Courtesy Reuters

Hazardous Courses in Southern Africa

Stretching southward from the two great river systems of the Congo and the Zambesi to the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and thus comprising roughly the southern third of the African continent, there lies a vast area, about two-thirds the size of the United States, which constitutes in its entirety one of the principal problem-children of the world community. Consisting largely of an arid central plateau, with lower coastal strips only partially suitable for human habitation, this region harbors a population of some 41,000,000, of whom, in approximate terms, 34,000,000 might be of black African origin, 4,500,000 of European, and the remainder of mixed or other blood. It is made up of a number of highly disparate political entities: the great Portuguese dependencies of Angola and Mozambique, the highly controversial territories of Rhodesia and South West Africa, the Republic of South Africa, and the three former British High Commission territories, now independent: Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.

With the exception of these last-named entities, which make up only a small portion of the whole, there is no part of this area which has not been in recent years the subject of violent discontent, debate, protest and conflict in the United Nations and in world opinion generally. Controversy has centered, of course, on the political relations existing there between people of European origin and the black Africans who constitute everywhere the majority. This is scarcely surprising. The area contains at least 90 percent of the entire white population of Africa, as against 11 percent of its Blacks. Of the white inhabitants, furthermore, a considerable proportion have been settled in Africa for many generations, having even in some instances come no later than did the Blacks to the settlement of the regions in which they are now residing. In these circumstances racial problems were bound to be of a different order-greater in scale, emotionally more acute-than elsewhere in Africa. It could scarcely have been otherwise. This distinction notwithstanding, the demands of the international community, particularly as formulated by the senior bodies of the United Nations, have tended to be no different than those previously raised with relation to the African countries farther north: i.e. immediate decolonization, in the case of the Portuguese territories, and the establishment everywhere of régimes drawn, whether by democratic means or otherwise, from the black African majorities.

Elsewhere in Africa these demands have been generally accepted. In southern Africa, aside from the three former High Commission territories, the controlling powers have resolutely refused to accept them, alleging them to be demagogically inspired, historically unjust, economically unrealistic and detrimental even to the interests of the black African populations involved. The resulting political conflict, massive and tragic, has now weighed heavily, over a period of several years, on the stability of international life: preëmpting large sections of U.N. debate, complicating relations among outside powers, interfering with normal cultural and commercial as well as political contacts throughout the region, reducing greatly the contribution this region, itself the seat of most of the industrial strength of Africa, could make to the life of the remainder of the continent and indeed to world affairs generally.


It may be best, in tackling the bundle of problems that southern Africa presents, to go first to the one that is the most difficult and recalcitrant of all as well as being the one that involves the largest number of people, namely, South Africa itself.

It should perhaps be made clear at the outset that the present examination does not rest on any disposition to minimize the evils of South African apartheid. These are real, ubiquitous, shocking and depressing. It is idle to argue whether the fault proceeds from the nature of the theories these policies are designed to serve or from the manner in which the theories are put into execution. No merits of theory could justify, and no deficiencies of execution excuse, the inequities and inhumanities which the present system obviously produces. This is a painful indictment to make for one who has many South African friends whose goodwill he credits and whose feelings he respects. Candor, unfortunately, permits no other judgment.

One can accept, and even sympathize with, the theory that in a country which is a veritable jumble of cultures and races each of the cultural or racial groups should enjoy the privilege of retaining its traditional identity and developing its life in its own way. But none of this would seem to necessitate or to justify either the general condition of denial to the majority of the population of any effective voice in the shaping of the larger aspects of its own condition or a whole series of specific anomalies, injustices and hardships which the laws and practices of the South African régime now impose. Among these latter might be mentioned: the viciousness of the pass laws and their enforcement; the absurdities and extremisms of petty apartheid; the multitudinous hardships inflicted on the urban Bantu by the régime's insistence on clinging to the absurd theory of the temporary nature of their residence in the urban areas; the power and disposition of the police to ignore, almost at will, the protection afforded to the individual by an otherwise excellent judicial system; the magnitude of the disparities in wages and in public expenditure on education as between Whites and non-Whites; and the hardships worked by the recent inclusion under the strictures of apartheid of the Asians and the Cape Coloureds-the latter, in particular, a people, largely Afrikaans- speaking, who have no culture, no tongue and no remembered past other than those of the Whites who inflict these strictures upon them. (This listing is only illustrative, not inclusive.)

There are, on the other hand, a number of circumstances relative to this indictment, often ignored in Western opinion, which, while they do not excuse the conditions in question, go far to explain them and to make clear why suitable alternatives are not always easy to discover.

It should be recognized, first of all, that the South African Whites, and the Afrikaners in particular, are confronted with a very real problem when it comes to maintaining, in the face of a large black African majority, their own historical and cultural identity. It is a remarkable identity, forged and affirmed over the course of centuries, at times in struggle and adversity, and against a background of circumstances in some respects different from that which any other people has ever had to face. It is an identity in which, as in the case of the Israeli, national components are mixed, for better or for worse, with religious ones; and the Afrikaners are no more inclined to jeopardize it, by placing themselves entirely in the power of a surrounding foreign majority, than are their Middle Eastern counterparts. They would die rather than do so; and it is simply useless to come at them with demands which suggest that it is this that is expected of them.

Secondly, slight as may seem the prospects for any early change in the political situation of the non-Whites in South Africa, it cannot be said that their situation in other respects is unchanging or that its development does not have hopeful aspects. The Nationalists, when reproached over the evils of apartheid, often say in reply: "Give us time. The native will have, ultimately, no complaint. But we will do things in our own time and our own way." Whether the Nationalist concept of the end to be ultimately achieved is the same as that of the many foreign critics may be doubted; but the point made here is not entirely without substance. Real incomes among the urban Bantu, even allowing for inflationary tendencies, are increasing by about four percent per annum. Bantu are being brought into the labor market at a rate of about 2 1/2 percent per annum. Educational opportunities, already in some respects far ahead of those existing in the black-ruled countries to the north, are showing steady improvement, particularly at the primary and trade school levels. The wage disparities, as between Whites and Blacks, are of course excessive and onerous and deserve prompt correction. But one must not forget that there are severe limits to the pace at which this correction could safely be effected. A sudden and complete removal of these disparities would unquestionably undermine the competitive viability of great sections of the South African mining and industrial establishment, which now give employment to hundreds of thousands of black Africans, and would in many instances force the closing of the enterprises, with consequences disastrous to black African living standards.

In judging South African conditions much depends, invariably, on the perspective of the viewer. It will thus be pointed out, in rebuttal of what has just been said, that if living standards among the Blacks are improving, those of the Whites are improving even faster; and a similar point will be made with respect to educational advancement. All this is true. But it would be wrong to ignore the extent to which the rapid economic development of the country is beginning to exert upon the white leadership an effective discipline in the direction of re-thinking some of the extremisms of apartheid. The severe shortage of white labor is compelling, in ever-increasing degree, the admission of Blacks into positions within the industrial structure which, under a strict interpretation of the apartheid concepts and regulations, they would not have been expected or permitted to occupy. The realization is steadily spreading, furthermore, among white business men and political leaders, that a great modern economy such as that of South Africa cannot continue to thrive or even to achieve a proper balance unless and until the majority of the population comes to command a strong purchasing power and to give proper dimensions to the consumers' market. In general, it may be said that there is a basic conflict between the concepts of separate development that now constitute the official ideology of the régime, on the one hand, and the needs of a successful and rapidly expanding industrial economy, on the other; and if the stormy pace of economic growth is continued, this conflict is bound to produce changes, and favorable ones, in the position of the non-white portions of the population.

Thirdly, it should be recognized that any sound and fair criticism of racial conditions in South Africa must bear in mind the position and interests not just of Whites and black Africans but also of the other racial groups, notably the Indians and the Cape Coloureds. It is by no means certain that their interests would be served by the sweeping, simplistic solutions to which the more emotional of the foreign critics are prone.

Finally, the foreign observer has to bear in mind that while a relaxation or removal of the present racial régime would presumably solve some of the problems of the native black South African, it would solve by no means all of them. Those that would remain would be problems of great seriousness, and ones that could not conceivably be solved except in intimate collaboration with the white community. There could be many illustrations of this; but a particularly vivid one might be found in the problem of the native "homelands"-the rural areas in which, ideally under the concepts of apartheid, the native Africans are eventually to find their permanent homes and to achieve complete autonomy and, in some instances, even independence.

It is true that these areas (and notably the greatest and most important of them-the Transkei), over-grazed, poor in resources, poor in capital, and overpopulated as they now are, would be quite incapable, in any foreseeable circumstances, of harboring successfully anything like the totality of the tribal groups theoretically assigned to them, many of whose members now reside in the large urban and industrial centers of the "white" area. To this extent the theory of apartheid is unrealistic as well as unjust. But it would be wrong to assume that the abolition of apartheid would produce anything resembling a solution of this problem.

The basic problem here is, as in other African countries that have no racial difficulty at all, sheer overpopulation. Present estimates are that instead of the expected 19,000,000 black Africans by the year 2,000, the figure on which governmental policies with respect to the homelands have heretofore been based, the actual figure will be closer to 35 to 40 million. The most optimistic estimates of the economic development of the homelands afford no reason to hope that these regions will be able to cope even with the existing black population, let alone anything resembling this increase. The existing program for construction of "border industries" just outside the homelands, to which the inhabitants of the latter could commute on a daily basis, will solve only a small part of the problem. The only other visible alternative is the continued residence of great masses of these people in the major urban areas, where the birth rate among them is only about one-half what it is in the rural areas, and where, theoretically at least, one might hope for a relative stabilization of their numbers.

But there are limits, as can easily be observed even in places remote from South Africa, to the rate at which any great city can successfully absorb immigrants from a primitive rural culture. And it is hard to conceive that any political régime could achieve much more in this respect than the present South African régime is achieving. One has to remember that the municipality of Johannesburg, South Africa's greatest city, has contrived to build on its own outskirts, just in the past two decades, a complete new city of individual homes, nearly 75,000 of them, complete with amenities such as schools, sport facilities and the greatest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere, to house over a half-million black Africans, many of whom previously resided in the most wretched sort of shantytowns. The position of the inhabitants of this vast native "township" leaves much to be desired in a number of respects, particularly as regards policing and transportation; but it would be unfair to the South African authorities not to recognize the magnitude of the effort they have put forward. A glance at the comparable records of great cities elsewhere should suffice to show that it is not likely that this sort of progress in the absorbing of a rural native population into urban areas could be much accelerated under any other conceivable régime.

The foreign critic, therefore, in weighing South Africa's problems, has to remember that the question of racial discrimination represents by no means the totality of them, and that there are some, including a few of the most profound and bitter ones, that could not possibly be mastered without the continued enthusiastic commitment-and this means in many respects the leadership-of the white South African community on whose shoulders the responsibilities of government now rest. The two communities are mutually dependent in a way that Whites and Blacks farther north in Africa never were; and the problems of neither can be solved by the destruction or permanent frustration of the other.


There is a sharp division of opinion among foreign observers and among well- informed South Africans themselves as to the present underlying trends and possibilities in the political life of the Republic. Some feel that the results of the recent election, repudiating the right wing of the Nationalist party and strengthening somewhat the position of its more moderate opponents, is the beginning of a trend in the direction of greater liberality and maturity of official policy-a trend bound to become strengthened as more young people come into the picture as voters. Others, seared perhaps too often by past disappointments, are skeptical. They see the Nationalist leaders as unshakable in their political monopoly, implacable in their commitment to the most unfeeling promulgation of apartheid, deaf to both outside and inside criticism.

The author, believing that no country in South Africa's position can live for long without change, and that change, in this instance, can hardly fail to be for the better, is himself inclined to the more optimistic of these analyses. But he is free to admit that there is, as yet, no adequate proof, one way or the other. It is entirely possible that he is wrong.

However this may be, the main determinants of change will be and must be, as in any other great country, internal. Over the long run no outside force can ever make great, lasting and beneficial changes in another country's life. This does not mean, however, that foreign reaction and opinion have, in the case of South Africa, no influence at all. They have some. There are few South African Whites who are not aware that not all things are as they should be in South Africa and who are not in some way sensitive to outside opinion with relation to these conditions. The manner in which such people react to foreign opinion may vary greatly, however, from positive response to the most violent and determined resistance, depending upon the tenor and spirit of the criticism to which they find themselves subjected. If white South Africans are given to feel that they are viewed with implacable hatred by the outside world, and that the demands made upon them are ones that could be satisfied only by their punishment and humiliation or by some sort of mass emigration, this will only get people's backs up, produce a feeling that safety lies only in a deeper commitment to the principles of white supremacy, and cause otherwise moderate and well-disposed elements to rally in despair around the most intractable nationalist leadership. If, on the other hand, they are confronted with a foreign reaction that takes some account of the measure, the reality and the uniqueness of their problems, they may be importantly aided, as well as stimulated, to find better solutions.

Neither Blacks nor white liberals nor any other South Africans are aided, for example, by demands for Western policies designed to damage the South African economy. Aside from the fact that no outside efforts in this direction are likely to have any appreciable success, they are conceptually wrong in the first place. The black man would be the first to suffer from any serious failure in the process of economic growth. His best chances for a relaxation of apartheid lie, on the contrary, precisely in the continuation of the present rapid economic development of the country. No thoughtful and informed friend of the black African population of South Africa could logically wish for the obstruction and failure of the country's economy.

Similarly, efforts to bring about the isolation of South Africa from the remainder of the world community are simply counterproductive. The country, separated as it is by thousands of miles from the remainder of the Western world, already suffers from an excess of isolation. Apartheid is to some extent the reflection of this isolation. The reactionary and racist tendencies within South African society positively thrive on it. Nothing, on the other hand, with the exception of the economic development, places a greater strain on those tendencies than does extensive personal contact between South Africans and reasonable people in other countries. Apartheid is simply one manifestation of a great national introversion, and why any opponent of that system would wish to intensify the very condition it feeds upon is difficult to imagine.

Finally, the well-meaning outside critic will do well to avoid specific advice to the South Africans as to the manner in which their problems might best be solved. It is all right for him to record, and to emphasize, his disbelief that better, more humane and more hopeful approaches could not be found to South Africa's problems than those that dominate official policy today. It is all right for him to use his influence, in a friendly but earnest way, to bring the white South Africans to a reëxamination of their own situation in a spirit larger and more compassionate, less dominated by petty anxieties and more cognizant of the community of fate that links them to their non-white fellow citizens, than the present inspiration of their policies. But the outsider will do well to avoid the responsibility he would incur by recommending specific courses of action.

The real state of mind of the South African native remains, so far as many of us can see, a book with seven seals. No one knows how this native would react to specific alternatives in the future course of South African policy. The hour is late. It may be too late. A relaxation of the present iron hand might open the way to a brighter period in South African life. But it might conceivably, on the other hand, set in motion uncontrollable forces whose play could end only in violence and disaster. The writer does not believe this last to be the case. He is inclined to think that the white establishment in South Africa still has options more hopeful than that. But he cannot know for sure; and there is no reason for him to make assumptions. No changes in official South African policy will ever be successful unless they spring in the main from the workings of the country's own public opinion and political process. It is inadvisable and unproductive for outsiders to relieve the South African authorities of even the smallest degree of their own responsibility by forcing their hand and trying to tell them what to do. Let the friends of the various South African peoples hold the white rulers of that country to the recognition that to the outside world the present pattern of South African apartheid is abhorrent in aspect and unconvincing in rationale; but beyond that let it be the task of those rulers, who know their own situation better than any outsider can, to find the conceivable alternatives.


Nowhere is the conflict between the United Nations and the present ruling power in southern Africa so formal, so acute and so complete as in the case of South West Africa. Not just the General Assembly but in this case the Security Council as well has flatly demanded that South Africa withdraw immediately its administration of the territory and hand it over to the authority of the United Nations, and has threatened South Africa with "effective measures in accordance with the appropriate provisions . . . of the United Nations Charter" in the event of noncompliance. The South African rejection of these demands has been no less determined and categoric. The impasse is now complete. It is all the more dangerous because positions have been so formalized on both sides.

Bearing in mind that in international affairs all legal distinctions rest on infirm foundations, one can follow the legal arguments advanced by the United Nations in favor of the termination of the mandate and the establishment of its own authority in South West Africa. It is more difficult to see what the world organization would do with the territory if it had it. This vast arid region, as large as France and the German Federal Republic combined, is inhabited by only 610,000 people. Of these, approximately 96,000 are white South Africans-Afrikaners for the most part- of whom nearly 90 percent live in the administrative center of Windhoek, in the west-central part of the territory. The remaining population is made up of indigenous peoples comprising about half-a-dozen distinct ethnic groups. Of these, nearly 65 percent reside in the northern region of the territory, near the Portuguese border, some 500 miles north of Windhoek, where they are very little troubled by the proximity or competition of Whites. The majority of these northern natives (the majority, in fact, of the entire indigenous population of South West Africa), in the number of some 300,000, to be exact, are known as the Ovambos. They live in a native homeland- Ovamboland by name-which now enjoys fairly extensive rights of local autonomy. This is perhaps the only native "homeland" under South African control which would seem to have reasonably favorable prospects for progress under the existing concepts of "separate development." Much better watered than most of the rest of the territory, it is relatively ample in area and provides a home for at least 95 percent of the Ovambos. The South African official presence is neither numerous nor burdensome. (Of the territory's 102 policemen, for example, only 50-or about one to each 6,000 inhabitants-are white.) No Whites other than officials are permitted to reside or even normally to travel in the territory. Educational standards at the primary and secondary level compare with the best in Africa. Health and medical services are exemplary. Taxation of the natives, except locally and by their own administration, is negligible.

The overwhelming portion of the expense of maintaining and developing the territory is supplied by the South Africans. Their present contributions of $4,350,000 annually for budgetary expenditures and $12,420,000 in developmental capital run, together, to about $55.00 per capita, as compared with $6.10 in aid from all sources as the average for the black African countries farther north. This is in addition to a bevy of other services-water development, soil research, pest control, public health, meteorological service, etc.-which are extended automatically by virtual inclusion of the territory in the South African state, and could hardly be effectively provided by any other than a highly advanced, and preferably contiguous, country.

Things are not ideal for the Ovambos, and particularly not for those who aspire to higher education or who would like to play a role in public affairs outside their own territory. These, however, are a small minority. As for the remainder: it is difficult to believe that their material condition could be improved, or their capacities for self-government given more extensive scope for development, by any sort of U.N. administration.

This narrows the problem, essentially, to that of the remaining 200,000 non- Whites in the territory. These, for the most part, do not reside in the homelands tentatively marked out for them; most of them probably never will. They suffer indeed from all the restrictions of apartheid, although the atmosphere is perhaps somewhat less tense and cramped than in the Republic proper. If all that was involved in a South African withdrawal and a U.N. takeover was an alleviation of their situation in these respects, there might be much to be said for it, although the effect on the more fortunate Ovambos would still have to be considered. But one is obliged, regrettably, to consider not just the likely positive but also the predictable negative consequences of such a turn of events.

In the event of a forced South African withdrawal, the overwhelming majority of the existing white population of the territory could be expected to withdraw together with the South African authorities. All existing administrative and social services would simply cease to exist. The railways are South African. Their rolling-stock, in its entirety the property of the South African State Railways, would assuredly be removed. Without the railways, the great non-ferrous and diamond mines, employment in which provides a large part of the income of the native population, would close down. In the case of the non-ferrous ones, their pumps would at once cease to function; it would be months before they could be reopened. Agriculture, too, would be largely paralyzed. The territory's only significant port, Walfish Bay, the status of which as a complete South African coastal enclave has never been questioned, would remain under South African administration.

Worst of all, while it is possible to imagine certain of the remaining tribal elements, notably the Ovambos, administering themselves (albeit largely without money), it is not possible to imagine any of these elements collaborating in the administration of any of the others. These tribal entities live, in many instances, hundreds of miles apart; there is no intimacy and little affection among them; none, one suspects, would respond favorably to the appearance in its midst, as would-be administrators, of officials of another tribal affiliation. The United Nations would, in other words, have to create a new administration, largely foreign, to take the place of the South African one. It is easy to believe that such an administration would follow more liberal policies with respect to the status of the native than does the existing one. It is not easy to believe that it would be as efficient, or as well provided with funds; and it would almost certainly be years before it could expect to restore to this vast territory even a semblance of such good order and prosperity as it has now achieved.

One can understand the desire in U.N. circles to remove from South African control at least this one area which was once, and can still be construed to be, an international responsibility. But one wonders whether the practical consequences of such a step have been really thought through. Very few foreigners have visited South West Africa in recent years. Senior American officials do not, as a matter of policy, go there. An exchange in 1968 between the South African government and the U.N. Secretary-General about the possibility of the latter's sending a U.N. representative to the territory ended in misunderstanding, confusion and recrimination.

Would it not be better, one must ask, instead of continuing to press the South Africans to take a step which they will not take and cannot be compelled to take, and which, if taken, would only be likely to have unfortunate consequences for the people of the territory anyway-would it not be better for the United Nations to inform itself at first hand on conditions there and then to enter into normal contact with the South African authorities with a view to seeing whether some accommodation could not be found which would relieve the situation of that minority of black African inhabitants of the territory who live outside the homelands, and would at the same time relieve the South Africans of the continued burden of a grievous and dangerous conflict with most of the rest of the international community? This might bring at least limited benefits to the non-white portion of the South West African population; a continuation of the present threats and pressures will bring none at all. That support of the members of the Afro-Asian bloc, not to mention the communists, would not be easily had for such an approach is obvious; but this is no reason why, if it really represents the most hopeful line of possible solution, the Western powers should not support it.


The situation in the great Portuguese territories of Angola and Mozambique differs fundamentally from that prevailing in South and South West Africa in that the central issue here is not that of race. Members of the insurgent movements now operating against the Portuguese administrations like to insinuate that Portuguese rule is really a concealed form of white supremacy; and such allegations find ready credence in Western-liberal, not to mention Afro-Asian, circles. Neither the personal observations of a detached visitor nor the literature of unbiased scholars who have addressed themselves to Portuguese African affairs afford much confirmation for such allegations. There have no doubt been periods of racial prejudice in the past; and there are no doubt individual manifestations of it here and there today; there always are some such manifestations when great numbers of people of different racial origin reside side by side. But there is no legal discrimination in residence, education or employment; and there is ample evidence that the absence of such discrimination is not just a formality. The tenor of everyday life in these Portuguese territories reflects less racial tension than can at times be observed in certain of the independent black African countries. It is useful to reflect that if one were able to have today in South Africa not only the legal basis but the living reality of what now exists in the Portuguese territories in the sense of interracial relationships, even the most sanguine liberal would surely feel that at least 95 percent of the problem of South African apartheid had been solved.

To say that the racial factor is not the issue is not to say that there are not other disparities and deficiencies in the Portuguese administration which have not been, and could not be today, the objects of more serious and legitimate challenge. It is also not to say that the material and social situation of the African portion of the population is equal, or anywhere near equal, to that of the European and the mixed elements. The differences that exist in this respect are primarily the reflection of educational and economic, not racial, disparities. The average black African Angolan or Mozambiquan, starting as he does from a lower economic and social level, tends to get off the educational ladder-with a view to beginning to earn his living-at a lower point than does the average youngster of European-Portuguese origin; and this finds its reflection in position and income. But this is a problem not peculiar to Angola and Mozambique.

This disparity in living standards and social position is the real focal point of much of the criticism of the Portuguese administrations. The demand is, in reality, for a greater degree of social egalitarianism-for a curtailment of the privileges and prerogatives of the rich, most of whom happen to be European-Portuguese, and for a more rapid elevation of the poor, most of whom are still black.

But this situation is now in a state of rapid evolution and change. This is not generally realized abroad. Members of the Portuguese administration in these territories make no bones of the fact that the armed challenge with which they have been confronted in recent years has stirred them, and, more importantly, has stirred the Lisbon authorities, to reforms and improvements that might otherwise have taken decades to complete. Nowhere have the changes been greater than in the educational field. The number of persons embraced in the primary school system in Angola has increased by some 500 percent in the last 15 years, and in the secondary school system by as much as 850 percent. In 1963, a university was established in Angola, where none existed before. The proportion of black Africans among the university students in Angola was, by 1970, up to 30 percent and growing. In a country where education, rather than race, is truly the key to position and prosperity, this represents no insignificant change.

It is difficult, furthermore, to believe that a triumph of the present insurgent pressures would produce any more rapid progress in educational opportunities and living standards for the African. In both of these respects the Portuguese territories are already well ahead of most of the black-ruled countries of Africa. The existence of privileged élites, after all, is not a peculiarity just of the white-ruled countries of Africa.

The reproach most commonly leveled against the Portuguese administrations of Angola and Mozambique is that they represent a colonial relationship. For those-and their number is not few-to whom the term "colonialism" is a negative semantic absolute, there can be no defense against this charge. The same will be true of those whose criteria are more than just semantic but who view as uniquely iniquitous any relationship of dependence that operates across a body of water or any in which a West European country, or the United States, figures as the metropolitan power. But these are subjective distinctions. They have no sanction, as yet, in any formal international determinations. In the absence of such determinations, the well-meaning foreign observer has no choice but to focus his judgment not on semantic distinctions but on the real interests of the peoples most immediately involved.

To what extent there is genuine popular discontent with Portuguese rule, as distinct from the restlessness of individual intellectuals ambitious to replace the Portuguese in the seats of power, is hard to judge. Even a plebiscite would not throw much light on this question. Self-determination, as the present Portuguese premier has pointed out, is not a matter of thrusting square pieces of paper into the hands of the man in the bush. Prior to the insurgent attack in 1961 (in which, incidentally, far more black Africans than Portuguese were killed), the vast territory of Angola, larger than Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico combined, was garrisoned by no more than two regimental combat units of 1,000 men each. This does not suggest great discontent with Portuguese rule. Militant insurgency, provoking as it always does punitive measures, making its own martyrs and causing people to hedge their statements as well as their bets, has a tendency of course to evoke discontent, or at least the semblance of it, even where there was none before. But this is something else again.

However that may be, it is hard to picture a happier future for the people of these territories being brought about by the further successful pursuit of those military pressures that have been brought to bear against the Portuguese since 1961. One has only to consider the likely consequences. The white population, in Angola in particular, is the greatest, proportionately, of any country in Africa after South Africa. Its numbers are heightened, in effect, by the fact that tens of thousands of people of mixed blood consider themselves, and are accepted as, Portuguese. This strong and vigorous element would not bow out of the picture. In addition to that, the insurgent forces operating against the régime in Angola are split into three competing factions, the differences running in some instances along tribal lines.

Finally, one must reckon with the South Africans, They have a keen interest in what takes place in the southern part of Angola where some of the border tribes are related to their neighbors, the Ovambos, not to mention in the southern part of Mozambique, which is important to South Africa from a number of standpoints. In the event of a disruption of the authority of the present Portuguese administrations, all of these various elements could be expected to compete for the heritage. The likelihood would be for a partition of both territories, certain portions falling to the South Africans, and the strong European factions, whose roots of residence and experience go back for hundreds of years, digging in for one form or another of a "Rhodesian" solution. It is possible to imagine that one or another of the insurgent leaders might find a partial satisfaction of his ambitions in such a state of affairs, though even this is not certain. It is harder to see how the mass of the African population would be benefited.

As things now stand, these two Portuguese territories serve-with their relatively tolerant racial policies-to break the bi-polarity between the north and south of the African continent. In the event of a removal of Portuguese authority and the triumph, even on limited portions of their territory, of the existing guerrilla-insurgent elements, the territories would cease to play this role. Quite the contrary. Bitterness, fear, and violence of feeling would be heightened on both sides. The area of South African control-the area of real racism, that is-would almost certainly be geographically increased. Not only that but the fires of racial discrimination in South Africa itself would be importantly fed. The reactionaries there would say: "You see what comes of the attempt to pursue moderate racial policies. The Portuguese pursued such policies. Did that save them? Is it not evident from their experience that the real motive behind the guerrilla pressures in southern Africa generally is not race at all-that this is merely the pretext? What reason is there to suppose that more moderate and tolerant racial policies on our part would have any effect in preserving us from the same sort of attack?" It is in this spirit, and under the influence of such arguments, that the South Africans would move to secure, if forced to, such areas in the countries north and east of them as they consider essential to the security of their own territory.

Whether the Portuguese will be able to hold out indefinitely against the military attacks now being pressed against them is, again, simply impossible to predict. For the moment, the situation has all the earmarks of a standoff. The Portuguese military would appear to have the capability of holding on indefinitely in the central districts of the country. The insurgents, on the other hand, would seem to have, presupposing a continuation of the present level of external support, an equally indefinite capability of continuing to infiltrate and to make trouble. The conflict, meanwhile, is consuming nearly half of both metropolitan and provincial budgets. It is devouring resources at least a good portion of which might be expected to be otherwise available for economic development. Never, surely, was there less reason for continuing a conflict, and more reason for attempting to compose it by negotiation and compromise. And never, surely, was there a conflict which it was less in the interests of the major Western powers, in particular, to exacerbate and to press to a violent conclusion.

The Portuguese position in Africa rests, in contrast to the recent colonial positions of the other European powers, on several centuries of involvement and experience. In the depth of its roots as well as in the nature of relationships between European and African to which it has led it is unique. To try to liquidate it in exactly the same way, and under exactly the same assumptions, as in the case of other colonial relationships in that continent, is neither logical nor politically promising. Here, if anywhere, new ideas and new approaches are in order.


Space does not permit a similar review of the situation in Rhodesia; nor do the Western powers have, in this instance, the same latitude of choice that they have with relation to the countries already discussed. It will suffice to note that here, too, a successful prosecution of the insurgent military pressures-of the attempt, that is, to solve the problem by external violence-would almost certainly lead to a greater involvement of the South Africans and to an expansion, rather than retraction, of the effective area of South African apartheid.

But there is another reason, too, why one's heart sinks at the prospect of a continuation of the attempt to solve the problems of this part of the world by violence. This is the situation of the three former High Commission territories of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. These new countries are in many respects the most hopeful places in southern Africa. Here, too, as in the Portuguese territories (but without the attendant issues of colonialism), efforts are being made to solve problems on a basis of racial amity and willing collaboration. Again, like the Portuguese territories, these countries stand as useful buffers between the black African countries of the north and the countries of white supremacy in the south.

Not only this, but they stand as symbolic tests of the principle that there can be ways of doing things in that part of the world which do not involve racial discrimination yet present no danger to any racial element or to any neighboring state. That they have found it possible in recent years to pursue an independent existence on the basis of this principle in intimate proximity to-in one instance even totally surrounded by-South Africa is one of the really encouraging features of the whole South African situation. It is of greatest importance that they not fail in their undertaking. Their example is of importance, in particular, for those of the South African homelands that are moving, at least in theory, toward independence. In many respects the physical and social problems of these two categories of regions are similar. The example of the successful cultivation of an independent national life, in these three countries, in a manner that poses no danger to South African interests, can have a significant effect on future South African attitudes and policies both in the homelands and elsewhere.

Yet there can be no doubt that the relentless pursuit of efforts to overthrow by military means all the so-called "white-ruled régimes" of the remainder of southern Africa will grievously complicate the relations of these countries to their neighbors and will jeopardize in many ways the achievements they already have to their credit. In a situation of gradual change, they have good prospects for establishing themselves and developing their independence. In a situation of extreme military tension and political polarization these prospects will inevitably suffer.


The United States government and to some extent the other Western governments have wisely recognized the danger and sterility of the movements that purport to solve the problems of South Africa by military violence. Yet the political positions these governments have taken are in a number of instances ones that could conceivably be satisfied only by the very violence they profess to oppose. These positions have been conceived, no doubt, primarily as gestures of goodwill and solidarity addressed to the peoples and régimes of the remainder of the African continent. But if this was the point, it may be considered now as having been amply made; and there is nothing to suggest that the further belaboring of it is going to produce much more in the way of appreciation and confidence than has been forthcoming to date. The time has surely come for a reëxamination of Western policy toward this region from the primary standpoint of the interests of the peoples most immediately concerned, with a view to finding approaches which, while not endorsing or encouraging any form of racial discrimination or oppression, would hold out for those peoples prospects more favorable than those implicit in the present precarious deadlock.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.


Close We are offering free and open access for a short period of time. Read more about why we are doing this.