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Apartheid in “Mother to Mother” and “A Dry White Season”, Essay Example

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Essay

The concept of apartheid represents a very large stain on the pages of British and Dutch history books, where Britain’s is not even otherwise clean. Although it’s socio-economic implications were typical of global thought at the inception of the system, the fact that it continued until being quashed by none other than Nelson Mandella in the 1990’s is appalling. The classification of people into racial groups, and segregating them as a government policy dates to the 1940’s, however its informal practice has roots in the original colonization of Africa by Western powers, dating back centuries.

If an extreme caste system–such as the one seen in the Middle Ages–was blended with Southern slave codes before the Civil War, may be close to explaining apartheid and the implications that went along with it. It categorized people by race, and segregated them as such. These people were born into class structure devoid of social mobility, and based only on race. A government policy that was enacted in 1948, apartheid was a racist institution meant to keep white South Africans in power, while exploiting the black population simultaneously.

Although many places in Africa remain in political turmoil to this day, the South African government, run by a nobility of wealthy white men, sanctioned unthinkable horrors simply to oppress the black and Asian population. There remained in place a very “Nazi-Germany”-type secret police the government used for torturing and killing anyone in their way, and often innocent bystanders as well. Enacted between 1948 and 1994, apartheid had countless negative social, economic, and political consequences on the overall social platform in South Africa. The blatant racism shown by the government naturally created a hostile, tense, environment for the entire country as a whole. Some of these consequences are very far-reaching, and are certainly illustrated in the novel Mother to Mother, as well as the movie A Dry White Season. Though the stories are told in very different ways, their main characters shed light on the full impacts of apartheid as a policy in South Africa.

The main character of Ben Du Toit, in the movie A Dry White Season is a white man, living and working as a schoolteacher in South Africa. His character illustrates the horrors brought on by apartheid in many ways, but in a broad sense by his evolution as a character throughout the movie as a whole.

The story, set in 1976, provides the main character of Ben with a problem right from the beginning. Gordon, a black man working as a gardener at the same school Ben teaches at, confronts Ben with a large apartheid-related dilemma. Due to the friendly nature of their relationship, Gordon asks Ben to assist him in investigating the questionable facts surrounding his son’s murder. Although questionably aware of the injustice that was present, Ben choose the path of indifference, though he claims to not believe the story, as to not get involved in the tense racial divide.

This is a particularly important theme when analyzing apartheid as a whole. It was much easier to completely, and conveniently, ignore the clear social injustices that were ever present on a daily basis. Ben eventually sees the body of his dead and tortured friend Gordon, and begins to realize the validity of his claims. The circumstances regarding Gordon’s death are never pursued, and in addition to the fact that his wife’s body is also later found dead and tortured, begins to open the eyes of Ben.

Ben, at face value at least, believed as many other white Africans did, that the racial divide was in fact tearing the country apart. The natural scapegoat was the oppressed black population, rather than their white oppressors. This was an idea ingrained into the white population of South Africa–an idea that they were superior simply because of their skin color. This is an idea clearly outlined by Ben’s original insistences that Gordon’s claims regarding his son’s death were completely false, and nothing more than another product of the racial divide he grew up knowing so well, and had become unconsciously accustomed to.

Mother to Mother, a fictional film account of the true-life events surrounding the gruesome murder of Amy Biehl by oppressed black men, with nothing besides political motivations. Unfortunately for the “activists” that decided to kill her in cold blood, Amy was an anti- apartheid activist in South Africa to protest the exact injustice that her murderers were trying to illustrate. The fictional film is written from the perspective of the murderer’s mother, yet epistolary in that it is also a letter to the mother of Amy. This is an interesting perspective both on the horror that was Amy’s death, as well as the broader picture surrounding her death.

The fictional main character named Mandisa illustrates much about the tension in the early 1990’s in South Africa. While outlining her own look for her son, who as she states was turned into a criminal, she also illustrated many themes about the country as a whole, including the socio-economic implications of apartheid as a government imposed policy.

Mandisa describes her own experience of a young and unwanted pregnancy, and her servitude under a white family. She describes very in-depth her relationship, and missed relationship, with her son. This brings an underlying theme of the historical context in which herself, as well as her son, were bred into inherently. She describes the “nature” in which blacks were treated in South Africa, and therefore the nature her own son was brought up in. This provides an interesting perspective when looking at a convicted murderer, who was eventually pardoned by the government for his actions. Considered politically motivated, the horror does not go away, and politically motivated or not, it is an inexcusable action. However, in Mandisa’s account of her rebellious son when working for the oppressive white minority, the murder is given a context with regards to apartheid as a policy, and subsequently the long-term effects of the long standing policy.

Mandisa’s murderous son was bred into an environment that made it conducive for him to commit the horrible act he committed against someone who was actually on his side. At the end of the day, he chose her because the color of her skin, creating a racial paradox. Her son, now a tragic figure, lives with the guilt of killing an innocent person while trying to fight for a justified cause.

The entire story is an apology letter, as well as an explanation for her son’s actions. She in no way attempts to justify her son’s actions, but instead provides the atmosphere for which a good boy could be bred into a violent man. The racial oppression that had lasted for generations was finally at its peak, and both Mandisa’s son as well as Amy Biehl were unfortunate instances of collateral damage in a picture much larger indeed.

The climate of Capetown, South Africa in general, taking into context both pieces from both perspectives, completely explains the tragic events surrounding Amy’s murder. Though A Dry White Season is chronologically takes place about twenty years earlier than Amy’s murder, a look at South Africa in 1976 sets the stage for the story of Amy Biehl.

It seems that Gordon’s sons murder parallels the murder of Amy Biehl in parallel, and again, paradoxical ways. Nobody was looking into the murder of Gordon’s son besides Gordon himself, who could not even count on his white friend Ben to assist him. Although Amy Biehl’s murderer was pursued and convicted, he was also pardoned by the government. This proves that very little to no progress was made in the country of South Africa between 1976 and 1993; the policy of apartheid in practice harmed almost everyone involved, whether directly or indirectly. This is also perfectly illustrated by the fate Ben Du Toit ended up facing as a white man simply sticking up for a black man.

This illustrates one other point as well. The reason Gordon, his wife, his son, and then Ben himself were all able to be murdered at will was due to the aforementioned secret government police force. The white minority was more than overbearing–they were comparable to the Nazi SS in both their actions as well as their ruthlessness. This secret government police force served to instill martial law across South Africa for so long, as they are illustrated in both the 1976 and the 1993 stories. This was a critical tool used to perpetuate apartheid, as well as to make sure the revolt that eventually did happen would not happen.

It is important to remember the importance both pieces put on the fact that the policy of apartheid and all its far-reaching human rights and socio-economic consequences. The government sanctioned the polices and the acts of blatant racism against its black population, as well as the acts of violence. Naturally, this will breed plenty of men like Mandisa’s son. Looking at present day Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as again, the rise of fascism before World War II, there are plenty of other examples of chaos rising out of chaos, making a situation beyond control.

Both pieces of work analyze apartheid and its implications from vastly different perspectives, however, in many cases they came to the exact same conclusion. The policy of apartheid was a racist socio-economic policy enforced by a white minority in South Africa to prevent the rise of black and Asians, and to exploit them as much as possible. Mandisa paints a picture as to how her son was turned to what he did, and Ben’s insistence to find justice for his friend cost him his own life. The parallels between Mandisa and Amy’s mother are illustrated to further highlight the overall injustices that come along with apartheid. It was nothing more than another example of white people imposing their will wherever they could.

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