a slippery slope
Former Opposition UNC Senator Harry Mungalsinghs statements
in the Upper House on February 27 have sparked nationwide
Outlining his comprehensive plan to combat the
spiralling crime epidemic facing the country, the now infamous
former senator recommended, among other areas, a change
in abortion laws and cash for voluntary sterilisation
in 16 specific communities, 12 along the east/west corridor,
one in central and two in south.
Mungalsingh also alluded that I am in close touch with
the Muslim community and l know for a fact that they have
no difficulty with what I have said...
I would like to add my two cents to those controversial statements.
Firstly, being a Muslim I would like to respond to the latter.
Islam does not advocate abortion unless the foetus endangers
the life of the mother. And voluntary sterilisation, like
female circumcision, is not an Islamic practice and as a result
Islam does not impose upon women the application of those
Secondly, the brilliant comprehensive plan proposed
by the former senator is not a new theory. As a matter of
fact, when I first heard his statement, the Buck vs
Bell case of America came to mind. In this discourse
I would like to shed some light on the proposal of Mungalsingh.
Dr William B Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist,
who late in his career became intensely interested in questions
of race, breeding and eugenics, argued that blacks are genetically
inferior in intelligence to whites.
He postulated that the major cause of the American Negros
intellectual and social deficit is hereditary and racially
genetic in origin and not remedial to a major degree by practical
improvements in environment.
As a possible solution to countering this perceived problem,
of what the doctor refers to as the excessive reproduction
of the genetically disadvantaged, Shockley suggested
the voluntary sterilisation plan where individuals with IQs
below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilisation. Shockley
believed that the higher rate of reproduction among African
Americans was having what he called a dysgenic
effect due to their lower IQs.
During the 1860s and 1870s, Sir Francis Galton systematised
the ideas and practices of eugenics according to new knowledge
about the evolution of man and animals provided by the theory
of his cousin, Charles Darwin.
Galtons basic argument was that genius and
talent were hereditary traits in humans. He reasoned
that since many human societies sought to protect the underprivileged
and weak, those societies were at odds with the natural selection
responsible for extinction of the weakest. Only by changing
these social policies could society be saved from a reversion
towards mediocrity or regression towards the mean.
The above arguments are strongly rooted in the study of eugenics.
Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement
of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention.
The purported goals have variously been to create healthier,
more intelligent people, save societys resources and
lessen human suffering. Earlier proposed means of achieving
these goals focused on selective breeding, while modern ones
focus on prenatal testing and screening, genetic counselling,
birth control, in vitro fertilisation and genetic engineering.
These theories have been suggested as far back as Plato, who
believed human reproduction should be controlled by government.
He recorded these ideals in The Republic: The best men
must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as
possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior.
From its inception eugenics was supported by prominent thinkers
including Alexander Graham Bell, George Bernard Shaw and Winston
Churchill. The scientific reputation of this study started
to tumble in the 1930s when Ernst Rudin began incorporating
eugenic rhetoric into the racial policies of Nazi Germany.
After the postwar period, both the public and the scientific
community generally associated eugenics with Nazi abuses,
which included enforced racial hygiene, human experimentation
and the extermination of undesired population groups.
Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for
coercive state-sponsored discrimination and human rights violations,
such as forced sterilisation. Compulsory sterilisation programmes
are government policies which attempt to force people to undergo
During the first half of the 20th century, many such programmes
were instituted in many countries around the world, usually
as part of eugenics programmes intended to prevent the reproduction
and multiplication of members of the population considered
to be carriers of defective genetic traits.
Today, compulsory sterilisation programmes are usually seen
as overly coercive and blunt attempts at genetic engineering
which focused disproportionately on poor and disenfranchised
The most well-known compulsory sterilisation programmes were
those of Nazi Germany, which sterilised over 400,000 individuals
in the 1930s-40s; the US, which sterilised over 64,000 individuals
from 1900s through the 1970s; Sweden, which sterilised 62,000
individuals from the 1930s through the 1970s as a condition
required for receiving welfare, securing ones release
from prison/mental institutions or for keeping custody of
Developments in genetic, genomic and reproductive technologies
at the end of the 20th century, however, have raised many
new ethical questions and concerns about what exactly constitutes
the meaning of eugenics and what its ethical and moral status
As we progress towards 2020 developmental status, we should
utilise the experiences of nations that preceded us by adopting
the policies that benefited their development and abstaining
from those that retarded their development.
I end with the comment from Fyzabad Opposition MP Chandresh
Sharma: No one should panic. Everyone makes errors and
some have their foolish moments and it may be a combination
Mtima Solwazi is the editor-in-chief of
Reflection of Our Oral TraditionS (ROOTS)