Sunday, February 18, 2007

Apartheid - Another Ideology Bites the Dust


Contrary to what many think, modern Apartheid was not borne from the idea of racial superiority, but rather out of an anti-imperialist feeling and nationalistic fervor. This does not mean that a substantial number of Afrikaners did not eventually think that whites were superior, just that the roots of the racial disaster in South Africa had a deeper origin.


Although a feeling of racial superiority did play a role in the development of Apartheid in Southern Africa, it was not the primary factor. Instead, the policies of racial segregation had its origins in the long process of alienation of the white settlers from Europe, first by their treatment at the hands of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and afterwards by successive Dutch and English colonial governments.

Most of the colonists had left Europe not because they had wanted to, but because they had no other choice. Some were in severe financial difficulties, while others had fled for religious reasons. Many were poorly educated and heavily indebted to the authorities. After the arduous voyage to the Cape in which significant numbers died, the newcomers found life harsh and unforgiving in their new home.

In order to escape the hardships imposed upon them by corrupt officials they started to move inland to escape. There they encountered the native peoples. Often these encounters resulted in mayhem. Eventually significant numbers managed to escape far enough inland that they could form their own independent “homelands”. But the discovery of diamonds and gold brought unwanted attention and they were soon again subjected to the will of their former colonial masters.

Finally the various groups were united under British rule, and the country of South Africa was established. After a period of consolidation the descendants of the colonists grouped together under leaders who continued the message of their forebears. Accordingly, the newly formed Afrikaner Nation tried to preserve their religion, their culture, and their way of life, in the only way known to them – though their physical separation from everyone else.

This history lies at the root of Apartheid, which was in fact an ideology designed to protect Afrikaner interests. Like so many other social experiments, it would eventually turn into unimaginable hardship for the many who would suffer under its effects. On paper the concept of “equal but separate” sounds almost sanguine. However, given the nature of man, in practice this led to a disaster.

However much the Afrikaner nation had been guilty of the terrible injustice that resulted, the biggest share of the blame should be laid at the door of the Afrikaner intelligentsia and leaders who – for political reasons - kept on propagating this bankrupt ideology long after its cost in terms of human suffering became clear.

History of the Afrikaner

Afrikanerdom was born from the untold suffering of many.

Around the middle of the 1600’s the Dutch East India Company (VOC) decided to establish a halfway station at the Cape of Good Hope to supply their ships with fresh water and food. In 1652 commander Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape with 5 ships and a party of about 90 people, mostly bonded servants from the lower ranks of the VOC.[1] [2] (Prior to embarkation these folks were made to take an oath of allegiance, which entrenched their inferior position within the Company hierarchy virtually forever.[3])

This endeavor started innocently enough when the initial settlement started to trade with the indigenous Khoikhoi for their sheep and cattle. They also planted a garden and managed to grow several crops, but after a few years it became apparent that the settlement would need a lot more effort to become successful. In response the first nine free burghers were released from their contracts and granted “free citizen” status. Each was allocated 28 acres of land from which they would supply the VOC with grain.[4]

From the perspective of the VOC this move was highly successful as production increased substantially. More and more employees were granted free burgher status. But the progress was still too slow for the liking of the company as the free burghers could only do so much. Although the company had issued clear instructions that the indigenous population was not to be enslaved, they had no such misgivings about importing slaves, and a great many were brought in via Madagascar and sold to the free burghers (on company credit). These folk mainly originated in the Far East (India, Indonesia, and Malaysia) and a few came from the current Angola and Mozambique.

Because men outnumbered women by a substantial margin, numerous mixed marriages resulted between white men and slave women (the first slave was freed in 1656 to marry a Dutch settler). The passing sailors also fathered many children of mixed descent.[5] These people would eventually form the backbone of the so-called coloured community of the Cape Province, but many were assimilated in the greater population and would later pass as white. (According to one genealogist[6] the modern-day “white” Afrikaner is of mixed descent - 34% Dutch, 33% German, 13% French, 7% Coloured and 5% British).

Finally in 1685 the Cape could report a surplus in the production of most foods.[7] That same year the VOC started advocating a substantial emigration drive from Europe by offering free passage to the Cape. This brought numerous new immigrants from all over Europe, including a substantial number of refugees from religious oppression (the French Huguenots).

However, as the free burghers had found out before them, these newcomers did not land in a bed of roses. The VOC provided them with implements, seeds at cost, and credit. In lieu they had to turn over ten percent of their harvested grain and they had to sell the remainder to the company at a low fixed price. Free trade was banned and everything was controlled by the company. The VOC also viewed their success in the Cape colony as dependent upon their strict rules of conduct between the settlers and the native population. All unnecessary contact was discouraged, and no trade or missionary ventures among the Africans were permitted without the permission of the company administrator. (Stealing or shooting cattle was especially forbidden as this would have led to conflict). In one sense the Cape was a walled garden, with Africa on the outside and Europe within.

The Trekboere

This state of affairs inevitably led to corruption. Company officers helped themselves to the best tracts of land and used company resources to develop these farms into estates - which would compete with the farmers in supplying the company. Significant ill will against the company developed amongst the farmers and resulted in a number of disagreements with the authorities, often leading to the incarceration of the rebels (see Adam Tas). A number of farmers simply abandoned their farms and started moving north, away from company control. They were called Trekboere (wandering farmers).

Right from the beginning there were occasional skirmishes between the company and the Khoikhoi. Most were due to simple matters (trade disagreements, cattle rustling), but the growth of the colony also deprived the indigenous population (who led a nomadic lifestyle) of pasture. Now, with the Trekboere moving away from the settlement at the Cape the number of conflicts increased. In the north and northwest the Trekboere also encounter the San people (Bushmen), and in the northeast they ran into the Xhosas. Some of these encounters were benign, but soon trouble developed as opportunists on both sides would forage cattle from each other. As more and more grazing land became occupied by the settlers many indigenous peoples took offense, and this led to further friction. Many Trekboere began living a semi-nomadic and hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in some ways not far removed from that of the people they were displacing. In many cases the displaced (especially the Khoikhoi) became hired hands on the farms, while others were incorporated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.

The VOC held a dim view of the independent actions of the Trekboere as it meant losing control and tax revenue. The increasing conflict between the Trekboere and the indigenous populations also alarmed them. On several occasions they expanded the boundaries of the colony and started allocating farms in these new areas. However their efforts to control the rapidly expanding colony had limited success. Due to its numerous conflicts with the English, by 1795 the VOC was in dire financial straights. Perhaps sensing weakness from the VOC, the farmers at Graaff Reinet expelled the officials of the VOC and established their own an independent government. Six months later, Swellendam did the same.

The colony now had two groups of settlers from European descent – some who were successful in the Cape and decided to stay, and those who despised the harsh control of the company and tried to escape. Due to their relative isolation and the many influences of the multiracial mix at the Cape, the Dutch dialect spoken in the colony slowly started to change and eventually would develop into Afrikaans, a distinct language.

By the turn of the 18th century the British seized the Cape and claimed it as their property. They inherited an established colony with power residing solely with the governing elite in Cape Town. Differentiation on the basis of race was already visible, but not yet formalized. The English instituted free trade, stopped the import of slaves, and changed many other laws, but not always for the better.

If the VOC government had been authoritarian, the British rule was in many respects equally harsh. In 1809 the Governor of the Cape, Earl of Caledon, declared that the Khoikhoi had to have a fixed residence and could not migrate between regions without written authority. In a move which he later came to regret, Caledon gave permission for Saartjie Baartman, a Khoi woman, to travel to Europe to be exhibited for her "unusual" bodily features.

Attempting to provide a buffer zone, in 1820 the British authorities persuaded about 5,000 middle-class British immigrants to leave England and settle in the colony. They were allocated tracts of land between the feuding Boer (farmer) and Xhosa groups. However, most of the British subjects had no desire to live in the crossfire and moved to the towns. There they became highly urbanized and eventually they would dominate politics, trade, finance, mining, and manufacturing, while the largely uneducated Boers were relegated to the countryside.

The Great Trek

Now the European descendants had two language groups and two cultures. In 1833 the British abolished slavery. This caused some financial hardship for those farmers who viewed their slaves in investment terms – some had even used the value of their slaves as collateral to obtain loans. To offset the sudden dearth of workers caused by the freeing of the slaves, the British the authorities passed a Masters and Servants Ordinance in 1841. This effectively perpetuated white control. Already rebellious under the yoke of the VOC, the Boers now became increasingly dissatisfied with British rule. Beginning in 1835, several large groups, together with significant numbers of Khoikhoi and black servants, decided to trek off into the interior in search of independence. This migration was called the Great Trek.

Beyond the frontier the Voortrekkers (pioneers) found vast tracts of apparently uninhabited grazing lands (the Zulu Kingdom under the reign of Shaka Zulu had largely annihilated the tribes living there before their arrival). Following disagreements among the Boer leadership, the various Voortrekker groups split apart. While some headed north, most crossed into Natal with the idea of establishing a republic there.

Even at this late stage, almost 200 years after the establishment of the settlement at the Cape, racial prejudice was not a large factor in their thinking. Since the Zulus controlled this territory, the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief paid a visit to King Dingane to negotiate a land contract. Dingane agreed to Boer settlement in Natal for a price - to recover cattle stolen from him by a rival tribe. The Boers did so, and after returning the stolen cattle Dingane signed the deed of cession (by imitating writing).

While celebrating their deal, Dingane had Retief's party killed and he subsequently launched an attack on the Voortrekker laagers. The unexpected strike plunged the entire Voortrekker movement into serious disarray. The hostilities culminated in the Battle of Blood River, when an army of 15,000 Zulus attacked the Voortekker party of 570. Prior to the battle the Boers took a vow before God to forever celebrate the day in His honor, if they were granted victory. The Zulus suffered a major defeat with around 3,500 killed, versus no loss of life for the Boers - reportedly causing the river’s waters to run red. This event would forever change the Boer perspective regarding the black nations in Southern Africa. Now they not only had to escape imperialism, they could not trust anyone but their own kind.

The Boers’ hopes for establishing a Natal republic remained short lived. The British annexed the area in 1843 and most of the Boers, feeling increasingly squeezed between the British on one side and the native African populations on the other, headed north again.

Because the Boers and their servants left en masse and Zulu men refused to work as laborers, the British turned to India to resolve their labor shortage, and the next 50 years 150,000 indentured Indians arrived (as well as numerous free "passenger Indians"). This mass immigration formed the base for what is today the largest Indian community outside of India. (As early as 1893, when Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Durban, Indians outnumbered whites in Natal.)

Boer Republics

The Boers meanwhile persevered with their desperate search for land and freedom, ultimately establishing themselves in the Transvaal Republic (ZAR) and in the Orange Free State. For a while it seemed that these republics would develop into stable states. However, the discovery of diamonds (1869) and gold (1886) turned the Boers' world on its head anew.

The first diamonds came from land belonging to the Griqua, but to which both the Transvaal and Orange Free State laid claim. Britain quickly stepped in and annexed the area for the Crown. The establishment of the Kimberley diamond-mines unleashed a veritable free-for-all. The lure of easy riches caused an influx of opportunists and within a few months an estimated 50,000[8] people from all over the world[9] (including the entire African continent[10]) flooded into the area. Multiracial towns sprang up in which the inhabitants freely mingled regardless of race.

In 1877 the British took over the Transvaal. This resulted in the First Boer War in which the Boers dealt the British a crushing victory.[11] After the discovery of gold Johannesburg's population exploded, and the Transvaal suddenly were hosting thousands of foreigners (mostly British). The gold rush was even more massive than the rush to diamonds, and within 10 years Johannesburg grew into the largest city in Southern Africa.

Again the Boers felt squeezed to the sidelines, and fearing that they would be overrun by uitlanders the Transvaal government imposed strict control of all aspects of mining, and restricted citizenship and voting rights. Meanwhile, the British, who viewed their defeat as an aberration, forged ahead with their desire to federate the Southern African colonies and republics. The situation peaked in 1899, when the British demanded voting rights for the foreigners on the Witwatersrand. After four years of fruitless negotiations with the British, during which no concession by the Transvaal proved acceptable, Kruger concluded that suffrage for the uitlanders was a red herring and that the real British objective was the Transvaal's gold.[12] He issued an ultimatum that British troop concentrations on the borders of the Transvaal and Orange Free State be withdrawn. This was ignored and the Second Boer War resulted.

By June 1900, Pretoria, the last of the major Boer towns, had surrendered. Yet resistance by the Boers continued for two more years via guerrilla-style battles, which the British met in turn with scorched earth tactics. This took the form of the destruction of farms in order to prevent the fighting Boers from obtaining food and supplies, and to demoralize them by leaving their women and children homeless and starving in the open. When this proved unsuccessful, the British herded the Boer women and children into concentration camps. Inside these camps the conditions were appalling and disease and death was rife, and 27,927 Boers (22,074 of which were children) and 14,154 black Africans died due to overcrowding, starvation and poor sanitation. Peace was declared in 1902 with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging. Under its terms, the Boer republics acknowledged British sovereignty, while the British in turn committed themselves to reconstruction of the areas under their control, and in 1910 the Union of South Africa came into being. For the first time the British relinquished control to democratic elections.

Afrikaner Calvinism

After the Second Boer War large sections of the Afrikaner population was utterly destitute. The Dutch Reformed Church played a major role in trying to rehabilitate these people. Ever since the British had gained control of the Cape the church had been effectively isolated from the mother church in Holland. This period of cultural and religious isolation, the Afrikaner’s fiercely anti-imperialist outlook due to their own experience under colonial rule, and their staunch beliefs, now all started to play a major role in shaping Afrikaner Calvinism.

To make sense of their many trials and tribulations as a nation, the consensus had developed that God had preserved them for a purpose. In tune with the Calvinistic belief in predestination, the idea developed that the Afrikaner was elected to bring the Gospel to the natives and their children. These attitudes were very early adopted, and were reinforced by subsequent conflicts. The things they suffered, and the strong bonds between them that were formed through it all, seemed to confirm the idea at every turn that they were preserved by God's very own wisdom and providence.

By the time the British annexed the Cape the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, and the British appointed zealous propagators of these ideals as administrators. Although they instituted many repressive racial laws themselves, they loosened trade and labor regulations, were speaking of blacks as 'noble savages', and outlawed slavery. In many ways they treated blacks as equals, and gave them access to the courts in suits against white landowners. Finally, they professed to believe in their own autonomous Reason above all else. A more antithetical message could hardly be imagined, as the English version of Enlightenment forced itself upon the Afrikaners. From the Boer point of view, the Enlightenment invaded their shores, seized their properties, annexed their farms, imposed alien laws, liberated their slaves without compensation, justified these actions by appeal to Reason alone, and claimed in all of this to be more virtuous than God. They were exposed to the Enlightenment, and it appeared to them to be a revolution against God.[13]

Afrikaner Nationalism

The new Boer states which arose after the Great Trek needed a comprehensive philosophy upon which to organize a genuine Afrikaner society. Paul Kruger, first president of the South African Republic openly expressed the idea that the Afrikaner had a special “calling” from God, not unlike the people of Israel in the Bible. Others waged an intellectual war against “uitlander” cultures which were flooding into South Africa through the mass settlements of foreign squatters lured by gold and diamonds, accompanied by British armies. To the Afrikaner mind, the British represented imperialism, viciousness, outlander oppression, covetousness, envy, and unbelief. The Afrikaner's experience during the Second Boer War reinforced their laager mentality, so as to preserve themselves and their way of life against the British melting pot.

After the British victory the two Boer republics were combined with the Cape Colony and Natal, and reorganized into the Union of South Africa and the British relinquished control to democratic elections. A small, anonymous group of young intellectuals formed the Afrikaner Broederbond to design strategies for addressing Afrikaner interests and to deal with the overwhelming social problems of poor whites. Later the Broederbond's aims changed into promoting Afrikaner Nationalism as a lever to gain control of the South African government. The organization also actively initialized efforts to maintain Afrikaner culture, and to broaden the largely rural Afrikaner economy.

The Broederbond formally adopted the Calvinist philosophy based on the work of the Dutch theologian/politician Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper’s concept of Sphere Sovereignty had resulted in Pillarisation in Dutch and Belgium societies as a way to deal with multicultural societies. (Under the system, societies were "vertically" divided in several smaller segments or "pillars" according to different religions or ideologies, which operated separately from each other.) These ideas now served as a strong basis for the philosophical framework for the Afrikaner Nationalism that the Broederbond adopted – they firmly believed that it would provided them with a model of anti-imperialism, self-discipline and responsibility, which in the end would preserve justice for all: for blacks, coloureds, and whites; and against Communist deceit. In 1948 these views would officially culminate in the establishment of apartheid.

Though Afrikaner Nationalism never implied a belief in the superiority of one nation over others, in practice a significant number of Afrikaners did think that way. Some members of the Broederbond preferred the philosophy of Ethnic Nationalism as expounded by Fichte. As a result, during World War 2 sympathy with Hitler arose among some groups and became an unwelcome ally in support of the Broederbond policies. The Calvinist party within the Broederbond tried to distance itself from this movement, but had limited success because of the secrecy of the organization.

More support for a form of Ethnic Nationalism came from the Ossewabrandwag, a militant Afrikaner organization which was violently opposed to any participation by South Africa during World War 2 on the side of the British. However, even here racial superiority was never espoused as their primary motive. Instead their statements were peppered with intense disdain for the British, the roots of which can be traced back to the hardships the Afrikaners had to endure during the Second Boer War.

The last two Afrikaner State Presidents (BJ Vorster & PW Botha) who supported Apartheid did however come from their ranks.

Modern Apartheid

In 1950 the anti-Calvinist nationalists, led by HF Verwoerd (considered to be the primary architect of "modern" apartheid), overcame the Calvinists and used the Broederbond to advance their own political ambitions. It had been proposed that Verwoerd was a proponent of Social Darwinism, but this theory cannot be sustained because his lecture notes and memoranda at Stellenbosch stressed that there were no biological differences between the big racial groups. Instead, he was more of an admirer of the Separate but Equal movement in the USA.

Well before the National Party came to power in 1948, South African governments had established "reserves" in 1913 and 1936, with the intention of segregating black South Africans from whites. In a desire to protect Afrikaner culture, and under the banner of Afrikaner Nationalism, Verwoerd introduced a series of measures that were intended to reshape South African society such that whites would be the demographic majority. To this effect he instituted the policy of Separate Development, which went beyond existing policies of residential segregation to insist that black South Africans could only claim citizenship in their traditional areas – the Bantustans (Native Reserves). Under the Separate Development plan, these reserves would become independent “Homelands" and eventually separate countries, each with their own elected government.

After instituting the Black Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970, which forcibly made blacks citizens of Bantustans and cancelled their South African citizenship (even if they had never set foot in their nominal "homelands"), South Africa's black population was subjected to a massive program of forced relocation. It has been estimated that 3.5 million people were expelled from their homes during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, many being resettled in these Bantustans. The government made clear that its ultimate aim was the total removal of the black population from South Africa.


As a result internal pressures escalated sharply. The ANC changed their conservative stance from passive acts of civil disobedience (based upon Ghandi’s influence), to support for open resistance (in the form of strikes, acts of public disobedience, and protest marches). For the first time the ANC formed an external military wing.

The forced removals worked both ways; and the actions of the South African government also alienated many whites (although far less than the other way round), especially since large tracts of farmland bordering the Bantustans were expropriated against their wishes to increase the economic and geographic viability of the Homelands.

International pressures also mounted, increasingly isolating the Afrikaners and identifying their policies with the worst kind of godless oppression. Attitudes hardened on both sides, and some ANC members defected to form the PAC with its own military wing and battle cry of “One Settler, One Bullet”.

The Turn-around

After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, enormous internal and external pressure resulted. Even the Afrikaans press, normally blindly supportive of the policies of the government, started asking some uncomfortable questions. Throughout this period of soul searching, slowly the conviction started to grow that for the Afrikaner culture, language, and religion to survive, the Afrikaners had to emerge from the laager and invite the rest of South Africa in.[14]

At the Broederbond the massacre triggered a deliberate and quiet process of re-examination, which over time would lead the organization to declare Apartheid an irreparable failure. Later the Broederbond would change its name to the Afrikanerbond and drop it’s the policy of secrecy. It began proposing initiatives for land reform, and the reversal of Apartheid.

Although Verwoerd and his successors (Vorster and Botha) cannot be technically classified as white supremacists, their policies had a disastrous effect on race relations in South Africa. By trying to ensure the survival of Afrikaner Nationalism through forced separation of the races they practically destroyed Afrikaner unity. As the full effect of their policies became clear, more and more Afrikaners started to balk at what was happening to the country. Numerous prominent individuals became activists critical of the government, including Beyers Naudé, Van Zyl Slabbert, Danny Jordaan, Breyten Breytenbach, Andre Brink, Patrick van Rensburg, Antjie Krog, Bram Fisher, and others.

To counter the growing discontent brewing amongst Afrikaners intellectuals, the regime resorted to portraying the struggle for the Afrikaner soul once more in an “us versus them” light. Terming the assault on their policies as a Total Onslaught against the Afrikaner Nation, they played upon the fears of average South Africans to stay in power. In the end the injustices heaped upon others as a result of their policies did more than superficial damage to the greater South Africa, and moved the country to the brink of a full scale civil war.

The Last Crocodile

Despite his reputation for being autocratic, PW Botha was the first South African Prime Minister (later President) to realize that change was inevitable. Shortly after he came to power, he surprised the right wing of his own party by calling upon white South Africans to "adapt or die", and by repealing and softening many of the Apartheid era laws (the pass laws, the laws on mixed marriages, the group areas act, and the prohibition on multiracial political parties).

These largely unexpected actions caused a conniption fit amongst the radical right wing of the National Party and amongst certain right wing segments of the Afrikaner population, resulting in the formation of several political and paramilitary organizations, including the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), led by Eugène Terre'Blanche, and the Afrikaner Freedom Foundation, formed by Professor Carel Boshoff. Connie Mulder, started the Front for National Priorities which later wound up as part of the Conservative Party led by Andries Treurnicht (popularly known as 'Doctor No') and Ferdie Hartzenberg.

A new constitution was introduced, which gave limited representation to Coloureds and Indians, although not to the Black majority. Botha however stopped short of full reform, often reiterating that he would only negotiate with groups who did not have a policy of violence. Many blacks and the international community viewed these changes as cosmetic. Searching for a solution, under the leadership of PW Both in 1985 the decision was made to release Mandela, and to allow blacks to vote. Pik Botha who helped draft the upcoming speech, advertised it as a crossing of the Rubicon.[15]

It is unclear what happened to change PW’s mind, but perhaps because of the leak, or because of a major revolt brewing in the National Party, in this widely anticipated speech Botha appeared belligerent and refused to give in to pressure for concessions to the black majority (including the release of Nelson Mandela). His defiance of international opinion in this intransigent speech led to immediate further isolation of the country, and calls for economic sanctions to be applied. The South African currency lost two thirds of its value almost overnight. The following year, Botha declared a nation-wide state of emergency that was to stay in effect for the next five years.

Under the state of emergency the media was censored, and by 1988, 30,000 people had been detained without trial. The media clampdown and the draconian measures employed led to widespread abuse by militant Afrikaner members of the police and the armed forces. Thousands were killed and tortured as senior officials turned a blind eye and in many instances became the instigators of violent actions against blacks.

Atrocities occurred on both sides, and black-on-black violence increased substantially in the townships. Kangaroo courts sprung up, and often resulted in the accused party being necklaced. As the situation spiraled out of control, many individuals took matters in their own hands, with little fear of being prosecuted.

The Death of an Ideology

At this stage media sympathy to the system in both the English and Afrikaans presses was reaching an all time low. As the security situation in South Africa continued to deteriorate, many white South Africans fled the country. Inside the ruling National Party another revolt was brewing, which culminated early in 1989 when Botha suffered a stroke. Realizing the opportunity, an entourage of the enlightened members of the party confronted Botha in his hospital bed and forced him to resign on 13 February 1989.

Later that year he was succeeded by FW de Klerk. A year later, in his opening address to parliament De Klerk announced the repeal of all discriminatory laws and lifted the ban on the ANC, the UDF, the PAC, and the Communist Party. Media restrictions were lifted, and De Klerk released political prisoners not guilty of common-law crimes.

On 11 February 1990, 27 years after he had first been incarcerated, Nelson Mandela walked out of the grounds of Victor Verster Prison as a free man. The first multi-racial elections were held in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. They have been in power ever since.

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