"Where Were You During Apartheid?"

I’ve encountered this question a couple of times. It’s never been directed at me, mind you, but I’ve often heard it used to discredit conservatives. During the 2000 Presidential election, a fellow student expressed outrage that Dick Cheney as Senator opposed sanctions against South Africa. I once told a professor that I liked conservative columnist Cal Thomas, and he responded that Thomas was bad because he criticized South African sanctions. More recently, Michael Westmoreland-White pointed out that Jerry Falwell called Desmond Tutu a “phony.” The Left’s implication in bringing these things up is that conservatives were racist in their stance on South Africa and its white minority government.

Let me tell you where I was during apartheid. I was in junior high school. I had a seventh grade social studies teacher, who was your typical liberal Democrat, and he was about to give us his version of the situation in South Africa. He told us about apartheid, which was the white government’s policy of segregating whites from blacks, and he gave us an article that presented the South African government as a horrible, repressive regime. As we read the article in class, I scanned further down the page and read the section that defended sanctions. The article criticized Ronald Reagan for vetoing them in the 1980’s. “There must be another side to what I’m hearing in class.” I thought. “My President thought those sanctions were a bad idea!”

I did some research on my own, and I encountered a completely different perspective. I learned that the South African government was in the process of dismantling apartheid throughout the 1980’s. I read that divestment and sanctions cost South Africa jobs, thereby hurting the very people they were designed to help (South African blacks). And I noticed that the resistance in South Africa had strong Communist support.

Right after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, I read other disturbing things. Mandela lauded such nice fellows as Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat, and Qaddafi. His charming wife, Winnie, supported a practice called “necklacing,” which was burning people alive for disappointing the thuggish African National Congress. “The South African government isn’t the only repressive party out there,” I observed.

And I learned that blacks were better off in South Africa than they were in other African countries. This was brought out (perhaps unintentionally) in the resources of my social studies class. We were reading Junior Scholastic, which ranked the nations of the world by population, literacy, and other factors. My teacher noted that the literacy rate in South Africa was lower for blacks than for whites. But I observed that the black literacy rate in South Africa was actually higher than it was in some “liberated” Communist countries, such as Ethiopia and Mozambique. I just now checked UNESCO’s statistics to make sure I remembered that correctly (see Illiteracy rates by sex, aged 15+, per cent (UNESCO estimates)). “So will turning South Africa over to Communism help it?” I (junior high school me) thought.

I think that my concerns were valid, as were the concerns of Dick Cheney, Cal Thomas, and Jerry Falwell. I wasn’t a racist for seeing sanctions as a bad idea, and neither were they. Were liberals pro-Communist for criticizing Reagan’s sanctions against Nicaragua? Did hard-core leftists support Saddam when they pointed out that Clinton’s Iraq sanctions hurt innocent people?

In retrospect, I have changed my position somewhat, for I have come to see Nelson Mandela as a great man (but not for his praise of Castro, Arafat, and Qadaffi). A big reason is that he divorced Winnie and disavowed her methods. But, more importantly, he was a moral leader. There was a lot of pain on all sides, but Mandela stood for love and forgiveness rather than hatred and revenge. He truly promoted the Christian ethic. As with many heroic figures, his time in prison allowed him to think deeply about his nation and the world, and he emerged as a force of healing and inspiration to millions.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to "Where Were You During Apartheid?"

  1. Pingback: Links on Nelson Mandela | James' Ramblings

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