South Africa: An Ominous Lull

Speaking at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the South African Institute of Race Relations this month, Dr. Francis Wilson, Professor of Economics at Cape Town, gave a lucid analysis of the politico-economic workings of the neo-apartheid system. He drew a diagram.

This showed a core area where the wealth is: the gold mines, the diamond mines, the coal mines, the industries, the rich white farm land, a broad zone hinging on Johannesburg:

Round this core (A), five concentric circles:

Circle B: the nonindependent Homelands, like KwaZulu.

Circle C: Transkei and Bophutha Tswana, recognized as independent states by South Africa only.

Circle D: The old colonial territories, now internationally recognized and members of the United Nations—Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho.

Circle E: Other neighboring African states: Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe Rhodesia.

Circle F: More remote African states: Zambia, Tanzania.

Between the circles and the core there has been, and still is, a pattern of “oscillating migration”: people coming to work in the core and going home again. But—and this was Dr. Wilson’s central point—the outer circles (especially circles D and E) from which the bulk of the migrant labor force used to be drawn have become progressively less important. Much more of the labor force is now being drawn from near the core itself. The politico-economic significance of the independence of places like Bophutha Tswana is that the independent states have then no claim on the resources of the central government (although ex-gratia grants may be made to them).

This is convenient in various ways: for example, South African unemployment statistics are reduced by several hundred thousand through the disappearance from South Africa of Bophutha Tswana and Transkei. This process also permits a certain amount of “deracialization” at the core. Blacks are to be allowed to join Trade Unions, but migrants not. “What seems to be happening,” said Dr. Wilson, is “a gradual move to replace skin color with political boundaries.”

It is in this sense that apartheid is dead, or dying, or not very well. The peoples whose labor originally developed the mines can now be cut loose to fend for themselves, within limits.

So presented, the policies of neo-apartheid sound infinitely cold, crafty, and greedy. Coldness and craft and greed are there, obviously, but there are also other forces at work. Fear is one: fear of the internal and external consequences of the provocation racial apartheid presents. The need to find a substitute for this seems to be felt as keenly as in the need to produce synthetic petrol, as insurance against sanctions. (“Our Chemistry Department,” I was told at the University of Potchefstroom, “can make petrol out of anything black.”)

A more unexpected force at work, among the political class which rules South Africa, is, I believe, guilt. This is a complaint from which political Afrikanerdom has been traditionally almost entirely immune (as regards blacks that is; coloreds are a different matter). One of the great political strengths of the Volk has been the sincerity of its conviction that apartheid…

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