Monday, 11 January 2016

Apartheid in The Prisoner: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

I was in two minds about whether to post on this episode at all. On the one hand, its relevance to apartheid South Africa can be summarised by referring to quack science and social control, subjects examined at length in the whole series.
On the other hand as I watched the episode again just now, I was struck by how many, and how varied, were the possible echoes of apartheid if you look for them. People's personal values are sacrificed to an ideology. The government is involved in this at the highest levels. The atmosphere of unreality necessarily created to cover up the sinister goings on. The intelligence needed to maintain control. Even the party can be seen as an image of white people's privileged, sheltered lifestyle,  buttressed by some very dodgy things indeed. And finally the use of science in the service of the ideology.
In this,  this episode plugs perfectly into the ambivalent approach to science I have often noted in 1960s TV shows. Science is both seen as the wonderful cure of all ills, yet its power is also feared, and the need to control science emphasised at length. This episode therefore contains a warning against the sort of society run by a totalitarian regime which will use science in its service. This is of course exactly a description of apartheid -era South Africa. And that is what happened.
' A White South African scientist has told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the White apartheid government considered trying to develop a bacteria which would kill only Africans.
'The former head of a military research laboratory, Daan Goosen, told the commission that the project had the backing of South Africa’s then Surgeon General, who described it as “the most important project in the country.”
'Although the substance was “officially” never developed, Mr Goosen said that an unknown European scientist claimed to have developed a strain of bacteria in the early 1980s “capable of killing pigmented people”.
'“It could have been used as a negotiation back-up,” Mr Goosen told the Commission. “A thing like this could have been used to maintain peace. It was a case of being the strongest.”
'Plans to travel to Europe for a meeting were abandoned because of fears that it could be a trap, but the witness said South African scientists continued their own work on the project, and also looked into methods of making Blacks selectively infertile.
'Goosen also said he and his immediate supervisor,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wouter_Basson"> Wouter Basson
, had discussed the possibility of killing Nelson Madela and Oliver Tambo – then President of the ANC – through the use of carcinogens, as well as arranging the supply of snake venom “to eliminate an enemy of the state.”
'In other testimony, the former head of the police forensics laboratory, General Lothar Neethling, told the Commission that he had been instructed to supply Basson with confiscated supplies of narcotic drugs such as marijuana, LSD and Mandrax.
'The intention, he said, was to extract the active ingredients for insertion into crowd-control grenades.
'It was alleged that officials plotted to mentally disable Nelson Mandela with poison during the final years of his imprisonment
'Mr Goosen told the commission he now realised that he was wrong to work on the projects, but said he had not been thinking rationally at the time.' ( http://www.africanglobe.net/africa/proof-south-africas-apartheid-government-developed-germs-kill-blacks/)
The problem with this is that the nature of scientific experimentation in South Africa only became widely known decades after this show. Nonetheless the warning remains,  and remains valid in these days of terrorism: we have a responsibility to get the world we want.

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