• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria

The movement against South African apartheid was perhaps the most universal and popular movement in the western world in the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands protested in a multitude of ways—from letter-writing campaigns to shantytown occupations of city squares and college campus greens. Institutions of all types, from churches to universities, from corporations and banks to city halls, were forced to remove their investments from companies doing business with the racist South African regime, ultimately forcing that regime to end its racist legal system. Even the right wing Reagan and Thatcher regimes were ultimately forced to end their support for Pretoria’s racist system and grudgingly go along with the popular will.

However, as Ron Nixon’s new book, titled Selling Apartheid, makes clear, the South African regime was not going to go down without a fight. In addition to police and military actions of varying brutality, the regime hired advertising men to sell their brand of repression to people and governments around the world. The campaign he describes involved a cynical manipulation of emotions about race, implied white supremacist chauvinism, and outright lies. Advertising campaigns presented South Africa as a tourist destination full of beauty and the perfect climate (which it had) with absolutely no mention of the racial discrimination built into its social and political systems. Glossy photo spreads were bought in newspaper and magazines and television programs were made and sold to television networks in the United States and Britain. These shows were then shown to the unsuspecting viewer as if they were made by agencies independent of the apartheid government and their only agenda was tourism.41r2z4etwl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

In a particularly cynical move, the South African government was able to buy off a few African-Americans over the years in what was ultimately a vain attempt to convince Black Americans that apartheid was okay. The first of these individuals was a former supporter of the Black resistance movement in South Africa, Max Yergan. In what can only be described as a complete sell out, Yergan went from working with early members of what would become the primary resistance organization against apartheid—the African National Congress(ANC)—to giving speeches in the United States and Africa aimed at convincing his audiences that apartheid helped Blacks. Once a committed left-winger, Yergan came under pressure during the McCarthy era in the United States, became an informer for the FBI, and turned against his friends in South Africa; friends that included freedom fighters Nelson Mandela and Joseph Tambo. Yergan was but the first of a few such individuals who would follow in his treacherous footsteps.

The bottom line for the white South African regime and the United States was money. Several US companies had millions invested in South African industry. These companies took advantage of the cheap labor (and maximized profits resulting from that labor) and minimal regulations offered by the Pretoria regime. In turn, they either supported or at the least, tacitly accepted the racism and brutality that defined the apartheid system. Consequently, it was these corporations and financial institutions that were targeted by the anti-apartheid movement’s divestment campaign. Churches, universities, and other institutions that had investments in such companies were ultimately convinced to drop those investments. Sometimes that convincing was purely of a moral plea, other times it required a concerted effort that combined direct action, monetary boycotts, and legislative pressure.

As an advocate of the current campaign against Israeli apartheid, it was more than interesting to compare the similarities in the campaign waged against the movement against South Africa’s apartheid and that currently waged against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of today. Residents of western nations are constantly barraged with imagery that attempts to portray the Tel Aviv government as a beacon of fairness and democracy in the Middle East. Furthermore, one is constantly told that the Palestinians who resist the occupation of their lands and the ever-present system of discrimination are nothing but terrorists. This latter phenomenon was also the case in South Africa. Indeed, the ANC was not removed from the US list of “terrorist” organizations until 2008, more than fifteen years after apartheid met its well-deserved end. Of course, there are specific differences between the two systems of separation referred to here, but the essential fact apartheid is true for the historic South African regime and the current Israeli one.

Ron Nixon’s text is an essential addition to the volume of work on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Rich in detail, it provides the reader with an extended look at the nature of propaganda in modern society. A one-time journalist for the New York Times, Nixon makes his argument with facts and writing that is both accessible and engaging. In doing so, he exposes the moral vacuousness of those who propagandized for the racists of South Africa not because they necessarily believed in apartheid, but because they made money from doing so.  Furthermore, in his telling Nixon doesn’t just rake the white South African regime over the coals, he also points his pen at the equally deserving US and British governments, especially those of Reagan and Thatcher. In terms of how the world seems to work, Selling Apartheid is a tawdry yet familiar tale.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail