The Theater of Southern Africa

Andrew Young
Andrew Young; drawing by David Levine


Formally, something called “majority rule” remains an accepted objective for Rhodesia and eventually South Africa. The right, including almost all African whites, are bitterly contemptuous about this. They point out quite correctly that African elections have been one-shot affairs, followed by phases of rule by civilian ideological elites, terminable only by means of military coups. They also point out that “majority rule” was not a condition existing in southern Africa before white colonization. As far as Rhodesia and the neighboring regions of South Africa were concerned, what preceded white rule were the militaristic frenzies and tyrannies of the Mfecane period. The white man may have taken over by violence and fraud (he did), but he did so in territories where these were already the governing forces.

Majority rule is a concept alien to Africa. It is a late growth of Anglo-American civilization. It is taken up in Africa, not with any intention of making it a reality, but as a weapon against a particular type of minority rule—white minority rule. The appeal to democratic values, officially dominant in the Western white nations, serves to delegitimize white rule in Africa.1 Once that is accomplished, what replaces white minority rule will be essentially what preceded it: black minority rule. The dominated will have the consolation of sharing the pigmentation of their overlords, as did the luckless subjects of the Zulu and the Ndebele.

The indignation of African whites at certain uses of the slogan of majority rule is understandable but inconsistent. Their own rule has rested not on fairness but on effectiveness. When an effective rhetorical weapon is used against them it does not help to point out its unfairness—what was so fair about the firearms with which they held power? And the democratic (or pseudo-democratic) weapon is remarkably effective, considering the very limited extent to which democracy is practiced in the world, and its nonexistence in Africa.

It is worth considering why the slogan of majority rule should be so effective and what the limitations of its effectiveness may be. It is effective, I believe, primarily because there is a desire for the severance that it implies. There has long been in the West a sense of guilt about the relation of its own wealth to the exploitation and poverty of the rest of the world. At the same time there is no question of our wanting to relinquish individually or collectively any of the advantages acquired by our guilty practices. The US and UK will want to maintain such access to the resources of southern Africa as they can and such influence over the regimes there as they can muster. We can, however, rid ourselves of some of our guilt by excommunicating personifications of it, in the anachronistic persons of the whites of Africa: the unacceptable faces of ourselves. The moral distinction between us and them is—we like to think—clear:…

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