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How Long Can They Last?

Why South Africa Will Survive: A Historical Analysis

by L.H. Gann, by Peter Duignan
St. Martin’s Press, 312 pp., $27.50

South Africa: Time Running Out Africa.

The Report of the Study Commission on US Policy Toward Southern
University of California Press/ Foreign Policy Study Foundation, Inc., 517 pp., $8.95 (paper)

The Crisis in South Africa: Class Defense, Class Revolution

by John S. Saul, by Stephen Gelb
Monthly Review Press, 128 pp., $5.50 (paper)

Apartheid, as you came to know it in the United States, is dying and dead.”—Pieter Koornhof.

If apartheid is dead, then urgent funeral arrangements need to be made because the body’s still around and it is making a terrible smell.”—Percy Qoboza.

Apartheid is all or nothing; you can’t keep the core of white supremacy alive if you start liberalizing around the edges.”—Andries Treurnicht.

We in South Africa are very fortunate that we do not suffer from the colour complexes from which the rest of the world suffers.”—Balthasar Vorster.

The contrast between the arguments of the first two books listed above is less strong than you might think from the titles. The South Africa that will, according to Gann and Duignan’s title, survive, will have to be different in very important ways from the South Africa we know today. As for the report of the Study Commission, a more candid title would have to run: “South Africa: Time Running Out—Well, Maybe not Exactly Running.”

At a first glance, you might take Why South Africa Will Survive for a piece of silly propaganda. The cover shows a smiling black South African soldier shaking hands—or apparently doing so, you don’t actually see the hands—with an elderly white civilian, presumably some Afrikaner politician. The white man is holding his hat in his hand and is gazing at the black man, possibly in admiration. To me, that picture brought back nostalgic memories. Pictures like that used to be churned out by the public relations arm of the Union Minière in Katanga twenty years ago, to “illustrate” cette belle amitie entre blanc et noir which was supposed to have prevailed in the Belgian Congo before the barbarous incursion of the United Nations.

The cover picture is misleading, not only with regard to South African realities, but about the book itself. There is nothing silly about Why South Africa Will Survive. It is a cool and generally intelligent presentation of the argument that, through the play of market forces and the mediation of the verligte strain among the Afrikaners, South Africa can modify its institutions in such ways and to such an extent as will prelude violent revolution, though not sporadic episodes of violence. (Verligte is the word for the “enlightened” or reform-minded tendency which is now reflected in some of the policies of Prime Minister Botha.) The argument does not convince me but it is one that deserves to be carefully considered, not only by the kind of people who will be attracted by that cover picture, but also by serious opponents of the South African regime.

Despite appearances, Why South Africa Will Survive is not an apologia for that regime. In their chapter “The Africans,” Gann and Duignan have this to say:

Regarding collective attitudes, there is evidence of wide discontent. African townsmen, like their brothers on the land, are caught in a vast network of racial discrimination. Its structure and effects will be discussed at greater length in the sections on economics and politics. Suffice it to say at this point that discrimination affects every area of society, that it is based on the notion of social planning, that it is enforced by a vast and expensive bureaucracy, and that the objectives of social planning consistently diverge from social facts.

The angle from which this critique is directed should be carefully noted. What Gann and Duignan find unacceptable in contemporary South Africa is not so much the racist attitudes of South Africa’s rulers (though they do not condone these) as the scale of government intervention necessary to satisfy these attitudes. “The National Party,” they say, “keeps reiterating its faith in private enterprise. But the doctrine of separate development in many ways conflicts with the requirements of private enterprise.” By “separate development,” of course, they mean the government plan to push much of the black population into agricultural reservations such as the Transkei, allowing only a restricted number of black workers into “prescribed” urban areas.

They make this point again and again. “In a certain sense South Africa is a semi-socialist country….” “South Africa continued to stand out as a classic example of a semi-bureaucratized economy, and in this respect resembled most other African countries….” “The system of justice and administration embodies a costly, elaborate, and oppressive system of racial discrimination that interferes both with the personal freedom of South Africans and with the freedom of the market….” “South Africa, as we see it, will not be able to use its enormous resources to the full until it has established a free market for land, a free market for labour and a free market for capital, cost-conscious and colour-blind.” Gann and Duignan are here developing and extending an argument advanced by the powerful and influential Afrikaner banker and financier Andreas Wassenaar in 1977.

Yes, but will these things happen? Is South Africa about to become “cost-conscious and colour-blind”? Gann and Duignan don’t convince me that it is, and they don’t really seem convinced of it themselves. They argue, however, that if the United States encourages the verligte tendency in the National Party things ought to move in the general direction desired. This seems to me a nonsequitur. Cases of color blindness among verligte nationalists are, I think, quite rare. Practically all Afrikaner nationalists are agreed on the need to preserve Afrikaner dominance.

The argument between the verligtes and the verkramptes—the “narrow” or hard-line Afrikaners who think reform has gone too far—concerns the means of doing this. The verligtes favor flexibility, the elimination of provocative inessentials, the development of forms of Afrikaner rule that will be as nonracial in appearance as possible. They know “separate development” is nonsense and the “homelands policy” a failure in its ostensible objectives of providing blacks with legally separate and workable places in which to live, away from the modern, industrialized, and prosperous parts of South Africa. Yet they look for remedies in still more ingenious elaborations of the essential “homelands” notion that the black majority is somehow not really there in South Africa, or is there only in the sense that Turkish guest workers are in West Germany.

If you can, conceptually and legally, reduce the blacks in South Africa to a minority, then you can afford to make liberal gestures to that minority—such as legalizing black trade unions, for the “legitimate” minority only—which have the doubly desirable effect of splitting the blacks and disarming international criticism. The verligtes are not working toward the grand Gann-Duignan vision of capitalist revolution. They are trying in quite pettifogging ways to avert any really basic change, and to keep the National Party permanently in power with a more reassuring international image.

Gann and Duignan draw comfort from a poll, taken early in 1980 by the Sunday Times (of Johannesburg), which showed that 85.5 percent of registered National Party members supported Prime Minister P.W. Botha; only 6.4 percent backed Andries Treurnicht, the right-wing leader of the party’s Transvaal section. Gann and Duignan think this means that “the reformers are gaining strength over the conservatives.” Perhaps (although, by the end of the book, Gann and Duignan are not as euphoric about this idea). A more parsimonious interpretation would be that Nationalists recognize that Botha’s policies, including the verligte elements, serve the interests of the Afrikaner people and the power of the National Party. If Afrikaners really thought that Botha was beginning to go color blind, Botha would not be the leader of the National Party for long.

Gann and Duignan are understandably contemptuous of what they call “the Jericho complex” of those who have been so long predicting the imminent collapse of the South African regime. “South African cities,” they say, “are not powder-kegs about to explode, cauldrons about to boil over, or boilers about to burst.” They have no difficulty in showing that revolution is not now imminent in South Africa. The white minority of about 4.5 million is well-equipped and trained and armed, resolute and ruthless—under Botha’s verligte leadership. The black majority of nearly 20 million is unorganized, weak, and divided. Gann and Duignan assume that these conditions will continue for some considerable time. They are probably right. They hope that during this period the verligtes will carry out such far-reaching reforms as to remove the threat of revolution. The title of their book appears to be based on the assumed realization of this hope, although the book itself—which has a rather down-beat ending—stops considerably short of prediction. The book is less confident—and so better—than its title (let alone its dust jacket).

A major weakness of Why South Africa Will Survive is an imaginative failure. The writers are very busy using opinion surveys to show that most black South Africans are not in a revolutionary mood. (The same surveys could be interpreted as meaning that they are in a pre-revolutionary mood.) But they don’t seem to understand how it is that young, intelligent black South Africans feel forced to become revolutionaries, in word or in deed, in order not to accept being things. In the course of a discussion of “misconceptions reinforced by literary images current in modern black writing,” Gann and Duignan quote as follows from Sipho Sempala’s poem “Measure for Measure”:

go measure the distance from cape town to pretoria
and tell me the prescribed area I can work in
count the number of days in a year
and say how many of them I can be contracted around
calculate the size of house you think good for me
and ensure the shape suits tribal tastes
measure the amount of light into the window
known to guarantee my traditional ways
count me enough wages to make certain that i
grovel in the mud for more food
teach me just so much of the world that i
can fit into certain types of labour
show me only those kinds of love
which will make me aware of my place at all times
and when all that is done
let me tell you this
you’ll never know how far i stand from you.

Where is the misconception in all that, you may ask? Gann and Duignan tell us, confidently:

The imagery is powerful. But the social facts do not sustain the assumptions on which the images are built. There is indeed much poverty in Soweto. But there is no misery of the kind found, say, in Addis Ababa, Kinshasa or Karachi.

But Sempala does not claim to be enduring misery of that kind. He has nothing to say about Addis Ababa, Kinshasa, or Karachi. He does not live in any of those places (and neither do Messrs. Gann and Duignan). The social facts among which he lives—as Messrs. Gann and Duignan do not—are his theme. He is not talking about misery, in the sense of extreme, abject poverty. He is talking about the particular misery of his own place, time, and situation: the misery of humiliation systematically measured out to him by the white men who are his absolute masters.

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