The pass laws were designed to control the movement of Africans under apartheid and evolved from regulations imposed by the Dutch and British in the 18th and 19th centuries’ slave economy of Cape Colony. In the 19th century, new pass laws were enacted to ensure a reliable supply of cheap, docile African labour for the gold and diamond mines. The Pass Laws Act of 1952 required black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry the dompas everywhere and at all times. The dompas was filled with extensive information on the person. There were fingerprints, photographs, personal details of employment, permission from the government to be in a particular part of the country, qualifications to work or seek work in the area and an employer’s reports on worker performance and behaviour. If a worker displeased their employer and they declined to endorse the book for the pertinent time period, the worker’s right to stay in the area was jeopardised.
According to the Pass Law, government officials possessed the power to expel the worker from the area by adverse endorsement in the passbook. This was known as ‘endorsing out’ and could be carried out at any time, and for any reason. Officials were not required to provide an explanation for their actions. Family members of a worker who was ‘endorsed out’ also forfeited their right to remain in the area and faced eviction and exile to a Bantustan (territory set aside for the black population). Forgetting to carry the dompas, misplacing it or having it stolen rendered one liable to arrest and imprisonment. Each year, over 250,000 blacks were arrested for technical offenses under the Pass Law. As a result, the dompas became the most despised symbol of apartheid. By the time the increasingly expensive and ineffective pass laws were repealed in 1986, they had led to more than 17 million arrests.
The people resisted this unjust control over their lives by the colonisers. People resisted in different ways. Then, on March 21, 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre occurred as South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, a group of between 5,000 and 7,000 people converged on a local police station in the township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books, killing 69 people — many of them shot in the back — and wounding more than 200. The two main organisations, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), both gave up peaceful struggle and opted for armed struggle.
The colonisers know that the dompas on its own cannot satisfactorily control the population. There have to be other complementing mechanisms and arrangements to ensure the complete control they crave for. The White South Africans created bantustans to accomplish that. The areas adjoining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route could gradually be turned into bantustans. In South Africa, the Group Areas Act of 1950 divided the lands in which blacks and whites resided into distinct residential zones. This act established the distinct areas of South Africa in which members of each race could live and work, typically setting aside the best urban, industrial and agricultural areas for whites. Blacks were restricted from renting or even occupying property in the areas deemed as ‘white-zones’, unless they received state permission. The entire aim of residence passes in Gwadar is to create an area where Baloch entry can be restricted and controlled at will to ensure that the Chinese are safe even if that safety comes at the cost of employing apartheid mechanisms in Balochistan.
China simply wants its pound of flesh for the dollars it invests. It is no one’s friend and cares for nothing but profits even if these come at the cost of repression and military operations that are inflicting heavy losses on the Baloch. A Chinese company, Zonergy Company, in developing a 900-megawatt solar power project in Punjab. Pakistan is considering a downward tariff revision from 14.15 cents to 9.25 cents per unit from January 2016. This reduction in profits has irked China and they say this reduction will have a disastrous impact on Chinese enterprises working under the CPEC programme. It is not for the Baloch or even Pakistanis that China is in Balochistan. It wants profits, even those tainted by Baloch blood.
The nexus between China and the Pakistani establishment is not surprising as both eye profits only with no concern for the welfare of the people. This then brings us to the Baloch who have been resisting the repression and loot of their resources since March 27, 1948. The Baloch have had no alternative but to protect their rights and resources with their lives and even the government admits that more than 8,000 people were taken into custody this year. Mama Qadeer, the vice chairman of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) said last year that 20,000 plus persons are missing.
When people think that their existence is at stake they, like the Blacks of South Africa, resist those exploiting and insulting their dignity with things like the Pass Law. The Baloch people resist but, unfortunately, find no support among the general population in Pakistan because branded as separatists and terrorists they seemingly do not even qualify for humanitarian sympathy. Those who are silent today would do well to remember that those who seek profits and profits alone do not eventually discriminate in their choice of victims. They could be in line for exactly the same treatment being meted out to the Baloch today.