Will South Africa Explode?

Justice in South Africa

by Albie Sachs
University of California, 288 pp., $3.25 (paper)

Modernizing Racial Domination: The Dynamics of South African Politics

by Heribert Adam
University of California, 203 pp., $2.65 (paper)

A Taste of Power

by Peter Randall
The Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society (Johannesburg), 225 pp., £2

To visit South Africa in 1974 is a little like revisiting the American South before the civil rights movement. An early morning ritual captures some of the flavor of race relations: a black servant sweeps into your hotel room at 6:30 or 7:00, says “good morning, bass” with an exaggerated cheerfulness that seems subtly aggressive, and deposits a tray of coffee and a morning paper beside your bed. If you want to take a bus somewhere after breakfast you will probably find yourself standing aside while a large number of “nonwhites” queue up. In Cape Town, the double-decker buses often require the statutory “nonwhites” (Africans, Coloureds, and Indians)1 to ride on the upper deck; and it is not unusual for a bus to arrive full on the top and empty on the bottom. As a member of the privileged white caste you sit down among the vacant seats, leaving a crowd of black people waiting at the curb.

Everywhere you go signs in both English and Afrikaans direct you to separate rest rooms, waiting rooms, entrances, counters, and even phone booths. Many “amenities” are not even duplicated; the plush cinemas, theaters, and concert halls—prime sources of entertainment in this land without television—generally provide no separate sections or even performances for blacks. Virtually all the restaurants and cafes seat whites only; if blacks want precooked food they must get it from take-out establishments. The more accessible beaches in Cape Town and Durban are also for whites only; “non-Europeans” may not even set foot on the sand. If they want to bathe in the ocean, they have to take long hot rides on segregated buses to remote stretches of coast where there are no whites to be offended by the sight of dark-skinned people enjoying themselves.

Besides being socially privileged, white South Africans are also well off, even by the most extravagant American middle-class standards. A typical white has a spacious and modern house or apartment, a well-tended yard or garden, and a late-model car. He probably works less hard than his American counterpart, goes more frequently on outings and vacations, and has something that Americans of comparable income and status can rarely afford—one or more full-time servants. In this land of cheap and abundant black labor even members of the rapidly diminishing white working class have servants.

Affluence, or at least its display, is so intimately associated with whiteness that it has come to be regarded as a racial prerogative. Until recently a small number of relatively well-off Coloureds lived in small enclaves in some of the white middle-class neighborhoods of Cape Town. Under “Group Areas” legislation passed by the Nationalist government, they have been forced to move into the new Coloured “townships” out on the dusty and barren flats to the west of the city, where it is difficult to maintain a middle-class existence because of high crime rates and a lack of public services and facilities. The richer Indians of Durban have had a similar experience. The…

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