Apocalypse, Now


TRANS-AFRICA, a Washington-based Black lobbying group, has recently publicized a report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that warns of an imminent and dramatic escalation in the guerrilla war being waged against the government of South Africa. The action will be the newest campaign of the African National Congress (ANC), a resistance organization that has long fought the South African police state and its totalitarian racial laws.

Like other observers, the CIA now realizes the ANC is about to reach a critical point in its 70-year history. From peaceful origins, the ANC has grown into a popular movement whose political and military strength may approach the proportions needed to end white minority rule in South African permanently. And shocking though such a strike would be, the ANC's long history and the current tottering state of the regime make that overthrow seem not only inevitable but desirable.

Formed in 1912 as an exclusive organization of educated African elites seeking moderate social and political concessions for themselves, the ANC was sparked to activism just one year later, when the white ruling regime enacted the Natives Land Act. The act forbade Africans from buying or living on land in designated "white" areas. To enforce it, a massive program of national eviction shove J African residents out of entire regions. Meanwhile, a model for resistance presented itself when South Africa's Indian population organized a partly successful effort to combat the discrimination to which they were subjected. A young lawyer named Gandhi led an Indian passive resistance campaign that he later applied on a larger scale in India; his work in South Africa ultimately inspired ANC organizers.

The South African government used--and today continues to use--a pass system to regulate the movement of the completely disenfranchised, and often homeless. African majority. In 1919, following Gandhi's lead, the ANC launched a year-long passive resistance anti-pass movement and publicly burned hundreds of passes. Crushed brutally by the government, the demonstrations didn't last long.

When World War II broke out in 1939, the ANC felt itself gradually pressed towards more radical mass action. Some Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and German colonists, launched a fervent master race movement, which almost awayed the country to Nazism. Although a close and bitter battle in the South African Parliament brought the country into the war on the Allied side, a few Afrikaner paramilitary splinter groups continued to fight for a republic similar to Nazi Germany. The last South African prime minister, John Vorster, was jailed during the war as a Nazi sympathizer.


IT WAS DURING this period and shortly after that the white supremacist apartheid doctrine became embodied in South African law. The ANC and the South African Indian Congress launched massive peaceful demonstrations against apartheid in 1952, initiatives which ended in more than 8000 arrests and violent government retaliation. In 1960, police fired on an unarmed crowd of anti-pass demonstrators in Sharpeville. They killed 67 Africans within minutes, shooting many in the back. The ANC was banned, and its leadership went underground. It was only then that leaders reluctantly abandoned peaceful resistance in favor of sabotage against property.

Since the Sharpeville massacre, the ANC has developed a mass following and an increased paramilitary sophistication. In June 1980, the ANC simultaneously blew up two coal-to-oil fuel installations in the Orange Free State and Transvaal regions. And the newly leaked CIA report says the ANC's "major incidents" against the state increased from 10 in 1980 to 41 in 1981. Even now, the organization exercises restraint, as the CIA points out: "It is clear the ANC could have inflicted a large number of white casualties if it had chosen to do so."

The Reagan Administration, already linked to the South African government, may be about to ally itself openly with the regime against the ANC. In September, CIA chief William Casey met with South African leaders in Pretoria, where he was urged to help them force neighboring countries such as Mozambique and Angola to end their support for the ANC. The recent U.S.-backed billion-dollar loan to South African will help it enforce a hastily planned series of internal repression policies.

But the handwriting is on the wall; even the U.S. cannot save South Africa. Ex-CIA official Admiral Bobby Inman recently acknowledged in a speech at Harvard that the South African government is doomed. As was true in the World War II resistance movements in countries such as France and Yugoslavia, a young radical leadership has emerged within the ANC. And like their European predecessors, the ANC must now make a final, violent bid for victory.