The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

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From 1948 through the 1990s, a single word dominated life in South Africa. Apartheid—Afrikaans for “apartness”—kept the country’s majority black population under the thumb of a small white minority. It would take decades of struggle to stop the policy, which affected every facet of life in a country locked in centuries-old patterns of discrimination and racism.

The segregation began in 1948 after the National Party came to power. The nationalist political party instituted policies of white supremacy, which empowered white South Africans who descended from both Dutch and British settlers in South Africa while further disenfranchising black Africans.

The system was rooted in the country’s history of colonization and slavery. White settlers had historically viewed black South Africans as a natural resource to be used to turn the country from a rural society to an industrialized one. Starting in the 17th century, Dutch settlers relied on slaves to build up South Africa. Around the time that slavery was abolished in the country in 1863, gold and diamonds were discovered in South Africa.

That discovery represented a lucrative opportunity for white-owned mining companies that employed—and exploited—black workers. Those companies all but enslaved black miners while enjoying massive wealth from the diamonds and gold they mined. Like Dutch slave holders, they relied on intimidation and discrimination to rule over their black workers.

The mining companies borrowed a tactic that earlier slaveholders and British settlers had used to control black workers: pass laws. As early as the 18th century, these laws had required members of the black majority, and other people of color, to carry identification papers at all times and restricted their movement in certain areas. They were also used to control black settlement, forcing black people to reside in places where their labor would benefit white settlers.

Those laws persisted through the 20th century as South Africa became a self-governing dominion of the United Kingdom. Between 1899 and 1902, Britain and the Dutch-descended Afrikaners fought one another in the Boer War, a conflict that the Afrikaners eventually lost. Anti-British sentiment continued to foment among white South Africans, and Afrikaner nationalists developed an identity rooted in white supremacy. When they took control in 1948, they made the country’s already discriminatory laws even more draconian.

Racist fears and attitudes about “natives” colored white society. Though apartheid was supposedly designed to allow different races to develop on their own, it forced black South Africans into poverty and hopelessness. “Grand” apartheid laws focused on keeping black people in their own designated “homelands.” And “petty” apartheid laws focused on daily life restricted almost every facet of black life in South Africa.

Pass laws and apartheid policies prohibited black people from entering urban areas without immediately finding a job. It was illegal for a black person not to carry a passbook. Black people could not marry white people. They could not set up businesses in white areas. Everywhere from hospitals to beaches was segregated. Education was restricted. And throughout the 1950s, the NP passed law after law regulating the movement and lives of black people.

Though they were disempowered, black South Africans protested their treatment within apartheid. In the 1950s, the African National Congress, the country’s oldest black political party, initiated a mass mobilization against the racists laws, called the Defiance Campaign. Black workers boycotted white businesses, went on strike, and staged non-violent protests.

These acts of defiance were met with police and state brutality. Protesters were beaten and tried en masse in unfair legal proceedings. But though the campaigns took a toll on black protesters, they didn’t generate enough international pressure on the South African government to inspire reforms.

In 1960, South African police killed 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville, sparking nationwide dissent and a wave of strikes. A subgroup of protesters who were tired of what they saw as ineffective nonviolent protests began to embrace armed resistance instead. Among them was Nelson Mandela, who helped organize a paramilitary subgroup of the ANC in 1960. He was arrested for treason in 1961, and was sentenced to life in prison for charges of sabotage in 1964.

In response to the 1960 protests, the government declared a state of emergency. This tactic cleared the way for even more apartheid laws to be put in place. Despite the state of emergency, black groups continued to organize and protest. But a crackdown on many movement leaders forced them into exile abroad.

Anti-apartheid protests continued as life for black South Africans became more and more dire under apartheid. On June 16, 1976, up to 10,000 black schoolchildren, inspired by new tenets of black consciousness, marched to protest a new law that forced them to learn Afrikaans in schools. In response, police massacred over 100 protesters and chaos broke out. Despite attempts to restrain the protests, they spread throughout South Africa. In response, exiled movement leaders recruited more and more people to resist.

During the 1980s, resistance became even more fierce. Peaceful and violent protests finally began to spark international attention. Nelson Mandela, the movement’s most powerful and well-known representative, had been imprisoned since 1964. But he inspired his followers to continue resisting and conducted secret negotiations to end apartheid.

By the end of the 1980s, discontentment was growing among white South Africans about what they saw as South Africa’s diminished international standing. By then, the country faced sanctions and economic ramifications as international businesses, celebrities, and other governments pressured the government to end discrimination. As the economy faltered, the government was locked in a stalemate with anti-apartheid activists.

But when South African president P.W. Botha resigned in 1989, the stalemate finally broke. Botha’s successor, F.W. de Klerk, decided it was time to negotiate to end apartheid in earnest. In February 1990, de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and other opposition groups and released Mandela, whose secret negotiations had thus far failed, from prison. Despite continued political violence, Mandela, de Klerk and their allies began intensive negotiations.

In 1994, the NP was finally defeated and Mandela became president of South Africa. A constitutional assembly was convened and South Africa adopted a new constitution that allowed for a South Africa that was not ruled by racial discrimination. It took effect in 1997.

By then, South Africa had dismantled apartheid for good. Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their cooperation, and a truth and reconciliation commission began investigating human rights abuses and memorializing those abuses. The transition was not entirely non-violent. But by its end, South Africa had forged a new reality: one that owed its existence to the continued resistance of an oppressed racial majority.


From 1948 through the 1990s, a single word dominated life in South Africa. Apartheid—Afrikaans for “apartness”—kept the country’s majority black population under the thumb of a small white minority. It would take decades of struggle to stop the policy, which affected every facet of life in a country locked in centuries-old patterns of discrimination and racism.

A sign common in Johannesburg, South Africa, reading ‘Caution Beware Of Natives’.

The segregation began in 1948 after the National Party came to power. The nationalist political party instituted policies of white supremacy, which empowered white South Africans who descended from both Dutch and British settlers in South Africa while further disenfranchising black Africans.

The system was rooted in the country’s history of colonization and slavery. White settlers had historically viewed black South Africans as a natural resource to be used to turn the country from a rural society to an industrialized one. Starting in the 17th century, Dutch settlers relied on slaves to build up South Africa. Around the time that slavery was abolished in the country in 1863, gold and diamonds were discovered in South Africa.

Many white women in South Africa learned how to use firearms for self-protection in the event of racial unrest in 1961, when South Africa became a republic.

That discovery represented a lucrative opportunity for white-owned mining companies that employed—and exploited—black workers. Those companies all but enslaved black miners while enjoying massive wealth from the diamonds and gold they mined. Like Dutch slave holders, they relied on intimidation and discrimination to rule over their black workers.

The mining companies borrowed a tactic that earlier slaveholders and British settlers had used to control black workers: pass laws. As early as the 18th century, these laws had required members of the black majority, and other people of color, to carry identification papers at all times and restricted their movement in certain areas. They were also used to control black settlement, forcing black people to reside in places where their labor would benefit white settlers.

A woman shows the “interior passport” that she must have to enter Cape Town during work hours, circa 1984. The rest of the time, people of color were not allowed in the cities.

Those laws persisted through the 20th century as South Africa became a self-governing dominion of the United Kingdom. Between 1899 and 1902, Britain …read more

The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa - HISTORY

In the late 1800s, at the behest of mine-owners eager to maximize profits by minimizing labour costs, the government imposed special taxes and other measures to drive young Black men off their farms and into mine work. Migrant youths seeking mine-work in Witwatersrand, ca 1900.

Mine officials inspect the soles of Black miners’ feet for cuts in the soles to prevent them from smuggling diamonds out to supplement their wages—a tenth of white wages.

Dispossessed family, HexRiver, ca. 1900-1922.

Newly-arrived migrants seeking mine work in Johannesburg, “City of Gold”, in 1946.

The Land Act of 1913 prohibited Blacks (67% of the population) from owning or renting land or homes anywhere except in the designated Black “reserves”, about 7% of the national territory.

Companies obliged Black miners to live in mine-compounds. The harsh living conditions and heavy labour killed 1 in 10 Black mine-workers annually.

The passbook: a passport to un-freedom: In 1948, the National Party swept into power, promising to ensure white domination and resist pressure to allow Black people to vote. It passed draconian laws to implement apartheid: separation of the races. The tool for enforcing apartheid was the passbook. It recorded one’s racial classification, and stipulated the employer for whom one was permitted to work, where one could live and whether one had been granted an exception to curfew restrictions. Black people were legally required to produce their passbook on demand by any white person, even a child. Ending the pass system was a constant demand of the anti-apartheid movement.

Forced relocation – the “removals”: In 1955 the government began forcibly relocating everyone in the mixed-race neighbourhood of Sophiatown, considered too close to Johannesburg’s all-white suburbs. Sophiatown had been the vibrant centre of Black politics, jazz and blues. Many Black residents had owned homes there since the late 1800s. Over the course of eight years, 54000 Blacks, 8000 “Coloureds”, 3000 Indians and 686 Chinese were forcibly relocated to single-race neighbourhoods. Sophiatown was razed, and a whites-only neighbourhood called Triomf (“Triumph” in Afrikaans) was constructed on its rubble.

Rural poverty and lack of other opportunities forced many Black South African women to seek work as domestic servants in the cities. However, to work or live in a city without special authorization to do so noted in one’s passbook violated the pass laws. In the photo above, a domestic worker is being arrested for an alleged pass violation.

Burning passbooks was a concrete way to defy apartheid and the various forms of dispossession it represented. This photo, taken by “struggle” photographer Eli Weinberg, was taken in 1952.

The Freedom Charter. Arguably the most important document of the anti-apartheid movement, the Freedom Charter was drafted in 1955 at a mass meeting in Kliptown, Johannesburg. It articulated key demands: labour rights, human rights, land reform and extension of full citizenship rights to Blacks. The police broke up the meeting on the second day, and charged 156 key activists with High Treason. In the photo above “Freedom Volunteers” demonstrate in Kliptown. The demands articulated on their placards would remain constant ones throughout the apartheid years: an end to the pass laws and all other laws restricting where Black people could live, work and be equal pay an end to “removals” (i.e. forced relocations) and educational equality.

In 1956, 156 anti-apartheid activists were charged with high treason for advocating the Freedom Charter. They were acquitted after a four-year trial. Many of the “Trialists” would continue to play key roles in the anti-apartheid struggle and the various forms of dispossession it imposed. Some paid a high price for their commitment. African National Congress (ANC) leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and many others would spend decades in prison. Ruth First was jailed, forced into exile and eventually assassinated by parcel-bomb in 1982. The number of “Trialists” was so large that had they assembled for a group photo, it would have constituted an illegal gathering. So photographer Eli Weinberg photographed them separately, and created this composite photo.

Repression triggers increased militancy - The Sharpeville massacre (March 21, 1960)- Police open fire on a large anti-pass demonstration. Some protesters, believing police are only firing blanks, smile as they flee.

The bodies of some of the 69 victims. The massacre shocked the resistance movement. Demonstrations erupted across the country. Shortly thereafter the government banned both the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which had organized the demonstration, and the African National Congress (ANC), the country's largest Black national political organization. It also declared a state of emergency. In December 1961, the ANC, convinced that peaceful protest alone would not end apartheid, authorized the formation of an armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), MK, which would embark on a campaign of sabotage of state institutions.

The Soweto uprising (June 16, 1976) - 20,000 Black high-school students of Soweto, a large Black township near Johannesburg, peacefully protest the imposition of Afrikaans as the instruction language for half their subjects. Minutes later, police began shooting.

High-schooler Mbuyisa Makhubo (18) carries the dying Hector Pieterson (12), with Hector’s sister Antoinette alongside. Students and their families, outraged by the shootings, riot for 10 days in Soweto. Official death toll: 174 Blacks, 2 Whites Wounded: 1,222 Blacks and 6 Whites. Arrests: 1,298 many detainees spent months in jail and were tortured. Photographer Sam Nzima was hounded from city to city for years by police and forced to abandon a promising photography career.

In the 70s, to deflect criticism of its refusal to allow Blacks the vote and other citizenship rights, the government established 10 “Bantustans” on 13 percent of South African territory—one for each major Black language group—and declared them “nations.” All Black South Africans were made citizens of one of these “homeland” countries, regardless of where they had been born or now lived or worked. In all, 3.5 million Black people were forcibly relocated — according to the UN, the largest forced movement of people in peacetime history.

A woman protesting in Johannesburg on International Women’s Day, 1984.

A farmworker evicted from a farm in the area stands outside tents given to the evicted in compensation for their homes, near Weenan, KwaZuluNatal, November 1988.

People in KwaNdebele (one of the "reserves") in the bus line-up at 2:45 a.m. in Mathysloop. Many were embarking on the first leg of a daily hours-long journey in order to arrive at work by 7 am in Pretoria, where they were not allowed to live during the apartheid era.

Families forcibly removed under apartheid segregation laws from "Black spots"— areas inhabited by Black people that were deemed too close to areas inhabited by whites—eke out a living in tin shacks far from their homes. August 1982.

Residents of Cornfields, KwaZuluNatal, protest against the proposed removal from their ancestral land. November 1988.

Ezakehni, a "resettlement" village in the KwaZulu "homeland", Natal.

Late on the winter night of 27 June 1985, security forces set up a roadblock to intercept a car near the city of Port Elizabeth. Two of the four anti-apartheid activists in the car had been secretly targeted for assassination. Matthew Goniwe, a popular teacher and gifted political organizer in Cradock, and FortCalata, another teacher, were on the hit list. Sparrow Mkonto, a railway union activist, and Sicelo Mhlauli, a visiting headmaster and Goniwe’s childhood friend, were also in the car. The police abducted all four and murdered them their stabbed, mutilated and burnt bodies were found shortly after. Thousands attended their mass funeral July 20 in Cradock (above). The crowds were electrified when, for the first time in decades, huge banners of the ANC and the South African Communist Party—both banned organizations—were unfurled. President PW Botha declared a State of Emergency. In the 1980s, given that almost all other mass gatherings were illegal, the funerals of murdered activists became occasions for anti-apartheid activists to express their determination to end apartheid and the various forms of dispossession that it enabled.

July 1985: A Duduza township resident lies dead while members of a special police squad break for a smoke after an all-night “clean-up.” Photographer Themba Nkosi took the photo undetected through a window across the street. Duduza was one of the townships most active in the anti-apartheid struggle, with militant consumer, bus, rent and school boycotts between 1983 and 1987. A state of emergency was imposed in July 1985 and the army sent in. The death squads usually wore balaclavas (woolen hooded face covers) to make it impossible for witnesses to later identify the killers. In this photo, the man with his back to the camera still has his balaclava down. Police killed hundreds in this period.

July 1985: A lone woman protests as soldiers occupy Soweto. Women were key organizers of opposition to the army’s occupation of the townships. For example, in a township near Durban, women nightly patrolled the streets to protect families from security forces and vigilante harassment. Leaders like Albertina Sisulu, Frances Baard and Dorothy Nyembe organized effective resistance against the occupation, despite the risks and the restrictions imposed on them.

Mrs Mazibuko holds up the bloodstained shirt of her son Flint, fatally shot in the back by the apartheid regime’s police as he ran away from them in Tembisa township, Transvaal, in June 1985. According to government statistics, 381 people were killed in “unrest” incidents between September 1984 and April 1985, three-quarters of them as a direct result of police action.

Fifteen-year-old Lawrence Matjee, with casts on both arms, following his detention and brutal beating by Security Police. The photo was taken at Khotso House, the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches, October 25, 1985.

1987. A mother mourns the death of her two sons, killed by an Inkatha gang in Mphophomeni, a “resettlement” area near Pietermartizburg, Natal. Inkatha was a conservative Zulu nationalist party encouraged (and armed) by the apartheid regime to undermine the ANC.

Although Nelson Mandela’s release February 2 1990 was momentous, the transition to democracy was extraordinarily fitful - Arrested demonstrators are driven away from the Supreme Court, Johannesburg, July 22, 1992.

September 13, 1990. PholaPark. Bodies of ANC victims of political violence between ANC and Inkatha lie where they were slain in night fighting.

June 18, 1992. A woman grieves over the body of her brother, slain by Inkatha in the night massacre of Boipatong, which triggered the ANC’s indefinite withdrawal from peace negotiations.

August 23, 1990. ANC supporters protest police collaboration with Inkatha violence, Kagiso, East Rand.

Millions of South Africans protest the April 1993 assassination of Chris Hani, the extremely popular leader of the South African Communist Party, by right-wing extremists.

In January 1994, the government restored and extended citizenship and political rights to all South Africans, setting the framework for the first democratic elections, scheduled for April. - February 11, 1994. Famed political prisoner Nelson Mandela revisits his cell in RobbenIsland prison, where he was incarcerated for over two decades, on the fourth anniversary of his release from jail.

April 27, 1994. Kwazulu, Natal. Black South Africans queue to cast the first vote of their lives in the country's first non-racial, democratic elections.

Apartheid Torturer Testifies, As Evil Shows Its Banal Face

Jeffrey Benzien was one of the many minor but effective functionaries who made apartheid work for South Africa's white Government.

Every day, the paunchy, graying police officer left his home in this city's tidy suburbs and went to a police barracks where he extracted confessions with torture.

Mr. Benzien was particularly adept at the use of the ''wet bag,'' in which a cloth placed over victims' heads took them to the brink of asphyxiation, over and over again. Few withstood more than half an hour.

Questioned at a hearing of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission by one of his victims, Peter Jacobs, Mr. Benzien said he simply could not recall exactly what he had done to whom.

''If I say to Mr. Jacobs I put the electrodes on his nose I may be wrong,'' he testified. ''If I say I attached them to his genitals, I may be wrong. If I say I put a probe in his rectum, I may be wrong. I could have used any one of those methods.''

As the commission continues its work, the brutality of South Africa's past is being itemized, not in the grand sweep of a history book, but in the individual stories of victims and torturers, of murderers and mothers of the murdered, of high commanders who made their decisions over tea trays and foot soldiers who made theirs beside fresh bloodstains.

Mr. Benzien's story has gripped the country partly because of photographs of him demonstrating his technique during hearings, and partly because until he testified he was a nobody.

He did not have the nickname ''Prime Evil'' like Eugene de Kock, who commanded a whole unit of killers but has never been photographed doing anything more active than wringing his hands. The press did not call him a superspy, as it does Craig Williamson, who mailed bombs in letters and earphones to anti-apartheid activists.

Mr. Benzien, now 50, was just a middle-level officer whose only distinction may be that he came forward to talk about his job as a torturer. He is the only member of his unit to have done so. Whether the others will ever be tracked down and prosecuted remains an open question, as South Africa's justice system is already struggling just to deal with today's crime wave.

He has cried and confessed that he has no explanation for what he did -- that he wonders what kind of a person can do such things. His psychiatrist, Ria Kotze, who was called to testify on his behalf, has described a man who saw himself as a good policeman, who at the end of the day went home to his family and never discussed what he did at work. Nowadays, she said, he is full of self-loathing and suffers acutely. His memory has become patchy. He takes antidepressants.

During four days before the commission, his victims took turns attacking the veracity of his amnesty application, which contained only the barest of details. In writing, Mr. Benzien admitted only to use of the wet-bag treatment on six victims and said he had worked alone, to make it easier to deny the torture in court later, if he is not granted amnesty.

But pressed, at times relentlessly, he admitted that he had used electric shocks as well. One victim said Mr. Benzien had shoved a broomstick up his rectum. There were beatings, too, and some people were hung for hours by handcuffs attached to the window bars in their cells.

Yet if much of South Africa has focused on Mr. Benzien as the ultimate torturer, his victims say he was only one of many officers who went home to their wives and children after making prisoners howl and writhe and beg for their lives. They say he gained prominence only because some of his victims are now prominent -- one of them, Tony Yengeni, a Member of Parliament.

Only One of Many Just Following Orders

Indeed, at his hearing it became clear that while Mr. Benzien's victims screamed, other officers helped to hold them down or moved in and out of the room indifferent to what was happening. Mr. Benzien's story, they say, offers nothing more than a glimpse into the day-to-day workings of the elite security police -- who routinely used torture and routinely denied doing so.

Through his lawyer, Mr. Benzien declined to be interviewed. But much of his life and even his feelings were laid bare by the proceedings. He remains in the police force, albeit relegated to an obscure job at the Cape Town International Airport.

Mr. Jacobs, now a police officer himself, says many officers shun Mr. Benzien. At a recent police conference, Mr. Jacobs said, he found that during a cigarette break outside a building, he alone was willing to talk to Mr. Benzien.

''It was strange,'' Mr. Jacobs said. 'ɾveryone just disappeared.''

The two men talked about their current assignments, and Mr. Jacobs noted that Mr. Benzien now referred to him as Superintendent, an acknowledgment of Mr. Jacobs's higher rank.

Mr. Benzien joined the force in 1977 and barely a year later was transferred to the detective branch. He soon went on to a murder-and-robbery squad, one of the units notorious for torturing ordinary criminals. In 1986, he was plucked to join the far more prestigious security branch, which investigated political activists and which, under the watchful eye of international human rights groups, tortured more carefully.

''They didn't take him because he was a brute,'' Mr. Jacobs said. ''They took him for his suaveness.''

To grant him amnesty, the panel must rule that his acts had a political motive and that he has confessed everything. Mr. Benzien says he was an enthusiastic supporter of the National Party, which ran the Government, and was following explicit or implicit orders. His commanding officer also testified, acknowledging that he had known about Mr. Benzien's torture sessions and had once helped pin a prisoner down.

His job with the security branch, Mr. Benzien told the commission, was to trace a person, arrest him and get him to reveal weapons caches before they could be moved.

In describing his work, Mr. Benzien seemed at times to take pride in his accomplishments. ''I believe that due to my expeditious and unorthodox conduct,'' he said at one point, ''we made a big difference in combating terror.''

But at other times, he expressed bitterness about the role he had played in the apartheid machinery of the white Government, which ruled until Nelson Mandela was elected President in 1994 in the country's first nonracial election.

''I can sit here and tell you in all honesty that I was used by the then security branch,'' he said. ''When it came down to getting the job done, I was the person who did it. Maybe I was too patriotic, too naive or anything else that you want to call it.''

Early in the hearings he appealed for sympathy, saying he, too, had paid a price for apartheid.

''My house windows had to be barricaded with cupboards,'' he said. 'ɾvery night a wet blanket had to be put in the bath, available where my younger children could get hold of that in the case of grenade attacks. You are surely aware that I was transferred as the station commander at Stanford because not only were my nerves shot, my wife threatened divorce if I did not get out of Cape Town.''

''That was after the African Youth League threatened to have demonstrations on my front lawn,'' he added. Then, in a reference to Mr. Mandela's African National Congress party, he said, ''I did terrible things, I did terrible things to members of the A.N.C., but as God is my witness, believe me, I have also suffered.''

His victims did not seem moved. It was Mr. Yengeni, the legislator, who insisted that Mr. Benzien demonstrate, for panel members and photographers, how the wet-bag method had worked. After all these years, Mr. Yengeni said, he wanted to see exactly what had been done to him.

Angst-Ridden Words, Unmoved Victims

Mr. Yengeni also wanted to know what kind of man could listen to the moans and cries and take people so near to death so many times.

The policeman was in tears when he answered.

''Mr. Yengeni,'' he said, ''not only you have asked me that question. I, I, Jeff Benzien, have asked myself that question to such an extent that I voluntarily, and it is not easy for me to say this in a full court with a lot of people who do not know me, approached psychiatrists to have myself evaluated, to find out what type of person am I.''

But the pathetic officer before the commission presented a sharp contrast to the images the victims evoked as they hammered at him.

''When I was arrested,'' one victim asked, 'ɽo you remember saying to me that you were able to treat me like an animal or a human being?''

''I concede I may have said it, '' Mr. Benzien said.

'ɽo you remember when you used the wet bag I was undressed and my pants were pulled to my ankles?''

''I cannot remember specifically, but I can concede, yes.''

'ɽo you remember saying that you are going to break my nose and then putting both your thumbs into my nostrils and pulling it until the blood came out of my nose?''

''I know you had a nosebleed. I thought it was the result of a smack I gave you.''

Mr. Benzien said he had never been trained in torture, although officers had talked about which methods worked best. And he insisted that Mr. Jacobs had been his first victim.

Mr. Jacobs found this hard to believe.

''You appeared very effective, yet you had no experience,'' he said. ''How come? Are you a natural talent?''

''I wouldn't know,'' Mr. Benzien answered wearily. ''It's not a very nice talent to have.''

Mr. Benzien's psychiatrist, Ms. Kotze, said she had first met him in 1994 through his wife, whom she was treating for depression. Mr. Benzien was refusing to discuss his work with his wife but was clearly agitated and ''verbally aggressive'' toward her.

Earlier this year he had a breakdown whose symptoms included hearing voices. He started seeing Ms. Kotze on his own then. She reported that he found it hard to describe what he had done and sometimes had to stop in the middle of sessions. He has nightmares, she said, and forgets details of events.

A Psychiatrist Describes The Ravages of Guilt

He is not without a sense of moral outrage. He seemed hurt as he vigorously denied a victim's claim that he brought his wet bag when he visited one of his prisoners in the hospital.

In explaining his decision to come forward, he said he was still trying to serve his country and wanted to ''see if we can't build and forget about hardships.''

He also apologized repeatedly. to his victims.

The commission's decision on him could take months. Some of his victims are opposing amnesty, saying he did not implicate everyone who had helped him and did not volunteer all he knew.

And the reaction of Mr. Jacobs, who is now at once his victim, his interrogator and his superior?

Mr. Jacobs says he is ambivalent about the man and in a strange way feels sorry for him.

''He came out and we exposed him,'' Mr. Jacobs said. ''What's it really going to serve now, not to give him amnesty? What strategic value would be served? I can't see it.''

The End of South Africa

(Juan Nel/Dreamstime)

T hings are very bad in South Africa. When the scourge of apartheid was finally smashed to pieces in 1994, the country seemed to have a bright future ahead of it. Eight years later, in 2002, 60 percent of South Africans said life had been better under apartheid. Hard to believe — but that’s how bad things were in 2002. And now they’re even worse.

When apartheid ended, the life expectancy in South Africa was 64 — the same as in Turkey and Russia. Now it’s 56, the same as in Somalia. There are 132.4 rapes per 100,000 people per year, which is by far the highest in the world: Botswana is in second with 93, Sweden in third with 64 no other country exceeds 32.

Before the end of apartheid, South African writer Ilana Mercer moved, with her family, to Israel her father was a vocal opponent of apartheid, and was being harassed by South African security forces. A 2013 piece on World Net Daily quotes Mercer as saying, with all her anti-apartheid chops, that “more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades.” The South African government estimates that there are 31 murders per 100,000 people per year. Or about 50 a day. That would make South Africa the tenth most murderous country in the world, outpacing Rwanda, Mexico, and both Sudans. And that’s using South Africa’s official estimates — outside groups put the murder rate 100 percent higher. Choosing not to trust the South African authorities is a safe bet — South Africa’s government, which has been led by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress since the end of apartheid, is outstandingly incompetent and corrupt.

Of course, de facto one-party rule doesn’t promote integrity. Unemployment is 25 percent, but President Jacob Zuma, of the ANC, recently spent $24 million of public money to add a pool and amphitheater to his private home. Not long after the story broke, he was elected to a second five-year term. Think-tank theorist Leon Louw, who helped defeat apartheid, calls the crime and corruption “a simple manifestation of the breakdown of the state. The government is just appallingly bad at everything it does: education, healthcare, infrastructure, security, everything that is a government function is in shambles.”

He adds — citing “anecdotal data” — that “most people don’t bother to report crimes.”

It appears that South Africa is about the most dangerous place you can be outside a war zone. What’s more worrying is the chance that it might become a war zone. Nelson Mandela was able to hold the “rainbow nation” together, but he’s passed on. Now, according to the human-rights organization Genocide Watch, South Africa is at pre-genocide stage 6 of 8: “Preparation.”

With the country skidding toward anarchy, naturally, the people want to know whom they should blame. In 2010, a prominent member of the African National Congress named Julius Malema revived an old anti-apartheid song whose lyrics — says Genocide Watch — call for genocide: “Shoot the Boer, shoot, shoot.” “Boer” means “farmer” in Afrikaans colloquially, it means “white South African.” Malema was ejected from the ANC and convicted of hate speech he has since formed a new opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is currently the third largest party in parliament. Seven months after Malema’s conviction, President Zuma sang the genocide song himself, leading a crowd in a musical chant: “We are going to shoot them with machine guns, they are going to run . . . The cabinet will shoot them, with the machine gun . . . Shoot the Boer, we are going to hit them, they are going to run.” Watch the video on YouTube — it is surreal. Nelson Mandela’s successor, the president of South Africa, addresses a crowd of — according to the Guardian — tens of thousands, in a giant stadium, and calls for the murder of what amounts to about 10 percent of his constituents. Among the audience, uniformed members of the military dance.

According to Genocide Watch, the murder rate among South African white farmers is four times higher than among South Africans en masse. That rate increased every month after President Zuma sang his song, for as long as accurate records are available: The police have been ordered to stop reporting murders by race. The police have also disarmed and disbanded groups of farmer-minutemen, organized to provide mutual security. Consequently, says Genocide Watch, “their families” have been “subjected to murder, rape, mutilation and torture.” Meanwhile, “high-ranking ANC government officials . . . continuously refer to Whites as ‘settlers.’”

Charlize Theron Reflects On Growing Up In South Africa During The Apartheid Era

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today's first guest, Charlize Theron, stars in the new Netflix movie "The Old Guard," playing an immortal superhero soldier. It premiered last Friday. Charlize Theron has portrayed tough warriors before in such films as "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Aeon Flux," but her resume goes much deeper. In the film "Bombshell," she played one of several women fighting against sexual harassment at Fox news. She both starred in and produced the movie "Monster," playing real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and won a Best Actress Oscar for it.

Charlize Theron grew up on a farm in South Africa during the apartheid era. Less than 10 years after her first on-screen role, she won an Academy Award. Terry Gross spoke with Charlize Theron last year when "Bombshell" was released and asked the actress about her own experiences with sexual harassment in Hollywood.


TERRY GROSS: You've talked about in other interviews how your first audition ended up being with a sexual harasser. It was, like - you were told by, I think, like, a modeling agency who knew that you wanted to act, they suggested you go on this audition. It was a Saturday evening that you were supposed to meet the producer or director.

CHARLIZE THERON: Yeah. Director, yeah.

GROSS: . At his home. He opened the door, and he was wearing pajamas and had been drinking.

GROSS: So this was before today's level of public awareness. This was before the #MeToo movement. It was before you had any reason to expect that it would be not the harasser who faced consequences, but you if you went public about it.

GROSS: So can you describe what it was like to have to react on the spot when you saw the position he was in - in his pajamas - and then instead of having you, like, read for your audition, he touched your knee? How do you know what to do in that moment?

THERON: You don't. You don't. And I think for people who have not experienced sexual harassment, it's a very difficult thing to wrap their head around. A woman yesterday - we were doing a press junket - and a female journalist said to me, but don't you always have the option of just saying no and leaving the room?

And I think that is a mentality that a lot of people still have about sexual harassment, that somehow when you find yourself in that position, that very unfortunate position, that you are going to do everything right. You're going to say everything right. You're going to be the hero in that scene. And you're going to tell this guy exactly what a creep he is. And you're going to march off into the sunset. And that is just not the truth about a lot of these situations.

And I've personally found myself - this happened in '94 - I personally found myself in a situation where I wasn't even fully convinced that it was sexual harassment. And I don't think I really knew that until way later in my career. But what I did know was that I put a lot of blame on myself in the sense that I was angry with myself that I didn't say all the right things and that I didn't tell him to, you know, take a hike, and that I didn't do all of those things that we so want to believe we'll do in those situations. Instead, I very politely apologized. And then I was in my car driving away. And I just kept hitting the steering wheel.

And I was really emotional about it because I couldn't understand where this behavior came from. I was raised with an incredibly strong mother figure - my mother, who, you know, I grew up watching her work in a business where women weren't allowed to work. She worked in road construction at a time when no women worked in road construction. And my whole life, all I saw was men coming into her office and having meetings with her. And so my impression of the world was that that was just what you did.

And so nothing in my past made me feel like, well, then, of course this is why I would apologize and why I would kind of react in this meek way with this guy and not say anything. I didn't know where that came from. And it took me a really long time to realize that that was a cultural influence, that it wasn't necessarily from how I was raised. But it was almost like instilled in me that that's just kind of what you did. You didn't rock the boat. This was somebody who was going to maybe give you a job.

I was just starting out in the industry. I didn't really know the ins and outs. I literally was telling myself as I was driving there on a Saturday night at 9:00, well, maybe that's how they do it in the movie industry. I don't know. I've never done this.

GROSS: He's a busy man. Maybe his time is - right. That's the only time he has. So when you apologized to him, what did you say? Do you remember?

THERON: I don't even think it was like a specific apology. But I remember saying I'm sorry when I was trying to leave and that I made it - like, the apology about I'm sorry that I have to leave because I was trying to remove myself from the room. And that, in itself, is just so unbelievably F'd (ph) up. I - you know, that is a mentality that we have to really change within our culture, within our girls. And yeah. I mean, I had a very interesting experience with this man eight years later, where he actually offered me a job. And he is a very well-known director.

And eight years later, I was - found myself in a place in my career where I was actually getting offers. And he offered me a job. And I knew I wasn't going to take the job. But I took the meeting because I felt like I finally had my opportunity. I wanted to have that moment that I didn't get to have with him. And his producer was in the meeting as well. And he introduced me to him. And he said, oh, I want you to meet - I said, no, actually, we know each other. He said, oh, I didn't know that. I said, yeah, no, I came to your house about eight years ago. And you wore silk pajamas and offered me a drink and rubbed my knee.

And I could tell that his producer felt incredibly uncomfortable. And he was kind of taken back - taken aback and just said - he kind of like moved on from the conversation like he just didn't want to address it, which to me became very clear in that moment that it wasn't his first time, that he had been doing this. And maybe, you know, I think maybe other women had called him out. And so his way of handling it was to just kind of like talk over it about the project.

And it was unfortunately not the moment that I so wanted. There was absolutely no reward in that moment for me. I've heard this repeatedly in hearing other women's stories. And that is the unfortunate thing about sexual harassment. You never get that moment where you feel like the tables are reversed and now he's finally getting it.

And the closest we've ever gotten to it is seeing people like Roger Ailes or Harvey Weinstein seeing some real consequences. I've never seen that in my entire career. This is really the first moment in my life where I see that maybe there can be real consequences for people with these actions.

GROSS: You are obviously still not divulging the name of the director, which I understand. But tell us, in your words, why you're not disclosing who it was.

THERON: So I actually did disclose his name.

GROSS: Oh. I didn't know that.

THERON: Yeah. You don't know that because every time I disclosed his name, the journalist made the decision to not write his name.

THERON: And it goes to show just how deeply systemic this problem is. I remember the first time somebody asked me about, like, if I ever had a casting couch experience, and I openly shared the experience and named him. And the person decided to not write his name. So the story is out, and when - strangely, when the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I, for the first time ever, Googled this story. And the story came up everywhere. It popped up everywhere, and nowhere could you find this guy's name.

And it was incredibly upsetting to me. And I'm conflicted in the sense that - I know that if I said his name again while I'm promoting this film that it would take over the importance of this story, and that would become the story. And I think there will be a time and a place where I will definitely share this. Again, the way I have always been honest about it - I have - I don't have a desire to protect him, but I also don't want him to overshadow this film right now. And so there will be a right time where I will talk about this again, and I will say his name. Yes.

GROSS: Understood. Was that incident that you mentioned with a director the only time you faced sexual harassment in the movie industry, to the extent that you're comfortable talking about this?

THERON: Yes. I mean, I - what I love about this story of what happened at Fox - and also, I think now that we're hearing so, so many other stories through the Harvey Weinstein of it all - and I think the nuance of sexual harassment in this wide spectrum - that it lives in this gray area, that it's not black and white it's not always physical assault it's not always rape - that there's a psychological damage that happens for women in the everyday casualness of language, touch or threat of losing your job. Those things I've definitely encountered, but nothing physical. That first one was physical, but I've never experienced anything like that. But I have definitely found myself in meetings laughing really loud at some guy's joke to make him feel good and maybe having a feeling of, I might actually lose my job if I don't do what is kind of being dictated here.

And it is important for us to, if we're going to rectify this issue - to really understand that we have to look at all of the nuance of it - that sometimes, victims go back to the perpetrator that there can be an email exchange that is really friendly that we have to understand why victims behave this way or - because I think the outside opinion is if you do that, then obviously, there is no sexual harassment. And it's in the complications. This is complicated, messy stuff. We have to be able to get into the nuance of it until - if we're really going to get to the crux of the problem.

BIANCULLI: Charlize Theron speaking to Terry Gross last year. At the time, she was starring as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in the movie "Bombshell" about sexual harassment at that news network. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2019 interview with Charlize Theron. She stars as an immortal superhero in the new Netflix movie "The Old Guard," which premiered last week.


GROSS: You sound to me like you do not have an accent. You sound like you were born in America. You grew up in South Africa on a farm. Describe the farm for us.

THERON: Well, it's what we call in South Africa a smallholding. And so it was around, I think, 25, 30 acres. My parents bought the land because they had a road construction company, and they needed the land for all the machinery, all the graders and rollers. So we lived off the land, but we - it wasn't an agricultural farm, but we survived off that farm. I mean, I - my mom, once a year, would slaughter a cow, and we would fill four freezers with that meat. And that was what we lived off. And all of our vegetables and fruit came from what we grew on the land. And so I had that kind of earthy experience while my parents ran this business, this road construction business.

GROSS: So you grew up during the apartheid era.

GROSS: Were you exposed to Black people during that era? I mean, it was apartheid. I don't know if you even came in contact with people who weren't white.

THERON: So on our farm, all of the workers, everybody who worked in the company - and it was a pretty substantial company - all lived on the farm. So my whole childhood, I was raised with Xhosas and Zulus and South Sothos and all different cultures. Their children were raised with me on the property, and I considered them my family. I didn't really - you know, there was some isolation in the sense that we weren't really around in a lot of the big cities - that I really understood fully what was going on as a child, as a young child. The information that I really got about what was happening came from my parents. This was conversation that was always kind of whispered around. When you went to the neighbor's house, people were always talking about politics, about elections, about all of these issues. So I had that awareness.

But I, you know, I lived in an environment where that wasn't how my family treated any of those people. I got - you know, I slept with a lot of those families. They babysat for my mom. If they went out somewhere, I would stay with them. And so it was only until I was 12 that I - or 13 that I went to an art school in Johannesburg where I really got to witness firsthand absolutely the atrocities of apartheid.

GROSS: What were you taught about race in school?

THERON: History was leaning very much into our white history. The heroes of our story of our founding fathers were all white. And even though very much - like, I find in our culture, this climate that we're in right now with our polarizing political views in this country, it was very similar in South Africa. I had friends who had family whose father would be for apartheid. And once they found out that, you know, Black people lived on our farm, wouldn't let me come over for a sleepover. And so there was the distinction in that not everybody was living this way, but that it was very much thought of as - people felt very strongly about it. And then other people didn't feel and thought that there was a reason to fight this.

You know, I always wonder what my life would have been like if I grew up in one of those families. If I was just an innocent child who was born into the family - like one of my friends, who believed that apartheid was the right way of life. I was just incredibly blessed that I was raised by, you know, especially my mother, who I was really kind of raised by a single parent. My father wasn't around that much, but by a mother who was just aghast by all of this.

I didn't really, truly understood, I think, what any of this really did to me as a young child until I was in my mid-30s and I went to therapy for the first time because of a relationship that was failing. And what I discovered while in therapy trying to save my relationship was that I had a lot of trauma from being a young child growing up in South Africa during the apartheid era.

GROSS: And can you tell us more about the trauma for you and what you figured out later about how you, as a white person, as an empowered person, were traumatized by apartheid?

THERON: It's a lot to reconcile with when you realize that you benefited under a administration, a nation, a country because you had the right skin color. I benefited. My life was more comfortable because of the suffering of a lot of people who just, by chance, were born in the wrong skin color. And that is a lot - that was a lot for me to carry. It still is. It is - I think it's something that I'll carry for the rest of my life.

GROSS: So this is another South Africa question. During the last years of apartheid, there was a cultural boycott. A lot of performers weren't going there. There were a lot of, like, recordings and books that weren't available, either because of the boycott against apartheid or because the government didn't allow it in - because they were afraid that, as all, you know, authoritarian governments are afraid that it will open people's minds and that will work against the authoritarian government.

GROSS: What were some of the things you did not have access to, either because of the boycott or because of the government?

THERON: I had never seen a live performance. Like, I'd never gone to see a rock concert or a musician play live until I was living in Europe. I was 16 when I went to my first concert. So, yeah, nobody really came to perform in South Africa when I was in my teenage years. I remember vividly a teacher sneaking us in into a room and showing us 20 minutes of Stanley Kubrick's - what's the movie? - "2001." And I remember I was 14 years old. And all of us, our minds were just blown. I mean, we had film, but it definitely - we didn't have access to everything.

And I remember that, for some weird reason, that film was something that everybody was talking about. And I have still, to this day, I don't know how this teacher got access to the 20 minutes that he shared with us. But I just remember in that moment - and then, obviously, later when I left and actually watched the full film - that depriving people from simple things like this - feeling inferior that there's somehow this danger that, you know, a film could, like, make you feel - and, by the way, that it could, yes. I do believe great art can change people. But it was just so - it was so sad.

GROSS: How old were you when you left, and why did you decide to leave then?

THERON: I left three weeks after I turned 16. I was - I won this modeling contest. And one of the prizes was a trip to Italy to - with a modeling contract. And my mom was just incredibly encouraging of me going. She felt like it was a great opportunity for not only, you know, the possibility of, you know, finding maybe something that would interest me or a life abroad or being able to, like, travel, even if it was just - I had never been on a plane. I had never seen anywhere.

We'd never traveled before. We drove, you know, to Durban in our car for six hours every holiday. So I think there was this moment that coincided with the political turmoil at the time. This was in '91. And she said, you should really take this opportunity. And that's why I left. I felt really bad.

My father had passed away just a few weeks earlier. And I didn't want to leave her alone. She was going through a lot. And she really kind of, like, pushed me out of the nest. And she said, you have to take this opportunity. She - it was an incredible selfless moment that she gave me as a mother.

BIANCULLI: Charlize Theron speaking with Terry Gross last year. She stars in the new Netflix movie "The Old Guard," playing the leader of a small band of immortal warriors. After a break, we'll continue their conversation. And we'll hear from another formidable movie figure, actor Danny Trejo, the subject of a new documentary called "Inmate #1: The Rise Of Danny Trejo." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's conversation from last year with actress Charlize Theron. She stars in the new Netflix movie "The Old Guard," playing the leader of a group of immortal soldiers. When they left off, they were talking about Theron leaving South Africa at the age of 16, shortly after her father's death.


GROSS: You mentioned your father passed away. This is a part of the story that I know you don't - I think you might not want to talk about. So I'll just mention what happened and you can tell me if you'd like to talk about it or if you'd prefer not to. Your father came home drunk one night and shot at you and your mother. She got her gun and shot and killed him. And that's how he died. I don't know if you're comfortable talking about that or not.

THERON: No - yeah. Yeah, listen. I am. I think a lot of my - just any reluctancy that anybody has ever heard is just that this is usually the headline that people walk away from. And I think what's frustrating is that the trauma around having an experience like that, of course, is quite surreal. And - but it's more the fact that, you know, my father was a very sick man. My father was an alcoholic all my life. I only knew him one way and that was as an alcoholic. And South Africa at that time was not necessarily a place where there was any - you didn't have access to any kind of support group where you could even acknowledge that this was a problem or go and find help. Our culture at the time was very much thought of like, well, this is what men do. Men drink. And the day-to-day unpredictability of living with an addict is what is, I think, the thing that you sit with and have kind of embedded in your body for the rest of your life more than just this one event of, you know, what happened one night.

My father was so drunk that he shouldn't have been able to walk when he came into the house with a gun. And he shot through - my mom and I were in my bedroom leaning against the door because we thought he was going to try - he was trying to push through the door.

And so both of us were leaning against the door from the inside to have him not be able to push through. And he took a step back and just shot through the door three times. And neither one of those - none of those bullets ever hit us, which is just a miracle. But in self-defense, she ended the threat. And this is a story that I have, you know, shared with a lot of people.

And so I'm not - you know, I'm not ashamed to talk about it because I do think that the more we talk about these things, the more we realize we are not alone in any of it. I think, for me, it's just always been that the story really is about growing up with addicts, like, and what that does to a person.

GROSS: Did you think that you and/or your mother would die?

THERON: That night? Yes. No, I really believed that was it, yes.

GROSS: So what do you do after a shooting like that? Did you call the police?

THERON: I - your body goes into automatic in a strange way. I just remember my mom saying, you have to run to the neighbors. You have to run to the neighbors. And I was in my pajamas. I was barefoot. And I just remember I just ran in complete darkness. And I could hear my breath. I just remember my breath felt so amplified in my ears as my feet were hitting the dirt road as I was trying to get to the neighbor's house. But I think she wanted to get me out of the house. I think she was still - in that moment, she was just - she was doing - she was being a mother. And she was trying to get me out of the house. And, you know, I felt like I left her in the threat, that she was still in danger.

But the neighbors kept me at their house. And our neighbor and his son ran over, and they were with her. And I only came over - she came to get me about an hour later. And up until that point, I didn't know that he was dead. I had no idea that he was dead. And so it wasn't, you know, I think that was - you just kind of like find yourself in this continuous motion of shock.

GROSS: How do you mourn your father when your father tried to kill you and your mother? I mean, what is that mourning process like? Did you feel any grief?

THERON: You know, for me, it was a long one. My mom was incredibly strong because I - that's just kind of the - she just has a quality about her where she is - I feel like she knew that she had to be that for both of us. But she didn't deny me the room to mourn. And I remember one night we were staying with my aunt, and I was in the bath and she was just sitting with me on the side of the bath. And I started getting really emotional, but I didn't want to show her because I didn't want her to feel bad. And I just remember her saying to me, it's OK. It's OK.

And so, you know, I think we did what we had to do, and she allowed me to kind of grieve in a different way than she was grieving. And she - you know, I think for her, she was stuck in the consequences of that night for another three years of her life because there - you know, there was a lot of unfortunate things that happened after that that she was still in the middle of.

GROSS: And I should mention, she was acquitted self - on self-defense, so.

GROSS: I'm thinking about how strong your mother was that she - you know, because you just told her - she encouraged you to leave after you won the modeling competition and to go to Italy and to be abroad and maybe stay abroad. And considering what she was going through after that, that just seems like so strong of her and so protective of you and showing such love for you.

THERON: It's incredible. You know, now that I have my own two daughters and I - just even trying to wrap my head around that idea of what she did, with my own kids, it's tremendous what my mother did and the gift that she gave me. I've said this a million times - I would not be here today if it wasn't for her selfless decision to really push me out of that nest and say, go, you have to take advantage of this.

GROSS: Well, she prevented you from being the daughter of the woman who shot her father.

THERON: Yeah. I mean, she is very much.

GROSS: Because no one would know when you went to Italy. No one needed to know about that.

THERON: Nobody knew. Nobody knew for a really - I mean, nobody knew until somebody found the story. I, for years, just never shared the story with anybody.

GROSS: When did your mother move to the U.S.?

THERON: Well, she would always come and visit. But she's been living here full-time for the last 14 years, 15 years.

GROSS: You're very close now?

THERON: Yeah, physically and emotionally (laughter). Yes, I mean, she lives, like, two minutes away from me. And she co-parents with me. She's a huge part of raising my girls. And, you know, it's - she is just a really cool person. If she wasn't my mother, I would still be this close to her. Like, I just think that she is so - like, she is like no one I have ever met in my entire life. She is a broad - she is a lover of life. She appreciates things on a level that is just so lovely to be around. You know, she wakes up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and she hikes for 3 miles with not only her dogs but my dogs and will send me every morning a photo of the sun coming up.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's so great. Yeah.

THERON: And that really sums up who my mom is.

GROSS: Well, Charlize Theron, I have to say, you have really led an eventful life. What a life.

THERON: I've been very fortunate, very fortunate.

GROSS: I want to thank you for sharing some of your life with us. Thank you so much for coming to our show.

THERON: Thank you so much for having me.

BIANCULLI: Charlize Theron speaking with Terry Gross last year. The actress currently is starring in the new Netflix movie "The Old Guard," playing the leader of a group of immortal soldiers. After a break, actor Danny Trejo, who's the subject of a new documentary about his unusual path from prison to Hollywood. This is FRESH AIR.

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The Pact years (1924–33)

Hertzog’s Pact government strengthened South Africa’s autonomy, aided local capital, and protected white workers against Black competition. Hertzog also played a leading role at the Imperial Conference in London that issued the Balfour Report (1926), establishing autonomy in foreign affairs for the dominions. When he returned from Britain, Hertzog turned his attention to creating the symbols of nationalism—flag and anthem. Economic nationalism included protective tariffs for local industry, subsidies to facilitate agricultural exports, and a state-run iron and steel industry. White trade unions grew more bureaucratic and less militant, although their members enjoyed at best modest material gains. Unskilled and nonunionized whites who received support through sheltered employment in the public sector and through prescribed minimum wages in the private sector gained more directly. Although the overall level of white poverty remained high, through these policies the manufacturing sector absorbed white labour nearly twice as fast as Black.

Blacks gained little during this period and continued to lose earlier benefits. For them, segregation meant restricted mobility, diminished opportunities, more-stringent controls, and a general sense of exclusion. Economic conditions in the reserves continued to deteriorate the terms of tenancy became more onerous on white-owned farms and the urban slums provided a harsh alternative for those who left the land.

The first mass-based Black political organization, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), flourished in response to deteriorating conditions. Until 1926 the ICU was a Cape-based organization with Black and some Coloured members drawn mainly from urban areas. As a broadly based vehicle of rural protest, it had many thousands of supporters among Black tenants on white farms. The ICU linked innumerable local rural grievances with a generalized call for land and liberation, but by 1929 its influence had declined. However, other organizations built on its base. The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), founded in 1921, was at first active almost solely within white trade unions, but from 1925 it recruited Black members more energetically, and in 1928–29 it called for Black majority rule and closer cooperation with the ANC. Its connection to the ANC occurred most prominently with Josiah Gumede (president 1927–30), whose political views moved leftward in the late 1920s. This led to a split in the ANC in 1930 as the more moderate members expelled the more radical ones.

The 1929 general election reflected the political challenges to white supremacy. For the first time since union, questions of “native policy” dominated white electoral politics. Afrikaner nationalists made “Black peril” and “communist menace” their rallying cries. It was not to be the last such occasion.

Life in Apartheid-Era South Africa

South Africa&aposs apartheid is a familiar concept the world over. But what did it actually look like?

Established in 1948 under the racialist National Party, apartheid not only meant separate and inferior public services, benches and building entrances for non-whites. It also stripped South African blacks of their citizenship (placing them into tribally-based  bantustans instead) and abolished all non-white political representation.

Nelson Mandela was a key anti-apartheid activist, leading defiance campaigns and working as a lawyer. He was arrested in 1962, and given a life sentence for conspiracy to overthrow the government. His imprisonment did little to quell resistance. After years of violent unrest at home and sanctions abroad, the National Party began apartheid reform in the 1980s.

The system was dismantled in 1990, the same year then-president F. W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Mandela went on to serve as president for one term in 1994.

Moving South Africa past its apartheid culture has not been easy. The country still wrestles with significant racial issues.਋ut it took some of its most important steps forward thanks to Mandela, a feat that many South Africans and foreign dignitaries have gathered to honor today at Johannesburg&aposs National Stadium.

Below, Associated Press photographs that show what life looked like in South Africa during the decades under apartheid:

What Life Was Like In South Africa During Apartheid

It was the early 1960s, and apartheid was the law of the land.

So my indomitable mum did the only thing she could do: She ordered me and my two sisters to urinate right there, very publicly, in front of the fuel pumps.

We did not disobey, but I started crying — and my sisters bawled, too. We lowered our shorts, but I was so traumatized that I simply could not go.

My widowed mother, Ethel Pillay, had driven us from our home in Zimbabwe, which was then called Rhodesia, to visit family in her native South Africa.

There was racism in Rhodesia, too, but it was nothing like the institutionalized code in South Africa that made blacks subhuman — the system that Nelson Mandela later fought to bring down.

We had been on the road for more than 15 hours that day. We were taking the car because the train ride was difficult for a woman with three children and lots of baggage.

The train also was an uncomfortable ride for blacks: Halfway through the trip, in the middle of the night, they would have to get out of the Rhodesian Railways compartments and transfer to decrepit blacks-only South African carriages.

The car trip presented its own challenges. Hotels catered only to whites, so the drive needed to be nonstop. We also had to carry piles of food and drinks because my mother refused to go to the back door of shops only whites were allowed inside the stores.

In those days, of course, we didn't say "blacks" and "whites." Black people were called "Africans," we were "colored" to designate our mixed race, and whites were called "Europeans."

Sometimes those lines got blurred. South Africa had a crazy system of deciding your race, including whether the moons of your fingernails were a bit more mauve than white, indicating a hint of black blood. There also was the test of whether a pencil would stay in your hair, indicating it must be of kinky black stock. If the pencil slid through, you could be considered white.

Under such rules of apartheid, Chinese were classified colored despite their straight hair Japanese were white.

Blacks who wanted to be reclassified as colored also could undergo the pencil test: if it fell out when you shook your head, you could be become colored.

Tens of thousands of people changed their race in this manner. Sometimes it was not voluntary and led to families being forcibly separated — even children from their parents — if one member was deemed not to belong to the same race. It was not unusual, in the colored community, to find siblings ranging in shades from deepest black to fair with blond hair.

I remember the sorrow brought on our family because one of my mother's sisters "played white." When she was in her 90s, my grandmother recounted how her own daughter walked past her in the street, pretending not to know her. But with the pain still stark in her eyes, she told me, "That's what she had to do to make a better life for herself and her children."

Being white meant you got decent health care, your kids could go to school, and you could live where you wanted.

Blacks were corralled into townships, if they could get jobs in the city. If not, their urban shacks often were bulldozed and they were forcibly moved to unproductive "homelands." This was at the heart of the policy of apartheid, or "separateness."

My experience was more the absurd pettiness of apartheid, rather than the brutal, state-sponsored violence used to maintain it.

If you were white, you had access to jobs denied to blacks. The only black professionals were teachers, like my mother nurses and doctors who could only treat blacks and lawyers, the profession chosen by Mandela, who once believed he could end apartheid by reasoning and legal argument.

We moved to England from Rhodesia when I was child because my mother fell in love with a white man, Michael Faul, who had come to Rhodesia when he was 2. His mother strenuously objected to the marriage, and for years, she was estranged from her only son until my mother forced him to reconcile.

I remember our ship docking in Southampton. On the train ride to London, seeing whites doing menial work, I exclaimed to my mother: "But those are Europeans — picking up dustbins!" It was so alien.

On subsequent visits to South Africa as a teenager, I had a British passport. That put me in the peculiar position of being an "honorary white" — meaning I could stay in white hotels and, upon showing my passport, go to restaurants, movie theaters and other places reserved for whites. The exception was South Africa's racially segregated beaches.

To my surprise, I realized that Johannesburg was not made up of dusty, treeless suburbs with poor homes crowded onto small plots overlooked by dumps. White people lived in green neighborhoods with paved roads and sidewalks, in lush homes with gardens, swimming pools and tennis courts.

Black people who worked in those suburbs had to have permission to live in the "boy's quarters" at the bottom of the garden — such approval was stamped into much-hated "passbooks." Or they had to be out of the white suburbs before nightfall.

My mother, now writing her memoirs, recalls racism as something that "children were not taught. . It seemed to be imbibed unconsciously, and automatically became a part of you."

In Cradock, a South African town in the eastern Cape where she was living when apartheid was legalized in 1948, my English-speaking mother struggled with her studies after new laws sought to entrench white superiority through the Afrikaans language. Once, she was "locked into my classroom to do my topic in history, in a foreign language I could neither read nor write."

Opposition to Afrikaans as "the language of the oppressor" led to the 1976 uprising in Soweto, when police opened fire on 15,000 students marching in a peaceful protest. Images of the state violence published around the world proved a momentous turning point, changing how many perceived apartheid.

When that evil system finally was crushed, we all were in awe of Mandela's insistence on reconciliation and not retribution. It is a tribute to him that today, as he ordained, I and others forgive but do not forget.

EDITOR'S NOTE — Michelle Faul is Chief Africa Correspondent for The Associated Press.

Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Is SA Really Worse Now Than Under Apartheid?

"Worse than apartheid": The phrase that pays

Julius Malema recently suggested that the South African public health care system is worse than it was under apartheid. A favourite rhetorical device of the EFF supremo, his is the latest in a long list of similar such comparisons, made almost across the board by prominent individuals. The phrase is almost guaranteed to generate a headline but, in a land where language and sentiment tend to trump reason and evidence, what does one make of that?

First, it is worth noting that the comparison is made remarkably often, primarily by South Africans themselves, and it would seem heartfelt enough. By way of illustration, the 2015 Afrobarometer Survey (2,400 demographically representative respondents), puts it like this:

"In 2015, a majority of South Africans report a lack of improvement on a range of socioeconomic indicators, including personal safety, economic circumstances, employment opportunities, race relations, and inequality between rich and poor (Figure 5). On average, less than four in 10 citizens (37 percent) believe that these conditions are "better" or "much better" than in 1994, while six in 10 (62 percent) say they have either stayed the same or deteriorated."

Those findings are corroborated by a number of other such polls. So, it is difficult to describe the sentiment as controversial. Most people would seem to believe the last 20 years have hardly revolutionised their lives. Whether the feeling is objectively true, is another matter.

Nevertheless, as a comparative, rhetorical mechanism, the phrase remains highly fraught. No doubt the reason is that the system of apartheid was itself inherently illegitimate, repressive and malevolent and cannot be compared to our contemporary dispensation: a constitutional democracy based on a Bill of Human Rights.

Understandably, it is almost impossible for most people to separate the moral profanity that was apartheid from the conditions and circumstances that defined it. It is for this reason that most surveys use far more neutral language in their questioning &mdash typically whether conditions have improved or deteriorated since 1994, not whether life is better than under apartheid.

The Afrobarometer survey findings are more remarkable in that sense because its question was: "Is your life today better, about the same, or worse than it was under apartheid?" No wiggle room there. People are not happy.

The ANC government's performance has deteriorated into a catastrophic and almost universal omnishambles, a great increase in the use of the phrase "worse than apartheid" to drive a wide range of political agendas across the board.

But for public commentators and politicians, this sort of terrain can be treacherous indeed. The world of instant and sensational news means any such comparison is immediately elevated to headline status and the complexities of the argument, specific or qualified, often immediately lost. And social media does its own, not insubstantial bit, to heighten the drama. Evoke the phrase, and risk any specific comparison being automatically subsumed by the intense feeling of immorality the word conjures up. The truth of any observation becomes inseparable from moral judgement.

Nevertheless, it is actually perfectly possible to compare and contrast particular quantifiable indicators over time. Like all scientific comparison, it requires accurate and consistent information but there is no reason, using the right data, why you could not compare say, the quality of education outcomes before and after 1994, the unemployment rate or the size of the economy.

If the conclusion is that specific things are worse, well, it is unfortunate that the historical frame of reference is so morally loaded, but that is science for you. It's purpose the pursuit of truth, not morality. What you do with the data, how you extrapolate the findings and what reasons you ascribe to them, can be a more subjective business but the findings themselves are what they are.

There have now been, over the last decade or so, and as the ANC government's performance has deteriorated into a catastrophic and almost universal omnishambles, a great increase in the use of the phrase "worse than apartheid" to drive a wide range of political agendas across the board.

The accuracy of most of the claims is dubious, they would seem to be made primarily for the sake of rhetorical power and impact or to drive a particular political agenda, one entirely unrelated to any more scientific pursuit. Others are no doubt more accurate, only they are not accompanied by supporting evidence, so it is hard to know definitively. But either way, they are plentiful. Here are some examples.

On the political front, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has said of President Jacob Zuma's attitude towards his executive, "We are not only equal to the apartheid state, we are worse &mdash because they never treated their ministers like this."

Zuma himself has himself evoked the comparison when, in 2006, his various private residencies were raided by state prosecution agencies. "I must tell you, you are doing even what the apartheid state did not do. If they thought there was somebody who had committed a crime, they would investigate until they had a case, then charge the person", Zuma recalled his response at the time, "I said: 'You are worse than them.'"

Former ANC member of Parliament, Makhosi Khoza, who fell out with the party over Zuma, has said of corruption and self-interest among ANC members, "They're not different from the apartheid forces. In fact, they're worse."

EFF leader Julius Malema has often used the comparison. He has described RDP housing under the ANC government as "worse than apartheid houses," likewise the public healthcare system and, in perhaps his most damning comparison, the general condition of black South Africans: "We are worse than we were during the times of apartheid. We are being killed by our own people. We are being oppressed by our own government."

He has used the phrase more than once in reference to state violence. "Jacob Zuma's government killed the Marikana miners, they are using the same tactics that were used by the apartheid government", he said in 2014.

But the DA too, normally held to a different standard on this subject, has also made use of the comparison. Douglas Gibson, former DA chief whip and ambassador to Thailand, far preceded Malema in his view on the public healthcare system, saying in 2016, "If anything, many of our public hospitals are worse &mdash some far worse &ndash than they were under the apartheid government twenty-five or thirty years ago."

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has said of the current education system, "The education [Jacob Zuma's] government provides to millions of black children is no better than the Bantu Education of 40 years ago. In fact, many believe it is worse." And the former leader, Helen Zille, has used the phrase to describe the scourge of gang violence and drug addiction (no doubt with particular reference to the situation in the Western Cape).

All of these examples almost immediately generate a raft of media stories and, whatever else was said on the day, it is the "worse than apartheid" comparison around which they inevitably revolve.

"We have a big future, we all stood to fight apartheid but this is worse than apartheid", she said in 2007. And, in 2013: "I often said before that our crisis of substance abuse is harming another generation of young people worse than even apartheid did to their forefathers, because apartheid didn't incapacitate people, it mobilised people to demand their rights and to claim control of their lives."

Even the late Helen Suzman felt compelled to make the comparison, with regard to the state of debate and democracy. "Debate is almost nonexistent and no one is apparently accountable to anybody apart from their political party bosses," she said in 2004, "It is bad news for democracy in this country. Even though we didn't have a free press under apartheid, the government of that day seemed to be very much more accountable in parliament."

In 2012, IFP MP Albert Mncwango described the implications of the Protection of State Information Bill as "even worse than what happened during apartheid, when even the worst laws were supported by a segment of the South African population."

Former Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said of unemployment levels in 2007, "Many of the millions who are unemployed, or whose jobs have been casualised, are even worse off than under apartheid. Around 20-million of our people are still mired in poverty. We still face many challenges and the task of transformation is far from complete."

From civil society, Mamphela Ramphele has said of basic education: "Maths literacy. what is that? It's worse than the arithmetic I did under Bantu education" and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of the ANC's decision not to provide the Dalai Lama with a visa in 2011, "Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you were expecting it from the apartheid government."

And so it goes. All of these examples almost immediately generate a raft of media stories and, whatever else was said on the day, it is the "worse than apartheid" comparison around which they inevitably revolve. There are numerous other examples besides, but these paint a fair picture of just how common the comparison is. Outside of public figures and opinion polls, there have been some more quantitative assessments that have arrived at a similar conclusion on one subject or another.

As the ANC has fallen, it has slowly and systematically wrenched from history the one comparison, thought sacred and reserved only for unspeakable evil, and turned it into an increasingly legitimate contemporary moral weapon.

The US-based think-tank The Cato Institute, for example, wrote in its 2016 "Misery Index", that "Unemployment in South Africa is worse now than it was when apartheid ended in 1994." And, in 2015, a report commissioned by the South African Council of Churches into inequality found that "inequality today is far greater than it was at the end of apartheid. The issues of youth unemployment&sbquo pegged at nearly 70 percent&sbquo paint a bleak picture of a society with little to look forward to or hope for."

On the rare occasion, the state itself has evoked the comparison. In October 2017 Business Day would write of a briefing by statistician-general Pali Lehohla, "The statistician-general, whose term ends soon, said that conditions for learning under apartheid for black South Africans were much more conducive than they are now", therefore, it quoted Lehola, "Whites continue to outperform black students."

Whatever the veracity of any particular claim, then, it is clearly becoming more morally acceptable to evoke a comparison with South Africa's dark past. Time has a way of diluting the intensity of any given moral crime and now, 23 years into a new democracy, the sustained and profoundly damaging policies and conduct of the ANC government have done much to dilute any comparison with apartheid, to make it less morally offensive. Worse still, it resonates with much of the public as true, a situation that no doubt encourages political public figures to evoke it.

And that, perhaps, is the greatest indictment of all. The phrase has become a litmus test for the ANC's moral legitimacy and the party, through nothing more than rank incompetence, has now found itself, rightly or wrongly, in the same moral cesspool as the idea of apartheid itself.

As the ANC has fallen, it has slowly and systematically wrenched from history the one comparison, thought sacred and reserved only for unspeakable evil, and turned it into an increasingly legitimate contemporary moral weapon. As if that wasn't enough, people now increasingly believe it to be true. It is the phrase that pays, entirely sponsored by the ANC. Unless things change, soon it will become passé.


South Africa is a land of abundant natural resources, mild climate, and fertile lands. Resources range from diamond and gold to platinum, and the land is fertile enough to feed the rest of the world if cultivated intensively. Yet many Europeans believed Africa to be the “Dark Continent,” a continent of poverty, harsh climate, and political turmoil (Woods 10). Though apartheid officially began in 1948, Africa’s history of racial domination and oppression began as early as the mid-17th century when the Dutch East India Company set up a provisioning station on the Cape (US Government Source).

White settlers from the Netherlands arrived in South Africa in the mid 17th century, forcing the occupants of South Africa out of their land or using them as laborers. The “Scramble for Africa” then came in the 18th and 19th century where the French, British, Portuguese, Germans, Belgians, Spanish, and Dutch colonized and took control of almost all the African continent (Woods 15). The country that would become South Africa was, at this time, fragmented into four major colonies.

By 1910, the four colonies were joined together under the Act of the Union, and the British handed the administration of the country over to the white locals. The Union preserved all regulations on black rights and also removed all parliamentary rights for Black people. In the three decades to follow until apartheid was established, racial segregation and white domination could be seen in all aspects such as land ownership, legal system, distribution of wealth and in the social relations.

Apartheid in Action

Apartheid, formally, was three hundred and seventeen laws by Dr. D.F. Malan’s nationalist party, which was elected in 1948. Apartheid added official and legal structure to the racial segregation and domination that already existed within the nation. Even before 1948,the Nationalist Party feared the influx of Africans into white towns, and therefore restricted the areas in which they could live. The whites passed various bills in the next four decades, to ensure that the movement of Africans into their towns were kept at a minimum, and to simultaneously reify political, economical, and social domination.

Bills Passed

  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, and Immorality Act, 1950, constituted the government’s first step in institutionalizing racial differentiation. These acts prohibited sexual intercourse and marriage between whites and Africans. All people over the age of sixteen were required to carry identity cards that grouped the people into various racial categories.
  • The Population Registration Act, also in 1950, required that all residents of South Africa to be classified into three categories according to race. These were African, Colored, or White, and the government made these classifications according to a person’s habits, education, appearance, and manner. Rules were given according to race and had to be followed to prevent dire consequences.
  • The Bantu Authorities Act, 1951, assigned all Black people to their native land, essentially stripping Blacks of power and influence. The Bantu Education Act applied apartheid to the educational system. The education of Whites, Africans, and Colored was separately administered and financed (see Colonial Education).
  • The Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act, 1952, required all Africans to carry a pass-book, similar to a passport. The pass-book contained all personal information, such as name, photograph of holder, fingerprints, and also gave a detailed explanation on where a person could be employed, and their performance at work. If Africans did not obey the rules, they were kicked out from the area, and their crime would be reported in their pass-books. The penalty for not carrying the book at all times was also severe, ranging from imprisonment and fines, to a torturous death.


Apartheid influenced the lives of all those residing in South Africa – including the children. Schooling was separated for all the races. Whites, Indians, Coloured, and Africans, attended different schools, except in some rare cases where Indian and African children were sent to the same school due to a lack of number in students. The white education was controlled by the Dept. of National Education, while the Indian, Coloured, and African education was governed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The per capita expenditure on education during 1980 to 1981 for whites were around 1000 rands, while for the Africans, it was 200 rands. Many schools for African children were constantly in need of repair, and classroom shortages were frequent. The student to teacher ratio for white schools was 1:18 and 1:48 for the African schools, in 1981. Due to the inadequate educational system of the African schools, many African students did not go beyond primary school, while the White children were mandated to attend school until the age of fifteen. By 1980, a survey showed that for an African school to create a curriculum more like the White schools, they would have to triple the expenditures for African schools.

Resistance to Apartheid

One of the first political organizations in Africa opposed to the apartheid was Lubumba Yama Afrika, which believed that the only way to fight the system of apartheid was through African unity. This party began in the 19th century, and spurred on many other parties from that point on. Opposition to apartheid was also influenced by outside powers, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of non-violence. In 1960, a large group of Africans in Sharpeville revolted by not carrying around their pass-books. This resulted in the government declaring a state of emergency in this region. The emergency continued for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead and 190 wounded.

Many feared political protest, even if non-violent, because of the severe consequences which followed. Once arrested, many died in custody, or were sentenced to prison for life.

Nelson Mandela became involved with the ANC, African National Congress during the peak of the Second World War. Along with sixty other members, the mission of the ANC was to turn the group into a mass movement. By 1952, Mandela was elected National Volunteer-in-Chief. His job was to travel around the country, organizing resistance against discrimination. Because of his role in the ANC, Mandela was convicted of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and sent to a Johannesburg prison for six months. After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the ANC was outlawed. Mandela continued to fight for the rights of his people, traveling illegally outside South Africa in 1962, and addressing the Conference of the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa. After his return to Africa, he was once again arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. During these five years, he was charged with sabotage, and sentenced this time to life in prison. Like Gandhi, Mandela fought a war of non-violence and equal opportunities for all people. He was released on February 11th, 1990, and was elected as the first democratically chosen president of South Africa on may 10th 1994. In 1993, he received the Nobel Peace prize on behalf of all the South Africans who suffered to bring peace to the land. He died December 5, 2013.

The Outside World

Apartheid did not receive any international attention when the laws were first created in 1948. The rise of the civil rights movement in the United States and the revolt of colonial rule in Asia and Africa drew attention to the situation in South Africa (see African American Studies and Postcolonialism). The United Nations helped to draw more international attention by imposing an arms embargo in November 1977 and by creating a Security Council sanctions committee in December 1977. India helped to draw attention on the Indian population in Southern Africa and as various countries claimed their independence, the necessity for action to be taken on the apartheid increased. Internationally, other ways in which action was taken was by denying South African airways from landing in their countries, breaking off diplomatic relations with the government of South Africa, and boycotting all South African goods and refraining from exporting goods (Anti-Apartheid Movement 105). However, South Africa was indifferent to these international criticisms because of its continuance in economic prosperity.