I spent March 1985 in South Africa as a guest of several South African universities. I lectured to academic audiences, traveled in the rural areas of Transvaal and the Cape Province, spent a day in Soweto, visited the Crossroads slum in Cape Town and the Black township of Alexandra in Johannesburg. I talked to Black ser vants and Black leaders, to Afrikaners and Anglos, to people representing the three major parties: Conservative, Progressive, and Nationalist (presently in power), and to those sympathizing with the outlawed African National Congress. I formed several distinct impressions during that trip.
South Africa is about as integrated as America was in the l950’s and early l960’s. The new policy towards inte gration seems to be an ongoing con cern of the Botha government. Buses, airplanes, and shopping centers are integrated, and so are major universi ties and most private schools on the primary and secondary level. Better restaurants and snack bars are integrat ed, medium-level restaurants are inte grated in Cape Town but not in Johannesburg. Trains and government-run schools are not. Virtually all those with whom I discussed the subject felt that South Africa is in a state of change and that integration of all public facilities is only a matter of time, as is the abolition of laws prohibiting mixed marriages. The whites grumble about but accept the huge increases in their tax levels caused by Botha’s policy of upgrading Black education.
The goal of the Botha government, it appears, is the creation of a meritoc racy without regard to race. The old apartheid model of Malan and Ver woerd, in which the races would be separated geographically, has been re placed by a plan for a kind of federal ism between the four major interest groups: white, Asian, Colored, and Black. According to the Botha model, as the level of productivity of the three other groups increases relative to that of the whites, their political influence will also rise. Thus Botha’s plan for change in South Africa should be viewed in economic rather than racial terms. Already, entry-level salaries in such jobs as high school education are determined by colorblind competitive examination. However, any notion of “one man, one vote” in the foreseeable future is regarded as a blueprint for an overnight transfer of wealth from the haves to the have-nots, which would “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
South African tribal life escapes the attention of the .American media, part ly because most of us in America have long lost our tribal dimension and replaced it with an awareness of na tionality. In South Africa, the three largest tribes are the Zulus (5.4 mil lion), the Northern and Southern Sothos (4 million), and the Xhosas (3 million). There exist a dozen or so lesser tribes. Their members’ loyalty to tribal law generally surpasses their awareness of the social and legal structures of the state in which they live. But tribal wisdom provides little preparation for participation in a technolog ical society.
When a tribal culture confronts a Western society, the signals get con fused. The fiction of a unified Black society which such leaders as Bishop Tutu present to the world was shattered for me during several conversations with the Zulus in Transvaal. Virtually all of them acknowledged their tribal chieftain as their supreme authority. One prominent Zulu businessman told me that the Black majority rule would certainly (and quite rightly, in his view) mean dictatorship of the Zulus over the other tribes. Finally, the difference between Blacks and Coloreds in South Africa has to do not so much with skin color as with tribal ism. The Coloreds do not have tribal allegiance whereas the Blacks do. In this respect, as well as many others, American Blacks are closer to the South African Coloreds than to the Blacks. This business of tribal customs and habits has to be faced squarely if improvement, rather than disaster, is to occur in South Africa.
Disinvestment is the number one conversation topic in South Africa. During a conversation, president of the Soweto College of Education showed me some buildings on campus and said that they were donated by IBM. As I toured Soweto, I was told by several Blacks that this or that block of one-family homes was donated by an American company in partnership with the South African government or with the municipal government. For Black South Africans, disinvestment would mean not only a loss of jobs and housing prospects but also a step back ward in education and community services. Many Black tribal leaders op pose disinvestment for these reasons. Even those Blacks who favor disinvestment admit that it would cause suffering.
Next to the issue of tribalism, terror ism is the least appreciated element of South African politics. It is directed against members of Black community councils, church leaders, and busi nessmen, and it will most likely be directed against those Blacks who will participate in the multiracial regional councils whose creation was recently announced by President Botha. For example: in March, a Black town councillor, his two sons, and two of his employees were killed and their bodies hacked to pieces before being set alight in full public view. This event received virtually no publicity outside South Africa. The minority of South Africans dedicated to violence have done a good job of preventing Blacks and whites from cooperating with one another. Terrorism is on the rise, and the government, intimidated by criticism from abroad, seems un able to deal with it.
On March 12, I went to the infamous Soweto. I drove around the city for several hours and saw every major thoroughfare and hundreds of small streets and took some snapshots of the elegant home in which Bishop Tutu used to live before becoming Bishop of Johannesburg. Soweto’s population is about two million. It is 5 percent slum, 5 percent upper-middle class, and 90 percent tiny red brick houses which would fit right into a lower middle-class American neighborhood
in a factory town. It is dull-looking, and by American standards it has startlingly few shops and recreation areas. But by the standards of Africa’s Marxist countries, it is the fulfillment of a dream: the dream of having running water and electricity, a sturdy roof over one’s head, and enough food to fend off hunger.
The Crossroads slum near Cape Town is different. It consists of several square kilometers of slumlike dwell ings which house an unknown number of people, many of them illegal immigrants from the Black homelands in the north. They come by bus. Life in the slum is preferable to life in the wild where hunting and subsistence agriculture are the only sources of food. Unlike Soviet authorities, who rigidly control their borders and their people, the South African government is unable to control the influx. Yet on balance, I have seen a higher incidence of malnutrition among children in Eastern Europe than in South Africa.
The lack of an organized multiracial intellectual right may be South Afri ca’s most pressing problem. As things stand now, advocates of evolutionary change wax apologetic whereas advo cates of violent change sound triumphant. They have mastered the art of persuasion and have created a network for disseminating their extravagant promises. The power of the left in South African universities is formida ble. Conservative professors are hard to find. Whereas the pro-Marxist NUSAS operates openly and with impunity on campus, several university students were recently heavily fined for distributing a conservative newsletter. The silent majority, both white and Black, has condoned verbal terror ism of the left through its intellectual indolence.
The choice for South Africa is ei ther to build economic structures and channels of communication between the tribal and poorly educated Blacks and the white, Asian, and (to some extent) Colored minorities, or to opt for the “one man, one vote, one time” solution, which was the choice of South Africa’s neighbors to the north. In a rational world, one might hope that Botha’s plan for a meritocracy in South Africa would be allowed to work. Certainly it holds out the most promise for each of the racial groups in the country. The Reagan Administration apparently understands and is trying hard to support Botha, within the limits allowed by pressures in the Unit ed States Congress and the media. If Reagan has his way, disinvestment will not happen.
Still, I would be surprised if Moscow’s policy to isolate South Africa were not ultimately successful. In the short term, this would bring the old pro-apartheid faction into power in Pretoria and create a siege mentality in the minds of the South African whites. In the long term, the flight of Anglos from South Africa would destroy the economy and the government. This would give the anti-western forces a monopoly on some dozen essential strategic metals
and would insure the failure of the increasingly successful Unita revolt (supported by South Afri ca) against the Angolan Marxists. So the long-term (i.e., 10-year) prognosis for South Africa must be termed poor. This prognosis may be reversed if sev eral things happen concurrently: (1) the pro-Botha attitude of the Reagan Administration is maintained into the next Presidency; (2) Botha and his successors show more determined leadership and steadiness of purpose in the future; (3) white emigration from South Africa remains at low levels. For the sake of South Africans of all races and for the sake of the West, I hope that the policies of the Botha govern ment will be given a chance. It would be an enormous disaster if Moscow succeeded in turning the entire African continent into a hell of genocide and famine. cc
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