In 1980s South Africa, the State’s answer to the increasing collapse of what they euphemistically called ‘law and order’ in the black townships was the creation of a new police force of black recruits who were unleashed after a brief 6-week ‘training’ course. The new force, notorious for its corruption and brutality, earned the less-than-affectionate nickname “kitskonstabels” (or ‘instant constables’), a reference to their brief and inadequate training and to the fact that – like instant coffee or instant soup – they weren’t quite the real thing.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it seems to be a common tactic of apartheid states: co-opt members of the oppressed class and unleash them on their own community. Not only does it take the heat off the oppressor, but it sows deep divisions and confusion in the oppressed community.
Of course, apartheid* eventually collapsed in South Africa, but the real surprise is that this form of oppression wasn’t as unique as most – including myself – thought. So, even after the democratic elections swept apartheid away in South Africa, its still alive and well all over the world.
Indeed, recognising the emotive quality of the word as a rallying cry, many try to shoe-horn the complex historical situation in Israel/Palestine into an uncomfortable ‘apartheid’ analogy, while ignoring the fact that more clear forms are quite obvious elsewhere.
For example, one country has just seen fresh anti-apartheid demonstrations, and its own version of ‘kitskonstables’ were – characteristically – the most violent and brutal in attacking the demonstrators.
But before we get into specifics, let’s look at the demonstrators’ demands:
- The right to choose employment freely and other unfair labour laws
- The right to travel abroad
- The right for their children to be tried as children
- The right for court testimony to receive equal weight
It is scandalous that this sizable minority needs to demonstrate for such basic rights already enjoyed by everyone else in the country. When appearing in court, their testimony is only given half the weight of their oppressors. When charged with crimes, they’re considered adults at nine and tried accordingly, whereas for everyone else it’s 15. Their travel is restricted and, not only is workplace discrimination rife (and legal) but they’re restricted to only certain forms of employment. Protests against these injustices are ruthlessly suppressed. By all accounts, it sounds like the darkest days of white-rule in South Africa.
So where’s the international outrage?
Well, there isn’t very much of that because the oppression is not along race-lines, but gender-lines.
The apartheid state? Iran.
Over 200 women protestors demonstrating in favour of an end to this discrimination were – according to the BBC – beaten and arrested. The Iranian state used female officers to attack the women and male officers to attack those men who had joined the protest in solidarity. Is there a more graphic and violent metaphor for apartheid?
They even have their own ‘kitskonstabels’ so that the oppressed can police their own oppression. It is incredibly sick, yet so incredibly familiar, as is the use of agent provocateurs, as Gene highlighted in an earlier post on this subject.
For photos and more in-depth reports, see Doug Ireland’s blog.
While most campaigning against oppression focuses on race (and increasingly religion redefined as race), the authors of South Africa’s post-Apartheid constitution recognised that oppression takes many forms and all those forms need to be addressed. It is a lesson we need to keep in mind, and one beautifully articulated by (then) Deputy President Thabo Mbeki on the occasion of he adoption of that constitution.
“The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes and unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins… It seeks to create the situation in which all our people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny. It aims to open the doors so that those who were disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals with their fellow human beings without regard to colour, race, gender, age or geographic dispersal.”
“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”
That is how Apartheid ended in South Africa. And, until that clause exists in the constitutions of all nations, Apartheid is still with us.
* It’s pronounced apart-HATE not apart-HIDE, people! And for good reason.