Apartheid: Making a Sham of Freedom


WHEN A MEMBER of the First Transkei Battalion steps forward today to replace the South African flag with the newly independent nation's ochre, green and white one, the ceremony will differ markedly from Mozambique's independence celebration almost exactly two years ago. In Mozambique, a cheering crowd heard President Samora Machel describe his people's lengthy struggle for liberation from the Portuguese colonists and his party's program for development and participatory democracy. Today in the Transkei, buried in the heart of apartheid South Africa, no one will cheer the new prime minister as he shakes hands with South Africa's John Vorster.

In fact, Vorster and his fellow South African diplomats are likely to be the only envoys from foreign countries who attend the Transkei independence ceremony. The Organization of African Unity--a body that includes almost all the black nations of Africa--ruled over a year ago that no one would legitimize the Transkei nation by recognizing the new government, and most non-African states have announced they will follow the OAU's lead. Even the United States, which kept the world guessing about its intentions until three days ago, said last week it will not send representatives to Umtata, the Transkei capital.

But the ceremony will not go unnoticed--far from it. The Transkei is the first homeland, or bantustan, to receive independence from South Africa's white-dominated government and can be viewed as an example of the best apartheid has to offer South African blacks. The only one of nine homelands to request or receive self-rule, the Transkei is South Africa's response to international pressure to change a political system that allows some four million whites to have near-total control over a nation of nearly 25 million.

The Transkei, an area of just over 16,550 miles, is no great gift to the people who will live in it. Like all the homelands to which black South Africans are assigned, it contains no industry, no mineral deposits and little fertile land. Unlike the other bantustans, the Transkei does have a coastline, but it has no port through which to import or export goods.

Although Transkei's population is presently just over 1.7 million, the South African government has assigned over three million to the homeland. If the rest of the population should ever claim a right to Transkei residence, the result would be disastrous: in 1972, the Transkei was already so overcrowded that the then minister of roads and works for the area warned that his ministry might works for the area warned that his ministry might refuse to allow any more immigrants into the homeland, because the land could not support those who already lived there. Half the Transkei citizens, then, will be condemned to live as aliens outside their nominal country.

For the half of the people that remain within the Transkei's borders, self-rule will do little to improve their lives. They will have traded their South African passes--cards allowing them to move between the homelands and areas designated for whites only--for Transkei passports, but little more. The homeland produces only slightly more than half the maize it needs to feed its population, and offers almost no employment. Forty-four percent of those in the Transkei who do work for wages are employed by the South African government. Nearly three-fourths of the area's gross national income come from the 350,000 migrant laborers who leave the area to work in South Africa's mines and industry. Between 60 and 70 per cent of the Transkei budget will be subsidized by Pretoria. Clearly, if the Transkei residents hope to survive, they will have to follow every dictate of the government in Pretoria--a government whose policies are unlikely to reflect the needs of the blacks who live within South Africa's borders--or face unemployment and eventual starvation.

THE GOVERNMENT that will take over the reigns of state in the Transkei is no more promising than the new nation's economic situation. Chief Kaiser Matanzima of the Transkei National Independence Party was appointed to his post as head of the bantustan government in 1963, when the bantustan was created for members of the Xhosa ethnic group (other Xhosas were resettled in the Ciskei bantustan, a contradiction of the apartheid dogma that claims bantustans are a way for ethnic groups to regain their traditional identity).

Since then, the homeland has been under emergency rule, requested of Pretoria annually by Matanzima and his cohorts. Their power base is consolidated by free use of Proclamation 400, a security measure that allows the bantustan government unlimited power to suppress civil liberties and opposition parties. Last month, just before the referendum on whether or not to request independence, Matanzima rounded up 26 opposition leaders so they could not mobilize support against this sham of a vote. According to this month's Africa magazine, 57 high school students were jailed recently for protesting independence. And the Transkei's first independent bunga, or parliament, will be staffed by 150 members--75 were appointed by Pretoria. Of the elected half, 74 of the 75 have opposed independence.

Given the nature of his interaction with Vorster's government, it is not surprising that Matanzima himself is a rather unsavory character. The New York Times reported Sunday that the Sunday Timesof Johannesburg has accused the Transkei chief and his brother of corruption involving land deals between the chief and the party he controls; Matanzima responded with a rather vague statement, saying only that the allegations reflect the "deep-seated hatred these English jingoes have developed since we took over the Transkei."

All in all, the leaders of the eight other bantustans seem fairly justified in their unanimous condemnation of Matanzima's decision to prostitute his people for the power Vorster's backing gives him. He defends the Transkei's independence, calling it an "epoch-making event that is the product of peaceful evolution and an orderly transfer of power to the people of the Transkei." But less than 45 per cent of the voters turned out in the recent election in those constituencies where there was a contest, a fact that does not suggest the people of the Transkei are exactly carried away with their supposed newly found power and autonomy. The Transkei will be in essence a one-party state, subsidized and controlled by Pretoria, isolated from every other black organization within South Africa.

BUT ACCORDING to The New York Times, the South African government has spent $500,000 on an international promotional campaign touting the Transkei as a free and democratic state, the product of its separate development policies. The philosophy of apartheid, as explained by South African Defense Minister James Kruger to Time magazine this summer, is actually rather simple: blacks and whites are different, and it makes sense to give them different land areas they can call their own. The Transkei is supposed to show the world that the South African government plans to live up to its word and give the blacks their own little corner of the world to call their own.

What the apartheid spokesmen fail to point out is that that little corner is extremely small--13 per cent of South Africa's land area, most of it infertile and mineral-poor, is allocated to its 16 million blacks without regard to their actual origins. The homelands have become nothing more than cheap labor reserves for white-owned mines and industry, as anyone looking for a job must go outside the bantustans. The Transkei is not exceptional in the percentage of its assigned population that lives outside its border; only those who are too young, too old, or too sickly to work stay on the bantustans.

This system has been enforced by the pass laws; in the newly independent Transkei, it will be enforced by the Transkei passport. Blacks must get special permission to leave the homeland for outside employment, signing up for contract labor with large firms. Blacks who try to organize against their employers or against the state can be sent back to the homeland without a hearing, their pass rescinded. It is this system that keeps wages in South Africa for semi-and unskilled labor so low that American companies investing there receive a profit rate of almost 20 per cent overall and 60 percent in some areas of industry.

Conditions on the bantustan are appalling. Black families are broken up, as the men must leave to support them. And no matter how bad conditions in the mines are, there will always be people willing to become migrant laborers rather than face starvation at home. Black children in South Africa suffer from endemic malnutrition; the nation's blacks have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. In certain areas, the Dutch Reform Church found women and children eat three times a week when food supplies for the bantustan run low. Education remains at a minimum, with a shortage of teachers in black schools that is not ameliorated by a ban on white teachers in those schools. Africans' progress through school is so restricted from elementary school onward that by the time they reach the university level they are outnumbered 28 to one, though they outnumber whites in the general population by five to one.

The Transkei's independence is a meaningless one, since the new state will be unable to break out of this pattern of exploitation. Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Kwazulu homeland and one of the most outspoken homeland chiefs, has said, "I challenge anyone to prove to me that the majority of blacks do in fact want the so-called independence which is offered to our Reserves, now called 'homelands'...The majority of the black people do not want to abandon their birth right. They have toiled for generations to create the wealth of South Africa. They intend to participate in the wealth of the land."

Black liberation groups in South Africa including the African National Congress have rejected the Transkei, and, according to Africa magazine, some of them plan to sabotage the new state by methods more forceful than diplomatic boycotts. Whether or not that happens, the Transkei will remain isolated from the mainstream of the black freedom movement in South Africa, a movement that the Soweto riots this summer have shown to be growing steadily. But today's ceremony shows only the degradation some will accept for a semblance of power; it in no way reflects the will of the people of the Transkei, or South Africa.