1990s >> 1990 >> no-1028-april-1990

Against apartheid

Subverting Apartheid: Education, Information and Culture under Emergency Rule. By Jim Corrigall, Elaine Unterhalter and Gillian Slovo. International Defence & Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1990. £2.

In a world of objectionable regimes South Africa is in the forefront of those states in which the blatant repression of the majority population is systematically pursued. Any publication that aims to present the facts about South Africa necessarily involves a catalogue of horror. Subverting Apartheid by a group of anti-apartheid militants is no exception to this rule.

It examines the effects on the media, education and culture of Emergency Rule introduced in June 1986 and only recently relaxed and provides detailed evidence of the extent to which the apartheid regime attempted to justify and maintain its position at whatever cost to the majority. The period of Emergency Rule magnified the measures that the state was prepared to undertake in an already repressive regime This study is largely descriptive in presenting information about repression in South Africa even if it was written before the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC, but it also pinpoints the failure of the state apparatus to stifle unrest and resistance.

The other concern of the study is to draw attention to those groups and individuals pursuing what it calls “the goal of national liberation, creation of a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa”. The attempt to suppress what the Pretoria government viewed as revolutionary movements by a counter-revolutionary strategy did not succeed:

In spite of inflicting thousands of deaths and detaining and arresting tens of thousands, it was clear that the forces of democratic resistance were not crushed or demobilised, but adapted to the conditions of extreme repression.

It is this failure to subvert resistance that is a positive aspect of a period and place in history often associated with the purely negative. It enables the reader to find some relief from the evidence of over 5.000 deaths since 1984, of the 40,000 people who were detained without trial, and of the host of regulations restricting the activities of anyone who sought to oppose apartheid.

There is a tremendous resilience which adapts to such nightmare conditions and perpetuates the struggle against repression even in areas specifically targeted by the total might of the state apparatus. Given the restrictions imposed on information emerging from South africa, this study provides valuable evidence of what actually took place. It also helps counter some of the propaganda of the South African Department of Information whose budget for 1988-89 was R31,600,000.

Questions can, and should, be raised about the nature of the society being pursued under the guise of “national liberation”, particularly as it assumes that non-racial democracy in South Africa would eradicate exploitation and oppression. What cannot be underestimated, however, is the irrepressibility, organisational abilities and adaptability of individuals and groups surviving and putting forward ideas under the most horrendous conditions. South Africa may be a byword for repression but it should also be recognised as a symbol of the resilience and resistance of the repressed.

Philip Bentley