The Eternal Apartheid and the Power of Myth

Every culture has a founding myth, which serves in part to connect people living in the present to the wisdom of those who came before them.  For instance, the founding myth of the Roman Empire is that of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who...

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Every culture has a founding myth, which serves in part to connect people living in the present to the wisdom of those who came before them.  For instance, the founding myth of the Roman Empire is that of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who suckled at the breast of a she-wolf.  The characteristics of the Romulus in particular came to represent certain fundamental organising aspects of Roman society, such as the legal, religious and political systems.  South African culture, to the extent that such a thing exists, is founded on the myth of the “Eternal Apartheid.”  The Eternal Apartheid possesses similar characteristics to other founding myths, in that it too reveals and shapes perceptions of South African society.  The power of myth is its ability to imbue the mind of the individual with a shared psychological foundation upon which further ways of perceiving, describing and being in the world are built.  This article will discuss the psychological significance and genesis of The Eternal Apartheid mythology, and will describe how the Eternal Apartheid evolved into and persists as a form of social control.

In South African culture, The Eternal Apartheid is the Alpha and Omega, the Original Sin and the cornerstone that our nation-builders failed to reject.  Ever present and all-encompassing, The Eternal Apartheid looms large in the psyche of all South Africans. At its core, The Eternal Apartheid describes the societal forces which arose from the clash between Western modernity and African culture, and can be best understood as the post-Apartheid frame through which our society is interpreted.  In Jungian terms, it reduces the archetypal interplay between order and chaos into a battle between the “Unrepentant White” and the “Perpetually Victimised African.” Under The Eternal Apartheid, aspects of social and political life influenced by Western modernity are ascribed the status of tyrannical order, which exists only to stultify the emergent utopian society promised by revolutionary African leaders.  Given that conscious attitudes serve a compensatory function with regards to our unconscious attitudes, it is not surprising that South African society is descending even further into chaos. The more chaotic the contents of our collective unconscious, the more we will witness the imposition of The Eternal Apartheid upon our society. The homeostatic interplay between the forces of order and chaos is a part of the natural dualism inherent in the human condition; The Eternal Apartheid may thus be understood as perversion of the process of what the famed anthropologist Gregory Bateson termed schismogenesis.

Schismogenesis describes the way in which new cultural norms arise as a result of iterated interactions between groups or individuals.  Since the South African psyche has indeed suffered under the yoke of despotic order under Apartheid, it was vital that some benevolent chaos was introduced into the culture in order to facilitate a degree of entropy and create the conditions for a cultural rebirth.  Tragically it seems that the destructive aspect chaos could not be reined in, and instead of a reconstitution of a new, benevolent order, The Eternal Apartheid arose. Our founding myth is therefore best conceptualised as the shadow-side of chaos wearing the mask of a benevolent order.  In this way, The Eternal Apartheid mirrors the Apartheid which it was meant to supersede.

Having explored the conception of The Eternal Apartheid myth, we must turn to an understanding of how it has been able to perpetuate.  In order to do so, one must first explore the concept of memes. In his 1976 work “The Selfish Gene,” Richard Dawkins defines a meme as that which “conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”  In Darwinian terms, memes are the genes of cultural evolution; they are concepts or behaviours which form part of the broader cultural genome.

Words and symbols are types of memes, as are communicable procedures such as tool-making. When a number of memes cohere around a common theme, this is known as a “Memeplex.”  Similar to the manner in which Darwinian selection acts on genes and organisms, a meme or memeplex can evolve and flourish if it confers a survival advantage onto a group of people.  Any myth or cultural practice that is passed down through socialisation is thus a meme or memeplex which has proven beneficial to that particular culture. As an example of survival benefits conferred by a memeplex, one need look no further than religion’s ability to engender cohesive bonds between its followers. Environmental pressure thus determines the social utility of memes, and memes are transmitted through repeated usage by members of a particular culture. It should be clear, even to the casual observer, that the social and political milieu of post-Apartheid South Africa provides fertile ground for the perpetuation and evolution of The Eternal Apartheid myth.  In an environment where economic inequality was exacerbated by government tyranny, a repeated recourse to The Eternal Apartheid provides a seemingly plausible explanation for the persistence of various problems besetting South African society.

In addition to the fact that memes can spread by repetitive usage, another essential quality of memetic evolution is that they can be transmitted in either a top-down or a bottom-up manner.  For instance, a top-down political decision may be taken to adopt a state-religion, to the effect that the proliferation of competing memeplexes is arrested. During the First Council of Nicaea, for example, the custodians of Christianity codified an official doctrine with the goal of standardising certain practices across the Roman Empire.  Crucially, the adoption of a particular belief system always requires an appeal to the moral instinct, which is a human universal. Our existence as moral beings is inextricably linked to our status as social animals; we identify with others who share our moral convictions and are quick to ostracise or even harm those who transgress them. The evolutionary significance of morality cannot be overstated, as it rests partly upon the emotional foundations of disgust.  At an evolutionary level, disgust is extremely powerful as it compels us to expel unclean foreign bodies from our midst, lest we succumb to infection. The power of this emotion is exemplified in the dehumanising language that was employed during the Rwandan Genocide, where Hutus branded Tutsis as “cockroaches” and then went on to exterminate them. It is noteworthy how the ANC/EFF alliance, the custodians of The Eternal Apartheid, have appealed to our moral nature in order to facilitate our acceptance of their mythology.  As the idea of the “Rainbow Nation” began to fade, we have witnessed an incremental othering of those who resisted the imposition of The Eternal Apartheid upon our minds. The invectives levelled against heretics have varied, but in particular those such as “settlers” or “land-thieves” rely on the disgust-based impulse to purge these elements from the cultural at large. Repetitive usage of such language further embeds The Eternal Apartheid in our collective consciousness, while simultaneously entrenching power in the hands of the custodians of this myth.  Thus, what was once an emergent cultural phenomenon has been increasingly become imposed from above by the custodians of The Eternal Apartheid. When the occasion for exculpation arises, the political elite know that the Eternal Apartheid provides the perfect obscurantist alibi, and they never fail to remind us that is present in every interracial interaction.

The tragedy of The Eternal Apartheid mythology is that although it purports to offer salvation from vestigial Apartheid tyranny, it has itself become yet another “Mind-forged manacle.”  While it is clear that this particular memeplex arose under conditions where black South Africans were in the process of articulating their psychological distress as second-class citizens in a country ruled by a racist, authoritarian government, it has been hijacked by the political elite and has not borne the fruit that was promised by its propagators. Through repeated recourse to this myth, we contribute to a linguistic and cultural environment where the custodians of The Eternal Apartheid have been able to ensure their survival while simultaneously robbing the population at large of the psychological ability to perceive reality as it truly is.  When you prostrate yourself at the altar of The Eternal Apartheid, you are not demonstrating appropriate contrition for the sins of the past. When you exercise your democratic right to vote for the custodians of The Eternal Apartheid, you do not usher in a “New Dawn.” In both instances, you are actively participating in one of the greatest lies ever told on South African soil; the lie that the interests of black and white people are diametrically opposed and that our respective cultures cannot coexist peacefully unless we learn to love our bondage and humble ourselves at the feet of our “Revolutionary heroes.”

How can we hope to break this cycle?  A possible solution lies in a return Hegel’s dialectical method and applying this to the phenomenon of schismogenesis outlined above.  Hegel viewed societal change as non-liner, and believed that our attempts to move from one position to its opposite would invariably involve a degree of overcompensation.  When viewed this way, The Eternal Apartheid can be understood as the antithesis which was meant to negate the thesis of Apartheid. South African society is presently trapped under the crushing weight that the Eternal Apartheid foists upon the collective unconscious, and for this reason we have been unable to find a synthesis between conflicting modes of being.  The Eternal Apartheid offers nothing in the way of a path towards the good, and thus it is little wonder that there is a sense of nihilism pervading the nation. Heidegger believed that pervasive cultural nihilism would lead to a situation where, “There is no longer any goal in and through which all the forces of the historical existence of peoples can cohere and in the direction of which they can develop.”  For us to escape the destructive effects of nihilism, we need to stop viewing The Eternal Apartheid as the culmination of the fight against Apartheid, and in doing so attempt to understand it as an overcompensation in the process towards a synthesis of Western Modernity and African culture. In practical terms, this would require a reconstitution of psychological order, with an accompanying admission that the chaos of The Eternal Apartheid has outlived its purpose.  South African culture must therefore confront the evils of both Apartheid and our collective reaction to it, whilst also trying to reconcile the positive aspects of Western and African culture into a utilitarian synthesis. This is easier said than done.

In closing, it is evident that the myth of The Eternal Apartheid began as a psychological rebellion against the tyrannical order of Apartheid, was spread through repetitive usage by members of our culture and has been cynically deployed by the custodians of the myth to perpetuate the psychological and sociocultural status quo through an appeal to our moral instincts.  Our present political reality follows inexorably from this, and unless we break these mental shackles we will be trapped in an interminable cycle of cultural decline. I urge the reader to reflect upon the ways in which they prolong the hegemony of this most pernicious myth. If you intend to be compassionate in your way of speaking about Apartheid or acting to address its legacy, be mindful of the manner in which you approach this as you may inadvertently come to enact The Eternal Apartheid.  We must move beyond thinking in terms of the “Unrepentant White” and “Perpetually Victimised African.” A group of white people certainly instituted Apartheid, but whites in general are also patriots who love their country and when given the chance have proven that they are willing to work towards a common good. Black people were undoubtedly the victims of Apartheid, but they are not bereft of the agency and will to improve their condition. Our Indian and coloured compatriots must not be excluded from the conversation either, for they too have an important role to play in the definition of a new culture.  At the same time, and perhaps most crucially, we must recognise that both black and white have the propensity for evil; for as Breyten Breytenbach once wrote: “No one is guilty of innocence.” Our failure to achieve a psychological and cultural synthesis will mean the end of the Rainbow Nation dream.

* Quentin Ferreira is a qualified clinical psychologist.  Originally from Johannesburg, he now lives in self-imposed and reluctant exile in The Netherlands.  As a libertarian, Quentin hopes his writing will help defend liberty, justice & secularity.

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