Because of who he was, because of his special stature, and because of the attendant circumstances, the death of Steve Biko symbolizes the ultimate consequence of apartheid with all its implications.
The obscene laws which constitute apartheid are not crazed edicts issued by a dictator, or the whims of a megalomanic monster, or the one-man decisions of a fanatical ideologue. They are the result of polite caucus discussions by hundreds of delegates in sober suits, after full debate in party congresses. They are passed after three solemn readings in a parliament which opens every day’s proceedings with a prayer to Jesus Christ.
There is a special horror in that fact.
This indictment will now seek to show that there is no valid apologia for those responsible; that they are culpable and indictable; that they are fit to stand trial.
Every year vast sums of South African taxpayers’ money are spent financing embassies, missions, films, advertisements, symposia, and lobbies to put what is referred to as “South Africa’s” case. I will now put the case for their defense in the manner in which they present it to the world. And I will reply to each point of their case.
This case is based on the claim that white South Africans have a right to determine their own destiny in this country, on the grounds that their forebears arrived here at the same time as those of the black people. This is untrue, and is a politically motivated fabrication given currency only in South African history syllabuses. Besides, it is totally irrelevant. Even if it were relevant, it would be no justification for 15 percent of the population to assume unjust political domination of the 85 percent. But the historical point of arrival of whites in South Africa is not at issue. Not one significant black leader in South African history has ever disputed the right of white South Africans to stay in South Africa.
They say that they are a minority of the total population only because, unlike the white colonists of America and Australia, they did not commit genocide upon the blacks as was committed upon the American Indians and Aborigines. Genocide was in fact practiced to a certain extent upon the indigenous Khoisan, but in any event a comparison of degrees of genocide upon indigenous people by white settlers in America and Australia generations ago is again not relevant to the moral and political issues here in this country today. Besides, the policy of apartheid has resulted in death for multitudes of blacks. While this may not validly be described as a calculated policy of genocide, it does not help to justify the results of apartheid.
A special claim is entered on behalf of Afrikaners as an African people—the first African Nationalists and the first to throw off the colonial yoke. It is said that the Afrikaners must defend what they have because they have nowhere else to go.
No black leader of any consequence denies that the Afrikaners are an African people with their own language and culture and as such have a place in this country. But this does not imply acceptance of the Nationalist assumption that such claims entitle the Nationalists to assume excessively more privileges or rights than other South Africans. As to the statement that they have “nowhere else to go” they are not special in that regard. They have no more and no less claim on any other area of the earth’s surface than any other South African community, be it Xhosa, Zulu, or English-speaking white. As well might a Welsh person claim that because Welsh people have “nowhere else to go” Welsh people have to subjugate, dominate, and oppress English people and Scottish people in preserving control of all Britain for fear that Welsh culture may be submerged by the non-Welsh majority.
It is a nonsensical argument, and its basic premise is not even true. Afrikaners who do not accept all the implications of living on the African continent and of accepting the reality of a black majority are no more prohibited than any other South Africans from emigrating to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, or anywhere else. If a minority can only preserve its culture by oppressing the majority in a common country, that minority culture has no moral right to exist in that country.
The Nationalists regard all criticism of apartheid as a demand for “one-person-one-vote,” which will inevitably mean black majority rule, a lowering of standards, and vengeful actions against the white minority by the black rulers. They see this demand as communist-inspired, with the aim of securing the Cape sea route and all South Africa’s valuable strategic minerals for the Eastern bloc.
The world community has tried for thirty years to persuade Nationalist Afrikanerdom to seek a realistic accommodation with the black majority in South Africa. For most of those thirty years there was no insistence on one-person-one-vote. And for generations not even the blacks insisted on it. Even recently some significant reforms away from racism, short of universal franchise, would have been welcomed by large numbers of blacks. But throughout this time Nationalism has refused to budge an inch from apartheid, using a one-person-one-vote alternative as an excuse. Today one-person-one-vote is only the least of the demands by blacks. They also want a significant redistribution of land and a fairer sharing of the wealth of the land.
Whether universal franchise in South Africa would inevitably lead to a lowering of standards is open to debate—a debate of interest only to whites—and so is the assumption that it would cause vengeful actions against the white minority by blacks. Again, these are not the most relevant considerations in the entire moral issue. It is not beyond the capacities of delegates of good will, black or white, to negotiate a fair deal for all concerned with reasonable safeguards for the white minority. As to the Nationalist government’s claim to be a bastion for the West against communism, such a “bastion” is a disaster and an embarrassment to the West, and must be a source of relish to the East. The West has already lost considerable credibility in Africa because it has not been as hostile to the Pretoria regime as the East has been, regardless of whatever cynical motives the latter might have for such hostility. If the West does not oppose the apartheid regime more positively it will soon provoke the enmity of all of black Africa.
As to the Cape sea route, it is a medieval myth. There is no Cape sea route. There is a vast ocean between South Africa and Antarctica, and to call that a sea route is like calling the Atlantic a sea route. Where minerals are concerned, it is true that South Africa has these in abundance, but if the whole world can be blackmailed on that score then one day some extremely radical black successors to the Nationalist regime may well turn such blackmail to their own account, against nations whose short-term priorities were unwise on this score.
The Nationalists maintain that the ideal system for South Africa is “separate development”—the balkanization of the country into ethnic territories which become autonomous and fully independent nation-states protecting the identity of each ethnic group. Territorial apartheid, or “separate development,” is a sham. Thirteen percent of the territory is allotted to 85 percent of the people, with that 13 percent of the territory fragmented among eight “ethnic groups.” It is a transparent method of “divide and rule.” It has no moral justification. There is more in common between, say, Zulu and Xhosa, culturally, linguistically, ethnically, and politically, than between English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking whites, who are regarded as one “ethnic unit” for political purposes. In 1976, Transkei was granted “independence.” Bophuthatswana’s was granted on December 6, 1977. But so strong are the fiscal apronstrings securing these “Bantustans” to Pretoria that they literally could not afford to exercise full independence.
The main indictment against the Bantustans is that black South Africa has never been permitted to exercise a choice on the matter by vote or referendum. The Bantustans were ordained in Pretoria, by whites, and most blacks of real political consequence see the concept for what it is—an obvious attempt to avoid accommodating blacks politically and geographically.
The claim by the Nationalist government that its motives are morally sound because the Afrikaner people are deeply committed to Christian principles is false. Their version of Christianity, which justifies apartheid, is rejected by leaders and theologians of all the major Christian sects—and the Nationalists know it. In fact, the Nationalist policy of apartheid can be said to contravene all ten of the Ten Commandments.
For example, the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” is contravened by legislation for a migrant labor system which separates the mothers and fathers of millions and makes it a crime for a wife to join her husband, if he is black, and if he does not have special dispensation to be near a white urban area.
The Seventh and Tenth Commandments, forbidding theft and the coveting of the goods of others, are surely apposite to land confiscation for political purposes. Indian and Chinese businessmen, in particular, have suffered eviction from “white” business districts under “group areas” legislation.
And the Commandment against “bearing false witness” is one of the most grossly contravened of all in South Africa by the Nationalist government. To imprison a person without charge, without evidence, without prosecution or trial of any kind and then to brand him by all manner of accusations, giving him no chance to defend himself, is surely bearing the most false witness possible against a human being. In Steve Biko’s case false witness was borne against him even after his death, with attempts by Minister Kruger and his Security Police to smear his name by allegations of crimes they never confronted him with in public during his lifetime.
As recently as December 1977 Premier Vorster told an American television interviewer that no citizen is ever banned simply for opposing the government. Since I, for one, was banned for precisely that, I know Vorster’s statement to be a lie.
It is claimed that South Africa’s blacks have a higher standard of living than blacks elsewhere in Africa; that foreign blacks stream into South Africa for employment; and that white enterprise has built South Africa up into the position of Africa’s most modern industrial state, with impressive agricultural and mineral development.
South Africa happens to be the most richly endowed country in Africa with mineral, agricultural, and natural wealth, a moderate climate and a more highly developed infrastructure bequeathed to it by the colonial power than was bequeathed to any other African state. What is of basic concern to blacks in South Africa is the position of blacks in South Africa vis-à-vis the white privileged people in South Africa. And the main argument is over civil rights in South Africa, not comparative standards of living elsewhere.