Whitewashing South Africa


SOUTH AFRICA has received a good deal of attention in the western press this year for various moves that seem to be evidence of an approaching end to its policy of apartheid. The role of South African Prime Minister B.J. Vorster in bringing the African leaders of Rhodesia together with representatives of Ian Smith's regime prompted Zambia's president, Kenneth Kaunda, to call him a "voice of reason in Southern Africa," and last week South Africa announced that--at some point in the near future--more jobs will be open to blacks, who are now kept out of all skilled jobs in industry.

Neither of these moves demonstrate real changes in the structure of the South African regime, however. There are two kinds of pressure on Vorster to achieve a detente in Southern Africa. He must avert the economic boycott threatened last year by the U.N. Security Council because of South Africa's failure to grant full independence to Namibia, or Southwest Africa, and he must develop a belt of neutral countries which will protect South Africa from militant guerilla movements based in neighboring countries.

Although the International Court of Justice declared South Africa's continued occupation of the U.N. protectorate illegal after World War II, South Africa has continued to impose its policies of separation of the races on the territory, and to exploit Namibia's resources to provide raw materials for South African refineries. Last November, Vorster asked the Security Council for six more months in which to give Namibia full autonomy before a boycott was imposed. Although the U.N. seems to have extended this period of grace indefinitely, the black African nations have increased their agitation for a boycott.

Nearly 80 per cent of South African manufactured goods exported go to African nations, and if an African boycott was imposed the South African internal market could not absorb its own produce. If Vorster can persuade the southern African nations that the South African regime will respect them and that he will work for some kind of political autonomy in Namibia, however, and if he can persuade them that his regime is a friendly one, South Africa will be protected by other southern African nations from guerilla attacks from the outside.

This neutral belt is essential to South African stability, for without such a protective wall it could not avoid the kind of guerilla activity which threatens to topple Ian Smith's Rhodesian government. Now that a black government looks inevitable in Zimbabwe--the black nationalist name for Rhodesia--Vorster must insure that the new government will respect South Africa's boundaries, and that it will refuse to allow guerilla fighters to use Zimbabwe as a base for maneuvers into South Africa. Zambia has already said it will not permit guerilla activity within its borders, but it is not yet clear how the as-yet-undefined governments of Angola and Zimbabwe will behave. Mozambique, however, has already declared its support for the South African liberation movement.

Vorster's attempts to achieve some kind of Southern African detente do not mean that policies within South Africa itself will change. Shortly after his speech to the United Nations, he told his country, "Multiracialism could never work in South Africa... I never asked to be given six months' chance so that I could turn South Africa upside down." South Africa's domestic policies are still based on apartheid which the government there euphemistically calls "separate development." South African citizens who have been designated "Africans" are restricted to Bantustans, and only those who have found employment outside these areas can stay in designated black areas near the urban centers.

The Bantustans offer employment only to a few small artisans and shopkeepers, and conditions in them get worse. Last year, a subchieftainess of the Basotho Qua-Qua homeland described her territory as a "dumping ground" for the unemployed, saying, "What is worrying me is that I have registered 2,048 families with no clinic and toilet facilities. Their children are without a school." The government spends an average of 483 rand (one rand is about $1.47) on the education of a white child, and about 28 rand on the education of an African. More than 50 per cent of African children complete their fourth year of school.

THE BANTUSTAN SYSTEM is maintained by the pass laws, which give the government full control over the movement of the African laborers. Africans who cause too much trouble outside the homeland can simply be "endorsed" out of white areas, and they have no choice but to obey. Vorster told Bantustan chiefs who objected last year to the pass laws that "principle" of the pass law is not negotiable, for they are the most effective method the government has to keep African unrest sub-dued. About 600,000 blacks are now prosecuted annually under the pass laws, receiving ten days to a few months in jail, and countless more are sent back to the Bantustan without official prosecution.

The government's announcement last week of a "floating color bar" which will be instituted sometime in the indefinite future, seems at first glance to be a movement away from the policy which now restricts black laborers to unskilled, low-paying jobs. Africans at present are kept at the lowest levels of industrial production, and have no control whatsoever over the production process.

In effect, the Bantustans--the government also calls them "homelands"--keep organized black resistance to the government at a minimum by spreading blacks out across the country, and have created a cheap labor reserve force for South Africa's ever-expanding industrial sector. More than 70 per cent of South Africa's population are required to make a scattered 13 per cent of the total land area their permanent homes, and that 13 per cent is largely infertile and barren. South Africa's rich mineral deposits and its cities are all in white areas. African adults--both men and women--leave their families on the Bantustans to eke out a subsistence with primitive agricultural techniques on barren land, while they look for jobs in the mines and factories outside.

But the color bar is not being lifted entirely, and the government is only floating it in response to the 17 per cent inflation which has been caused by the too-rapid growth of South African industry. There are no longer enough skilled whites to man the upper levels of the factories and mines. While the floating bar will allow the Africans a chance to be promoted, if a qualified white applies for the African's job the black will return immediately to the lower level.

The real wages of blacks have risen slightly over the last decade, a fact not even the most militant of South African black nationalists will deny. But this advance is being eroded by rapid inflation, and while black wages have risen, those of white workers have risen even higher. If the color bar is floated, the wages of white workers will rise even more quickly, for the large white trade unions will not accept a decrease in the wage gap. The attitudes of most whites toward the improvement of the Africans' condition have not changed substantially over the years. One study showed last year that while the Afrikaner youth-Afrikaners are the largest voting bloc in the white population--are "slightly more pragmatic" in their attitudes toward African development, they are "certainly no less discriminatory" in their views on racial policy.

But things are changing in South Africa, even though the government's policies are not. Although all black political groups were banned after the 1960 Sharpevill massacre, more than 50,000 African workers were involved last year in work stoppages at 120 factories and organizations. Unless an African group receives prior consent from the government to strike, action is treated as a rebellion against the government, and the workers are disbanded accordingly. At least 130 black miners were killed last year by soldiers brought in to break up strikes.

The government's reaction to the increased resistance to the regime, rather predictably, has been to increase its repression of political dissenters. Last month, the police rounded up a noted Afrikaner poet, several African leaders, white student leaders, clergy and university teachers under the Terrorism Act which was passed in 1967 but acts retroactively to 1962. Punishment for those found guilty under the act is five years to death, but those held under the act are not given trial, and no one knows how many people are presently being detained. A prominent South African newspaper wrote in an editorial this summer that "It is becoming more difficult to obtain the figures even from unofficial sources such as parents, family or friends. Fear is making people suspicious and reluctant to talk, overcoming even their concern for their loved ones." The South African Council of Churches this summer said the powers given the police under the Terrorism Act are "cruel, frightening and have demonic potential." There has been no official explanation of the arrests, and no one knows when the names of those presently in detention will be published.

The South African defense budget has doubled in the last two years, and the defense department proudly announced last February that "South Africa is now independent of the rest of the world as far as needs for internal security go." South Africa now produces air-to-air and ground-to-air missile systems locally, and it makes artillery, infantry, anti-aircraft and tank munitions with nearly 100 per cent local materials--all for "internal security."

THE UNITED STATES is the second largest foreign investor in South Africa, with Britain only slightly ahead. The rate of return on foreign capital invested in South Africa is 18.6 per cent, compared to a world average return of 11 per cent. Nearly every large American corporation has investments in South Africa, for the forced cheap labor insures a high profit rate, and the government has done its best to attract investment. Although most American countries pulled out of Namibia last year when it seemed likely that the U.N. would expropriate all exports from Namibia, the government in South Africa seems to have enough international support to avoid a U.N. boycott. The U.S. government vetoed an attempt last year to exclude South Africa from the United Nations, claiming that such a move would cut down the U.N.'s power to effect change there.

But the recent changes in South Africa's attitude toward its black neighbors are only a whitewash. They reflect the increasing instability of the apartheid rule, and South Africa's increasing isolation on the continent. If the white South Africans wish to avoid a bloodbath, they will have to begin to make more and more concessions to the Africans, who are increasingly resistant to the regime. Only when South Africa forms a coalition government, in which the Africans have the majority they deserve numerically--not to mention the fact that they were there first, despite the government's assertion to the contrary--will South Africa become a stable, democratic nation.