By Ayesha Saleem
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Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War

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Issue 418

This book exposes the networks that exist between big business, media, politicians and the role of the black economic elite in collaboratively supporting and propping up apartheid.

The book starts with the National Party coming to power in South Africa in May 1948. Throughout the election campaign they played to white dissatisfaction with domestic and economic problems South Africa faced following the Second World War.

The new government implemented a policy of apartheid through the ideology of white dominance and Afrikaner nationalism. The segregation that had long existed in practice was tightened, formalised and extended.

The book goes on to expose the long and expensive propaganda war by the apartheid government. The support for apartheid from sections of the black middle class was a major public relations coup for the government.

An example given is when Max Yergen asked his friend Paul Robeson — the American civil rights campaigner and socialist — to stop criticising the government and its Western allies. Robeson rightly refused.

Yergen then began informing on previous colleagues to the FBI and the information given played a major role in classifying the African National Congress political party as a terrorist organisation.

The black middle class also played a vital role in trying to discredit sanctions. PR firms set up in the US hired black Americans to defend apartheid.

They supported bankrupt homeland policies and collaborated with the capitalist media magnates like John Mcgoff of the American financial magazine Business Week. Others were engaged in anti-union activities with the supporters of apartheid in US textile factories.
The author goes on to detail the role of American and British governments in enforcing apartheid.

Such imperialist and racist foreign policies were reinforced through PR companies — pushing apartheid and big business.

The author shows the long history of support for apartheid by the Conservative Party and especially Margaret Thatcher. The Young Conservatives led the campaigns against ANC leader Nelson Mandela with support from American governments. Following Ronald Reagan’s election, the US government opposed all sanctions and relaxed controls on materials for the South African military and police — deepening its support for apartheid and repressive measures.

The book concludes by summarising the long struggle and the accession of the ANC, as a result of the anti-apartheid and sanctions movement coming together with workers and ordinary people resisting and protesting.

This is a timely book given the explosion of struggle in South Africa. Twenty-plus years after the end of apartheid, the ANC government has made a Faustian pact with neoliberalism. It has collaborated with bosses and overseen firing on students and protesters, not least the striking miners at Marikana in August 2012. We can learn lessons from this book for struggles today.

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