One of the things that destroyed apartheid was that more and more people stopped obeying its regulations and prohibitions. The same seems to be happening with some of the present government’s lockdown regulations.

Reporting last week on his township network, G G Alcock wrote on BizNews that ‘this sector doesn’t just want the lockdown to end, they have ended it’. Suburbs and cities were at level 4, but ‘townships and informal businesses are at level 1’.

Until 1961 it was illegal for black Africans to obtain liquor (other than sorghum beer). Neither the prohibition nor police raids and seizure of liquor stopped the growth of thousands of shebeens, and in 1982 the National Party (NP) government started issuing them with licences.

When the minibus taxi industry got going in the 1970s the government tried to curb its growth to protect the subsidised bus companies, inter alia by roadblocks, arrests, and fines. Legislation was even drafted to ‘phase’ the taxis out. Eventually the government recognized the futility of such policies and declared that competition in public transport was a good thing.

Despite police harassment

Spaza shops, illegal until January 1989, likewise established themselves despite police harassment, as did pavement hawkers.

Shebeens, minibus taxis, and spaza shops are all examples of entrepreneurship that the NP tried, unsuccessfully, to curtail, control, or even destroy. Some of the restrictions that the minister of trade and industry, Ebrahim Patel, has recently imposed, for example on clothing and footwear, are reminiscent of those gazetted by the practitioners of apartheid. Thus in 1968 it was decreed that black African shopowners in townships in the urban areas would be allowed to open only one shop, and that they could not conduct business ‘for any purpose other than that of providing for the daily essential domestic requirements of the Bantu residents’. 

Mr Patel’s detailed restrictions on clothing and footwear are further reminiscent of some of the previous government’s job reservation laws, including the ones stipulating that black Africans working as bricklayers must not use trowels. There were also restrictions on what type of paving they could lay.  

Utterly failed      

Two of the most restrictive aspects of apartheid were the pass laws and the Group Areas Act. To enforce the former, thousands of people were arrested daily. Down the years huge numbers were incarcerated, and/or deported to the ‘homelands’. But vast numbers returned, illegally, to the cities. Eventually, in 1986, PW Botha’s government repealed the pass laws on the grounds that they had utterly failed to stop black urbanisation. Dawie de Villiers, Cape leader of the NP, said the laws had been applied ‘with an iron will under Dr Verwoerd and others, but with no effect’.  

The Group Areas Act of 1950 was designed to impose residential and business segregation. Thousands upon thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes in this process of ethnic cleansing, while black businesses in white areas were forced to close. But by the mid-1980s members of the growing black middle class were moving into white suburbia despite the provisions of the act.

In 1987 the attorney general of the Witwatersrand, Klaus von Lieres und Wilkau, gave instructions for investigations and prosecutions. Two years later he threw in the towel. It was ‘a logistical impossibility’ to prosecute everybody living in a ‘seriously infiltrated’ Johannesburg.

The government had in the meantime started talking of amending the act to allow ‘free settlement areas…to comply with the realities and practicalities of the times’. Just as with the pass laws, the law was changed to adapt to the fact that apartheid restrictions had become more and more difficult to enforce because people simply stopped obeying them. One Johannesburg estate agent, threatened by a city councillor with prosecution for selling a house in a white group area to Indians, retorted that the councillor would have to hire the Ellis Park stadium for all the prosecutions he would have to conduct.

Nearly 4 000 a day

Several Ellis Parks will be needed to accommodate the 230 000 people charged so far for contravening lockdown regulations – an average of nearly 4 000 a day.    

The African National Congress (ANC) and its communist and trade union allies of course believe that their liberation struggle was responsible for the demise of apartheid. But study of the actual course of events shows that economic apartheid simply crumbled thanks to large-scale on-the-ground determined but quiet disobedience by ordinary people. 

If Mr Patel and other members of the sinister ‘national coronavirus command council’ paid more attention to this history, they might realise that illegitimate policies become more and more difficult to enforce against economic imperatives, the entrepreneurial instinct, and the will to survive. This is not a theoretical argument about entrepreneurship or market forces or human nature: it is merely a logical inference based upon historical facts.

Economic apartheid was eroded first in practice and the legislation was then amended and even repealed to give de jure recognition to de facto reality. Notwithstanding the command council’s iron fist, we are likely to see a similar process with many of the lockdown regulations, especially those without rational, logical, or morally defensible purpose.           

[Picture: muffinn,]                                                           

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  1. The biggest problem of the lockdown ‘rules’ is that their rationale has not been explained. “No smoking” Why? – I am not a smoker but they are saying smoking kills. Sure it does, but these deaths are long term, and have nothing to do with lockdown. What is the reason? In not telling us, the government walks straight into the trap of decreasing compliance. Exercise before 09h00. Why? Why not between 16h00 and 19h00? Again, what is the rationale? Lack of information has been the biggest failing of these ‘rules’

  2. Lookalikes?! You might as well compare rugby with police arrest (and then maybe tell us the rugby is more violent).

    While all the detail of this article strikes me as sensible and interesting, the spirit of it strikes me as racist and unbecoming of the IRR. Yes, comparisons can be made but an elephant shat in the room and you’re talking as if there is no stench! The Apartheid laws were racist in every way, the lock-down is not. To call them lookalikes is to ignore that. It is racist not to acknowledge the racism.

    • The surreptitious intention behind the lockdown has been to reduce the financial independence of the white middle class. It’s not easy to think of any action or policy of the ANC that has not has not been underpinned by racist intent. The constant references to naturally unattainable income equality in the population can be achieved only by artificial means (AA, BEE etc.) and the ANC lost not one minute in seeing the Covid Crisis as an opportunity for a two-way levelling of incomes.

      No one in his right mind can argue rationally that the lockdown we have been suffering has even the remotest chance of curbing the infection rate in the long term. Lockdowns internationally have no long term benefit even where they worked well in containing infection rates. Regardless, for obvious reasons they cannot work in Africa. Our toxic lockdown has been a futile exercise in containing the virus. It’s coming, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

  3. I don’t think the purpose of this article was to compare the authors of the restrictions, its merely saying that the public who are required to adhere to unreasonable conditions imposed on them will shun them and just not comply a lot of the time.

    When reading the article, I certainly did not get the impression that there was any rascist tone to it. I think you have been too sensitive when reading this into the message of the article.

    • Brian, I did say that it was sensible in it’s detail. It’s the heading that sets the insensitive tone. “Apartheid lookalikes” Really? There are other turns of phrase which deliberately compare the NCC with the Apartheid government. If you don’t see the problem with that and if you think that doesn’t strike a nerve then you’re not worth hearing from on matters of race relations. You might as well be a judge who can’t tell the difference between the violence of an arrest and the violence of a game of rugby. Feel free to call the NCC out for demagoguery but the moment to compare it with the Apartheid regime you accuse people who fought Apartheid of Apartheid. You seem insensitive to that.

  4. I’m selfishly trying to promote a concept I got from a Science Fiction story some time ago. The concept is, that when faced with an overwhelming amount of civil service ineptitude (such as all of the paperwork required to get almost ANYTHING done) and especially making the breaking of arbitrary lockdown regulations a criminal OFFENCE, then the paperwork handler/creator needs to be overwhelmed themselves. The simple statement of the concept is “Turn the handle the way it goes – only more so!”.

    • Russ, you remind me of that 80’s movie Brazil. Did you see it? I still vividly recall that scene where they blow up the Department of Information Retrieval.

  5. Mag ek maar in Afrikaans reageer? Dankie.

    Mag ek maar in Afrikaans reageer? Dankie
    Die sigaret saga het eintlik ‘n ander roete gevolg. Rokers koop nog net soveel sigarette as voorheen maar teen baie hoër pryse en die Regering verloor miljarde aan aksynsbelasting. Haarsalonne mag nie oopmaak nie en derduisende mense verloor hulle werk en inkomste wat op goedere en dienste spandeer kon word waarop btw betaalbaar is. Lees gerus Jesaja 56 verse 9 tot 11.


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