18 February 2013

Banished . . . and forgotten by all governments

By: Zongezile Matshoba

Albany Museum is bringing to Makana Municipality and the Eastern Cape the sorry state of over 150 people that were banished between 1948 and 1986. Most of these people were from rural areas, and 10 of these were women.
These are revealed in a spine-chilling photographic exhibition based on Dr Saleem Badat’s book with the same title, “The Forgotten People, Political Banishment under Apartheid”. The exhibition will open at Albany History Museum on the 21 February 2013.   
In an article on the Rhodes University website, Dr Badat, speaking to Jacaranda Media commented that his book was motivated by Helen Joseph who, in 1962, along with Amina Cachalia, Joe Morolong and others undertook a remarkable 11 000 km car journey to visit banished people across South Africa.
 “Apartheid's opponents were plucked from their families and communities and cast into the most abandoned parts of the country, there to live, perhaps to die, to suffer and starve, or to stretch out a survival by poorly paid labour, if and when they could get it,” said Dr Badat.
“Banishment was used to punish, intimidate and control political opponents, part of a strategy for suppressing opposition to state policies and maintaining apartheid rule”.
Banishment was a weapon administered to expel opponents to deep, distant and often arid and desolate places for unlimited periods, to the living hell, because of their resistance to apartheid policies.
Those banished had no court trial, were never charged nor given any chance to defend themselves because they did not break any laws. They were neither charged nor told the nature of their crimes.
Many were community leaders and elected chiefs in rural areas who questioned the apartheid government’s authoritative commands, and were seen to be insubordination.
Even the current democratic government, through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), did not help those that had suffered this trauma that was “too unbearable to behold, to hear . . . slow torture of the soul, a living death,” according to Joseph.
Although the TRC ruled that banishment constituted ‘severe ill treatment’ and was ‘a gross violation of human rights’, it largely ignored addressing banishment in its hearings as there were only 14 recorded as having their human rights violated under apartheid.
The painful journey of the banished is unlike those that went to exile and Robben Island who were then honoured by erecting monument or memorials that got unveiled during the Human Rights Day and the Heritage Day. Dr Badat laments that there have been no special pensions and reparations. Even the scholars shy away from researching the topic.

"They remain the forgotten people of South Africa," concludes Dr Badat.
Among the guests will be Omar Badsha, CEO of the South African History Online, Prof Paul Mylam from the History Department, Dr Badat, Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, and about 40 delegates that will be attending the Durban Moment Conference at Rhodes University, organised by the History Department.