A mass burial depicting the brutality of the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960. All attempts to fight this system were brutally crushed by the state, says the writer. Picture: Alf Kumalo

Cape Town - A crime against humanity is defined as “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale”.

Based on this definition, it is not surprising that the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court, recognises apartheid as a crime against humanity.

It is a disgrace therefore that despite reams of evidence relating to the enormous damage apartheid inflicted on South Africa and South Africans, people such as Kallie Kriel, the chief executive of Afriforum, the right-wing pressure group, persist with their bald denials that apartheid denied black South Africans their humanity.

Nazi-like in its goals and implementation, apartheid was, and still is in other parts of the world, one of the most brutal, dehumanising social engineering “projects” known to the human race. In South Africa, its modus operandus was to uproot African people from their homes and dump them in the middle of nowhere, with nothing except an ubiquitous tin toilet.

In the case of working-class coloured and Indian people, it used the Group Areas Act to force communities out of homes they had lived in near city centres for generations, to grey, soulless townships on the periphery of “white” towns and cities.

Apartheid was the prime cause of poverty among black people, and the consequence of this was poverty-related illnesses and diseases which resulted in malnutrition, and preventable diseases that killed many thousands of black babies and children.

It also caused large numbers of maternal deaths.

Apartheid-related mental disorders, in many instances sparked by forced removals, expulsion to so-called “homelands” and race-reclassification, were common among black and coloured communities.

And because of it, TB rates too were much higher among African and coloured people.

All attempts to fight this system were brutally crushed by the state. Thus, on March 21, 1960, 69 people protesting against the Pass Laws in the southern Gauteng township of Sharpeville were gunned down and killed. And on June 16, 1976, hundreds of school children marching against the apartheid education system suffered a similar fate.

In the 1970s and 1980s, opponents of the system were systematically murdered by the state’s security apparatuses.

Many others were detained and tortured.

Thousands were forced into exile.

Apartheid also destabilised neighbouring states, causing untold misery to citizens of countries such as Mozambique, Angola and Lesotho.

The National Part (NP) squeezed the life out of any hopes and ambitions people might have had for themselves and their children via a series of brutal laws.

In this, it was enthusiastically supported at whites-only polls by the vast majority of white voters.

Cosmas Desmond, in his foreword to the seminal study of forced removals in South Africa, The Discarded People (by Laurine Platzky and Cherryl Walker), wrote poignantly: “January 29th, 1968, the day that the first people were loaded onto lorries at Meran and taken to be dumped at Limehill, is a date that is indelibly imprinted on my memory. Before that date I had lived for nearly 10 years in African and rural areas where I could not but witness - and indeed be virtually overwhelmed by - the poverty and suffering caused by apartheid.

“But from that date on I became increasingly aware of the all-pervasive and totally brutal nature of the control which apartheid imposes.

“It was my experience of the enforced removal of people which really awakened me to the enormity of the evil that is apartheid.”

By its crazy logic, the NP believed Africans had to be classified as Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, and the like, and live in their own designated “homelands”.

To bring this about, it armed itself with a battery of laws which it used to forcibly remove African people from areas it deemed “white areas”.

One of these laws, the Black Prohibition of Interdicts Act, was promulgated to stop anyone who was under threat of removal to seek the protection of the courts - even if it was apparent that the government was acting beyond its powers. People were given very short notice periods in which to move, whether they were living in Simon’s Town in the Western Cape or tiny Colchester in the Eastern Cape, or any other area designated a “blackspot” (a black community surrounded by white suburbs) by the government.

Government trucks would arrive and residents would be instructed to pack all their belongings onto them - leaving behind what they could not fit in - and then they were driven off to wherever they were to be dumped.

The NP drew heavily on laws making possible land expropriation - without compensation - that had been passed long before it came into power.

Chief among these were the two land acts of 1913 and 1936; the Pass laws, and the Black Urban Areas Act of 1945 (as amended).

These Acts enabled the NP to decide which African people could legally stay in “white” South Africa, and which could not.

In terms of the law, “white” South Africa was divided in two: rural areas and urban (officially prescribed) areas. Africans in rural areas could stay legally only if they had been lawfully recruited by a farmer. Whether Africans could stay in urban areas depended on whether they had rights under Section 10 of the Black (Urban Areas) Act. There were three of these rights: birth, continuous employment for 10 years for the same employer (not 10 annual contracts), or continuous residence for more than 15 years.

Without Section 10 rights, Africans could stay in “white” areas for only 72 hours - after which they would be liable for arrest and possible deportation to the “homeland” of their “ethnic” origin.

The law was viciously applied.

Often, elderly black people were manhandled while being arrested by young white police fresh out of police colleges.

With regard to the Pass Laws, during the apartheid era an average of 250 000 black men were arrested every year in “white” South Africa for not being in possession of a Pass.

The arrogance of people like Kriel boggles the mind.

Despite the NP’s record of detention without trial, torture, murder, land theft, job reservation and separate amenities - all of which were intended to ensure that white people had everything of the best in every possible way - Kriel and others have the temerity to go to countries with right-wing administrations to complain of white genocide in South Africa.

They are liars.

One of the prices South Africa is paying for apartheid is a high crime rate. But even then, it is black people who are more likely to be murdered.

One of the greatest tragedies of the new South Africa is that far too many white people think like Kriel.

They are easily recognisable by their attitude towards what happened in the past. “Get over apartheid!” “I didn’t vote for the system”, and “I worked hard for what I have!” form part of their regular refrain.

This display of ignorance and arrogance must stop.

And the best way to do this is for the government to start delivering on the promises that were made to the poor in the run-up to the 1994 elections: jobs, houses that provide dignity, and education.

Those who believe in treating the poor the way the NP did, who doggedly want to hold on to everything they had during apartheid, and who yearn for their “good old days”, should be isolated in every possible way.

* Dougie Oakes is Independent Media’s features and op-ed editor.

Read more: Apartheid no crime against humanity, says AfriForum's Kriel