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First scholarly book on neglected topic launched at Rhodes

Date Released: Thu, 18 October 2012 11:59 +0200

Curiosity about the word ‘banishment’ has led Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat on a 30-year journey which culminated in the publication of an invaluable work on the much neglected topic - banishment.

 “Joseph was thrilled at my interest in banishment, which was then largely a forgotten issue. On a subsequent visit to her, she provided me with documents and papers and extracted a promise to publish on banishment, of whose horrors she had considered knowledge and experience. This book answers my longstanding questions on banishment and also discharges my pledge to Joseph,” said Dr Badat.

The Forgotten People: Political Banishment under Apartheid, which was launched at Eden Grove on Tuesday evening (16 October), was the result of a promise made to the late anti-Apartheid activist, Ms Helen Joseph in 1982.

The study is the first of its kind as it explores the hitherto overlooked topic of Apartheid opponents who were, according to Ms Joseph, ‘punished within the law but outside justice’ and were made to suffer ‘a slow torture of the soul, a living death.’

Those who objected to injustices such as bantu chief systems, bantu education and pass laws extended to women, were plucked from their families and moved to desolate, isolated places for unlimited periods of time.

“At least 160 people, 150 men and 10 women were banished between 1948 and 1986. 140 of those who were banished were from rural areas; 78 of these people were from just seven rural places: Mabieskraal, Witzieshoek and GaMatlala, Bahurutshe, Sekhukhuneland, Thembuland and Mpondoland,” said Dr Badat.

Introduced as a ‘thorough, meticulous piece of research’ by Rhodes University History Head of Department, Professor Paul Maylam said, The Forgotten People is set in both a global and historical context, spanning from the time Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and moving on to Apartheid South Africa.

Prof Maylam said, it is a major contribution to South African historiography, the book not only rescues forgotten banished people from oblivion, but aims to challenge amnesia about Apartheid in both the old and new generation.

“The struggle of memory is against forgetting. We should never forget what happened during Apartheid,” added Dr Badat.

According to Prof Maylam, the book shows that banishment was in many ways worse than torture, detention, and other forms of punishment which have received public attention. In addition, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is criticised for its neglect of addressing obscured practices like banishment, for which no reparations have been made.  

Well-known victims of banishment include Mamphela Ramphele, Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Francis Baart. But the value of the study lies in the untold stories of lesser known Apartheid opponents such as Jojo Titus, who was sent to the Transkei after a period of incarceration at Robben Island. Titus walked to the border of Lesotho and then made his way to an ANC house in Maseru. Within 24 hours of being free and among friends, he was killed in a cross-border raid.

Not all opponents resisted banishment. Theophilus Tshangela, who was sent to Frenchdale, refused to leave even after 14 years unless his conditions of freedom were met. He died in banishment.

The launch was concluded by a preview of Thrown Away, a documentary in the making directed by Liza Key and based on Dr Badat’s book. It is narrated by Ms Amina Cachalia, who retraces the journey she made with Ms Helen Joseph 30 years ago to visit banished people and their families across South Africa.

The documentary brought to life the poignant memories, sentiments and anecdotes that characterise Dr Badat’s book on an issue that, thanks to his tireless research and dedication, has finally been brought to public attention.

Dr Badat has authored Black Student Politics, Higher Education and Apartheid, co-authored National Policy and a Regional Response in South African Higher Education and co-edited Apartheid Education and Popular Struggles in South Africa. He has also made numerous contributions to chapters and articles in books, scholarly journals, the media and policy reports on South African higher education and science policy.

By Ruth Woudstra

Photo by David MacGregor