The white minority régime in South Africa should not be thought of as a conservative government It is, instead, a radical right-wing government which has successfully transformed South African society to conform to the ideology of apartheid. Apartheid is an élitist ideology advocating racial separation and the entrenchment and perpetuation of white domination. Apartheid has fragmented South Africa into racial and ethnic groups, and established an authoritarian racial hierarchy which permeates all aspects of society and concentrates political, economic and military power in the hands of the state; the entire apparatus is controlled by the Afrikaners- the dominant group among the whites, who in turn are the dominant group in the society as a whole.

Although it enjoys a virtual monopoly of power, the Nationalist government is discovering that the costs of maintaining the artificial order of the society which it has created are rising. There are significant indications of social disorder and growing opposition within South Africa which point to a conflict. Though its resolution may be delayed by increased repression, violent confrontation seems inevitable, for the mechanisms to resolve it do not exist within South African society. And the conflict may also involve many other nations.

II

In 1948 the Nationalist Party gained power with a majority of seats in Parliament but a minority of the votes cast. By 1966 it held 126 of the 166 seats and had won 58 percent of the white vote. On gaining power the Nationalists moved systematically to entrench themselves within Parliament, and to extend their power beyond it by enlarging the power of the state. In successive moves the few Colored people still on the common (white) voters' roll were removed. The white representatives of the Black people (who had consistently expressed anti-government positions) were removed. The white- dominated political groups which had Black support or were in favor of a common (nonracial) society, or majority rule, were systematically banned (Communist Party, 1950; the Congress of Democrats, 1962); rendered ineffective by attacks on their leadership (Liberal Party) ; or segregated by law (Progressive Party, 1968).

The Black political groups received similar treatment The African National Congress and the Pan African Congress were banned (1960) and their leadership and considerable numbers of their followers jailed (there were an estimated 1,310 political prisoners in 1966);[i] the Indian Congress and organizations in the Colored community were crippled by attacks on their leadership and effectively ceased to operate. Other anti-government nonparty political groups-the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), certain sections of the press, certain sections of the church and a number of trade unions-have suffered similar attacks but have not been banned.

In the process, the government placed on the statute books legislation which gave it the power to declare organizations illegal and to make it a criminal offense to work for the objectives of these organizations; ban individuals and place them under house arrest without trial or judicial process; hold suspects and witnesses indefinitely for questioning; reverse the onus of proof in some court cases; prescribe minimum sentences for political offenses; ban publications; and make it an offense to report on certain material activities of the security police.

The security police system itself has been centralized, and reports directly to the Prime Minister. Telephone tapping, noknock searching, wide powers of detention and questioning are allowed. The security police boast of informers in every major institution in society-church, universities, business, political parties and government. "Even if you do not see a policeman it does not mean that there is not one nearby" were the words of the present Prime Minister, John Vorster, when he was Minister of Justice.

The powers of the security police coupled with the powers which the law has granted the executive mean that any South African can lose all civil, legal or human rights. A number of allegations have been made of deaths resulting from detention and torture. The official figures show that the police force has been steadily increased in size from 20,588 men in 1948 to 34,437 in 1969. Expenditure on defense has risen from R40 million in 1959 to R325 million in 1971 (one rand equals $1.40).

All white males spend one year in compulsory military training, and volunteer training for women has recently been introduced, as has a campaign of "preparedness" in the white schools. Blacks do not serve.

Control of communications, publications and information has been established. The radio is state-owned and has become a political mouthpiece. There are 23 different laws affecting or controlling the freedom of the press. Any publication may be banned (and 13,000 have been) or censored, as may films. Television has been prohibited-and will be state controlled when introduced.

The state intervened actively to gain control over education, and the majority of schools-Black and white-are now either state controlled or controlled through syllabi. Only the English-language white universities have maintained limited autonomy, though they are segregated by law. It must be noted that where direct control has not been established-as with the English-language press, the English and Black churches, the universities and certain of the trade unions, all of which are still sources of opposition-legislation has limited the range or effectiveness of such opposition.

This consolidation of power by direct action against the opposition, and expansion of the authority of the state, has resulted in a virtual monopoly of power in the hands of the Nationalist Party-itself the political wing of Afrikaner nationalism. The appearance of legitimacy has been maintained at all times as has the appearance of democracy. But in fact real power may no longer be located either in Parliament itself, or even in the Nationalist Party, but in the hands of perhaps a dozen men who control the army, communications, the police, the security police, the Nationalist Party and the Afrikaner church and cultural institutions. This view has publicly been expressed by both politicians and political scientists such as Dr. Alan Paton and Dr. David Welsh.

III

At the same time that the Nationalist Party has been consolidating power in its own hands and disposing of any opposition, it has also been fragmenting the people of South Africa into racial and ethnic groups and effectively segregating these from one another. The government has legislated four major "racial groups" and subdivided these into further "ethnic" categories. All in all, there are 20 such categories, The latest (1970) census figures show that there are 21.5 million people in South Africa, who are divided thus:

Whites. 3.8 million (English-speaking, 40 percent; Afrikaans-speaking, 60 percent).

Colored people. 2 million. These are people of mixed African and white descent and are further subdivided into seven categories, the last of which is "other colored."

Indian people. 0.62 million. These are people of Asian descent.

African people. 15.06 million. The government has divided the African people into a number of "nations," which are Xhosa (3.9m.), Zulu (4.03m.), Tswana (1.72m.), Venda (0.36m.), Sotho (1.45m.), Pedi (1.6m.), Swazi (0.49m.), Ndebele (0.410m), Shangaan (0.74m.), other (.52m.).

The major legislative distinctions drawn are between whites and "non- whites." (The terms white and Black are preferred by most anti-government groups.) Almost every aspect of life conforms to this division. Sex and marriage across this line are prohibited by the "Immorality Act" All social amenities like buses, trains, cinemas, places of public entertainment, beaches, restaurants and all residential areas are segregated on this basis. Education is divided into the four major racial categories, and mother-tongue instruction has been introduced. South Africans have to be educated in the language of their parents, at least for their first years of schooling, and education is given in almost a dozen languages at this level. Separate "governmental institutions" have been established for each of the major Black groups, and participation in "white politics" is not allowed.

This body of racial legislation can divide and has divided families-mother from son, husband from wife-and where clear racial lines cannot be found they are arbitrated by Racial Classification Boards. Every South African carries racial identification. If nothing else, the 200 racial laws testify to the artificial nature of the order which has been imposed, as do the often severe penalties which reinforce them and the multiple breaches which occur. Further, this legislation has effectively broken the lines of communication, coöperation and understanding between the different groups. By means of the classic divide-and-rule policy the government has reinforced the centralization of power. But the policy has also sown the seeds of intergroup tension and conflict and seriously threatened relations not just between white and Black but between Black and Black.

The racial segments into which the people of South Africa have been divided now form a hierarchy, of which economic status provides the clearest illustration. Over the 23 years it has governed, the Nationalist Party has promoted the economic interests of the Afrikaners, who founded and support it, over every other group. It has also ensured the greater and greater allocation of resources and material wealth to members of the white group as a whole, at the direct cost of all other South Africans. As the appearance of parliamentary democracy has been maintained by the government and its supporters, so has the myth that economic development in South Africa has meant progress for all. The facts demonstrate that this assertion is not true.

It must be stressed that Blacks make up the majority of the work force. Official figures show ratios ranging from 8.56 to 1 in mining, 2.45 to 1 in manufacturing, 3.38 to 1 in construction, 1.12 to 1 in electricity, 1.25 to 1 in. the railways and 3.8 to 1 in the post office. It has been shown, however, that the 15 million Africans, who make up 70 percent of the population, receive only 18.8 percent of the nation's personal cash income. Whites who constitute 17.5 percent of the population receive 73.3 percent of its income. The average income (1969) for whites works out at R95 ($133) per month, and for Africans at R7 ($9.80). This means that on average the per capita income of Africans is six percent of that of whites. Whites and Africans represent the top and bottom of the racial hierarchy, and average incomes in mining and manufacturing (which are the highest and the lowest paid sections of the economy for Africans) as shown in Table 1 will give an idea of the range of the hierarchy:

TABLE I. 1969 AVERAGE SALARIES OR WAGES PER HEAD PER MONTH

Mining Whites R262 Colored R64 Asians R69 Africans R48 Manufacturing Whites R297 Colored R62 Asians R76 Africans R18

The gap between Black and white incomes has grown (corresponding to the decline in Black trade union activity); and Afrikaner income has grown at the greatest rate of all, as shown in Table 2.[ii]

TABLE 2

Average Black wage as % Average wage of average of English as No. of Blacks Approx. % white wage in % of average economically of Blacks secondary Afrikaner Average wage active unionised industry wage of Afrikaners

1946 2,905,063 12.0 20.3 180 100 1960 3,881,489 3.0 18.5 125 100 1969 4,747,000 0.6 18.6 115 100

Recent studies by economists, among others Dr, Francis Wilson and Sean Gervasi, demonstrate that economic growth has not led to a more equal distribution of income. Wilson has made a detailed study of the gold mining industry and he indicates that the real income of Black miners has not increased over the last 50 years; in fact, it has declined. Wilson argues further that racial discrimination has increased with industrialization and neutralizes political consequences.

A further indication of the racial hierarchy is government spending. For example, in 1969 the state and provinces spent R238 million on education for whites and R39.5 million on African education. Expenditure per head on African education is less than one-eighth of that on white education and the gap has grown for 13 years. The Minister of Bantu (African) Education and Development pointed out that only 6.9 percent of the 1969-1970 budget, a total of R158 million, was spent directly on the nearly 15 million African people.

Two other important points concerning the economy are the large degree of state control which exists, and the potential differences which are emerging between economic and ideological priorities. The state has actively intervened to ensure non-competitive employment for what was a large group of poor whites. Today something close to 40 percent of the white adult male population is directly employed by the state, which controls rail and air travel; electricity production; steel production; almost all education; the army, navy, air force and police; radio, telephones, postal services; and the remainder of the civil service. In addition, the Afrikaner group controls a section of the private sector of the economy. The effects of this large state participation in the economy are reinforced by legislative control of employment, development and financial factors.

In the past, separation and economic domination have been parallel and twin goals, but in recent years these have been less reconcilable and have forced an evaluation of priorities. It is argued that the preëminence of economic priorities may result in greater equality for the Black people, But the past record of the economy should cast doubt on this assertion, if not discredit it totally.

Nevertheless there does remain a chance that the ideology of apartheid might undergo some changes of face, even if white domination is not fundamentally altered.

The role of international investment has supported the Nationalist Party program for maintaining white domination, Thus, total international investment in South Africa was R4,99O million in 1969. The major investments in South Africa are from the sterling areas (R3,074m.), the dollar area (R741m.), Western Europe (R1,065m.), international organizations (R59m.), and otherwise, including Japan (R51m.). Until the Polaroid Corporation announced its unsatisfactory "experiment" in 1970 no foreign corporation had sought to contest the racial practices significantly. South Africa has given a capital return on investment of between 17.2 percent and 20.6 percent over the last five years. The pursuit of profit has taken the representatives of the Western nations into very strange company. The corporations now have a vested interest in "law and order" and "stable government," and if conflict were to erupt in South Africa, they doubtless would align the national interests of the nations from which they come with the white minority against the interests of the majority of the South African people.

IV

The claims of the Nationalist government to maintain "law and order" and "stable government" may have impressed a number of critics, but they are clearly maintained at the cost of civil and human rights. The dimensions of the problem of enforcement illustrate this further, and point to serious and growing social disorder. Official figures show that a total of 2,848,911 alleged contraventions of legislation took place in 1969. Of these, 2,016,300 people were sent for trial and a further 170,493 people were sent for trial for crimes of violence (murder, infanticide, assault and culpable homicide). Of 6,564 alleged murders, 153 involved white people and 6,411 Black people. Of the total number of people sent for trial, 932,127, or nearly 40 percent, were involved in "'technical" offenses primarily involving racial legislation such as the pass laws. This represents a figure of almost 2,500 people per day. The average daily prison population was 90,555 in 1969-70, a figure proportionate to population six times greater than that of France and five times greater than that of Britain.

The use of violence in enforcement is difficult to document but in 1969 there were 5,537 assault complaints against the police, of which 95 percent went to court. South Africa is responsible for almost half of the known executions in the Western world. In carrying out their duties, members of the police wounded 137 people and killed 50 in 1969. Crime, violence and prison population rates are all rising steadily. Numbers of incidents of interracial violence have been recorded in African schools, between tribal groups, after railway crashes and at sports functions. The situations which give cause for greatest concern are the large urban ghettos which border on every major city and where all the conditions are present for explosions many times the dimensions of that, say, in Watts, The urban ghettos are a permanent fixture and despite government removals (almost a million people have been removed in the last decade) their populations grow. A growing number of instances have been recorded in which Black families have resisted-sometimes violently-removals of this sort

An investigation by the Jaycees in Cape Town in 1970 found an association of violence and social disorder with "poverty and prolonged socio-economic frustration. These experiences do massive violence to one's identity and cripple one's capacity for relatively full self-realisation. ... As each new local township has been populated during the last decade, it has been smitten by a wave of social chaos and street violence."

It should be noted that In Soweto, the biggest Black urban complex, 68 percent of the people live below the poverty line. In some rural areas 50 percent of the children die before the age of five. The government response to these situations has most often been to use force; but the fundamental causes of the disorder and conflict lie in the political and economic system, and there has been no attempt to change this. On the contrary, of the 200 racial laws which exist, 98 were legislated in the decade 1961- 1971.

The preparedness of the government to resort to force gives cause for alarm in another context-the guerrillas fighting on the border of Rhodesia, the Portuguese territories and South West Africa (Namibia.). This conflict is escalating, and both the guerrillas and the Nationalist government have given warnings of unremitting hostility. With the drastic escalation of South African defense expenditure and the commitment of most of Africa to the side of the guerrillas, the potential for this situation to expand into an international conflict gives grave cause for concern.

Further, the economic involvement of the Western nations with the interests of the white minority, and the growing Soviet and Chinese concern with Africa, threaten to expand the dimensions of such conflict Denis Healey, the "Shadow" Foreign Secretary of the British Labour Party, said when he visited South Africa in 1970 that apartheid there is the greatest encouragement which exists to the spread of communism in the rest of Africa.

The final possible source of violence is organized resistance within South Africa. It must be a fundamental assumption that the majority of South Africans will continue to oppose apartheid. On the other hand5 it is clear that the Nationalist Party is not willingly going to concede power, significantly modify apartheid or adopt policies which will fundamentally alter the present situation of white domination. The political alternatives which have been left the Black people are minimal and almost all involve collaboration. It should not be doubted that, despite the restrictions and penalties which exist, there are many loyal South Africans who see the use of violence as the only means of changing the situation; and given circumstances of growing disorder they will resort to it. Desirable as peaceful change is, it is further to be doubted whether any future course of action-any process of change-will be able to avoid at least some conflict and violence, Though certain courses may minimize it, the hatred which apartheid has created is deeply entrenched, and its authors show no signs of trying to remove its fundamental injustices.

V

There are three loci of power which can Influence the course of events in South Africa: the Nationalist government and the white élite; the Black majority of South Africans; and a number of international groups and interests.

The Nationalist Party has drawn its support from the Afrikaner group. The urbanization and rise in economic status of this group have been pointed to as possible sources of liberalization. The emergence of a broader range of political opinion among Nationalists is to be welcomed, but the range remains a limited one; and even the most enlightened Nationalists have made suggestions which are only modifications of the more blatant aspects of apartheid rather than fundamental changes. Under the spotlight of international opinion, it has been suggested that some of the more rigid aspects of separation might be changed. But these changes are superficial.

Where economic priorities are high-for example where there is a shortage of skilled manpower-there are signs that Blacks might be allowed to enter previously restricted areas of employment But the lack of trade unions, the surplus of Black manpower and the overriding fact of government control make it unlikely that such small economic gains will be translated into political gains.

The economy, however, is a prime area for change and the old dictum of the Afrikaner "rather poor and white than mixed and rich" is less likely to hold sway now, in conditions of affluence, than earlier. The pressure from the white élite may place economic priorities before ideological ones in certain limited circumstances, but the consistent trend of the economy to create situations of greater, rather than less, inequality, makes this type of change a lesser challenge to white domination than is often estimated.

Neither of the white opposition parties offers alternatives to apartheid which threaten the white electorate's allegiance to the Nationalist Party. The United Party favors the status quo and repeal of a limited amount of racial legislation; and the small Progressive Party favors a franchise qualified by economic (money and property) and educational qualifications. It is unlikely that the Nationalists will lose an election, and I would subscribe to the view that if they did, they would not willingly hand over power. There is a greater possibility that there might be a realignment of the parties, as both the Nationalist and United Parties might split in situations of stress, The issue of the economy, the situation of the Colored people, Black resistance or an international crisis might create such stress.

Nevertheless, any such alignment will still favor white domination, and at most create situations which might lead to further change. Other white groups-students, some churches and trade unions, and a section of the press- favor greater change. Though they are relatively powerless, there is a growing sensitivity to racism and a commitment to changing it, and also a growing acceptance of the fact that change will mean Black domination, and there is limited activity toward achieving this.

The overwhelming fact of white policies remains the power of the Nationalist Party and its willingness to use this power. Greater repression, dispensing with the façade of democracy, and the institution of more direct rule are likely. Ruthless action against Black and white opposition as well as growing militarism are as likely future courses as any other. Only the need to maintain international goodwill and continued progress mitigate against this to some small degree.

Apartheid has turned in on itself. A relaxation of control will mean change, but change will mean greater control and greater use of force, for the white elite fears disorder, i.e. uncontrolled change, almost as much as the end of white domination. Continued white domination will also mean greater conflict, more use of force.

Among the Blacks, the unnatural quiescence which characterized the late 1960s, the years after Sharpeville, is ending. The opposition to apartheid from the majority of South Africans is growing again. Either directly or by exploiting whatever advantage can be gained from the fragmentary apartheid structures, Black people are seeking change and a basis of power from which to obtain change. The Black majority might accept separation and the politics of fragmentation as a step to majority rule and the end of white domination-but only as a temporary expedient. The last three years have seen the emergence of a militant Black student organization, SASO; increased effort to revitalize the Indian National Congress; the founding of ASSECA, a group committed to change in education; growing unity among Black churches and a stress on Black theology; and more outspoken Black criticism than has been seen in many years. A coherent statement of the need for Black consciousness and for Black political initiative is emerging.

Within the fragmented apartheid institutions the ideology is being turned upon itself. The emergence of Chief Buthelezi, an articulate anti-apartheid spokesman, as leader of the Zulu people; the emergence of the Labour Party as a vocal and organized critic of the government among the Colored people; and a general tendency for participants in separate apartheid structures- rural and urban-to become more outspoken and to make greater demands on the government all point to growing opposition.

But again the overriding factor is the power of the Nationalists. Groups which are opposing apartheid from outside its structure are meeting with increased attacks on leadership and organization, and may well be crippled. Groups within the structure face the dreadful risk implicit in the politics of fragmentation-the exploitation of divide and rule by the Nationalists to widen intergroup differences and play on potential inter-group hostility. This is already apparent in the manner in which the racial hierachy is being used to differentiate the Colored people from the African people, and use them as a bolster for the white élite. In addition, the Nationalists still have sufficient control of these structures to reward acquiescence and subvert opposition. The successful exploitation of the separate structures is difficult, but as these provide the only evidence of the progress in "separate development" (apartheid) the Nationalists seem compelled to concede greater and greater power to them. The separate structures can never be viable independent structures but they might become effective power bases.

If Black unity can be maintained across the separate institutions-which is just what apartheid seeks to combat-such a power base might lay the foundation for a viable alternative to apartheid. But if such unity cannot be maintained, the different Black ethnic groups might be forced into situations of greater conflict Only the white élite could benefit from this, and the Nationalists seem to be aware of this, The possibility of such multifaceted conflict is the greatest possibility of the politics of fragmentation. But it is a risk which Black groups appear to be willing to take in pursuit of change, and the power needed to obtain it. The other possibilities are acquiescence to the apartheid structures and continued white domination,, or totally rebellious change. The Nationalists have more than sufficient power to deal with the latter-although the future points to their no longer having control of all the pieces in the game.

VI

I have pointed to areas where change is possible, both in terms of material circumstances and limited transition of power. With respect to all of these, international opinion and action is crucial. It is only a concern for international acceptability, and the often related economic advantages or consequences, which has made the white élite express concern at the harsher aspects of separation; which has placed economic priorities above immediate ideological objectives; which has forced the pace of transition in the separate structures; which will curb extremes of government action against opposition leaders and organizations; and which makes it important to adhere to, or maintain to some degree, the existence or appearance of democratic and judicial process.

In short, the dependence of the white élite and particularly the economy on international goodwill is possibly the most significant pressure which can mitigate the Nationalists' use or abuse of power. And it is that power which is central to South African politics at this point in time. However, in the past, fascination with the white political process has often led to an implicit assumption, or to action based on the assumption of the legitimacy of this process. In the international context this assumption lends great weight to the white élite. International concern should be motivated by, and exercise, an active consideration for the majority of South Africans and their situation, and the impact of international action upon these. But very often the Western nations have oriented themselves only in terms of the white élite, and the activity of overseas investors and corporations in South Africa has been the supreme example of this.

Until the Polaroid "experiment" in 1970-71, no international corporation had sought to change or challenge either the separation or the discrimination, and all profited by conforming to them. It is not unfair to call the result exploitation, and to call for the undoing of this exploitation by either withdrawal or the institution of practices of full equality. The half-measures which Polaroid took were welcome and provided a lead, but are insufficient. And there can be no justification for continued engagement short of provision of full equality-partly since in almost all instances there is no legal restraint to prevent this.

To argue for engagement on terms other than full equality is only to continue the present economic trends toward greater inequality and discrimination. Full equality means, first, recognition and encouragement of Black trade-union activity, payment of equal wages and wages which reflect reasonable rates for the job; equal access to promotion and training facilities; and full and equal provision for health, insurance, transport, housing, and benefits and services to both employees and dependents.

It could be misconstrued as "terrorism" for me, as a South African citizen, to advocate withdrawal-but although the decision, of course, is not for me to take, the choice seems clear-full equality or disengagement Withdrawal would have the greater impact on the white élite, but both would promote a degree of change.

Finally, it must be stressed that the international dependence of the white élite and the economy is going to grow and not decrease, and that the white élite-by diplomacy and particularly by economic expansion-is keen to strengthen its internal position by gaining international credibility and active support. It rests with corporations, private individuals and governments to determine whether their involvement and participation in South Africa have been coöpted into this process, or whether they provide any support for the majority of South Africans in their attempts to obtain change. At this point in time most interests have been coöpted.

VII

Change in South Africa is going to be a painful process, actively resisted by the white élite. It is going to require the emergence of Black leadership and a power base from which to operate; the development of organizing and organizations; and at least limited freedom in which to exercise them.

The situation within South Africa is rising to a crisis which will either be staved off by further repression or explode into active conflict whose dimensions and impact may extend far beyond South Africa itself. A scenario of events is difficult to construct, as much depends on unforeseen crises or events at present in the making; but unless there is rapid change toward greater equality and distribution of power tragedy lies ahead. It is in the interests of the Western nations to make a far greater attempt to ensure that this tragedy is avoided, and to align their interests with those of the majority of South Africans.

[i] All statistics arc official figures or are based on official figures.

[ii] Keith Gottschalk, NUSAS seminar paper, 1971. It should be noted that in some instances these figures are not completely comparable.

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