As South Africa’s apartheid system neared its end, the regime asked their long-term ally Israel for some advice. How could they boost their image in the West and sell themselves favourably to a part of the world who were becoming increasingly disenchanted with their oppressive rule? How was it that Israel had weathered so much criticism for decades and survived whilst South Africa was failing?
South Africa’s increasing isolation was in part the culmination of the British ‘Boycott Movement,’ which encouraged civilians to avoid South African products in order to weaken the system. Established in the late 1950s, it would take roughly twenty years before Europe paid attention to it, and around another ten before apartheid ended.
Now there is a boycott campaign against Israeli goods in the form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). If the success of South Africa’s movement is anything to go by, it will itself gain even more traction beyond the new supporters it attracts every day from religious, cultural, academic, medical and trade union circles. Considering the movement to boycott Israeli goods was established in 2005, “You’re going much faster than we did,” said South African colleagues to founding member of BDS, Omar Barghouti.
It is parallels between the two countries such as these that are explored in Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson’s award-winning documentary ‘Roadmap to Apartheid.’ Through interviews with Palestinian, Jewish Israeli and South African journalists, activists and authorities a disturbing analogy unfolds. Footage of South Africa is interlinked with shots of Israel and Palestine, to demonstrate striking similarities between the two systems.
In one scene, we see a black and white clip of white Afrikaners, the ruling authority in apartheid South Africa, of ‘the Great Trek’ (the equivalent of the exodus) in the early 1800s in Africa – a country they believed to be their promised land. Beating back “the indigenous masses” with guns, they protected themselves with a laager, a circle of covered wagons. This illusion of the courageous heroes defending themselves from the savage masses underpinned their ideology, or mythology.
“Under apartheid law, the one standard against which everything was judged, was the security of the state, and the state meant the Afrikaner people,” narrator Alice Walker tells us. “With every law enacted, the freedoms of the majority were whittled away in order to protect the privileges of a white minority”
Next, the documentary shows us a monument to the Great Trek, “a shrine to this history and philosophy,” that currently stands in Pretoria. A circular, concrete wall with imprints of wagons – a laager – completely surrounds it. “A physical representation of a state of mind that sees enemies everywhere and would do anything to protect against them,” Walker observes. As her voice trails off, we see shots of the separation wall or ‘security barrier’ in the West Bank.
Further examples of parallels are demonstrated using a split screen effect, with South African archival footage on the left and images of Palestine on the right. Bulldozers destroying homes; soldiers checking identification; displaced refugees living in tents; civilians showing their scars after being beaten by police and soldiers; tanks spraying tear gas rolling through the streets fill the screen.
Though many would contest the comparison between Israel and South Africa, it is a theory that, according to Davidson, is gaining more ground and becoming increasingly well known. In a moving interview in Roadmap, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Eddie Makue, describes visiting Israel:
“What I experienced there was such a crude reminder of a painful past in apartheid South Africa. We were largely controlled in the same way, the continuous checking at the roadblocks, and to see these young men and young women standing at the roadblock having to perform the duties of a military junta. These parallels with Israel pained me severely.”
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