Talk discusses South African apartheid

Justine Morris, Staff Writer

Vincent Maphei experienced apartheid firsthand as a black man born in South Africa. Born in 1952, he was a member of the first generation to be born under apartheid and one of the integral players in its demise. Maphei was even good friends with former president Nelson Mandela, and worked alongside him in politics and business in South Africa.

Tuesday night, in 20 Cooper Square, Maphei opened the floor for discussion about how apartheid was abolished and the challenges that South Africa still faces.

Maphei explained that there were four main tools used to overthrow the government: international isolation, underground work, domestic mobilization and military struggle.

Over the course of the discussion, Maphei emphasized the relationship between the revolutionary strategies and the challenges the government is currently facing.

“The tools you need to overthrow a government are not the tools you need to build your own government,” Maphei said.

The first tool, international isolation, hurt the government not only economically, but also culturally.

“White South Africans always wanted to see themselves as part of the Western world,” Maphei said. “The strategy of international isolation kind of cut them off from the kind of value system they admired. They wanted to be seen to be part of the civilized West.”

Maphei said this strategy hurt the new government because it left the economy in shambles.

The second part was a kind of underground resistance or terrorism. The problem with an underground resistance is it necessitates working with only close associates that are trusted. Once they were in power, it led to cronyism.

“In underground, you can only work with people you know and trust,” Maphei said. “The consequence of that mentality of underground work is that people who get plump jobs in government are those that are known to the ANC. If they don’t know you, if you have never been part of the network, there’s no room for merit.”

The third part of the campaign was domestic mobilization and it was the most effective, which Maphei explained was the most effective.

“The main strategy of domestic mobilization was that you make the country ungovernable,” Maphei said. “We removed the names of the streets, and we brushed off our street addresses, so if the police sent your address, they couldn’t find the street.”

The fourth part was a traditional military struggle, which was the least successful.

“The South African army was so strong that with the military struggle we did not even scratch the South African defense force,” Maphei said. 

When trying to construct a stable government, however, a strong army means security against violent coups.

CAS freshman Jackie Mazariego said she was fascinated by the close connection Maphei had with Mandela.

“When he was talking about Mandela, that was really interesting,” Mazariego said. “I didn’t know he had a personal relationship with him.”

CAS freshman Kayla Matteo said Maphei’s willingness to examine the role he played in the struggle against apartheid was refreshing.

“The way he was able to look at himself more objectively was really interesting,” Matteo said.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 8 print edition. Email Justine Morris at [email protected].