Modernity and measurement: Further thoughts on the apartheid state

Posel, Deborah
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In 1957, the Commission of Enquiry in regard to Undesirable Publications, which had been appointed to 'investigate the problem of undesirable and inferior publications as systematically and scientifically as possible', presented its findings. In pursuit of' reliable data.. and a scientific explanation of them, the Commission had commissioned a case-study of 'reading matter and illustration among the Bantu in Pretoria', and had nominated the head of the Mathematics Division of the SA Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), together with a government ethnologist, to do the job. The Commission concluded, inter alia, that illustrations of White women were probably having a harmful effect on ‘the Bantu in Pretoria’. This is how it reached that conclusion: The illustrations encountered as decorations in the homes or rooms of the Bantu in Pretoria are analysed below under various headings. By this means, an idea may be formed of the types of illustrations in which the Bantu are primarily interested.... Specious logic and the inexpert use of statistics, no doubt. But why did the Commission think it necessary to appoint the head of the Maths Division of CSIR, along with an ethnologist6, to oversee this research in the first place? Why was 'the nature of reading matter and illustrations among the Bantu in Pretoria' considered and presented as a statistical issue? It will take a while to suggest an answer to these questions. I have cited the Commission's report at the outset as what might seem to be a farcical example of the subject of this paper: an enduring and familiar (although fractured) preoccupation within the apartheid state, with generating and storing vast amounts of statistical 'knowledge', particularly in respect of the African population, hi fundamental ways, apartheid was elaborated in and along with continual efforts to count and classify the population, so as to try to measure - inter alia - the exact size of the African majority and the rate at which it reproduced itself compared with other racial groups; the spatial distribution of various races within segregated spaces; the extent of interracial sex and marriage; the numbers of Africans 'legally' resident in urban areas; the numbers considered 'surplus' to urban labour requirements and therefore liable for removal; the fluctuations in African labour 'supply' relative to labour 'demand'; the extent of' idleness' amongst African youth in the cities - not to mention the extent of moral harm inflicted by illustrations of white women in African homes. And the list could go on. This paper aims to reflect more closely on some of the connections between capacities to count and control in South Africa (particularly during the first phase of apartheid). In some ways this exercise is a rather obvious one, and it might seem surprising that little along these lines has been attempted before. It reflects, perhaps, a lingering reluctance to engage with the growing body of historical work influenced in some way or other by Foucault's writings on the knowledge/power nexus in the 'modem' world.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 19 August 1996
Apartheid. South Africa , Power (Social sciences). South Africa