Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law Professor Denis Binder’s article “Some Rough Historical Parallels Between South Africa and the United States” was recently published in Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy.

From the introduction:

“The sleepy passenger awakens on the plane. The seatmate’s video screen shows the end of a movie or TV show with a camera panning over an immaculate suburb with beautiful lawns and detached homes. Then it pans over a highway. There’s no closing credits though; that’s surprising.

Shanties appear on the other side of the highway. Then you realize you’re viewing the plane’s approach into Cape Town International Airport through the plane’s nose camera. The shanties go up to Cape Town’s airport and line the road leaving the airport.

The approach is the first clue that South Africa is different from everything you are familiar with in airports and cities. Shanties rather than commercial structures circle the airport. The highways and railroads were clearly designed to create spatial division between racial groups.

The contrast between the Republic of South Africa and the United States of America is glaring. Yet a study of South Africa’s troubled history shows disturbing parallels with eras in American history.  South Africa’s development shows a long term conflict between the white settlers and the indigenous black population. The United States racial history has more tangents than South Africa’s. It involves not only the indigenous Native Americans (the Indians), but also the black slaves and their descendants, and Asian immigrants. We are well aware of the Civil Rights struggles of the African Americans to achieve equality, but much more unfamiliar with the struggles of America’s Asian immigrants to achieve equality.

Societies, whether kingdoms, dictatorships, or democracies, often encounter similar problems, such as urban sprawl, infrastructure, population pressures, sanitation, transportation, and conflagration. They frequently confront similar ‘problems’ in similar ways at similar stages in their evolution.

The purpose of this article is not to fully analyze all the nuances, permutations and other sordid aspects of Apartheid, but those practices which overlap the American experience.”

Read the full article.

Learn more about Professor Binder.