Apartheid And The Environment Essay, Research Paper
Apartheid and the Environment
South Africa is a prime example of the stark and unsettling conditions that exist throughout the world among race, gender, poverty, and the environment. Among the many inequalities which exist is an ailing environment which provides meager employment and playgrounds for the black population of South Africa. The environmental and social crisis originates in apartheid through the combination of poor land, forced overcrowding, and poverty (Ottoway 219). As the years go by, in addition to the already well known social crisis, more and more dumping sites will be uncovered and environmental disasters that have been concealed under apartheid will come to light. The new government will have to implement responsible legislation and regulations to protect the environment and control corporate behavior in the most industrialized country on the continent.
For most of the last half-century, the black majority of South Africa has had no means to fully express itself in the mainstream media of their nation (”Media Restrictions in South Africa” 67). The reason for this stems from the oppressive system under which South African blacks were forced to live under. The name for the system was apartheid, and it involved strict racial segregation and an ideology of white supremacy.
From the birth of legal apartheid in 1948 up until its turbulent end this past year, white South Africans were extremely concerned about both preserving this system of
rigid racial separation and gaining acceptance for it. Many acts were passed by the government to try and keep the media from reporting the stark conditions existing in South Africa. The Sabotage Act of 1962 prevents the press from printing any material which could incite civil disobedience or violence (Laurence 78). The law is so vague that it can be stretched to cover almost any area the government desires. Much like the Sabotage Act, the Prisons Act of 1959 and 1965 also severely limits the power of the press to report on activities; A newspaper reporter somehow managed to obtain photos from inside Johannesburg’s Central Prison of black inmates forced to dance around in the nude during a contraband search. In response, the 1959 act prohibited the press from publishing any pictures of prison conditions or reporting any “lies” about the treatment of inmates (Novecki 37). The Police Amendment Act of 1979 made it an offense to publish “any untrue matter” about the police or their activities (Schneider 53). As with the Prisons Act, the truth is what the government says it is and not what it really is.
Comments like Bishop Desmond Tutu’s, “What the eye doesn’t see, the mind doesn’t know and the heart doesn’t grieve over” (Woods 236) are all too common in this part of the world and outlooks like this are helping to destroy the South African country – geographically, economically and socially.
South Africa is sitting on a toxic time bomb. The new government has inherited a
poisoned country of rivers, valleys, gorges, and mine dumps. All the environmental activism (in which the ozone and rainforests dominate) should also be concentrated here in South Africa. We should certainly not allow a program of development and growth which contaminates those who have most suffered from the inhumane apartheid system and could start to poison the rest of the world. (Pollak 232)
As one of the world’s biggest mineral suppliers on the planet, little attention has been paid to the fact that for every ton of metal that leaves a mine mill, about one hundred tons of trash is left in a heap topside, where it can be blown away by the winds, run off into rivers, or absorbed into the ground water (Hachten 356). South African gold mines also extract large quantities of uranium as a secondary product. To add to the hazardous situation, black communities living nearby may be exposed to the cancer-causing radium and radon that commonly leak from uranium mine wastes. Furthermore, the importation of hazardous wastes, the dumping of mercury in the rivers, the strip mining of coal and uranium, the outdated methods of producing synthetic fuels, along with the poverty, lack of sewage facilities and deliberate structuring of the notorious ‘homelands’ present South Africa with serious environmental concerns (Hachten 185).
The scope of the problems is wide and spans the entire community. For example, how can a community in Merebank, Natal be helped, which is surrounded by two oil refineries, a paper processing plant, a water treatment plant, an airport, and a large percentage of Natal’s industry? Or, what about the Mozambican refugees who occupy a decrepit and abandoned paint manufacturing plant, outside of Johannesburg, which has hundreds of barrels of old paint lying around? What about Mafefe, an asbestos mining area since 1929 where children play in open asbestos dumps?
Black South Africans have a strong history of resisting apartheid and their struggles provide valuable insights and lessons for the environmental movement. Black South Africans, particularly women, have developed methods of sustainable economies through the informal sector by selling arts and crafts and various foods. South Africa has one of the most democratic trade union movements in the world, and has developed a strong alliance with civics (Worden 223). The civics are community structures which have opposed high rents, unrest, detention without trial, and lack of sewage facilities among other issues.
Black South Africans have borne the brunt of apartheid and should not continue to
endure policies which may no longer kill them with bullets and torture, but instead with
asbestosis, chronic diseases, and mercury-contaminated water. Upon examination, there are three over-arching links which draw the connections between the situations in South Africa and the US, for example. The first and most obvious link is around issues of race, class, gender, health and environment. The United Church of Christ 1987 Report cited that most of the toxic dump sites in the US are located in people of color and poor communities. In South Africa, apartheid policies structured around notions of race, class and gender, have created a situation which allows massive dumping and poisoning of black communities throughout the country. The second is the astounding similarity between bantustans (pockets of land which have been used for the ’surplus people’ and act as a cheap source of labor for the industry in South Africa) and the native American lands of the US. There are striking similarities of land underdevelopment and toxic dumping between the bantustans and the Native lands. The third crucial link is around the legacy, like the US, of toxic contamination. Weapons testing, the use of a military arsenal on black
communities, and the arms industry ARMSKOR have had detrimental effects on the
South African people and on their environment.
As the nature of the trade becomes more global and exploitative, so must our
efforts be more international in dimension and scope if we are to truly confront and challenge the poisoning of communities. We must see the similarities between what is happening to other countries and what we are doing here at home. As multinational corporations seize investment opportunities, there should be some basic standard and procedure which monitors labor and environmental practices. In order to address the issues at stake, we need to realize what is happening in this part of the world and make a conscious effort to stop it. Environmentalists and even the ordinary citizen need to be made aware of what is happening so that it can be stopped before it spreads beyond its current boundaries.