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Divestment Won't Help Anymore

By Jennifer Griffin

THE only thing that all Blacks in South Africa have in common is that they hate apartheid.

With nine tribes, 11 official languages and the gulf in lifestyle and education between rural and township dwellers, there is no one political opinion, political party or spokesperson who can presume to represent Black South Africans.

Yet anti-apartheid activists in the United States--in an attempt to focus attention on the racist system governing South Africa--tend to oversimplify the issues. According to them, 84 percent of Black South Africans support the African National Congress (ANC) and its call for continued divestment.

It's not that simple. The call for divestment today is far different from the call last year; with process of change underway, further divestment will only hurt Black South Africans and unnecessarily damage the economy of the future majority-led South Africa.

WHOEVER calculated that 84 percent of Black South Africans support the ANC did not reach a representative group. Does that statistic refer to the percentage of all Blacks living in South Africa, including the independent homelands that most Blacks still consider an integral part of South Africa? To the urban Blacks living in townships? Or to the percentage of politicized Black South Africans?

Most likely, the statistic refers to the percentage of the politicized (mostly urban) Black population that supports the ANC. But even then, the number is greatly exaggerated.

No one, including the ANC, knows how many people accept them as their political representative. Given the level of intimidation and coercion in the townships, only a secret ballot election would reveal true support. Today, for example, people are allying themselves with certain political groups simply for protection.

Liberation movements turned political parties in South Africa typically instigate public demonstrations against the apartheid regime and raise their flags above the demonstration and shout their party's slogans. In doing so, they use the grievances of disgruntled groups--such as the township youth who feel they are not being educated, the trade unionists who feel that wages are too low, and the unemployed who are frustrated by a lack of jobs--and make it seem as though these were people marching in support of their party.

All political groups use this ploy. Because the ANC has the most organized leadership, it may appear as if it has unanimous support. The truth is that many demonstrators against apartheid belong to other parties or may not be aligned at all.

Our tendency to consider everything that the ANC says as spoken gospel has hurt the process of democratization by allowing the ANC to stifle dissenting opinions at home. We need to encourage the ANC to work with the other political liberation movements and remain accountable to the needs of all Black South Africans.

In America, we never hear about groups like the PAC, a Black consciousness group, whose membership has increased drastically since President F.W. De Klerk unbanned all political parties in February and many exiles began to return home.

Also distorted in the media is Inkatha, whose primary membership consists of Zulu speaking people in Natal. The Zulus are by far the largest "tribe" in South Africa, yet American reports consistently accuse this group of being manipulated by the white supremicist regime.

Just because the head of Inkatha, Chief Buthelezi, has come out against sanctions does not mean that he has been collaborating with the government. Instead, he represents an alternative political perspective based upon the effect of sanctions on his constituency. Many Inkatha members work in factories in Natal and stand to lose their jobs when foreign companies withdraw.

SO WHICH group should Americans believe in deciding whether to divest? The ANC that supports divestment? Or Inkatha and those Black South Africans who stand to lose their jobs from additional sanctions?

In a sense, both sides are right. Divestment has forced the government to change--but further divestment will be at the expense of the poorest working class South Africans.

Up until one year ago, the most important thing was for the government to change--and divestment was the correct course of action. Recent events, however, indicate that majority rule in South Africa is imminent. Sanctions still in place continue to pressure the government, but additional divestment will result in unnecessary Black unemployment.

In the past two months, more than 700 Black South Africans have died in the townships outside Johannesburg, in addition to hundreds of other fatalities in Natal. Why the violence if we are supposed to be on the road to peace?

Many blame the South African government and defense forces for instigating the violence. While the violence may be slightly tainted by government intervention or lack thereof, the truth is that the violence would have taken place anyway.

The violence is not the result of infighting between political groups, as portrayed by the American media. It is the result of catastrophic socioeconomic conditions in the townships--conditions exacerbated by apartheid and the government's neglect of the townships. Also, divestment has resulted in fewer and fewer jobs.

When jobs are scarce and economic conditions are squeezed, people cling to their ethnicity and divide along these artificial lines. However, this is not an indication of tribalism clean and simple. It is a response to economic conditions which have been squeezed by sanctions and divestment.

IT IS understandable that Black South Africans and their liberal sympathizers are suspicious of De Klerk and the new overtures being made by the National Party, given the sneaky maneuvers implemented by the ruling minority in the past. And it is understandable why ANC leader Nelson Mandela has called for continued sanctions.

Some view De Klerk's measures as just another way for the National Party to maintain power by confusing the majority. But sanctions will not--and should not--be lifted until the reigns of political power are held by the majority. De Klerk knows that the South African economy can no longer support the costly system of apartheid; the changes he has set into motion are irreversible.

De Klerk has raised expectations both inside and outside of the country. Sanctions have strapped the South African economy and De Klerk and his party do not have the resources or borrowing capability to retreat back into a renewed stronghold.

The question now is not will apartheid continue, but how to dismantle it so that utter chaos does not result. Without such stability, no social reform will be able to take place, and underlying social issues in South Africa--far beyond "one man, one vote"--will not be addressed.

South Africans want to save their economy--an economy which ultimately will serve both Blacks and whites. They also want to avoid repeating the mistakes experienced by the rest of Africa following independence.

The primary problems facing South Africans concern jobs, education, healthcare, as well as the ability to purchase land and houses where they wish.

These programs will cost money, money that neither the government nor the ANC nor other political groups have at the moment. Does the ANC want a new South Africa to depend on revenue from foreign aid--the bane of the rest of Africa's existance? Or do they think that companies that have divested will all of a sudden be beating down their doors to reinvest in the country?

Both of these assumptions are naive. The same economic conditions that caused companies to invest in South Africa will no longer exist--cheap labor, cheap startup costs. Therefore, if divestment continues, even a majority-led South African government will have its hands tied.

Additional divestment now will not hasten the decline of apartheid as much as it will tie the hands of the future leadership.

Jennifer Griffin '91-'92 spent last year in South Africa.

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