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Milton Allimadi's The Hearts of Darkness...(4)

Posted in: Essays/Articles
Sep 17, 2007 - 3:09:21 AM

The Hearts of Darkness: How European Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa

Part 4:  The New York Times as Apartheid's Apologists

by Milton Allimadi OldCapetownDemo
Mr. Allimadi is CEO and Publisher of The Black Star News. This series originally appeared in the Black Agenda Report.


In documenting the early history of apartheid, the system of institutionalized racism in South Africa, Western media, including The New York Times often acted as accomplices and apologists.

In 1910, the Union of South Africa was formed, comprised of the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The past rivalry and competition for mineral wealth between the competing European nations - England and Holland - in South Africa was subsumed by their common desire to subjugate the African majority in order to exploit the territory's vast wealth.

Blacks were disenfranchised and by the end of the second decade of the 20th Century, South Africa was regarded by Europeans as a "white" country even though whites comprised a minuscule minority. The ruling class of transplanted Europeans treated Africans as sub-human beings, as did the white writers who went there to chronicle events for their readers.

"The reporter wrote, 'modern European civilization is apt to be to the semi-civilized native of much the same use as a razor in the hands of a monkey.'"

An article in The New York Times, on May 26th 1926, under the headline "Colors Clash in South African Union," with the byline of Wyona Dashwood, reflected the racist attitude toward Blacks that prevailed in the United States.  Dashwood's article discussed a proposal by James Barry Hertzog, leader of the National Party in South Africa, to segregate and disenfranchise Blacks in the Cape Province as a way of dealing with the "native factor" as the writer put it.

The writer's views were indistinguishable from those of Hertzog's. "The idea behind it," Dashwood wrote, referring to Hertzog's proposal, "is to give the native a chance to develop along his own lines and afford him the opportunity to lay a sound national foundation on which to ground the more advanced economic, social and political systems of the white man's civilization."  There was not a single official or document or any other source to which Dashwood attributed these views - not even the ubiquitous "an official who declined to be identified," that many writers now like to use. "Without this intermediate step," Dashwood continued, "it is held, modern European civilization is apt to be to the semi-civilized native of much the same use as a razor in the hands of a monkey."

The writer stated as a matter of fact that the so-called "reservations," the barren lands where many Black families were forcefully removed to and confined after their lands were stolen by the Europeans, was for their own good. So reservations such as Bechuanaland, Basutoland, and Swaziland, were formed to stop "tribal fighting"; while Transkei was formed to "clear other land for mining and farming," according to Dashwood. The fact that Africans had lived on the lands that the apartheid regime now had to "clear" did not weigh heavy on this journalist's conscience.

Dashwood's article went on to enumerate some of the "problems" presented by the "natives," using some of the well-established racist views towards Blacks; she must have been aware that readers in the United States would relate to them. To begin with, they had a problem of rapid "multiplication" of their numbers and a tendency to work "reluctantly." Nonetheless, Dashwood asserted, native labor had become a "necessity" in South Africa, not just a "convenience." This was because, according to Hertzog's preposterous philosophy, which Dashwood evidently believed, native laborers "undermine the energy of the white youth" who saw no need to work in a land blessed with abundant free "native" labor.  So, on the one hand, Africans were accused of being lazy, and, on the other hand, they were accused of corrupting white youth by working too efficiently, for free, and making whites dependent on Black labor. Heads they lost; tails they lost.

"In Dashwood's eyes the Africans were not trustworthy and could do nothing right without white supervision."

Segregation of the native, Dashwood's article explained, was therefore the solution for preventing them from "undermining" the vigor of white laborers.  Dashwood followed with a statement that literally advocated genocide: "So South Africa begins to feel the menace of its indolent, ignorant, five and a half million upon the wise disposal of whom depends the prosperity of its future."

It was not in Dashwood's interest, or that of her editors,' to explain to the Times' readers that South Africa would never have developed its colossal wealth had it not been for the backbreaking slave labor of the Black populace, as was the case with the United States, the beneficiary of centuries of uncompensated labor. Dashwood was not impressed by this reality. Instead, she preferred to document the clash between alleged African "barbarity" and the civilizing mandate of the whites. In her eyes the Africans were not trustworthy and could do nothing right without white supervision. She informed her readers that when a Black worker's contract at the mine expired, he was kept under watch and guard for five days "because of his propensity for stealing, and is allowed to only take soft clothing away with him: even his footwear must be left behind, for he is clever at secreting diamonds in his boot-heels."

Dashwood's article would not have been complete without demonstrating how the Africans were ill suited for the trappings of white civilization. After leaving the mines, according to Dashwood, the African has "scarcely resumed his life in the shaggy huts before he strips off every stitch of the white man's garb. Presently he shows no trace of even having tasted the life of the town."  In other words, the native could not wait to return to the savage life-style, which he was accustomed to and yearned for. One can visualize the Times' readers howling in derisive laughter.

"At Cape Town, the first landing you make, you look everywhere for the native," Dashwood added, still elaborating on the natives' discomfort with the finer things in life, "You realize at last that these fellows in wide trousers and straw hats are native grandees. You feel it is too bad to see the clothes of Western civilization on them. They do not compare in interest with the dashing young men who parade the streets of Johannesburg on Sundays in red blankets, tinkling and jingling with metal and ivory ornaments."

So then, as of 1926, what did the future hold for this great "white" country in Africa? Here's what Dashwood surmised: "Segregation is the first definite policy advanced toward the solution of the South African dilemma." She added, "History keeps ominous records of what has happened whenever the native and colonists have been brought together - one or the other inevitably succumbing.  In America it was the native, in ancient Africa the colonist.  In Asia, Europeans have never established themselves except as a small ruling caste. In South Africa it remains to be seen." 

Of course Dashwood could not have dreamed that there was a young boy named Nelson Mandela, who was already alive and who would, very much later, together with his compatriots have much to say about the course of this history.

Finally, in 1948 South Africa's system of racial segregation and inequity in all aspects of social, economic and political life became official policy. During the 1950s the white minority regime began to codify the laws and statutes that would buttress apartheid. The Population Register, which was intended to classify every individual in the country into specific racial groups in order to apportion the national pie (in favor of whites) and assign one's lot in life, was introduced under prime minister Johannes G. Strijdom.  The Register was the cornerstone of apartheid and was intended to make it impossible for "borderline" cases to escape into a higher racial classification and to enjoy the benefits and privileges it entailed.

The officially designated races were: Blacks, who were consigned to the lowest rung of the racial hierarchy; the so-called coloreds, offspring of white and Black parentage, who were above Blacks; and, then the whites, at the apex. Asians were considered by the white regime as "foreigners" with no local roots and were not classified. The classification scheme drew its lessons from Nazi Germany and sometimes the tragic repercussions even had comical qualities. Consider this non-bylined article from The New York Times on August 21st, 1955, which read in part like a government press release. "In one half hour yesterday six Kimberley men, who regarded themselves as colored - mulatto - were reclassified as negroes, thrusting them back to the bottom of the social ladder up which they had attempted to climb," the article reported.

South Africa's director of the Census at the time, J.I. Raats, told the reporter that 7,000 people of "doubtful racial origin" had been classified and 260 of them had said they would appeal. This system of categorization engendered inferiority complexes since Blacks had to literally renounce their race in order to improve their lot in life. The law placed a premium on lightness of skin; the legacy of this policy has outlasted apartheid and even today Black people in South Africa are the highest per capita consumers of skin-bleaching creams.

Yet, according to the Times article, there was no need for people to worry about the racial categorization. "The classification is being done by specially selected officials," the article in the Times reported, in a matter-of-fact manner, "picked for their impartiality, integrity and humanity." It's unclear whether the writer relied on a government press release or words whispered into his ears by census director Raats to arrive at this absurd conclusion.

"The reporters and the editors surmised that American readers could relate to and identify with racial separation in apartheid South Africa."

ApartheidWarningSign In May 1957 the South African Parliament approved a "native law amendment bill," empowering the minister of Native Affairs, Hendrik Verwoerd, to ban Blacks from churches, clubs, hospitals, schools and other places if he believed they would "cause a nuisance." This is how the Times' Richard Hunt summed the law in the paper's May 26th, 1957 issue: "The sitting minister holds that these powers are needed to insure that the relations between black and white here be those of guardian and ward, and consistent with the policy of rigid racial segregation."

The introduction of these racist laws were reported in a detached and even sympathetic manner in the newspaper, which was not surprising, considering how racial segregation and prejudice towards Blacks was prevalent in the United States. The reporters and the editors surmised that American readers could relate to and identify with racial separation in apartheid South Africa; the racist policies mirrored the segregationism in the United States. Moreover, the views or opinions of Africans were never solicited, since Blacks merely formed the backdrop to social and political events, as they often still do.

When Strijdom died, the extremist, Verwoerd became prime minister on September 2nd, 1958.  This former professor of applied psychology at Stellenbosch University, with a specialization in social services, could not wait to apply his theories in South Africa. He was the chief architect of apartheid and was instrumental in passing many of the racialist policies that institutionalized racial segregation and preference through parliament. Under Verwoerd's regime, the country's segregationist policies were vigorously enforced, as was made clear in a New York Times article by Albert Hunt, published on April 1st 1959, under the headline "Arrests Abound in South Africa."

More than 1.25 million Africans were arrested every year for violations ranging from carrying the detested passes, the internal passports issued to Blacks, to violations of labor regulations, curfew and residency requirements.  Practically every Black man in every major South African city was arrested on average once a year, Hunt reported in his article. "The negro walks in constant danger of arrest for some technical offense," the Times article explained. "Thousands who have never so much as stolen a loaf of bread have records of ‘previous convictions' that would make a hardened criminal in any other country shudder."

The arrests were absolutely arbitrary and dependent upon the mood of the police officer enforcing the law. These men had life and death powers over Blacks, as Hunt made clear in his article in the Times, dealing with the arrest of an elderly man: "One warm summer evening, while cooking his supper on a kerosene stove, he stepped outside in his shirtsleeves to knock out his pipe on a curb. A pick-up van stopped and a young policeman demanded to see the old man's pass. The old man argued in vain that the document was in his jacket, hanging inside the door. He was bundled into the van and taken to the nearest police station. The policeman refused even to allow him to enter his cottage to turn off the stove. Next day he was fined 1 pound for ‘being without a pass.'  If he was a younger man and was not able to pay his fine, (in fact, his employer paid for him), he would have been given the choice of serving ten days in jail or two weeks in a potato farm and no one would have known what had happened to him."

By 1959, apartheid was so sufficiently entrenched that foreign investors were confident enough to support the system in order to exploit the country's riches. On February 11th, 1959, a wire story appeared in the Times under the headline "New Interest in Africa." The article discussed the opening of the Chase Manhattan bank branch office in Johannesburg by its vice-chairman, David Rockefeller. "Mr. Rockefeller said the opening of the branch here was an indication of the ‘confidence we feel in the economic potential of South Africa,'" the article reported.

One year later, the apartheid regime was still oblivious to the wrathful rumblings of discontent stirring among the oppressed Black majority; equally clueless were the American media stationed there. On January 7th, 1960, a New York Times article by Leonard Ingalls appeared under the headline "South Africa Business Men Plan to Win World's Goodwill." According to the article 25 prominent businessmen and industrialists had formed the South African Foundation to increase the "selling" of the country's image in Europe and the United States. The businessmen included Harry F. Oppenheimer, chairman of the Anglo American Corporation and Charles W. Engelhard, who headed a Newark, New Jersey-based company that bore his name. "They are concerned over foreign reactions to the Government's policies, particularly those dealing with matters of race," was how Ingalls euphemistically described apartheid. "Boycotts of South African goods have been threatened abroad and it has been difficult to obtain investment capital from abroad," he explained, not once using the term apartheid.

"The headline was patently false, reflecting South African propaganda."

However, the restless masses that nobody ever bothered to consult did not cooperate with the grand plans by the Rockefellers and the Oppenheimers to exploit the country's wealth. The eruption finally occurred on March 21st, 1960 with the Sharpeville massacre. "50 Killed As Police Fire on Rioters," declared the headline of a Times article published on March 22nd, 1960. The headline was patently false, reflecting South African propaganda. The demonstration had in fact been peaceful until panicky policemen started firing into the unarmed crowd. "The police opened fire today on thousands of Africans besieging a police station in Sharpeville, thirty miles south of Johannesburg," the article stated, still blaming the victims for their deaths. "The Africans were demonstrating against South Africa's laws requiring Africans to carry passes at all times," it explained.

The crowd stoned the police and the armored cars around their station, then the police, hiding behind a wire fence, opened fire into the crowd, according to the article. Initial reports placed the dead at 25 and 50 wounded; the figure was later upgraded to 72 dead and 184 wounded. A senior police official was quoted in the Times article stating, in a matter-of-fact manner: "I don't know how many we've shot. If they do these things they must learn the hard way." SharpevilleDead

In the days following the uprising, foreign investors fled and share values on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange plunged precipitously, with losses amounting to $300 million in only one week. For a short period, the regime was staggered by the defiance of the Africans who had confronted the police, the enforcers of apartheid. "The racial differences that have plagued South Africa throughout its history," the Times article observed, with the euphemistic reference to apartheid, and again apportioning the blame equally between victims and oppressors, "have finally plunged the nation into a terrible convulsion."  Still, apartheid endured for more than three decades after the Sharpeville massacre; and more blood was yet to flow.

The Times' apologetic coverage of South Africa was duplicated in Mozambique, a Portuguese colony in Southern Africa. Consider Times reporter Albion Ross's interview with Gabriel Teixeira, the Governor General of Mozambique, published on April 22nd, 1954, under the headline "Portugal Accepts African Equality," with the even more promising sub-headline "Mozambique Governor Sees no Reason to Bar Advance of Natives to Citizenship."

The headline alone betrayed the slant of the article. If the Portuguese accepted "African Equality" why were the Europeans the ones who were the rulers? If the "natives" were not considered good enough to be "citizens" how could they be considered equal?

"Gabriel Teixeira, Governor General of Portuguese Mozambique, sees nothing wrong with a future united Portugal in Europe and Africa in which negroes would be a majority," Albion Ross wrote. "He does not believe there is any such thing as Negro nationalism."

Portugal's colonial philosophy rested on four major foundations, the governor told Ross: Racial superiority was "nonsense" and did not exist; however, rushing the development of "primitive men such as Africans would destroy them," the governor said; Christianity offered salvation to Africans; and, Africans would eventually become "full-fledged Portuguese."

"The Portuguese Governor's views were delivered to the Times' readers as statements of fact."

What made Ross's article valuable is the honesty with which he reveals his own bias, by his failure to challenge any of the good governor's preposterous statements, or to offer any counter-balancing information or opinion from any of the Africans whose fate was being discussed. Teixeira's views were delivered to the Times' readers as statements of fact. "We do not believe in superior and inferior races," the governor is quoted telling Ross. "The black man in Africa is simply where the white man began thousands of years ago.  You cannot rush that sort of thing."

Governor Teixeira in a philosophical manner outlined to Ross how the Portuguese were toiling to "civilize" the natives and turn them all into full-fledged Europeans. "You must have a balance between a moral advance and a material advance," the governor explained. "Too sudden contact of advanced material civilization with primitive peoples destroys primitive people." The governor of course made no mention of the massacres of the "natives" when the Portuguese were securing the territory before they started their civilizing mission, and whenever there was an uprising.

"On the other hand, if the material advance falls behind the moral advance, you have hatred and disorder," the governor is quoted as saying. "The problem is to keep a balance between the moral advance and the material advance. The end result which we seek is Brazil," he added, without noting that Blacks in Brazil were at the bottom of the racial hierarchy then, as they are now. The governor also made it clear to Ross that the Africans in Mozambique did not have any aspirations or plans that were at odds with any of the designs prepared by the Portuguese on their behalf. "A native vote is absurd," he told Ross. "These people's grandfathers were sometimes cannibals.  How do they vote?  What do they vote for?"

One can only imagine the governor's as well as the reporter's demeanor during this interview. Are they occasionally smiling?  Are they occasionally nodding in agreement? Are they occasionally somber? Does the reporter pause while taking notes to intellectually digest the Portuguese's profound philosophy?

Pro-Apartheid Press

In 1984 the intensified coordinated challenge to apartheid led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the white regime in South Africa the following year. In the absence of the banned African National Congress (ANC) a multi-racial coalition developed comprising the United Democratic Front and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). It spearheaded the onslaught through strikes and demonstrations and calls for international boycotts.

The white regime employed the time-tested strategy of divide-and-rule. Members of the collaborationist Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Gatsha Mangosuthu Buthelezi were provided with weapons and paid to attack supporters of the UDF and by extension the ANC.

"U.S. media representations endorsed the apartheid regime's contention that South Africa would descend into total mayhem once the ANC formed a predominantly Black government."

Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990. Soon thereafter, violent confrontations between ANC supporters and Buthelezi's intensified. During a nine-day period between August 17th-26th, 1990, 500 people were killed in Soweto alone. Mandela publicly insisted that there was a "hidden hand" fueling the killings but major Western media preferred to write about "factional fighting," "tribal battles," and "black-on-black" violence. The killings were presented as pathological behavior, with no context or underlying causes. These representations endorsed the apartheid regime's contention that South Africa would descend into total mayhem once the ANC formed a predominantly Black government.

MandelaHead Ironically, Mandela was later exonerated when an independent investigation he demanded confirmed that the apartheid regime's secret police had financed and trained the death squads.

By characterizing conflicts as "tribal," the implication is that they are irrational and have no logical or legitimate contributing factors. Western media have historically used the word "tribal" disproportionately to characterize confrontations involving Africans and other non-Europeans, as Lisa Brook, professor of African history demonstrated in "Africa's Media Image" (1992). "I found the words tribe or tribal employed to describe native Americans, Africans, Asians and other peoples of non-European descent in 235 out of a total of 250 times that it was used between January 1989 and April 1990," she wrote. "Thirteen of the other fifteen times it was used to describe the British rock band ‘The Tribes.'" Brock had surveyed articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Constitution Journal, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, only three years after its own liberation from an apartheid regime, Western media eagerly chronicled the anticipated mismanagement of the country by its new African rulers. An article appeared under the headline "The Plague of Tribal Enmity," in Time magazine on January 17th, 1983. After describing a "spree of violence" near Bulawayo, the country's second largest city, the writer observed: "The latest streak of violence is a disquieting sign that the fragile tribal coalition that turned white-ruled Rhodesia into black-governed Zimbabwe in 1980 is crumbling."

A casual reader in the West - as most are especially when it comes to matters related to Africa - could be forgiven for believing that the country's woes began once the Africans were in control of government. Time magazine disingenuously equates majority rule with apartheid by contrasting "white-ruled" Rhodesia and "black-governed" Zimbabwe. As if whites had also had their lands brutally seized; as if whites also had been massacred during the conquest of the territory; as if whites too had been confined to concentration camps called "protected villages"; as if whites too had been subjected to media propaganda extolling their alleged inherent intellectual inferiority; and, as if whites too had been statutorily excluded from participating in the economic, political and social fabric of the country in nearly 100 years of colonial and white settler rule.

"Nearly three years after taking office," the writer continued, without even appreciating the irony, "Mugabe now faces his biggest challenge yet, one that threatens to force more whites to flee the country while shaking international confidence in Zimbabwe's future. Says a businessman in the capital city of Harare ‘It's tough, tough, tough here.'"

So once again, as Time magazine had found in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising nearly 40 years earlier, the welfare and stability of an African country was to be measured by the comfort level of the Europeans there. "The tribal rivalries stretch back to the early 19th century, when Ndebele warriors plundered the camps of the Shonas," Time magazine explained, "British settlers combined the hostile tribes into one nation in 1890, but the antipathy remained." Now again we encounter a clever way of re-writing history to make it appear as if the benevolent British had traveled to this part of Africa to suppress "tribal" warfare and rescue the "natives." Suddenly the lynchings, massacres, land seizures and exploitation of minerals have vanished from history.

"Caught in the web of the tribal conflict are the country's 170,000 whites, less than 3% of the 7.5 million," Time magazine's writer continued. "Zimbabwe depends heavily on its skilled white workers, especially in farming and mining."

"Time magazine assured readers that things had deteriorated when the 'natives' took control."

The transformation was now complete: The colonists who had stolen the entire country were suddenly the innocent blameless bystanders. In fact, Time magazine assured readers that things had deteriorated when the "natives" took control. "The situation is much more worrisome than it was during the war," the magazine declared.

Mugabe, a Shona who had commanded the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) had teamed up with veteran nationalist Joshua Nkomo's ZIPRA to form the Patriotic Front. After the defeat of Ian Smith's illegal British-supported regime in 1979 the parties contested separately for the elections and Mugabe became prime minister after his party's victory. Nkomo, who considered himself the senior nationalist by virtue of age, later lost out on a power struggle with Mugabe after their armies fought a short but ferocious war.

The type of coverage of Zimbabwe in Time magazine was typical of the major Western media since most operate with a herd mentality. Zimbabwe officials became frustrated with the coverage and eventually issued the Kadoma Declaration, barring visiting Western reporters from covering Zimbabwe unless the correspondent was based there. The New York Times protested against the Kadoma restrictions in a June 11th, 1985 letter from the newspaper's foreign editor Warren Hoge to Nathan Shamuyarira, Zimbabwe's information minister.

Hoge argued that even though the Times' correspondent Alan Cowell was based in South Africa, his coverage would not be distorted in any way. "The premise itself, I feel, is tantamount to a slur on his objectivity," Hoge protested. Moreover, a better way to combat or eliminate any distortion or perceived bias was "by opening, not closing, the doors of Southern Africa nations to correspondents," he wrote. The New York Times based its correspondents in South Africa - as did other major Western media - because of the volume of news from that country, Hoge insisted.

Shamuyayira would not budge. "My personal conclusion, and that of equally experienced staff with journalistic training in my Ministry, was that there was an undeniable bias against us in the reports emanating from South Africa-based correspondents," he wrote in a letter dated August 13, 1985 to Hoge. "This may not apply to your man, Mr. Alan Cowell, but it certainly applied to the others." Shamuyayira also added: "I agree that the bulk of the news stories emanating from this region originate from the Republic of South Africa. The position is likely to remain like that until the attainment of majority rule and true independence there. In the circumstances, we would prefer not to be reported upon at all than to be reported badly from South Africa."

It is obvious that some of the subsequent hostility towards Mugabe's government in the Western media originated from the Kadoma Declaration. Mugabe is also not given credit for the conciliatory policy his government pursued after the end of apartheid in Rhodesia. Ian Smith, the racist prime minister still lives, unmolested, in Zimbabwe and even owns a huge estate.

© Milton G. Allimadi

Part 1:  How Europeans Created the Racist Image of Africa

Part 2:  Blackness as Bestiality

Part 3:  A European Meets a 'Savage' Intellectual

Part 4:  The New York Times as Apartheid's Apologists

Part 5:  The Mahdi Defeats Gen. Charles Gordon

Part 6:  Viewing Africa Through Western Writings

Part 7:  Time Magazine Denigrates Congo Nationalism

Part 8:  Why Africans Are Not Tribesmen


The Hearts of Darkness: How European Writers Created the Racist image of Africa

Published by The Black Star Publishing Co.
P.O. Box 64
New York, N.Y., 10025

To order the book call (212) 481-7745 or visit  The Hearts of Darkness


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