There are many other countries that fit the bill for an apartheid state but get away with murder without much ado, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.
Pretoria - I am fascinated by the concept of the apartheid state. I am intrigued that almost exclusively, it is used to describe the state of Israel when there seems to be so many countries or regions that would qualify to be declared apartheid states.
Those who call Israel an apartheid state base this on the fact that Israel treats Palestinians as second-class citizens, creates Jewish-only settlements (think the Group Areas Act in apartheid South Africa) demands that Palestinians carry some form of identity document (the dompas) and economically exploits Palestinians in the same way that white South Africa did with black labour.
Critics of this comparison point out that unlike in apartheid South Africa, where racial segregation was codified, Israeli law is the same for everyone regardless of their race, colour or creed.
They also point out that Israel exists in a rough neck of the woods where its neighbours have not hidden their intention to wipe the state off the face of the planet, and therefore needs to protect itself.
Supporters of either way point out that there is much more to why they believe what they believe.
However, knowing what we know about apartheid, there are many other countries – many in Africa – that fit the bill for an apartheid state but get away with murder without much ado.
This is because the characteristics of the original apartheid state were not just confined to keeping people of different skin colours apart.
Apartheid was about dispensing patronage and human rights arbitrarily.
The powers that be decided that their worldview was one to be followed by all and methodically and mercilessly punished those who failed to toe the line or dared to see the world differently.
Understanding the apartheid state from this point of view, how could we argue that a state like Sudan, which discriminates against fellow Sudanese in Darfur on the grounds that they are what in South Africa would be referred to as “black” Africans, is not an apartheid state?
How can those who for whatever reason urge South Africa to cut ties with Israel, in all honesty never say anything about another government that, like South Africa’s old, is hellbent on conferring second-class citizenship on its compatriots.
Just recently, the same Sudanese were happy to murder a woman, Mariam Yahia Ishag, on the flimsy grounds that she bowed to a god of a different name from the one the Sudanese elite worships.
Like the South African apartheid state, which believed women were not full persons, Ishag could not possibly have decided for herself what faith she wanted to pursue. She could only follow that of her absent father and not her Christian mother.
Moving further south, the state of Uganda has, like apartheid South Africa, decided to withhold human rights to other citizens because of something they had absolutely had no hand in creating – being a homosexual.
So institutionalised was homophobia in apartheid South Africa that the then SA Defence Force forced gay and lesbian soldiers to undergo various “cures” for their “condition” including forced sex-change operations.
The SADF’s treatment was one example of how the state used its power to decide what sexual orientation was “acceptable”.
How different from apartheid South Africa then is a state like Uganda, which is willing to send its own citizens to their premature deaths because they are of the “wrong” orientation?
Swaziland and Zimbabwean prisons hold two editors because they either expressed opinions about how their country was governed or allowed such views to be expressed in their papers.
This is no different from the times when journalists like Zwelakhe Sisulu, Aggrey Klaaste, Percy Qoboza and many others routinely spent time in apartheid jails for daring to use their journalism platforms to speak truth to power.
On what basis then do President Robert Mugabe and King Mswati III believe themselves to be better than John Vorster or PW Botha?
The silence with regards the crimes by the likes of Mswati and Museveni sends the message that oppression, repression and dehumanisation are only unacceptable when committed by whites on non-whites.
The arguments against these countries are not meant to argue for or against those who say Israel is an apartheid state and those who reject this charge.
I offer no view in that regard.
Just as the concept of a failed state started with one country but later came to define countries exhibiting one of a number of defined elements, so must the apartheid state.
We cannot do that though if we reduce apartheid to a government that separated whites and blacks, but fail to see its effect on all its citizens and the lengths it was prepared to go to preserve itself.
* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an executive editor at the Pretoria News. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom