South Africa and Apartheid’s Enduring Legacy

Apartheid, literally defined as ‘apartness’ or ‘separateness’ in Afrikaans, refers to the policy of enforced racial segregation that defines the history of modern South Africa. Spanning from 1948 to 1994, when the National Party was in power and put into practice the culture of ‘baasskap’ or white supremacy, the national programme of apartheid forced black and white citizens apart for nearly fifty years. The first law, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, served as the forerunner for later legislation which sought to prevent interracial relationships and remove the political rights of black citizens. All public facilities, including hospitals and transportation vehicles were segregated; however, the effects of apartheid split up families and displaced them from their homes.

A sign enforcing racial segregation in a bayside area, South Africa, 1970s. (Credit: Keystone via Getty Images)

However, whilst the political doctrine of apartheid and its segregationist ideology ended in 1994, culminating in the election of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa, its socio-economic legacy extends into the present day. The apartheid economy was tailored to appeal to, and overwhelmingly benefit white citizens, and as a nation of significant inequality, the after-effects of enforced segregation still pervade twenty-first century discourses. This economic legacy of apartheid is still palpable within modern South Africa, which continues to be defined by the segregationist policies of the late twentieth century. Today, black citizens, compared to their white counterparts, arguably remain somewhat disadvantaged in the national economy and the opportunities afforded to them. As the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African left-wing political party emphasised in 2013, ‘political freedom without economic emancipation is meaningless.’ Statistical evidence supports the party’s observation, citing that in 2011, 54% of Africans compared to less than one percent of white citizens lived in poverty, attesting to the wider culture of division which had served as the central bastion of political authority. 

Even in the realm of education – particularly pertinent given the notable involvement of students within the anti-apartheid movement – the effect of segregation is demonstrable in the twenty-first century. Under the National Party, the funding of white schools was greater than that of black schools by tenfold, meaning that historical inequalities have become so deeply embedded in the framework of South Africa’s education system, that they are perpetuated nearly thirty years after the dissolution of apartheid. From 2015 to 2019, the school funding in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, one of the lowest-income communities in the nation, fell by a further 15%. What this evidence highlights is that whilst the official dogma of segregation is no longer directly involved in the fabric of the nation, the ghost of apartheid remains a ubiquitous element of life in South Africa, carving out an enduring and reprehensible modern socio-economic legacy. 

Maximus McCabe-Abel, President, History in Politics

Recycling Political Establishments?

The announcement made by Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019 proclaiming his candidacy for a fifth presidential term ignited an ocean of furious Algerians opposing the monotonous and stagnant regime under his rule. Since Algeria’s independence in 1962, the nature of its political system under Bouteflika’s neo-patrimonial and authoritarian rule led to a disruption of the country’s social contract resulting in a loss of legitimacy for its rulers. Algerian protestors peacefully took to the streets against Bouteflika’s bid, the pressure placed by the Hirak movement alongside the military led to the resignation of Bouteflika, restoring a sense of hope and new beginnings for the Algerian people. The resignation of Bouteflika allowed for the disclosure of the profound fractures within the Algerian organization but also led to uncertainty between political actors on how to progress in a post-Bouteflika regime. 

The goals of the Hirak had endured a rancorous end as the country’s military leadership rebuffed any additional concessions, overlooking all calls necessary for an essential transition period. Algeria’s political establishment instead, marshalled propaganda and authoritarianism  to force the presidential elections in December 2019, resulting in the presidency of former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Algeria has continued to struggle politically over the past two years with the Hirak movement gradually losing momentum, political stability still being seen to be lacking in the country as a vicious cycle of tainted political actors continually suspend urgently needed political and economic reforms. The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the economic and political struggles of the country, potentially entering a state of multifaceted chaotic crisis, one would not be surprised to see the character of Algeria during the Arab Spring being brought back to life in upcoming years as the people’s needs are dismissed by Algeria’s political elite. (or something like this) 

Painted portrait of Abdelaziz Bouteflika. (Credit: Abode of Chaos, via Flickr)

The Hirak has become irrevocably divided as groups no longer share consistent socio-political aspirations, most notably the divide between the new-reformist camp. The internal weaknesses of the Hirak have meant that there has been a failure of agenda establishment regarding what exactly it is the movement seeks to achieve. Dialogue between the Hirak is a necessary channel to any form of success yet it is overdue, unless Algeria faces an existential threat that would push the system to engage collectively it seems there will be no progression for its political and economic placement.

Despite the Hirak not having achieved its major goals the opposition movement has sparked a genuine desire and need for political and social progression; however, this may take years to attain, and time is not on Algeria’s side given its serious economic and political challenges. The abandonment of Algeria by the international community has further complicated matters since 2019, Algeria is a regular when it comes to favouring the status-quo and may very well reject any interference with their internal affairs. However, the international community could afford the country a course of internal dialogue or aid the Hirak with its organizational process via encouraging greater civil and political freedoms. Algeria may not be of priority for the Biden-Harris administration, nonetheless, hand in hand with its recently reinforced relations with European governments the United States have a greater potential to revive a collective effort towards a transition period for Algeria. The June 12th snap election has not instigated any meaningful change so far with the majority of the population even boycotting the election as the military remains in control. Although it would be precarious to call for radical and instant changes it is necessary that Algeria gradually works on reciprocally beneficial reforms for both the opposition and the system.

Lydia Benaicha, History in Politics Contributor

Diamonds, Best Friend or Mortal Enemy?

Diamonds symbolise love, wealth, and commitment to both the purchaser and the recipient, after all, they are known to be a woman’s best friend. Yet, the process of retrieving such a valuable commodity remains a battleground for those who work in the diamond mines. Alongside diamond production, the construction of worker exploitation, violence, and civil wars is generated proving that beauty is in fact, pain. 

The tale of the present-day diamond market emerged on the African continent, South Africa to be precise. The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks fourth in the world when it comes to diamond production with 12 million carats being produced in 2020, the African region dominates the top 10 rankings with seven out of 54 countries acting as some of the world’s largest diamond producers.

Congolese workers searching for rough diamonds in mines in the south west region of Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 9, 2015. (Credit: Lynsey Addario, Getty Images Reportage for Time Magazine)

The diamond trade contributes approximately $8.5 billion per year to Africa and Nelson Mandela has previously stated that the industry is “vital to the Southern African economy”. The wages of the diamond miners, however, do not reflect the value of this work and its contributions to the financial expansion of African countries. An estimated one million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than a dollar a day, an unlivable wage stooping below the extreme poverty line. Despite the significant revenues from the diamond industry, both through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements, governments often fail to re-invest these funds in local communities. The government in Angola receives about $150 million per year in diamond revenues yet conditions near major diamond mining projects are appalling. Public schools, water supply systems and health clinics are near non-existent. Many African countries are still healing from the impact of colonisation and are dealing with corruption, incompetence and weak political systems. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that governments fail to invest their diamond revenues productively. 

Adjacent to being excessively underpaid and overworked, miners endure work in exceptionally hazardous conditions often lacking safety equipment and the adequate tools for their role. Injuries are a likely possibility in the everyday life of a miner sometimes leading to fatality. The risk of landslides, mine collapses and a variety of other accidents is a constant fear. Additionally, diamond mining also contributes to public health problems since the sex trade flourishes in many diamond mining towns leading to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Children are considered an easy source of cheap labour and so they tend to be regularly employed in the diamond mining industry. One survey of diamond miners in the Lunda Norte province of Angola found that 46% of miners were between the ages of 5 and 16. Life as a diamond miner is full of hardship, and this appalling way of living is only heightened for younger kids who are more prone to injuries and accidents. Since most of these kids do not attend school, they tend to be pigeonholed into this way of life throughout adulthood, robbing them of their childhood and bright futures. 

African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Côte d’Ivoire have endured ferocious civil conflicts fuelled by diamonds. Diamonds that instigate such civil wars are often called “blood” diamonds as they intensify civil wars by financing militaries and rebel militias. Control over diamond rich territories causes rival groups to fight, resulting in tragic situations such as bloodshed, loss of life and disturbing human right abuses. 

Whilst purchasing diamonds from a conflict-free country such as Canada can buy you a clean conscience, you must not forget about the miners being violated every day for the benefit of others but never themselves. Just as we have the opportunity to choose fair trade foods benefitting the producers, consumers of one of the most valuable products one may ever own should not be left in the dark regarding the strenuous work of digging miners do behind the stage of glamour and wealth. A true fair trade certification process must be set in place through which miners are adequately awarded for their dedication and commitment to such a relentless industry, especially in countries that are still processing generational trauma that has been caused by dominating nations.

Lydia Benaicha, History in Politics Contributor

Seeing like Cassandra: a New Role for Literature in Political Risk Analysis?

Political conflicts and situations of crises in a multitude of forms continue to mark our present. Indeed, early crisis prevention is a question so pertinent to our times that it has prompted researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany to explore an unusual  method of conflict prediction: studying fictional literature of specific regions prone to crises  to examine if it is possible to identify potential future threats through literary texts. The project is entitled “Projekt Cassandra”, alluding to the Greek mythological figure of Cassandra, who was famously able to predict the future, although cursed so that nobody would believe her prophecies. 

The study led by Tübingen  appears to have demonstrated potential  as an alternative method of strategic analysis  and is being partially being funded by the German Ministry of Defence. The “Projekt Cassandra” has so far investigated three centres of conflict for model analyses, notably the Serbo-Kosovan conflict (1998-1999), the Nigerian terror epidemic caused by the group Boko Haram, and the tensions in Algeria preceding the election in 2019. While the study is still underway, it poses an essential question: can literature truly function as a tool for the early detection of crises?

Tens of thousands of Algerians protesting Algeria’s presidential vote, Algiers, December 12, 2019. (Credit: Ramzi Boudina, via Reuters)

Conflict and crisis prediction are an essential part in the field of risk analysis. With regard to the hypothesis of “Projekt Cassandra”, we can draw parallels with the idea that “history repeats itself”. While the extent to which the past really “repeats” itself is debatable, this argument  rests on the assumption that history provides us with patterns which allow for a certain degree of “prediction”. A similar concept could be applied in the case of literature through the ages, where the identification of patterns relating to past crises could help identify future potential conflicts. 

In considering concrete examples, the picture becomes more complex. By association, we might immediately consider literature as actively imagining the future, such as the famous 1984 by George Orwell. This dystopian classic from 1949 is set in a distorted future of censorship and surveillance, which could be interpreted as a prediction of certain elements that we now  find in our present. However, it must be noted that  science fiction and dystopian literature often provides less a prediction of the future,  than a reflection of respective historical circumstances. 1984 for instance stems from the context of the beginning Cold War, in which surveillance and espionage were considered primary threats. This however does not mean that there is a necessary correlation between the content of a novel like 1984 and the  realities of the future. 

The ‘Projekt Cassandra’ logo. (Credit: Project Cassandra, via Twitter)

 So how can early crisis detection through literature function? Predicting crises is a lot about the identification of patterns. This is why it also matters what type of crisis is being investigated. For instance, a health crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic can hardly be said to have been predicted by Camus, merely because his novel The Plague (1947) describes a situation that is eerily similar to current events. 

We do however find a poignant example favouring this hypothesis relating to military conflict in British literature. Starting in the 1870s, literature imagining a new European war, at various instances between Britain and France or Britain and Germany, was increasingly popularized, so much so that “invasion literature” became an entirely new genre in British literature. The most famous example is the novel The Invasion of 1910 (1906), which propagated Germanophobia in Britain, through its imagined German invasion of Britain.  This can in hindsight, be considered a near-prescient account of elements of the First World War. Invasion literature even influenced politics:popularised concerns  of a new European conflict accelerated the arms race of the 1900s,which ultimately played  a role in the eruption of the First World War. 

Literature, it must be reiterated, is not an accurate tool of strategic prediction. It does however frequently capture underlying social currents that can later become problematic, such as ethnic tensions or larger societal unrest. These currents are often subtle, yet can function as inspiration for authors. To the extent that these societal undercurrents can effectively alert us to the potential of future crises and conflict, only Cassandra knows.

Cristina Coellen

Why Does History Help Explain Geo-Political Conflicts?

The construction of historical narratives and the pedagogic authority they hold has been vital in cultivating a sense of legitimacy with those engaged in violent practices in a geo-political conflict. In fact, these narratives are part of violence itself. Although media and education systems usually hold a significant grip on the dissemination of the teaching and learning of history, displaced and diasporic families have offered important resistance to otherwise dominant versions of history. History becomes the defining factor of national consciousness and therefore legitimacy for that nation state to dominate, kill, plunder and extract.

I believe it important to note that both the dominant imperialist and colonialist nations dominated the education systems where they ruled. The significance of this cannot be understated. Imperialists and colonisers quite clearly wanted more than land and natural resources; they want hegemony. In Ireland, the Irish language was almost completely eradicated by mandatory English-speaking schools. The attempt to integrate colonised peoples into a British identity was not only about dominance but control. In fact, jailed Irish republicans used Irish to communicate covertly. Knowledge of one’s own national history and culture has long been a weapon of the oppressed.

A drawing depicting men and women captured to be sold as slaves. (Credit: WELLCOME IMAGES via. WIKI)

Similarly, history is weaponised in the study of archaeology in Palestine. The discipline has been used as a tool to legitimate colonisation through a history explicitly based on ethnonationalism. The enmeshing of religious history from thousands of years ago with a modern-day nation state’s claim to land is a perfect example of Benedict Anderson’s argument that nationalism is an “imitation of simultaneity across homogenous, empty time”. This claim, however, is overshadowed by the history of the Palestinians who have been dispossessed of their land and of which they have emotional and practical ties to within living memory. These personal histories will be passed down orally through families and will be the spark for resistance to the colonisation process for generations to come.

History can seem like a dry academic investigation of a static past; however, the stage is set for the morality play of history in the mainstream media often. Britain seems to be obsessed with an overly simplistic version its history. When representations are narrow and limited to mostly excavations of world war two, a rare occasion in which Britain made a positive impact through contributing to the defeat of German fascism, it is easy to see how the identity of ‘Britons’ on the world stage can appear as a trans historic moral force to some. This is important to understand how people in the army understand their role as a historical agent and can believe they are doing their duty to a higher moral power, their civic religion: nationalism. It is for this reason that people can participate in imperialist wars such as the invasion of Iraq and keep a personal sense of morality and justice.

Although a new generation is questioning the authority of these narratives. This nationalism is outdated for a country that is home to people from previous colonies of Britain. Eric Williams argues that “the British historians wrote almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery for the satisfaction of abolishing it”. In fact, the cultural homogeneity that supports history as national morality play is swiftly broken by the curiosity, doubt and challenge of a new generation. The petition to teach the empirical truth of colonialism has garnered massive support and shows that a new generation will attempt at establishing their own history. The question that lingers is: will this be based on a new kind nationalism?

Finlay Purcell

Arsinoe of Egypt: A Retelling of The Royal Rebel Against Rome

Do you know the story of Arsinoe, a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a rebel against the Romans and the sibling of the infamous Cleopatra? No? That is because history is written by the victors. Arsinoe has always been overshadowed by her older and more seductive sister in our historical records, but this article will put forward that Arsinoe was just as ambitious, power-hungry and political as Cleopatra, only buried literally and figuratively before her true, tantalising and treacherous tale could be told.

In order to tell Arsinoe’s scandalous story, we must travel back to ancient Alexandria. Here, we find that the course of history was not following a trajectory, where Cleopatra becoming the iconic ruler of Egypt that we know today was apparent or assured. Indeed, Cleopatra’s ascension to the throne of Egypt as the bride of her younger brother Ptolemy, was unforeseen. This article proposes that this is when Arsinoe is free to take centre stage. Arsinoe’s role becomes significant when Cleopatra falls from a pedestal of power as a result of her contextually controversial political views on the contentious issue of the day: the Roman Empire. Most ancient history books fail to mention the adolescent Cleopatra’s fall from grace, instead merely skipping to the part where she gracefully climbed out of a rug, which was placed inside of Julius Caesar’s bed-chamber in the palace. Classicists and historians, however, usually fail to mention why Julius Caesar was in Egypt in the first place and fail to mention Arsinoe lurking in the shadows of this significant story. Cleopatra was exiled by Ptolemy, her brother and betrothed, as she believed that Egypt should deal with the ever-expanding Roman Empire by forming an alliance with it, instead of engaging the greatest military in the world in battle. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, disagreed. This life-changing political opinion should not be understated. This difference of opinion on the way to approach the Roman Empire between these two siblings would quite literally change the course of history. Ptolemy and Arsinoe forced their elder sister to leave Egypt because of their political disagreements. But, as we are all aware, Cleopatra would not stay away for long.

The Rescue of Arsinoe, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1555-1556.

Indeed, it is this sibling squabble that brought Julius Caesar to Egypt on a trip that would become legendary in the year 48 BC… For all of the wrong reasons. It was a trip that would involve intrigue, betrayal, sex, scandal, rebellion and power. Julius Caesar’s arrival in Alexandria set the stage for Cleopatra’s return to her homeland and fueled the flames for a showdown between the royal siblings, Cleopatra, Ptolemy and Arsinoe. The royal will of their father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, decreed that the famous Julius Caesar should be summoned to Alexandria to mediate any dispute in regards to the succession of the Egyptian throne. Arsinoe, who is estimated to have been in her mid-teens around the context of this time, was to be betrayed by her elder sister who was now twenty-two years old. It is widely known that Cleopatra used her ‘slender build’ to roll herself up into a ‘fine’ and ‘expensive’ rug, which was ordered to be placed inside Julius Caesar’s quarters. Ptolemy and Arsinoe were not aware of this until the morning. It is believed that Cleopatra begged Julius Caesar, the fifty-five-year-old friend of her deceased father, to restore her to her rightful place as queen of Egypt, making use of her famed beauty marked by her ‘full cheeks,’ ‘straight nose,’ ‘short neck’ and ‘small chin’ when she was ‘in the prime of her life,’ according to Cassius Dio. Arsinoe, who is believed to have been equally as ‘beautiful’ with similar physical features to her elder sister, did not use her feminine wiles to charm Julius Caesar. At the time, engaging in sexual intercourse with a Roman was considered to be an act of treason. 

Indeed, the gritty political drama between Cleopatra and Arsinoe truly takes shape here. When Ptolemy found his exiled elder sister in the bed of Julius Caesar the next morning, the soldiers who supported Ptolemy and Arsinoe’s belief in going to war with the military might of Rome launched an attack on Julius Caesar’s small force of men. If we examine this from the perspective of Arsinoe, it is understandable why she and her supporters would have felt betrayed by Cleopatra. It is apparent that they would have been under the impression that Cleopatra had sold Egypt to the Roman Empire. This led to the supporters of Arsinoe and Ptolemy besieging the royal residence, where Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Arsinoe and Ptolemy still remained. Cassius Dio informs us that ‘war besieged Caesar’ as brother fought against brother over the fate of this very nation and the state of its foreign policy. Amongst this chaos, we are aware that Julius Caesar took Arsinoe as a hostage, alongside Ptolemy. So, what does this tell us? It informs us that Julius Caesar himself did not doubt the political abilities of Arsinoe or Ptolemy, whom he feared could morph into leaders and figureheads for the men attacking Julius Caesar’s soldiers. Julius Caesar and his Roman forces were already outnumbered and he sent for reinforcements, which would take several weeks to arrive by sea. Thus, the balance of power was unclear amongst the flames and fury, and the tables of history could have easily turned. 

However, Julius Caesar told his own men to go and set the ships in the harbour alight. This, in turn, enabled an ‘inferno’ to sweep across the city, which led the men in support of Arsinoe and Ptolemy away from the palace, where they turned their attention to curbing the fire in the city. This was a move that would lead to a great opportunity for Julius Caesar/Cleopatra and Arsinoe herself. Whilst Julius Caesar used this moment to send his troops to one of the nine ancient wonders of the world, the Pharos Lighthouse, which controlled all of the ships entering into Alexandria, Arsinoe seized the opportunity to flee from her royal prison. This was a move of great courage undertaken by Arsinoe, who would have only been between thirteen to sixteen years old. She was rebelling against Rome and against the notorious Julius Caesar himself. Arsinoe was choosing the rebel army over the expansionist Roman army, risking her life for her political views. This is evidence that Arsinoe possessed as much ambition and drive as her more famous sister. The rebel forces who supported Arsinoe’s less peaceful foreign policy towards the Roman Empire had taken Arsinoe from Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s clutches and brought her into their city-based headquarters. It seems apparent that the rebel forces were also not in any doubt that the younger sister of Cleopatra could be her match. We can verify this because the rebel forces declared Arsinoe their queen, not the eminent Cleopatra. In her name, the rebel forces launched a surprise attack on Julius Caesar at the Lighthouse of Pharos, which left Julius Caesar needing to swim for his life. Many books of the ancient world seem to have forgotten this part; an attack launched by a teenage girl left Julius Caesar in fear of his life. Arsinoe and her rebel forces took siege of the Lighthouse at Pharos, a motif of her own dynasty’s power, leaving Julius Caesar to stumble back to Cleopatra at the palace, having survived Arsinoe’s attack by swimming further out to sea. Arsinoe raised Julius Caesar’s purple cloak onto the Lighthouse of Pharos as a mark of her impressive victory. 

However, Arsinoe’s victory over Julius Caesar and Cleopatra did not last for long. Julius Caesar’s reinforcements arrived, whilst the rebels bickered amongst themselves about the affairs of Ancient Egypt. These reinforcements, brought across from Syria, launched a counter-attack against Arsinoe and her men. The Roman legions went into Egypt and drowned Ptolemy, as the young boy tried to flee across the Nile. One of Cleopatra’s main rivals for the throne was dead, thanks to the dirty work of her lover, Julius Caesar, who was determined to fulfil his promise to her that he would make her sovereign. 

Arsinoe remained alive… for now. The younger sister of Cleopatra was taken hostage by Julius Caesar once more and she was taken with him back to Rome. Arsinoe, the teenage rebel who dared to challenge the power of Rome was to become subject to its crowds. Julius Caesar sought to have Arsinoe strangled after she was paraded in chains through the streets of Rome as an example of what happened to those who fought against the powers of the Roman Empire, even if they were merely a teenager. However, the people of Rome were horrified at the notion of murdering this little girl, who had ‘tears streaming down her face’ and was miles from her homeland. Julius Caesar understood that killing Arsinoe would turn the crowds against him… And so he spared Arsinoe’s life. 

Instead of being murdered for taking on the Roman Empire, the younger sister of Cleopatra was provided with the promise of safety in the name of Artemis and her temple located in the large Roman province of Ephesus. Indeed, Arsinoe was to enter another one of the ancient world’s wonders by taking up residence in the Temple of Artemis. This Greco-Roman Goddess was the protector of political hostages and Arisnoe undoubtedly felt a huge relief that Cleopatra could not reach her here – In sacred walls and many miles away from Egypt. 

Unfortunately, Arsinoe’s safety was no longer assured after Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times on the 15th March 44 BC. His death left Arsinoe within the grasp of her elder sister once again, as a certain Mark Antony had connections to Ephesus. When Mark Antony sought money from Cleopatra and Cleopatra sought the death of her younger sister, their relationship was suddenly mutually advantageous. This was evident when the dead body of Arsinoe was found on the Temple of Artemis’ steps.

Arsinoe’s teenage body was buried beneath a structure matching the Lighthouse of Pharos… A motif of her brief and short-lived victory against Rome and Cleopatra.

Sophie Overton