1948, apartheid, a social philosophy that enforced social, economic, and racial segregation was introduced in South Africa. While millions saw apartheid as an injustice to blacks in South Africa, those who supported apartheid asserted that is was vital in building a stable nation because it prevented homelands from collapsing. This was what prompted one Dr. A. L Geyer, a supporter of apartheid, to give a speech before the Rotary Club of London on 19th August 1953. His speech, ‘The Case for Apartheid’, explains why apartheid was an appropriate policy for all the races in South Africa and expresses frustration about issues that are continually ignored in the apartheid debate. According to Geyer, Black Africans were continually being portrayed as victims, yet the whites were responsible for majority of the progress and development in most parts of the country[footnoteRef:1]. He, therefore, presents his opinion on why apartheid was the key to stability and gives specific reasons why it was justified. [1 A.L. Geyer The Case for Apartheid (1953), 1]
Geyer’s speech was intended to provide insight on what he thought were the motivations for the Afrikaner Nationalist Party’s decision to institutionalize racial discrimination, despite criticism from the natives and leaders across the world. In fact, he goes ahead to give three main reasons why negative criticism was unjustified and offers recommendations regarding the future of South Africa. This essay discusses Geyer’s reasons for supporting apartheid. It evaluates his evidence and recommendations, and determines whether his claims were justified.
In the 17th century, South Africa was colonized by the English and Dutch but due to the domination of the Boers; the Dutch had to establish the new colonies of Transvaal and Orange Free State[footnoteRef:2] . When diamonds were discovered in this lands in the 1900’s, however, the English invasion began, which sparked the Boer war. What followed was a power struggle between the two groups until the 1940s, when the Afrikaner National Party gained a large following. To gain more control over the social and economic systems, the Party then invented apartheid, which increased racial segregation while at the same time maintaining white domination[footnoteRef:3]. Although racial segregation had been in force for a number of decades; the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948 saw racial discrimination become institutionalized to such an extent that marriages between whites and non-whites were banned and some were jobs that were reserved for whites only. Apartheid sparked internal resistance and violence because its opposition was banned and those against it were often imprisoned. [2: Stanford University ‘The History of Apartheid in South Africa’ Stanford Library, 2015] [3: Ibid]
At the time, Geyer was the national Chairman of South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (SABRA) and strongly supported apartheid. According to Geyer, the opposition to apartheid was uncalled for particularly because it was ironical for the black Africans to oppose a policy that would lead to a stable country; and to forget the huge debt they owed the whites. Furthermore, weren’t the whites fully responsible for majority of the development in different parts of the country? In his speech, he expressly states that the west’s condemnation of colonialism had little effect because before colonization, Black Africans had had independence for more than a thousand years and they did not utilize that opportunity[footnoteRef:4]. However, he acknowledges that the Africans had been able to control their population, fight famine and disease, and eliminate vices such as witchcraft and cannibalism. [4 A.L. Geyer The Case for Apartheid (1953), 1]
Geyer gives three main reasons why apartheid was vital in the restoration of order at the time. Firstly, both races had a right to call South Africa home[footnoteRef:5]. The second reason was that South Africa was the only independent nation in the whole of Africa and the third; it was the only independent country globally where black people outnumbered white people. He gave an example of Brazil with the ratio was 20 to 1, compared to South Africa where it was 1 to 4[footnoteRef:6]. In his defense, a great part of this was true, but the context in which it was used was inappropriate. [5: Ibid, 1] [6: Ibid, 1]
Geyer, speaking on behalf of those who were in support of a discriminatory and stratified society, had two options for the future development of South Africa: partnership or apartheid. He explained that partnership entailed cooperation irrespective of race, where there would be no discrimination in professions in the public service or in trade and industry. However, he held that this would eventually lead to a situation where blacks would dominate and cause the disappearance of the white South African nation[footnoteRef:7]. The second option, apartheid, which he was passionate about, would involve separate development that would see the Bantu develop fully as a separate people. He asserted that segregation was the only road to prosperity. [7: Ibid, 2]
Geyer’s speech, though genuine, was rather biased. As the chairman of SABRA, he was doing the opposite of what the organization was established for. SABRA, a non-profit organization, was created in 1948 with the objective of promoting harmonious relations and coexistence of different people in South Africa; and to promote political, social and economic development[footnoteRef:8]. It was evident that the organization believed that the solution to all of the country’s problems lay in the promotion of white supremacy. Geyer was also a writer and a former South African High Commissioner in London. He was, therefore, quite influential at the time and a reliable source on the thought processes of those who supported the apartheid. By addressing the Rotary Club of London, Geyer targeted its numerous professional, business, and community leaders as his audience. The members were, and still are, intent on providing humanitarian services and promoting peace, and it is accurate to conclude that he was trying to correct the negative perception that the west had about apartheid. Geyer’s assertive and authoritative tone also indicates that he was aware that his position entitled him to argue in favor of apartheid because most leaders at the time shared his sentiments that it was the best option for South Africa’s future development. [8: William Beinart and Saul Dubow. Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-century South Africa (New York: Rouitledge, 1995), 212]
Geyer’s speech does not present the right facts regarding apartheid. He completely ignores the injustices Black Africans were subjected to in the hands of the whites, despite his acknowledgement that South Africa was home to both races. For instance, he failed to mention that blacks had to use passports to enter their own country and that they often had to work for the whites to survive[footnoteRef:9]. His speech is proof of the racial and political bias that was involved in the making of laws. Beinart and Dubow explain that at one point, SABRA was of the opinion that African labor was becoming too expensive for the whites, which was not good for the economy, and to correct this they planned the extrication of African labor[footnoteRef:10]. What was their strategy? Gradual withdrawal of native labor had to be accompanied by more efficient European and mechanized labor[footnoteRef:11]. Africans were also assigned homelands according to their record of origin, which were often inaccurate; and since they were seen to be of a lower class, they were often deemed subservient to the whites. It is, therefore, not surprising that Geyer stated they would not apologize for promoting racial segregation because it often worked to their advantage. [9: Beinart and Dubow, Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-century South Africa, 211] [10: Beinart and Dubow, Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-century South Africa, 212] [11: Ibid, 212]
In agreement with the Dutch Reformed Church back in 1950, no individual in the world would be content with little or no say in the affairs of a country in which decisions about his or her interests and future are made. Nevertheless, Geyer’s conclusion that the solution lay in keeping the Bantu’s as far as possible from the whites is as derogatory as it is misinformed because there were better ways of solving the issues that plagued the country at the time. Separate development for the blacks and the whites would increase the gap between the rich and the poor, which would increase the rate of poverty, violence, and political unrest. In the speech, Geyer referred to the Bantu as ‘immature’ before concluding that political power had to remain with the whites. His justifications, therefore, were not sufficient to cover up the fact that he felt that blacks owed the whites for the development of the country; he felt they had done little with the independence they had, and he was generally apprehensive of black domination[footnoteRef:12]. Furthermore, the Bantus were denied their basic rights and apartheid would condemn them to a life of misery under the rule of the whites, which contradicted the vision to a better and more peaceful nation. [12: A.L. Geyer, The Case for Apartheid (1953), 2]
Geyer’s enthusiasm for total segregation was shared by many other writers who tried to influence Afrikaner thinking in regard to apartheid[footnoteRef:13]. A good example is Professor G.A. Cronje, a Bantu intellectual at the time, who published his book ‘n Tuiste Vir Die Nageslag’ in 1945. He urged black South Africans to follow racial separation as the radical solution to the country’s problems, terming it their Christian duty. This, and other such documents, set the agenda for the debate on apartheid and they assumed that the natives were not aware of what was good for them and needed to be convinced that the apartheid policy was adopted for their own interests. Geyer’s speech also shared Paul Suer’s ideologies as stipulated in the Sauer Report. The report suggested wide ranging segregation between the blacks and the whites, and advocated for the ultimate removal of the blacks from white territories because it conflicted with the policy of apartheid[footnoteRef:14]. Overall, the apartheid policy was only successful in achieving its main goal of preferential treatment of whites. Given Geyer’s position and influence, he should have pushed for democracy that would have seen the rights of both races protected – this would have been more effective in achieving the shared goals of peace as well as social, political, and economic prosperity. [13: Beinart and Dubow, Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-century South Africa, 221] [14: Alleta Norval, Deconstructing Apartheid Discourse (New York: Veso, 1996) 114-116]
Geyer’s speech to the Rotary Club in London provides first hand insight on apartheids peculiar, albeit ironical, combination of racism and rectitude. Geyer’s position as the chairman of SABRA, a former South African High Commissioner in London, and a writer proves that he is a reliable source regarding the situation in South Africa at the time. The arguments presented in the speech are clear and concise, which makes it easy to comprehend the push for apartheid. Geyer’s speech also reveals facts about South Africa that paint a picture of the whites domination of blacks back in the 1950s.
The speech, however, is biased and it portrays the Bantus as ignorant people that did little to contribute to the development of the nation. Geyer’s opinion that they had done little with the independence they had before, which made them less deserving to have it then, was outright derogatory. His argument that the Bantus were indebted to the whites for all the progress in the country and that they were not mature enough to participate in political leadership also proves that his main intention was not to improve their living conditions; it was to promote white supremacy. The speech reveals that the option of cooperation among both races, which would have been more effective at promoting peace, was ignored because it would empower the immense African majority and it would have led to the extinction of the whites. The silent message passed here is clear: if liberated, the Bantus would have been more powerful than the whites and hence oppression was necessary to maintain the whites’ place in the society. Contrary to the main message passed by the speech, therefore, apartheid was not the best policy for all races in South Africa.
A.L. Geyer. The Case for Apartheid .1953
Alleta Norval, Deconstructing Apartheid Discourse New York: Veso, 1996
Beinart William and Dubow Saul. Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-century South Africa New York: Routledge, 1995
Stanford University. The History of Apartheid in South Africa. Stanford Library, 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2015 from http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/apartheid.hist.html
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