South African ambassador evokes apartheid memories in Japan protest

A conservative writer has angered Ambassador Mohau Pheko, who disparages the writer's opinion that foreigners should live separately.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) talks to Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at the lower house parliamentary session in Tokyo February 12, 2015. Abe and his economic ministers piled pressure on companies on Thursday to raise wages to sustain growth as the economy climbs out of a recession triggered by a sales tax increase last year.

South Africa's ambassador to Japan has sent a letter of protest to a conservative Japanese newspaper about a recent column that seemed to advocate separate residential districts for foreign workers, based on the post-apartheid experience.

Ambassador Mohau Pheko called apartheid a crime against humanity that should not be justified in the 21st century, the Sankei newspaper said in an article published over the weekend.

A Feb. 11 column in Sankei by regular columnist and well-known conservative writer Ayako Sono said Japan needs foreign workers to offset its shrinking population, but that different races should live apart.

"Ever since I learned of the situation in South Africa 20 to 30 years ago, I have come to think that living in residential areas divided into whites, Asians and blacks is better," she wrote.

People can do many things together, including business, research and sports, she concluded, "but when it comes to residences, we had better keep ourselves separate."

Sono, who has served on an advisory panel for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on education, is quoted saying in the weekend Sankei article that her column did not call for an apartheid policy for Japan. "I only wrote, from my personal observation, that it is difficult for people with different customs to live together."

A statement at the end of the article by senior Sankei editor Takeshi Kobayashi said Sono's regular column reflects her opinion, and that the newspaper believes that apartheid and racial discrimination should not be permitted.

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