In the Security Council on August 7 the United States voted for a ban on the shipment of arms to the South African Government, and in the course of the debate the American representative announced that the United States would suspend all arms shipments at the end of the year. Since South Africa has in the past found it difficult to obtain licenses for the purchase of American arms, this decision represented only a small shift in policy. But as the vote was taken under African pressure, and as it separated the United States from Britain and France (which abstained), the shift was significant; for it showed that when faced with a choice, the United States is more prepared than before to take a stand against apartheid.

The supporting speech defined American policies toward the South African Government with some precision: though hostile to apartheid, the United States is not yet convinced that force is a necessary ingredient in the solution of the problem, for "we cannot accept the conclusion that there is no way out, no direction to go except the present collision course toward ultimate disaster in South Africa." Rather, steps are envisaged "to induce that government to remove the evil business of apartheid ... from the continent of Africa."

The American view that a clash is avoidable is not shared by most observers. It is certainly not shared by the Government of South Africa, nor the majority of its white citizens. Never has so much been spent on arms in South Africa; the figure is now running at a published rate of $219,000,000 a year. Military service is bulking ever more prominently in the lives of the white people. And, apart from national armaments, the three million white people privately own two million firearms.

An ever-tightening code of security laws buttresses this armed oligarchy. There is, for example, a recent law which permits any police officer to detain anyone for successive periods of 90 days without limit and without warrant; such persons can be held incommunicado and the courts are prohibited from intervening. This is only the latest in a 15-year series of increasingly repressive laws which show a growing fear and hostility toward the Africans.

The Bantu Laws Amendment Act of 1963 took away the legal right of all black South Africans (68 percent of the population) to live anywhere outside the "Native Reserves" (13 percent of the land). Continued residence in the 87 percent of the land reserved for whites is a matter of privilege, and requires permits that can be administratively cancelled at any time. Freedom of movement for Africans has already dwindled until the majority of the population are not able to move from their places of work. One-third of the Africans live on white men's farms; they may not leave to look for work in the cities without the permission of their masters and of the government. The one-third who live in the cities generally dare not have a dispute with their employers for fear of being forced by the government to go to live in the decaying reserves. And for the remaining third who live in the reserves, it is illegal to move out unless they have work waiting for them. For most, this is an impossibility, unless they contract to work in the mines.

Strikes by Africans have been made illegal, and almost every act of their lives, including often the right to live with their spouses, and even the right to go to the church of their choice, has been made subject to official permits. Another law prohibits the courts, in certain matters, from issuing injunctions in favor of Africans. In mid-1963 over 5,000 persons were held as convicted political prisoners, and at least 2,800 members of one movement, the Pan-Africanist Congress, had been arrested and were awaiting trial.

Education for white children up to the eighth grade is compulsory and free, and the schools provide free meals. The government spends about $170 on each white child in school, while the comparable figure for African children is $17. But for African children education is not compulsory and most children of school age are not in school. The Bantu Education Act specifically designs education for Africans which shall fit them for an inferior place in life. One of the first acts of the Afrikaner Nationalists when they came to power was to cancel the existing schemes for free food for African school children-the very children who need it most.

These and other facts do not bear out the contention of apologists for apartheid that the African in the Union enjoys a standard of living unequaled in Africa. Despite the fact that South Africa is the richest country of the continent and has been enjoying great prosperity, an official study shows that the real wages of Africans in the main urban centers generally declined in the 1950s. Moreover, the incidence of malnutrition and related diseases in parts of South Africa is the highest recorded in the world. The infant mortality rate in the Port Elizabeth divisional area in 1961 was 480 per thousand live births. African children die at 25 times the rate of white children. According to a survey carried out by the reputable Rand Daily Mail, 57 percent of African children die before they reach the age of five years. A University of Natal survey found signs of malnutrition in every one of 240 African workers visited: they were earning $28 a month. A bus company gave out free meals and found that absenteeism among African workers dropped by half.[i]

This low standard of living is a reflection of the African's votelessness and his inability to influence political movements. Political rights, long enjoyed, have been reduced or abolished. In 1853 Britain gave the Cape a parliament, and gave the vote to all men earning $140 a year. Many black and colored men qualified, and for most of the nineteenth century the Cape parliament was responsible to the aspirations of all races. But the white minority never accepted this situation, and in the hundred years after 1853- but most drastically in the last 15-managed to abolish all political and civic rights which the African people had enjoyed. (Vestigial rights are still enjoyed by some colored people.)

At the same time that the white minority has been reducing the political power of the non-whites, the Africans' ambitions and aspirations have been rising. In this fact lies the refutation both of those who plead for more time and of those who believe that a conflict is avoidable. The all- pervasive ideas of democracy have found ready acceptance among the non- white people of South Africa. Despite rigid censorship of books and films, and despite an ideological decision not to have television, there has never been so great a flood of modern ideas into the minds of the voteless South Africans. Another gauge of the situation is that some 100,000 non-whites own cars, and a rising class of business and professional men is inching its way upward against almost insuperable obstacles.

The Africans are determined to win full status and dignity and power. Their determination is reflected in a remarkable growth recently in militancy and political courage. Two principal organizations have emerged: the Pan- Africanist Congress (of which I am a member) and an earlier protest movement, the African National Congress. PAC was founded in 1959 by a university lecturer named Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who completed a three- year prison sentence on May 5 but is still detained. It was born out of the impatience of the younger and more ardent Africans with the A.N.C., which for some 40 years had voiced the protests of the Africans. Sobukwe and his followers claimed that the A.N.C. had failed too often in its ambitious protests and strikes, that it was dominated by Communists and whites, and that it paid too little regard to the African personality. He rapidly won the confidence of the masses and in March 1960 he launched the non-violent campaign of positive action that led to Sharpeville. Thereafter, both movements were outlawed, and the leaders of PAC were given heavy sentences. Both movements went underground, the PAC more effectively. Its committee functions in Basutoland, in the center of South Africa. There are about 100 cells, and at least one cell has 1,000 members. According to a recent public opinion survey conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations, the Pan-Africanist Congress is the leading African party and has particular support among the more militant and the students.

Growing African militancy has bred and will continue to breed growing government oppression. The extremes are nourishing each other at the expense of the middle. It is this that makes the coming clash inevitable unless the white South Africans can be affected by external pressures. The first of these is already being mounted. In May of this year at the Addis Ababa Conference, free Africa declared war on apartheid. It was this issue that made it possible for the 32 independent states meeting there to overcome every other divisive factor. All agreed that the emancipation of Africa and of Negroes everywhere could not be regarded as complete while there subsisted in Africa's most wealthy state a constitution based on the proposition that men are incurably unequal, and that whites alone deserve the vote.

Subventions have already begun to flow into the Liberation Fund, a war chest for the extirpation of apartheid. Africa intends and is able to fight apartheid. Let those who doubt it, or who may underestimate the dimensions of such a war, bear in mind that apartheid treats as inferior not only South Africans of African origin, but also those of Indian and Chinese origin, and that the theory of apartheid has already stirred to anger the representatives of nearly three billion people.

The danger of a world split on the basis of color has been feared for many years; it is a division that could destroy civilization and a great part of the human race. Already, if we are to attach weight to the July letter of the Russians to the Chinese Communists, the Chinese have used the racist argument to secure the expulsion of the Soviet Union from some organizations in the Afro-Asian world. As a result, some observers are predicting that the Chinese will attempt to build a Fifth International based on color. Such an attempt would be greatly assisted by the existence of a régime in South Africa which professes to be leading a crusade against Communism, but which, in the name of "Western civilization," oppresses the colored races. It is, moreover, a government that displays most of the weaknesses which Marx and Engels predicted for capitalism: increasing poverty for the workers, increasing wealth for the capitalists, and aggressiveness against the outside world.


Hitherto American policy in Africa has tried to avoid making choices. Only in the Congo were choices made and strong policies executed. Elsewhere the Government of the United States has tried, and largely succeeded, in remaining friend to both the departing metropole powers and the emerging African nations. Wise though this may be when there is a continuing dialogue between contending parties, or when political movement is generally in the desired direction, or when either side is subject to persuasion, such a policy merely ensures the hostility of both sides when, as in the case of South Africa, none of these conditions applies.

Two facts are generally overlooked by those who hold that time should be afforded to the South African authorities to solve the problem themselves, and that interference from outside merely aggravates the situation by making the supporters of apartheid more militant and unified. The first is that developments in South Africa are going the wrong way: where there were rights, these have been taken away; where there was a little integration, it has been abolished; where there was some hope in the minds of the ruled, it has given way to despair. The second is that there is no longer any effective opposition to apartheid within the South African electorate. Any legislation presented by the Nationalist Party can be passed in Parliament with almost no debate and but one or two dissenting votes. Indeed, it is probably no longer within the power of the government to reverse the trend toward increased oppression, for a fearful electorate would remove even Dr. Verwoerd's government if it showed a disposition to make concessions. Thus the initiative has already passed irrevocably away from the whites to the voteless, and to their friends and allies. For all these reasons, it is difficult to see how intervention can make matters worse than they are.

If this analysis is correct, what can America-if it so wills-do about it? The question is often asked in a tone of despair that is unjustified. There are two main kinds of action that can be taken: small-scale measures that can be taken quietly and immediately, and that require no major policy decisions; and more telling actions that require major decisions of state.

Having voted in favor of the arms embargo, the United States might use its influence to discourage its NATO allies from supplying arms of any kind to the South African Government. Under pressure from Africa, the British and French have announced that they will no longer supply arms that could be used to enforce apartheid. The United States tried this policy from 1961 to 1963, and could point out to the British and French that the distinction is unreal, as it found when it refused licenses to the South Africans for supersonic jet combat planes in 1961, yet allowed the export of Lockheed Hercules C-130 military transport planes in 1963. In any event, it is to be hoped that the recent undertakings by the British and French will be observed. The temptation to waver will be especially strong for the French, who have been the principal suppliers of helicopters and armored cars- weapons of particular value in the kind of war that is likely to occur in South Africa.

Mr. Stevenson told the U.N. that "we have utilized our diplomatic and consular establishments in South Africa to demonstrate by words and by deeds our official disapproval of apartheid." With a nation that has taken the bit between its teeth, words have limited value; of deeds, only one has been made public. Although individual Africans have previously been entertained at the American Embassy, only this year, for the first time, were non-whites invited to the Independence Day celebrations-a secondary party to which South African Government representatives were not invited. While this partial desegregation of an official reception must be welcomed and applauded, one wonders why all entertainment at the embassy could not be integrated. To be sure, the last Soviet representative to South Africa was expelled from the country because he refused to accept apartheid in his consulate-general; but is this an argument for or against the proposition? Or again, might not a Negro foreign service officer be posted to the embassy? Is it necessary for American naval vessels visiting South Africa to have none but white officers? Might "awkward" social situations be reduced if the American Ambassador were replaced by a consul-general who might find it easier to establish contacts with all elements in the population?

Similarly, it might be appropriate to end grants, student exchanges and links of all kinds which involve the acceptance of segregation. Of the various schemes, both governmental and private, for the exchange of students and leaders, all involving South Africa are under the close control of the South African Government, for it exercises strict passport and visa control. It permits these schemes to continue, and uses them as propaganda to demonstrate its respectability in the eyes of the world. Strong opponents of the government are not allowed passports to travel, so the exchanges are limited to supporters of the government, to apolitical persons and sometimes to people who have become instruments of apartheid. In general, non-whites do not get passports for these exchanges unless they are regarded as politically safe. These schemes thus have value to the government, for they are regarded as plums to which supporters can aspire, as well as some innocuous opponents whose opposition is not embarrassing to the government. In the circumstances, it would not appear that the American dollars which so often finance these schemes are working in American interests.

As links with the white supremacist minority are attenuated, so links with the majority might be extended and strengthened. At this stage what is required is an increase in scholarship schemes for young people who manage to smuggle themselves out of the country. America's record in this field is good, but needs are growing fast. Such schemes could play an important part in strengthening democracy now and in assisting reconstruction later.

Another useful move would be to discourage American investment in South Africa. It is true that investors have a concern for the country in which they have substantial economic interests, but understandably this concern is primarily to maintain the status quo, to avoid change which may adversely affect the climate for doing business. Moreover, each dollar that moves into the South African currency control area is, in effect, a vote of confidence in the system, and builds currency reserves which are being built up for military expenditure against the coming storm. Thus investment strengthens apartheid today and imperils the whole private-enterprise system tomorrow-for the African majority, when it votes, will vote against all who did business with apartheid.

In any case, since the Addis Conference it has become apparent that foreign businessmen will probably have to choose between South Africa and the rest of the continent. By trading and investing in South Africa businessmen stand to win a substantial (but brief) return at the cost of losing their whole position in a rapidly developing market of 250,000,000 people. American investment in all of southern Africa, from the Congo to the Cape, amounts to only $413,000,000, compared with a British stake in South Africa alone of over $2,800,000,000. The withdrawal of $413 million would not hurt the United States, but would be likely to make a considerable impact on the South African Government.


None of these recommendations could be called radical. It would be unreal, however, to expect that more far-reaching decisions leading to a world policy for South Africa can long be postponed. One of the first big questions which will come before the U.N. is that of South West Africa, on which the World Court is expected to render a judgment some time in 1964.

To summarize the case very briefly, the South West African question had its origin in the First World War, when the territory was taken from the defeated Germans and entrusted by the League of Nations as a mandate to the South African Government. The South Africans were permitted to administer the territory "as an integral portion of the Union of South Africa," but must "promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being and the social progress of the inhabitants of the territory." Despite this injunction the South African Government has ruled the non-whites of South West Africa as they have ruled the non-whites in South Africa.

The basis of this rule was defined by Mr. J. G. Strijdom, the South African Prime Minister who preceded Dr. Verwoerd, as follows: "The European is the master in South Africa, quite apart from his economic hold on the country, and quite apart from his culture and civilization, because he is the ruler of the country.... The entire position of the European is based on discriminatory legislation in so far as the races in South Africa are concerned."[ii] Since then Dr. Verwoerd has introduced apartheid more definitely into the mandate by placing the non-whites of the territory under the South African Department of Bantu Administration and Development, and by creating segregated townships.

The South West African question has been debated at the United Nations annually since 1948 without any material results. Now the matter has been taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The plaintiff countries are Ethiopia and Liberia, which, having been members of the League of Nations as well as of the U.N., were felt to be the most suited for the role. They have asked the Court for a declaration that the introduction of the apartheid policy is inconsistent with the terms of the mandate. The Court has not been asked to issue any order, merely a declaration.

The judgment, when it is handed down, is expected to favor the plaintiffs, in which case an interesting and unprecedented situation will exist. One possibility is that the South African Government will then make a virtue of necessity by abandoning its mandate and transferring it to the Trusteeship Council. This may depend very much on whether the South African Government believes the United States is prepared-if the mandate is not surrendered-to support collective U.N. action against South Africa, with economic sanctions or force if necessary.

If South Africa does not respond favorably to the Court's judgment, the matter is almost certain to go to the Security Council where a resolution will probably be introduced to detach the mandate from South Africa. Then the position of the United States and the Council's other permanent members will be crucial. A veto in the Security Council would not necessarily affect the outcome, because action by the General Assembly would still be possible and probable. But it would remove American and European influence from the action; even to abstain would greatly reduce the capacity of the United States to influence events.

It seems evident that the Soviet Union will strongly support a U.N. resolution on South West Africa. But the experience of the Congo should discourage both of the major powers from trying to frustrate United Nations action on this issue. In the Congo the United States supported, though with great difficulty, the majority of member states, and paid a large part of the costs. The Soviet Union tried to boycott the operation and has refused to pay its share of the costs. It is no coincidence that Russian policy in central Africa lies in ruins, whereas the United States attained its major objectives.

If sanctions are likely to be used, or threatened, over the South West African question, are they likely to be used or threatened over the question of apartheid? In the Security Council in August the United States opposed sanctions against South Africa, and Mr. Stevenson called for the examination of peaceful alternatives to the use of force. But Chapter VII of the Charter identifies sanctions as the principal alternative to the use of force. The continued call for sanctions by free Africa is not mere trouble-making, but is on the contrary a sincere attempt to handle-in a manner provided for by the U.N. Charter-a situation which the United States itself acknowledges is a threat to peace and security. In any case there is a ground swell running for sanctions, and spontaneous trade-union boycotts are growing in Britain and Scandinavia. It is thus reasonable to expect that, even apart from South West Africa, the world will shortly be seeking effective methods of penning up and weakening the apartheid system.

Of all possible trade embargoes, only one has any chance of being truly effective: a blockade of oil imports. South Africa is more than self- sufficient in foodstuffs and clothing, and can even make automobiles. But it has no petroleum, though an oil-from-coal industry supplies about 10 percent of its gasoline needs. Cutting off oil imports would have unpredictable results, but it may be said that it would make the continued administration of the country either extremely difficult or impossible.

There are of course many arguments against the use of sanctions. One of the most frequently heard is that "they will hurt the very people they are designed to help." But there is not one African leader in South Africa who would not welcome effective action of this sort, and there are few non- whites who would not accept great inconvenience and suffering if apartheid could thereby be ended.

Another argument heard in America is that the United Nations should not call for sanctions against apartheid, because the resolution would be ignored. This prophecy is in some degree self-fulfilling. But if the United States were willing to adhere to an oil embargo, and assuming that the Communist countries followed suit, the pressures that could be mounted on the remaining oil producers would be overwhelming. What would particularly distinguish this effort to impose sanctions from earlier, unsuccessful efforts is the unusual degree of unanimity that exists throughout the world on the apartheid issue. And it is because intervention of some kind is almost inevitable-whether or not the West wills it-that controlled intervention under the aegis of the United Nations offers the best hope of the human race of escaping from the worst consequences of apartheid.

As the crisis grows one hears voices increasingly being raised in America in favor of a "just" partition. But there is no just partition, for any scheme would remove some innocent individuals from their homes and employment. In particular, there is no just partition that could leave the white territory with any sizable infrastructure. For it was the whites who unified a naturally partitioned South Africa in the nineteenth century, and who forced the non-whites to coöperate in building the industries, farms and mines. If now it is the whites who wish to destroy the partnership and undo the union, they could not reasonably expect to keep what was built in partnership. In any event, partition has no hope of being accepted by either side.

Mr. Stevenson ended his August 2 speech with a comparison between the South African question and the nuclear test-ban treaty. The comparison is just, for South Africa like the atom contains potentialities for great good or for great evil. A democratic and non-racial South Africa could do much to conquer the backwardness of the entire continent, and could ease the relationships between black and white everywhere. But if apartheid were to continue much longer, or if the world were to stand aside from South Africa while the races mutilated each other and ruined the land's productive capacity, race relationships everywhere could be poisoned.

Between the possibility of great good and the possibility of great evil lies a field awaiting the exercise of creative world statesmanship. Here, as in so many other areas of world tension, nothing is possible without an American lead.

[i] I am indebted for the above facts on malnutrition to "The Coming Struggle for South Africa," by Sandor (Fabian Society, London, 1963). "Sandor" is the pen name of a well known South African publicist specializing in research on labor conditions. For the wage study see the article by Professor W. R. J. Steenkamp, Chairman of the Wage Board, in the South African Journal of Economics, June 1962.

[ii] Hansard, 1952, v. 77, col. 252.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now