Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: Free for All



It's a funny thing but I thought this episode would be an absolute gift for comparison to apartheid, so I'm astonished to find I'm having real problems finding any echoes of the South African system of the time in this show. Bearing in mind my hypothesis that, while it is possible to 'read' The Prisoner in all sorts of ways, and echoes of apartheid can certainly be seen in it, apartheid is not a primary interpretation of the show.
Certainly in the case of Free for All, it is very clear that what is being shown here is quite different to the South African system, although I was expecting to find comparisons in terms of vote rigging and the way everything is predetermined. I think that probably Ian Smith's regime in the then Rhodesia would actually be a closer comparison to The Village, since there voting rights were given to all races on the basis of certain qualifications (naturally they tended to rule out blacks), rather than the entire system being set up for the benefit of one group, as in South Africa. It is very clear that the elections in The Village are not real elections in any meaningful way: they are probably just another way to ensure conformity and try people out.
I think actually the best echo of apartheid in this episode is actually in Number 6's repeated assertion of his individuality and autonomy. This is precisely how the 'natives' were seen by the authorities in South Africa, and it is contrasted always to the 'sheeple' in The Village who have settled down to a quiet retirement. The wonder in this episode is that Number 6 seems to go along with it as much as he does, and of course his acquiescence is exactly the point of the exercise. The aim is actually to reduce these people to the level at which the 'natives' were seen in South Africa:
'There is nothing evil whatsoever in political segregation, which is merely to refuse a vote to an immature person or an immature and undeveloped nation, to people who don't know how to use it. That is all it is. I would not give a vote to my three-year-old child, or to any five-year-old child, and it is nonsense to recommend that we should give votes to child-like Natives.' (Senator the Reverend Miles-Cadman, OBE, Senate, February 16th 1949, cited in Ben MacLennan: Apartheid the Lighter Side. Chameleon Press, Plumstead, 1990, p. 77)
This episode also bears an unexpected comparison to South Africa under apartheid by the way people are given 'jobs' which are not jobs at all (the comparison for me would be the way in which a certain proportion of white people had to be employed, at higher wages than blacks doing the same job, and never supervised by a black). It is also interesting how the totalitarian regime does breed discontent and revolt, just as it did in South Africa, or sometimes apparent revolt, or at any rate a situation where it was well-nigh impossible to know who was who.
Apart from the obvious comparison that South African elections were 'rigged' by virtue of giving the vote to only certain sections of society, which The Village's 'elections' are, well, not so much rigged as complete charades, the lack of comparison between the political establishment of apartheid and the hidden establishment in The Village setting up a mock election, is found in the way apartheid was actually established. Building on existing traditions of segregation the National Party won a resounding victory in 1948 which led to the creation of grand apartheid. Let me be quite clear what I am saying: the apartheid regime was elected into power by the legally-established electorate of South Africa, and presumably repeatedly re-elected. It is no use trying to make excuses, the electorate made it happen. In The Village there is no way the electorate is ever going to make anything actually happen.
The election which established the apartheid government is probably best summarised by these two passages, which again make it very clear that it is difficult of impossible to make a comparison with The Village:
'The Sauer Commission [of 1947] was concerned with the 'problem' of controlling the influx of African people into urban areas. White workers, traders and merchants were concerned that this would represent a threat to their jobs and businesses, particularly since African workers would work in semi-skilled positions for a lower wage than white workers. Businesses demanded racially segregated trading zones in order to protect their businesses from competition. Numerous groups influenced this policy of 'total Apartheid', including the South African Bureau of Race Affairs (SABRA).
'Ultimately the Sauer commission did not enforce the total segregation to the extent originally envisioned. Rather, it resulted in the immediate implementation of 'practical Apartheid', which allowed some African people to enter and work in urban areas, with the complete implementation of total Apartheid envisioned as a future goal. The recommendations made by the Sauer commission were still more restrictive than those made by the Fagan commission.
'As a result, the Sauer commission upheld control over South Africa and segregation laws formed.' (Source)
'The parliamentary election in South Africa on 26 May 1948 represented a turning point in the country's history. The United Party, which had led the government since its foundation in 1933, and its leader, incumbent Prime Minister Jan Smuts, were ousted by the Reunited National Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party in Afrikaans), led by Daniel Francois Malan, a Dutch Reformed cleric.
'During the election battle, both the UP and the NP formed coalitions with smaller parties. The UP was aligned with the left-leaning Labour Party, while the Afrikaner Party sought to advance Afrikaner rights by allying with the HNP. By legislation relating to franchise requirements, very few people of Coloured and Asian descent were able to vote in this election; Africans had been banned altogether since the late 1930s, with the limited number of Africans meeting electoral qualifications voting for four "own" white MPs separately.
'The HNP, realizing that many White South Africans felt threatened by black political aspirations, pledged to implement a policy of strict racial segregation in all spheres of living. The Nationalists labelled this new system of social organisation "apartheid" ("apartness" or "separation"), the name by which it became universally known.' (Source)

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