“A More Human Face”: Toward a South Africa Freed of Apartheid

Brian Covert

Thank you very much.

I would just like to commend everybody for showing up today. I think it’s encouraging to see so many people in Japan who are concerned or wondering about the situation in South Africa. Japan, whether it wants to be or not, is very much a part of the South African situation today — both with the government and in business.

First of all, I should say that I myself am American and although I have never been to South Africa, my work as a journalist has kept me in touch with people who are from South Africa, both Black and White. I have also done quite a bit of research and some [news] articles on apartheid.

Tonight, I’d just like to touch upon some overall points concerning apartheid, and I think probably the other speakers [from South Africa and Zimbabwe] will have far more insights than I, since they have lived there. But basically, I would just like to touch on, for example, the who, what and where, etc., of apartheid.

The first thing that comes to mind is: What is apartheid or what is so unique about apartheid? And I think the answer to that is that — well, we should not be polite in calling it anything other than what it is: a system of institutionalized slavery. South Africa has the “honor” of having a governmental system that is despised by just about every country in the world. When people talk about South Africa, they often refer to the Nazis of Germany in the same breath.

Another unique factor of apartheid is that it is one of the few countries — maybe the only country — in the world right now where the children are actively fighting [on the frontlines] for a change of government.

Try to remember what you were doing when you were seven, eight, nine, 10 years old. Then, think about what South African children have to go through. Whereas you and I, when we were children, were thinking about playing with our toys or games with our friends, children there [in South Africa] — and I’m speaking of Black children — have to fight for their lives. At times, they even pick up weapons. They have to battle starvation and poverty. As you will see in the video later, it is so true that the children under apartheid are forced to become adults before their time.

What makes apartheid what it is? There are at least 300 laws imposed by the government that keep apartheid strong [as a repressive system] and that form the pillars of government policy. The facts speak for themselves. For example, we have the population figures: five million Whites versus 25 million Blacks. So, what you have is 15 percent of the people controlling the other 85 percent. Now, if that wasn’t enough, the figures for how much land is given to Blacks and how much to Whites are also very telling: There is 87 percent of the land for the White people and 13 percent for the Black people.

But the most important factor that makes apartheid the crime against humanity that it is, is that Blacks have no vote in their own country. And under the limited rights that some minority groups have been given in the last few years, they can only elect White officials.

So, that covers the “what” of apartheid. It’s obvious who is most affected by apartheid: the Africans or Blacks of South Africa are most adversely affected. The government has also succeeded in dividing the other ethnic groups into what they call “Coloreds”, “Asians” and “Indians”. And of course, the Whites too are affected in their own ways.

You may or may not be surprised to know also that Japanese who are living or working in South Africa are also affected by apartheid. The South African government does not recognize Japanese people as “Asians” in South Africa — they recognize them as quote-unquote “Honorary White”. This means that the Japanese there can have the privileges of living as Whites, even though they are not White. So, Japan is very much intertwined with [the situation in] South Africa today.

Of the age groups that are affected by apartheid, none are affected more than the children. According to the United Nations, there were 30,000 people detained by [South African] police since 1986. Forty percent of those are children — almost half. Now, that should be enough to outrage anybody.

It is no exaggeration to say that people are controlled by apartheid from the moment they are born to the moment they die. Every facet of their lives: their property, their work, their education, their health. Apartheid controls their citizenship, matters of sex and marriage, and of course, sports. For reasons of convenience, the South African government has also stripped many Black ethnic groups of their original culture by putting them into separate “homelands” or what are called bantustans.

Apartheid reaches into the area of prisons as well: South Africa does have the highest prison population in the world. Many people are taken to police stations and interrogated, oftentimes tortured even before they reach the prison stage.

One may wonder, “Why don’t Blacks there protest these conditions more?” The answer is: They are not allowed to, by law. Due to such suppression, a people’s party was created [in 1912] called the
African National Congress, or ANC. As you heard earlier, the ANC is recognized by the United Nations and by just about every country in the world that is supporting the Black [liberation] cause. When a new government comes in South Africa — and it will come — it will be run by or at least guided by the ANC. That much is for sure.

The ANC preaches just the opposite of apartheid, and that is a system of non-racialism. That is stated in the “
Freedom Charter” of 1955. Now, there is a question, as there always is in politics, of why the ANC is armed and while they have a military wing [Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation”]. Suffice it to say that this guerrilla wing or military wing is not the cause of apartheid — it is a reaction to it. It is one of the many by-products, if you will, of apartheid.

I don’t want to go too much into the whole history of South Africa, but I would like to touch upon a couple points that lead us to where apartheid is today. Apartheid is not an accident, by any means. It was carefully planned and drawn up and, in fact, was a government [election] campaign in 1948 when the National Party, which still rules today, first came to power. So, as soon as apartheid went from being a campaign to a government policy, there was instant protest, both within South Africa and outside of South Africa.

There have been a few turning points in the Black history of South Africa of recent that you surely have heard about: I’m talking about the 1960
Sharpeville massacre, when a large group of people gathered at a police station to protest the laws forcing people to carry a passbook [as identification]. The police reaction was to fire on the crowd; sixty-nine people, mostly Africans, were left dead and dozens of others were injured. Many of them were shot in the back as they ran away.

We were to see the same kind of event 16 years later in 1976 in a
township called Soweto. There were children leading demonstrations — unarmed children — with maybe only rocks and sticks against an army with guns and heavy weapons. You may have heard something of the Soweto situation through a man called Stephen Biko. And of course, Steve Biko’s life was portrayed in the recent movie Cry Freedom. Steve Biko’s philosophy was called “Black Consciousness”, and it was just an evolution of Black pride found through their history. This Black Consciousness stressed that Blacks should begin to look at themselves as full human beings before there can be a real change. And because of his eloquence and his leadership capabilities, unfortunately Steve Biko was later killed [by security police].

And just to make a couple more points here before I wrap up: There’s a question of when will apartheid end; when will all of this madness stop? And the answer to that is, it is up to you and me, all of us.

At this point, I’d like to just interject a little bit about my own experience — not only as a journalist, but also as one who has participated in the anti-apartheid movement. The issue of apartheid was never “forced” on me at all; I had found about it and researched it and dug into it completely on my own. This, despite [or because of] the fact that my own family had some racist attitudes toward minorities in the United States. After reading and researching, digging, talking [to others in the know], it was just unbelievable to me that this kind of thing could have been going on so long in South Africa.

There comes a point where you have to decide: Am I going to speak up or not? And it was through my journalistic activities, and on my own personally, that I decided that I could not just sit back and watch. It’s very easy to not be aware of what’s happening with apartheid, even in South Africa, because the government controls what you will read in the newspapers and what you see on TV. This was confirmed by an interview I had with a former South African newspaper editor, who is now living in England. This newspaper editor’s name is
Donald Woods, whose life was also portrayed in Cry Freedom {*1}.

In closing, a couple points here: There comes up the question of “why, as Japanese, we should be concerned about apartheid since South Africa is so far away”. The answer is that, as I mentioned before, with or without your knowledge, the government of Japan and some of the major companies in Japan — Matsushita, Panasonic, Sony — have all invested in South Africa. So, naturally, since I’m a resident and a taxpayer in Japan too, I’m concerned about that.

As you know, there have been many newspaper articles and recent books that have come out about Japan’s trade ties to South Africa. I was just reading in yesterday’s English
Mainichi newspaper that Japanese businesses are decreasing their trade with South Africa, but are being accused of dealing [in disguised trade] with third parties, dealing with European parties, in the process {*2}. So, the products now come from South Africa to Europe and then to Japan.

In effect, the Japanese government and Japanese businesses are representing you in South Africa as “Honorary White”. Although I know from my own experience that all Japanese people do not support this, there has been a kind of negative backlash against Japan because of this. So again, naturally as a taxpayer and a resident, I’m concerned about Japan’s image too. There are sanctions that are mounting against Japan by the United States because of Japan’s trade ties with South Africa.

And that brings us back to the point, again, of “Why should I be concerned?” Because you’re being represented in South Africa as an “Honorary White” — that’s number one. And number two: Even the Japanese government itself is divided on what to do about this situation [and knows it’s not right]. And number three: As Donald Woods mentioned to me, it’s time for Japan to prove, to show, that humans come before money.

So, the inevitable question arises: How can I help or what can I do to change things? And I would like to answer that by saying the best way to help bring about change is by using your eyes and using your voices — because when you see what is really happening in South Africa, you will surely want to raise your voice against it.

There was a quote I recently came across that I think is appropriate here, and that is: We who are standing up and protesting against South Africa are not protesting merely against a people or a government. It’s a protest against a disease, a kind of mental disease, because any mentality that leads you to think that one skin color is better than another is surely sick. So, that is what the anti-apartheid protest is really aimed at. And when apartheid falls, the strongest support for this kind mental racism will also fall.

Another thing that we can do in Japan is to write letters of protest to both the South African and Japanese governments. And there are many products in supermarkets [in Japan] that come directly or indirectly from South Africa. Of course, I’m talking about a boycott of South African goods sold in Japan. But I think the best advice that I can offer you before I leave is that you find out the situation for yourself, just as I did. No one should make you or force you to find about this. All the information and all the facts are there.

I would just like to close with a quotation that I think is very apt, that sums up everything well, regarding the whole situation in South Africa today and tomorrow. It’s a quotation by Stephen Biko. He wrote:

“We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible — a more human face”

Thank you very much.


{*1} Brian Covert, “
Exiled Editor Criticizes Japan-S. Africa Relations”, Japan Times (Osaka, Japan), 4 June 1988, p. 3.
{*2} Tetsuo Jimbo/Associated Press, “Japan Disguises Imports from S. Africa”,
Mainichi Daily News (Tokyo, Japan), 21 April 1989, p. 1.
{*3} Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity”, in
I Write What I Like: A Selection of His Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 114.