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Prosperity and Apartheid

In response to:

Man of Distinction from the April 24, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

I am one who considers himself familiar with the situation in South Africa, having lived surrounded by that country for the past three years, and having made numerous forays within her boundaries during that period, and I cannot see that “…the continued rapid development of the South African economy…” will act as “…the greatest single impediment to the realization of the official concept of apartheid…” as Mr. Kennan is quoted in the recent (April 24, 1969) review of his book, Democracy and the Student Left, by Stephen Spender.

On the contrary it is the continued financial well-being of the South African economy that has given the enfranchised (white) portion of the population faith in the racist policies of the ruling Nationalist Party. As long as the economy of the country is sound, as long as jobs for whites continue to be plentiful, and as long as foreign capital continues to pour into South Africa the South African whites will resist any attempts to stop their government’s march toward “separate development.”

Where did Mr. Kennan recently spend some time in South Africa? To what people did he talk? It is inconceivable to me that he could not have seen through the facade which exists and come to the conclusion that the increased development of South African industry means little besides a small amount more to eat and a few more clothes for the black majority who in reality hold the booming economy on their backs. Without the cheap (almost slave) labor that is available the South African economy would not be enjoying the ascendency it is now.

Increased prosperity will not bring about a relaxation of the inhuman laws of this country. Increased prosperity means more money for the government to pay informers and peeping toms who are constantly on the watch for couples of unlike color who might want to make love. If they are caught the result is abuse and publicity as they are brought to trial under the so-called “Immorality Act.” Even husband and wife may be brought to trial as the recent case of a couple who were married in England and then came to South Africa points out.

The stronger the South African economy becomes the more blatant becomes their disregard for the small countries that adjoin it. Our university is the only multiracial, Free University south of the Zambesi. We serve the independent countries of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The main university plant is in Lesotho which is completely surrounded by South Africa and we have smaller establishments in Botswana and in Swaziland. Because of this tripartite responsibility it is necessary for staff members to travel a good deal from one country to the next and this necessitates going across the Republic of South Africa. Any restriction on travel on any member of staff immediately diminishes his usefulness, and because of the smallness of Lesotho and the lack of amenities it eventually forces anyone so restricted to leave this part of the world.

South Africa does not hesitate to use this power that she has over us. In the last year there are three members of our staff that have been so affected. The reason is never given. They are just told that their right to travel in the Republic of South Africa has been withdrawn and that if they should want to leave Lesotho they must apply for the right to overfly, and they will be forced to spend their time waiting for connecting flights within the confines of Jan Smuts Airport where the government supplies rooms for such people. At present this means that if a member of our staff wants to go to Swaziland he will have to spend four nights in the airport. (Swaziland can easily be reached by car from Lesotho in eight or ten hours.)

I said above that the reason(s) for the withdrawal of overland travel permission is never given. That is true. But in the cases of my colleagues it is easy to surmise. The first, a young American lawyer, Mr. V.V. Palmer, had his permission removed after he gave several lectures on the constitutional law of Swaziland. These lectures were given in Swaziland and were attended by at least one South African white employed by the Swaziland government who later made no attempt to hide the fact that he did not approve of telling black Swazis what their rights were! The second person was the Rev. Dr. M-L. Martin who had her privileged position as a Swiss citizen to travel in the Republic of South Africa withdrawn because she had, along with many other people, signed a public declaration that the South African government did not approve of.

The last episode becomes more understandable if you have lived in this crazy part of the world for a while, but I am sure it will be almost incomprehensible to people who have never seen this thing in action. Dr. S. Rothenberg, a young Ph.D. in chemistry, took his maid along to Bloemfontein (the closest South African city to Lesotho) for a day of shopping. He arranged to meet her in the central square at lunch time. They sat on the grass together (because there are no benches for “non-Europeans”) and they shared a bag of fish and chips. This was such an extraordinary thing to do that they were soon surrounded by a crowd of mainly curious people, and the police came soon after. After two interrogations they were allowed to leave for Lesotho and a month or so later Dr. Rothenberg’s permission to travel was rescinded.

What all this amounts to is that South Africa is selecting (or deselecting) our staff. How far they will go in this direction is anyone’s guess.

To get back to the original point, it is absurd to think that increased investment from abroad will cause the South African Government to liberalize her racist policies. I am convinced that the opposite is true. It is only through widespread, effective sanctions that really hurt that change will come. If the present South African economic bubble bursts through the efforts of the countries of the world in treating her like the outlaw that she is, it will only be a matter of time until her citizens will start clamoring for a change.

Why not take a little of that capital and donate it to the only institution in this part of the world that is a viable example that blacks and whites can work, study, live and love together. We aren’t proud. We are in desperate need of funds, and if the interference of the South African government continues we will be in worse shape yet. We would welcome any donations that anyone would like to make.

Thomas J. Cox

The University of Botswana,

Lesotho and Swaziland

Roma

Lesotho, Southern Africa

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