Slams against Mandela expose the racist underbelly of the United States

South Africa /Police Soweto 1986.And what an underbelly it is. By no surprise, the interweb and right wing America have taken it upon themselves to bash one of history’s great heroes. Apparently, he’s a communist, a terrorist and a racist.

Now, I’m not going to do a run through of all the ridiculous vitriol and ignorance that exists all over the internet. I am going to call them out and ask: Do you really have any comprehension of how disgusting the apartheid system was?

The South African government prior to the fall of apartheid was a brutal, technologically sophisticated, repressed and unforgiving system designed for the sole purpose of marginalizing a black majority, preserving wealth and opportunities for a minority, and insuring a constant flow of cheap labor to support a blood economy. It was violent and systematic. Perhaps the only historical example that might have been more efficient and more effective would be that of the Nazi Holocaust.

The history of the use of technology to support apartheid, which the white minority required to effectively maintain control can be found here.

The significance of the role of U.S. computers in S.A. [was] not restricted to their use by repressive agencies of the government. [Leo80]
It is likely that the tool which made the most crucial contribution to the system of apartheid was the computerized population register. The Plural Affairs Department maintained the passbook system on the more than twenty five million Africans defined as black. These records were all kept electronically on British-made ICL hardware. The Department of the Interior maintained the “Book of Life” files on the other seven million citizens classified as non-blacks using an IBM hardware system. The passbook records included data on “racial classification”, name, sex, date of birth, residence, photo, marital status, drivers license, dates of departure from and return to the country, place of work or study, and fingerprints. One South African described the population register at work as,

The main purpose of the population registry was administration of the influx control system, a system which channeled needed black workers into the labor force to be exploited, and confined others to the desolate homelands. The passbooks, which every black person was automatically given at the age of sixteen, coupled with the computer database, guaranteed one’s instant identification and one’s history of government opposition. If these passbooks were properly endorsed, the owner had the right to work or live in “white areas”, and lack of these endorsements or failure to produce the passbook resulted in arrest and jail. Many were detained for months at a time without a trial and their families were not given notification of their whereabouts.

Frightening. Our apartheid system here in the states appears rather primitive in comparison (though equally horrific).

There is no reason to defend Mandela’s incredible record. Plenty of other people have already done so. However, to denounce Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “racist” is not only completely stupid, but also gives apartheid a free pass. Giving apartheid a pass also allows that racism is acceptable, and marginalizing and exploiting people based on their genetic profile is allowable. If the current flurry of ignorance on the internet is any indication, bigotry and racism are alive and well in the United States, and more than a few people would happily institutionalize it once more.


About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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