April Meeting: The
history of Apartheid.
It was gratifying to see the new temporary base of the
Society at the Community Centre full for the Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture, given
by Neath MP, Mr Peter Hain. Mr Trefor Jones opened the meeting, by stating that
Mr Hain needed to introduction, since he had been a Resolven resident for many
Mr Hain, thanked the Society for the invitation to come to
give the Noel Thomas lecture and stated his admiration for the work done by the
History Society over many years. He began, by referring to his parents, both
now residents of the Vale of Neath and their personal struggle against the apartheid
regime, which had led to their deportation from South Africa in 1966. He stated
that they were both born in South Africa but were of British ancestry.
The origins of Apartheid, which became an official policy in
1948, could be found in the imperial history of the country. The two major
colonisers, the Dutch East India Company on the Cape and later the British around
Johannesburg had one objective which was the subjugation of the native peoples
and the exploitation of the riches of the country. Afrikaans, itself which Mr
Hain described as closest to Flemish of the modern European languages, had also
caused a “lager” mentality among the Boers. This led to the Great Trek in the mid
nineteenth century as they attempted to preserve their own culture against the
infiltration of English culture. Indeed, it was his empathy for the insecurity of the Boers that Nelson Mandela
was later to use most successfully in building the nascent “Rainbow nation” in the 1990s. The expansion and exploitation of the country led to the Zulu wars
with the native population in the 1870s and the two Boer wars in the later
stages of the nineteenth century. The introduction of concentration camps
during this period by the British, caused the deaths of thousands of
women and children, and hardened the opinion of the Afrikaner. The role of the
non-white population was always seen as subservient throughout this period,with both education and basic skills denied to them.
Following the general election of 1948, the National Party
achieved a majority which gave the Boers the chance to formally introduce a
system of apartheid, though segregation had long been a feature even under
British rule. Mr Hain noted, that it was not only an apartheid between white
and black but also of the mixed race Cape “coloureds” and Asians. The adjective
“Orwellian”, was used during the talk and this was particularly appropriate in
the case of the children born to ostensibly white parents who could be of genetically mixed race. In some cases, members of families would be segregated
from each other as teenagers. By now, everything was segregated, including
sport, leisure, the workplace and even skilled blacks were forced to give up
their employment to whites.
The origins of the African National Congress lay in the
early twentieth century, but it was not banned until the 1950s by the National
government, as were other parties in opposition to the regime. The only party
which was allowed to campaign against it were the largely white Liberal party
of which the Hain family became members. Opposition was not looked at kindly,
and the opposition of his parents which started with distributing leaflets,
ended in banning orders, loss of employment and raids by the secret service in
the middle of the night. The subject of a banning order could only communicate
with one other person at a time, and a ludicrous situation arose when both Mr
and Mrs Hain had banning orders at the same time and had to be given special
dispensation to speak to each other in the company of the family.
Mr Hain then turned his attention to the twenty seven year
incarceration of Nelson Mandela on Roben Island and the forces that were slowly
defeating apartheid. He put this down to three factors. Firstly, the
international sports boycott, which affected the sports mad South African
public. Secondly, economic sanctions were increasingly being applied,
especially as the number of black politicians was increasing in the House of
Representatives in the USA. Thirdly, internal strife in the 1980s was putting increasing
pressure on the regime and a civil war was possible. By then, secret negotiations
were taking place with Nelson Mandela who had himself recognised that
reconciliation was the only way forward and that the whites would have to play
a part in any settlement.
Mr Hain concluded his talk by taking questions from the
large audience. He was asked why he appeared a little disappointed with the way
things had progressed in South Africa since the ending of the apartheid regime.
He answered, that he realised that economic progress had been slow and early
expectations had been euphoric. However, he was wary of the fact that
corruption was rife in public life and more importantly that the role of
education had not been pushed in any great degree. The great skills gap,
despite large public expenditure, had been hackneyed by poor teaching of black
children and the apathy shown by the teachers and unions. South Africa
languishes at the bottom of the international league standards for education.
Former close neighbour, Mr Phylip Jones thanked Mr Hain for
his memorable talk.
Next month’s speaker
will be Mr Tony Waters on Monday May 12th, who will speak on the 1904
revival and show his television programme on the religious revival.
: Many thanks to Peter for donating the profit on the books that were sold on the night to the Society.