, with the dual purpose of demoralizing whites and enhancing the ANC's prestige among blacks.
Slovo's hand-picked elite operatives were based in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Special Ops targeted the county's government-owned oil refineries; as manufacturers of oil refined from coal, these refineries were allowing the country to survive U.N.-imposed oil sanctions and were symbols of the National Party's intransigence.
After several attempts, Special Ops member Motso "Obadi" Mokgabudi commanded an operation that succeeded in bombing several oil installations on the night of May 31st, 1980 - Republic Day. No lives were lost, but one of the targets hit was a huge refinery in Secunda, a town in the northeast. The explosions and subsequent fires - and reportage of same - were a major propaganda coup for MK, and marked the most effective act of sabotage in MK's history. In retaliation, South African security forces staged an illegal, cross-border
raid against ANC members living in Matola, a suburb of Maputo. Twelve ANC members were killed, including Obadi.
MK's campaign continued, with increasing ferocity, within South Africa over the next decade. It was formally disbanded in August 1990, after the ban on the ANC was lifted. Many of the MK rank-and-file now serve in the South African National Defence Force, which encompasses the country's Army, Navy, Air Force, and Medical Service.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PATRICK CHAMUSSO
Patrick Chamusso was born into a rural Mozambique family in 1950. His father was a migrant laborer who worked over the border in South Africa as a miner, and as such was only allowed home once or twice a year (for Easter and/or Christmas) and was only minimally compensated. From an early age, Patrick knew that he would have to go out and make a living for himself.
As a teenager, Patrick followed his father to South Africa, taking odd jobs in the mines. He then worked as a house painter and street photographer. He was also a talented soccer player, playing for local leagues. By his early twenties, he was doing well enough to buy a car and a camera, unusual for a young black South African at that time.
One day in the 1970s, Patrick was stopped and his car was searched by the police. Patrick's camera was confiscated as being suspicious; there had been acts of ANC sabotage in the area, and Patrick was suspected of spying for the organization. He was arrested and deported to Mozambique. His camera, and car, was never given back to him.
Patrick got forged papers so he could return to South Africa. He settled in Secunda, a town several hours east of Johannesburg. He got a job at the oil refinery there, which was one of the largest in the world. Well-liked and a hard worker, he advanced quickly at the plant. His soccer-playing prowess also made him popular at the refinery and in the community.
On May 31st, 1980, the ANC's military wing (MK) bombed the Secunda plant, along with two other installations. Hitting these targets with no loss of life was a major strategic victory for the ANC; a propaganda coup, it demonstrated to whites that the apartheid government could be demoralized and to blacks that the ANC was capable of effectively fighting back.
Patrick was arrested as a suspect in June 1980. Though he was completely innocent, the police suspected him of having helped the ANC gain access to the plant. South African police at that time had the power to hold people suspected of political crimes indefinitely, without access to a lawyer or family. Patrick's torture was so harsh that when he was released, he was a changed man. After having avoided political involvement for all of his life, he now decided that he had suffered needless trauma for a reason, and so he had to do something.
Leaving his family behind, he crossed the border illegally into Mozambique and traveled to the capital, Maputo, where the ANC had its regional headquarters. There, he was initially held in a detention camp while the ANC checked out his story and made sure that he was not a South African police mole. Patrick was
accepted into the organization; he trained with and met MK commander Joe Slovo, one of the few senior white members of the ANC. Joe was running Special Ops, a military unit set up to engineer spectacular acts of armed propaganda - without casualties - within South Africa. He had been responsible for planning the first refinery attacks, and wanted to strategize a bigger strike.
Patrick lobbied to Joe that with his inside knowledge of the Secunda refinery, he could bring the plant to a standstill and make it burn for days. Joe approved the operation, and the ANC agreed to send him back to South Africa for what would be - by Patrick's choice - a one-man assault. He first completed further training in Angola and then returned to Maputo before traveling, under an assumed identity, by car via Swaziland back to South Africa and then into Secunda.
On the day of the operation, October 21st, 1981, Patrick attached land mines to his body and hid himself on a conveyor belt. The belt carried coal from a neighboring mine to inside the refinery, and now would successfully transport Patrick himself as well. His carefully worked-out plan was to place one mine on a water-pump, followed by another on a reactor inside one of the main plants. The impactful first explosion would act as a warning to the thousands of workers inside the reactor, since ANC policy was that no lives were to be lost in any operations; and would make it that much harder for the authorities to fight the fire. He planned for the reactor land mine to explode 15 minutes after the water-pump one.
Patrick left the plant as the first mine went off. The main plant emptied as planned. Police arriving on the scene guessed that there was another land mine, and found and disarmed it before it could explode.
Six days later, on October 27th, after a massive manhunt, Patrick was caught. He was held for nine months without trial, during which time he was brutally tortured.
His trial eventually took place in Pretoria Supreme Court, in August 1982. Patrick was found guilty on three counts of contravening the Terrorism Act (undergoing training in Mozambique and belonging to an illegal organization; committing sabotage; and unlawfully possessing arms and explosives), and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Patrick served nearly 10 years on Robben Island until he was amnestied and released in late 1991, along with all political prisoners.
Today, Patrick lives in northeast South Africa with his wife Conney, whom he married after his release from prison. Patrick and Conney have three children of their own, and have foster-parented 80 more, all of the latter orphans. Their orphanage is named Two Sisters (www.twosisters.org.za).
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