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The Black agenda for South Africa.

All but the extreme right wing in South Africa and the United States realize majority rule is inevitable in South Africa. Only three questions remain: How long a wait? How violent a struggle? How radical the result? The longer the bloody status quo continues, the harsher the answers to the last two questions will be for blacks, whites and Western interests. The Reagan Administration, with its policy of friendly persuasion of the white government, called constructive engagement, suffers from terminal myopia--as do its liberal and press critics. They all ignore the increasingly apparent fact that blacks will control the dynamic for change in South Africa. Because the white government is too stubborn to offer the far-reaching reforms that are demanded, it can only slow the pace of change and thus increase the death toll.

Two bases of black resistance have survived, perhaps even benefited from, the present turmoil: the African National Congress (A.N.C.), the exiled liberation group headquartered in Lusaka, Zambia, and the black trade union movement. Both groups have built their strategies on the belief that white South Africa will not be defeated from without; it will crumble from within. Both movements are in a unique position to accelerate the economic collapse, social disorder and white flight that will undermine apartheid.

South Africa's black majority cannot wage a successful guerrilla war or ignite a popular insurrection capable of toppling the regime any time soon. Blacks may greatly outnumber whites, but the lightly armed guerrillas of the outlawed A.N.C. are no match for a white minority protected by 45,000 police, 85,000 soldiers, hundreds of thousands of trained reservists and a $3 billion defense budget. In addition, there are three registered guns for every white person. For now, the violence has been limited to the townships, and its targets have been other blacks, which follows A.N.C. strategy.

Last winter, months before the townships erupted, leading A.N.C. military and political strategists outlined their plans to us during interviews in New York, Lusaka and Morogoro, Tanzania. They told us the group would soon shift from its decade-old strategy of "armed propaganda," which stressed sabotage against economic targets, to a "people's war" aimed at turning the townships into "no-go areas" for white authority. The first step would be to make the urban townships and later the rural homelands ungovernable by attacking black police officers and administrators who refuse to resign.

While the mainstream media have fed the American public a steady diet of reports about random rioting and "black against black" violence, they have missed the pattern and purpose of the unrest. Since early 1984 radical organizers have been systematically exploiting mass anger over rent and school-fee increases in order to destroy the black local authorities which Pretoria had set up to administer apartheid. This campaign laid the groundwork for the townships' explosion this summer into violent attacks against these authorities. Even Angilican Bishop Desmond Tutu muted his criticism of assaults on blacks accused of collaboration in July, after he was roundly booed for such comments at a funeral for fifteen black youths in Kwa-Thema.

"We respect Tutu's stance on nonviolence, but it's not a question of black killing black, as if it were purposeless," said Chris Hani, the political commissar and third-ranking officer of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the A.N.C.'s military wing. "The process of rendering the townships ungovernable revolves around making life difficult for black collaborators. The machinery of apartheid cannot function without the collaboration of blacks."

Alfred Nzo, the A.N.C.'s Secretary General and second-ranking official, told us last December that the A.N.C. had calculated that the unrest accompanying the ungovernability campaign would provoke harsh repression by the regime. It came in July, when Pretoria imposed a state of emergency. Nzo expected that the crackdown would divide the white population by driving the moderates and English-speaking capitalists away from the verkramptes, the reactionaries. Last month leading English-speaking South African businessmen defied the government and met with A.N.C. leaders at a game lodge in Zambia. He also expected that the crackdown would increase domestic pressure on the U.S. and British governments to abandon constructive engagement. "The more repression there is, the more powerful our struggle will grow", he said.

Founded in 1912, the A.N.C. seeks to overthrow apartheid and establish a democratic, nonracial state with a form of socialism vaguely outlined in the organization's thirty-year-old Freedom Charter. That document calls for one person, one vote; redistribution of land to those who work it; and nationalization of the mines and monopoly industries.

For more than four decades the A.N.C. pursued a policy of nonviolent protest, inspired in part by Mohandas K. Gandhi's passive resistance campaign for Indian rights in South Africa. The regime banned the A.N.C. in 1960 and imprisoned its top leaders. The group's leader, Nelson Mandela, has since become a symbol of black nationalism and hope; his former law partner, Oliver Tambo, who escaped arrest, now serves as acting president. The other top A.N.C. leaders of Mandela's generation languish with him in Pollsmoor Prison, outside of Cape Town.

"The reality that all of us must accept is that the A.N.C. is the strongest black organization in South Africa. Their popularity runs at around 80 percent," says Percy Qoboza, editor of City Press, the country's most popular black newspaper and a moderate who is often criticized by blacks for his outspoken opposition to armed struggle and disinvestment. The most popular legal black political organization, the 1.5 million-member United Democratic Front, is led primarily by former A.N.C. activists; its 600 youth and community groups have endorsed the Freedom Charter.

The township violence clearly is the product of mass discontent and is not a tightly controlled program orchestrated by the A.N.C. The white government inflates the significance of the liberation group in precipitating the current strife to deflate the role of popular resistance to its policies. Nevertheless, the A.N.C.'s presence is pervasive, mobilizing townships with inspiration and organization. Its strategy reacts to popular discontent as much as it creates it. According to A.N.C. leaders, thousands of blacks who fled South Africa in the past decade have received political and military training in countries as nearby as Angola and as far away as Cuba and the Soviet Union. These guerrillas return and blend into the townships, where they organize cells and incite attacks on collaborators. At funerals, which provide one of the few opportunities for mass protests, the black, green and gold A.N.C. flag covers every coffin. The A.N.C.'s Radio Freedom regularly broadcasts into South Africa, with news and exhortations about the ungovernability campaign. The broadcasts help blacks overcome their disorganization by communicating news of resistance and interpreting "random acts" as part of the ungovernability strategy.

What is so surprising about this combination of A.N.C. strategy and popular turmoil is that it shook white confidence before the A.N.C. had launched the second stage of its campaign: killing South African security personnel. The ungovernability campaign and the state of emergency have brought greater numbers of policemen and soldiers into the townships, and the A.N.C. plans to target them. The unrest has caused only a few white casualties so far. Guerrilla leaders now hope to bleed white resolve by killing the sons and friends of the white families who live so well under apartheid. A.N.C. leaders say they will be less circumspect about civilian casualties when seeking out targets for military raids than they have been in the past. Although not specifically targeting civilians, the A.N.C. is now urging blacks to take the "struggle" into white areas. The current level of repression and the hundreds of black deaths accompanying it represent the government's response to black protests without white casualties. When white policemen start dying, the government assuredly will escalate the violence.

White South Africans talk bravely about encircling the covered wagons in a defensive laager and fighting off the Bantus, as their ancestors did more than one hundred years ago. South Africa, however, is no longer a society of rugged individualists farming the veld. Demographic projections show that the black population will double in fifteen years, while the white population will grow older and probably smaller. Already, whites are in a six-to-one minority. Militarily they can beat back black radicals for years to come, but economically they are weak.

Pretoria and the White House fear that meaningful economic sanctions by the U.S. government would have a domino effect on investor confidence and the ability of other Western governments to resist domestic pressures for sanctions. Shielded by subsidies, regulated by a paternalistic government and controlled by a few conglomerates with interlocking directorates, South Africa's economy is surprisingly vulnerable. Like most Third World economies, South Africa's depends on mining and agriculture, not manufacturing. The country also faces the pervasive Third World problem of being unable to pay the principal on its $22 billion foreign debt.

Most critics of apartheid agree that its political demise will be preceded by its economic defeat. Thus, the A.N.C. trade unionists and other black organizations regard economic sanctions as a litmus test of the West's opposition to apartheid. Economic sanctions would have varrying levels of impact. They could freeze foreign investment, something the township violence has started to do; force multinationals to sell assets and curtail trade, which is gradually happening as a result of the country's political uncertainty; and impose trade boycotts that deny the country desperately needed technology and credit.

From the Reagan White house to the Johannesburg mansion of "liberal" businessman Harry Oppenheimer, the arguments against economic sanctions reveal misconceptions about the objectives and potency of black opposition. Critics say sanctions will not work because violators will buy assets at fire-sale prices from departing companies and sell embargoed products to South Africa through middlemen. A.N.C. and union leaders say sanctions do not have to work to succeed, as long as they place additional burdens on an already weakend economy and demonstrate Western solidarity with black aspirations. Critics also say sanctions will harden the white government's resolve. What doesn't? Finally, they correctly point out that an expanding economy offers blacks significant material and educatinal opportunities. Twenty years ago that might have satisfied the majority of blacks. The townships have exploded today because blacks want to abolish South Africa's exploitative political and economic structures, not reform them.

A poll conducted recently by The Times of London found that 77 percent of the blacks questioned favored some form of sanctions. Blacks do not fear the impact of disinvestment as much as Ronald Reagan claims. A black worker at the Goodyear plant in Uitenhage told us he preferred to see his employer leave even though he would lose his high-paying job ($40 a week). Which is better, he asked, to pull an aching tooth quickly or slowly? The Sullivan Principles, the rules American businesses adopted to desegregate their workplaces and demonstrate good corporate citizenship, are so mild as to be irrelevant to today's black demands.

As important as economic sanctions may be, black militants readily acknowledge that the economy's weakest point is its very foundation: restive black labor. The regime tried to co-opt the labor movement when it legalized black unions, in 1979. It hoped the move would stymie the growth of illegal unions and make it easier for businesses to deal with their workers.

The unions now have members in such key industries as mining, food processing and metals. Next month unions representing more than 300,000 workers will form a unity federation to coordinate labor action. Unions are the first truly national black organizations with members and leaders drawn from the masses. They tread a fine line, calling strikes and job actions but avoiding direct political challenges to the government. Chris Dlamini, president of the Federation of South African Trade Unions, citing Solidarity's experience in Poland, notes: "Our philosophy has been that it's better to build your base. Attacking political issues before you are strong only leads to your being crushed."

Although more cautious than some blacks would like, the unions have the potential to destabilize the government. Clive Thompson, one of South Africa's leading union lawyers, predicts: "By 1990 the mining and metals sectors will be thoroughly and militantly unionized. . . . Then you'll have a credible threat in terms of coordinated mass industrial action."

Historically, black protest in Sough Africa has been cyclical. Each time resistance crescendos, the government breaks it with repression. The next cycle occurs, and the government's opponents reappear, more militant than before and with wider grass-roots support. This recurrent stifling of peaceful protest always results in violence.

In the 1950s and 1960s the government broke the Congress movement, which was composed of nonviolent groups led by lawyers, doctors and businessmen. Some of those men, such as Nelson Mandela, have spent the ensuing decades in prison. Others escaped into exile with the suppressed South African Communist Party and started the A.N.C.'s guerilla resistance. Students rebelled in 1976 and, when crushed, fled by the thousands to the A.N.C. camps in Angola, reviving the group's military efforts. Now it is the United Democratic Front's turn to see its leadership on trial or mysteriously murdered. As long as the government controls the greatest number of guns, it prefers to keep the debate violent.

In all likelihood the popular unrest in South Africa today will also subside, as government repression takes its toll. But union and A.N.C. leaders say the current cycle has pointed out the path they must follow in the next one. By then they expect that economic sanctions, emigration and capital flight will have softened up the economy. Sustained consumer boycotts and township chaos will further weaken the economy. According to the leaders, the big difference next time will be the unions' ability and willingness to carry out strikes and cripple industry. Under such pressure the South African economy will collapse.

Strengthened by their numbers and, strangely enough, fortified by the sheer hopelessness of their present life, blacks can absorb more violence and economic hardship than whites. Like Rocky Marciano, they expect to win the fight by taking more punches than the opposition, not throwing them.

Many South African moderates argue that significant economic sanctions offer the best hope for avoiding the violent revolution the Reagan Administration professes to oppose. Yet the White House's intrasigence on economic sanctions further the self-fulfilling prophecy that black radicals are committed to violence and hostile to American interests.

Most opponents of apartheid say that both the violence of the A.N.C. and the economic power of the unions are necessary to defeat apartheid. They differ, though, on which struggle will predominate, the armed or the economic. Clive Thompson says, "The next time unrest and political organizations peak, the trade unions will finally be at the point where the state and big capital will be overwhelmed."

To delay such a day means the A.N.C. will see itself forced to spill more and more white blood. The government will retaliate with even greater violence, pushing the society closer to chaos. Older A.N.C. leaders warn that if South Africa follows the more violent road, when the day of change arrives, the A.N.C. lawyers and professionals with Witwatersrand and Cambridge degrees will be old or dead. They will have ceded power to their younger comrades, the guerrillas trained in the Soviet Union and Cuba.
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Author:Calabrese, Mike; Kendall, Mike
Publication:The Nation
Date:Oct 26, 1985
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