When Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat promised veteran struggle stalwart Helen Joseph he would write a book about 160 “forgotten” South Africans banished by the apartheid government to remote parts of the country he never realised it would take 30 years to complete, writes Daily Dispatch Port Alfred bureau head David MacGregor.
“They were given no opportunity to defend themselves, yet they were deprived of their liberty . . . They were punished outside justice”
Detailing how 150 men and 10 women were banished without trial to the middle of nowhere between 1948 and 1986, the former student activist said they had remained largely forgotten – even in the new South Africa.
“While The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) ruled that banishment constituted ‘severe ill treatment’ and was ‘a gross violation of human rights,’ and held ‘the former government accountable’, the banished were sadly largely ignored by the TRC and remained the forgotten people of South Africa”.
Warning how hiding the horrors of the past in a “collective amnesia” would leave posterity with a legacy of festering guilt and unrelieved pain, Badat lamented the fact only 14 banished people were noted by the TRC as people whose human rights had been violated under apartheid. “There have been no reparations or special pensions for the banished or their families.
“Social memory is a terrain of contestation, and the TRC, in so far as the banished are concerned, has contributed to an unfortunate, if unwitting, engineering of forgetting, and a skewing of social memory.”
Besides the book, Badat was also involved in a documentary film, Thrown Away, and a photo exhibition by Omar Badsha to coincide with a remarkable journey Helen Joseph made in 1962, hours after her apartheid government banning order was lifted, to visit banished people in remote corners of South Africa.
Although Badat was motivated to write the book by the promise he made to Joseph in the garden of her Norwood home in 1982, he said another impetus was the need for scholarship on an issue that had received no scholarly attention.
“Dealing with the injustices of our past entails knowledge and understanding of the horror and brutality of apartheid in all its myriad and diverse forms: systemic, structural, economic, social, political, psychological, collective and individual.
“This requires persistent unveiling of little-known pernicious features of our past and drawing these to the attention of the wider public.”
The book, which deals with banishment from the ousting of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the present-day, shines a spotlight on how apartheid’s political opponents from rural areas were condemned to a living hell of banishment in distant and often arid and desolate places for unlimited periods.
“These rural opponents were plucked from their families and communities and cast, in the late Helen Joseph’s words, ‘into the most abandoned parts of the IT WAS a real labour of love,” Badat explained at the Grahamstown launch of his acclaimed The Forgotten People: Political Banishment under Apartheid. country, there to live, perhaps to die, to suffer and starve, or to stretch out a survival by poorly paid labour, if and when they could get it’.
“They were strangers in strange areas who could not speak the local language, and often had little in common with the locals and even less in common with those under whose surveillance they fell.
“Their existence became ‘a slow torture of the soul’, a kind of social death.”
According to Badat, the banishments occurred without any court trial, criminal charges or even a mention of the nature of their crimes.
“They were given no opportunity to defend themselves, yet they were deprived of their liberty . . . They were punished within the law, but outside justice.” The book has been widely praised by academics and struggle stalwarts.
Acclaimed history professor Sir Colin Bundy has praised the book as a definitive and extremely impressive manuscript on an aspect of political repression that previously had received scant academic attention while Rhodes historian professor, Paul Maylam, said it finally “gives life to the forgotten people”.
Source: Daily Dispatch
Story and Picture by David MacGregor
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