You really couldn’t make it up.

South Africa’s Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has accused environmental activists trying to halt Shell blasting off the pristine Eastern Cape Wild Coast of “apartheid.”

He reduced apartheid – the most entrenched, legislated form of racial segregation the world has ever known – to a mere term of abuse; a truly shocking misuse of language.

“We consider the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection,” the minister said after a court case attempting to halt the development failed.

Campaigners, including Greenpeace had lost an urgent interim interdict application to stop Shell from conducting a seismic survey on the Wild Coast.

Gwede Mantashe’s outburst is by no means the only misuse of the term “apartheid.”

An insult to millions of apartheid’s victims

Bandying about the term “apartheid” devalues the appalling suffering that was inflicted on millions of South Africans – black and brown – after the National Party introduced it in 1948.

Devaluing the term is now a regular part of international rhetoric.

It is regularly thrown about to attack anything from Covid vaccines to Israel.

The Ethiopian head of the World Health Organisation used the term with regard to vaccines in May, when he declared that the world has reached a situation of “vaccine apartheid”.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who never lived under apartheid, said this was no longer just at risk, but a reality. “The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing.”

His complaint about the lack of generosity on the part of donors was not the problem: it was bandying about the term “apartheid.”

Human Rights Watch contributed to this trend by deciding to label Israel an “apartheid” state in April.

How HRW could use the term against a government that includes an Arab – Mansour Abbas – as a cabinet minister, while guaranteeing Israeli Palestinians the right to vote, is something only the organisation can explain.

It is an insult to millions of South Africans who were deprived of the vote, let alone allowed to stand for Parliament, or serve in a government.

But Gwede Mantashe’s misuse of “apartheid” against environmental campaigners takes the abuse of the word to a whole new level. It has diluted “apartheid” to nothing more than a meaningless insult.