The Coming Struggle for Power

The element in South Africa’s deadlocked racial conflict that may turn out to be the most important is the very one that Washington has chosen to ignore—the guerrillas of the exiled African National Congress (ANC). While the Reagan administration has repeatedly urged close US involvement with the white regime as the best way to promote change in South African racial policies, it has refused any sort of contact with the ANC. Yet by ignoring the ANC’s growing power and position, and the unprecedented support it now enjoys from South Africa’s increasingly militant black majority, the United States risks finding itself stranded on one edge of that country’s widening racial chasm, tied to the wrong allies for the wrong reasons against the wrong odds.

In South Africa, it is virtually impossible to ignore the ANC. The government in Pretoria relentlessly denounces the group and its leaders. Large demonstrations erupt at the funerals of ANC guerrillas. ANC attacks against government power plants and police stations—and, most recently, the country’s air force headquarters in Pretoria—have grown rapidly in both scale and effect, and security precautions have become increasingly visible throughout the country. Although it is illegal for South Africans to possess ANC publications, the group’s colors and anthem have become emblems of black resistance and solidarity within the country, and have been adopted in various forms by groups attempting to gain political legitimacy among blacks. The ANC slogan “Amandla!” (Zulu for “Power!”) has become a widespread expression of defiance against the current regime. And many whites as well as blacks admit that if free multiracial elections were held today, Nelson Mandela, the jailed ANC leader, would easily defeat any other potential presidential candidate, white or black.

Mandela, now sixty-five, has been in prison since 1963, when he was captured by police after leading the ANC in its first attempts at armed resistance to white rule. A former Johannesburg lawyer and gifted orator, he enjoyed broad personal popularity as ANC president before his arrest, and during his long confinement has become a virtual legend throughout black Africa as a symbol of the fight against apartheid. From Pollsmoor Prison outside Cape Town, where he shares a cell with other leading ANC figures, Mandela retains important influence over broad ANC policy. But the group’s activities and its tactics are decided at its exile headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, by a collective leadership chaired by Mandela’s former law partner, Oliver Tambo.

Recently, I traveled to southern Africa to meet with Tambo and other ANC officials in Zambia, and to discuss the ANC with a range of other leaders, both black and white, in South Africa itself. The group’s headquarters in Lusaka had recently been enlarged and the visitor has to make his way through the construction debris around it. When I asked Tambo about his organization’s growing visibility, he said, “The regime is on the offensive, we’re on the offensive. The regime has tried to divide us tribally, tried to divide us into communists and noncommunists, projected us as terrorists. But it hasn’t succeeded. It hasn’t succeeded because the people hate the regime so much that if the regime calls us terrorists, the people call us heroes. If the regime attacks us, in the eyes of our people this is only because we are being very effective.”

The ANC’s reputation for effectiveness clearly owes much to the increasing violence of its guerrilla attacks, but, particularly for South Africa’s older blacks, the group’s image has much deeper foundations, built over more than seventy years of principled anti-apartheid activism—most of it nonviolent. Founded in 1912, following Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign for Indian rights in South Africa’s Natal region, the ANC won a broad following as the champion of peaceful opposition to government racism. A diverse coalition, it attracted multiracial support for its platform of equal rights and nondiscrimination.

The ANC has had a series of impressive leaders, including Mandela, Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Chief Albert Luthuli, who won the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize for his ANC work. Its nonviolent protests against apartheid reached a peak in the 1950s, when its program of civil disobedience won mass support from South African blacks. Strikes and demonstrations sponsored by the ANC repeatedly brought tens of thousands of protesters into city streets throughout South Africa. ANC meetings attracted overflow crowds, and British press reports of one ANC rally near Durban in 1958 estimated that it represented the largest public gathering ever held in a Commonwealth nation. Shaken by such successes, the government struck back with a campaign of official intimidation and police violence which set the stage for the military confrontation emerging today.

When I started with the ANC in the 1940s,” Tambo told me, “we didn’t think we would ever have to go for violence as opposed to nonviolence. Our obvious preference was for demonstrations, strikes. We called so many strikes! And the response was tremendous. Our people were very militant—but they were nonviolent.

But at the climax of this period the situation just got out of hand for the government—they lost their nerve. We were unarmed, we were nonviolent, and they just slaughtered our people.” At Sharpeville, in March 1960, police killed sixty-seven unarmed demonstrators. This, in Tambo’s view, “was just the climax of a process that had been going on all the time. They were shooting at crowds and there was nothing we could do about it. When they began to call out the army to stamp out peaceful strikes, that marked the turning point, because after that, when we were confronted with the South African Defense Force, we knew that nonviolence had become meaningless. We couldn’t take it any further. So we can’t, if we have had the experience of the 1950s, we can’t possibly see a solution which does not involve military struggle.”

Banned after the Sharpeville incident, the ANC went underground and started preparing for an armed struggle. In 1963, its leaders—except Tambo, who had been sent to London to start the ANC’s exile wing—were betrayed by an informant and captured in the Transvaal town of Rivonia, and through the late 1960s the group’s visibility within South Africa waned considerably. Harsh police repression, aided by information from captured ANC membership lists, resulted in the arrest and indefinite detention of hundreds of ANC organizers. The ANC members who fled to join the exile group, moreover, found refugee life unexpectedly harsh. “We plainly underestimated the staying power of the regime, as well as the problems of operating in exile,” one veteran of that period told me. “We had a lot of organizational work to do.”

As the ANC concentrated on establishing itself outside the country, the focus of black opposition within South Africa shifted away from the mechanics of confrontation, and toward the radical ideas of the groups in the Black Consciousness movement. In contrast to the ANC’s multiracial approach, the Black Consciousness philosophy centered on an assertive black pride which rejected the paternalism of white liberals, and the movement’s popular slogan—“Black man, you’re on your own”—set the tone for a new wave of black defiance which bordered on open racial hatred. Black Consciousness leaders, who included such figures as Steve Biko and Barney Pityana, were generally too young to have developed strong contacts with the ANC before it was banned. Their harsh rejection of collaboration with whites brought their movement into sharp conflict with traditional ANC policies. The potential significance of this conflict was not lost on the white authorities in Pretoria, who at first allowed Black Consciousness activities an exceptional degree of freedom, both to counter ANC influence and to encourage an ideological counterpart to the government’s own policies of racial separatism.

By the late 1970s, however, events both in and around South Africa worked to reestablish the ANC as the vanguard of black South African opposition. Encouraged by the 1974 Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola, and by the international attention focused on the growing Rhodesian conflict, the ANC was able to consolidate its strength and begin rebuilding its underground network. More important, the racial tensions within South Africa which had been heightened by Black Consciousness teachings erupted in the bloody Soweto uprisings of 1976 and 1977—provoking a far-reaching police crackdown that decimated that movement and its leadership.

The Soweto disturbances, which left seven hundred dead in some sixteen months of rioting and unrest, caused an unprecedented exodus of young black refugees, angry and impatient to fight back. Black Consciousness groups—never organized for practical resistance, and now incapacitated by police repression—offered no real alternative to the ANC as a channel for effective action. ANC offices in Botswana, Mozambique, and Zambia were consequently flooded with militant new recruits, many of them former followers of the Black Consciousness movement.

Those recruits, together with a growing number of former ANC activists who have completed long sentences in South African prisons and are returning to the movement, have been largely responsible for the ANC’s new military assertiveness. “Our problem,” one ANC official told me, “is not recruiting new fighters. The regime’s policies take care of that for us. The problem is convincing those who are arriving from South Africa that there is more to this than simply grabbing a gun and going back to kill the people who have been stepping on them.”

Since 1976, the scope of ANC military operations has grown substantially, and an estimated six thousand ANC fighters are now undergoing training at bases in Angola and Tanzania as well as in a number of Eastern-bloc nations. ANC guerrillas have carried out frequent and increasingly sophisticated attacks against South African government installations, including the bombing of the country’s central oil-from-coal processing complex in 1980, and the new Koeberg nuclear power facility in late 1982. The most dramatic and violent ANC attack to date took place in May 1983, when a car bomb planted by ANC members exploded outside South African Air Force headquarters in Pretoria, killing nineteen people, including eight blacks. The Pretoria bombing was the first ANC attack to produce serious civilian casualties, and it fulfilled growing expectations among analysts both within South Africa and abroad that a major escalation in ANC violence was imminent. In our talks less than a month before the attack, Tambo warned me that such an escalation should surprise no one.

We have avoided civilian casualties because we don’t think that individual people are to blame for apartheid. We’re not fighting civilians—we’re not even fighting whites. We’re fighting a system. But it’s an armed struggle—it’s bound to develop into quite a war, and the civilian population will be affected.

In any event, I think one really ought to be careful about the use of the word ‘civilian’ in relation to what the African National Congress is doing, because that risks committing the error of treating [black] Africans as if they are not civilians—as if they are not civilians because they are being killed all the time. [Black] civilians have always been the targets of armed violence by the regime. The regime has been killing us anyway, but somehow the question of civilians only seems to be important when those civilians are likely to be hurt by the ANC.

Our violence compared to the regime’s violence, physically, is minimal—minimal. Sharpeville, Soweto, hangings, shootings by the police—the number of people they have killed! When the police shoot down children, they’re shooting down civilians, and they have no qualms about it. From that point of view, the ANC has been remarkably restrained, because the shooting down of civilians has become routine in South Africa—the regime has made it routine.”

Still, nineteen people were killed in the Pretoria attack. When I asked the ANC officials how they regarded these deaths, they were quick to stress that the movement has no intention of resorting to indiscriminate urban terrorism. They emphasized that the building chosen was a military headquarters and characterized the attack as the next logical step in a pattern of resistance against the white government. “If we wanted to cause terror, we wouldn’t be attacking police stations and military installations, we would have been going for cinemas, buses, trains—and at much less risk to ourselves,” one senior ANC member told me. “Our purpose isn’t to kill people. But it is to demonstrate both to whites and to blacks that the regime is vulnerable, and that those who help keep it in power are vulnerable as well.”

The Pretoria bombing was significant not only for what it showed about the development of ANC tactics, but also as an ANC judgment about the mood of its primary audience—South African blacks. Throughout its period of armed opposition, the ANC has taken care to preserve its prestige among blacks by choosing its targets carefully, and—until now—by avoiding civilian deaths. This restraint has clearly slowed the growth of its military activities, but, combined with the organization’s long early record of nonviolence, it has helped to establish a strong sympathetic following for the ANC among South African blacks—who themselves are likely to suffer the most from violence in any civil war.

The willingness to risk civilian casualties demonstrates the ANC leaders’ increasing confidence in the strength and militance of their popular support—they believe black public opinion will sustain a rising level of violence. In my talks with many South African black leaders, I found this view widely shared. Although the Pretoria bombing was characterized in Western press reports as an unprovoked increase in ANC violence, many of the black leaders I spoke with expected such an escalation as a logical and necessary retaliation for the regime’s harsh series of “punitive” raids and assassination attacks against suspected ANC officials and hideouts in neighboring nations. The government has shunned few if any tactics in its war against the ANC, and it has left a trail of blood which even its supporters have found difficult to defend. Pretoria’s stepped-up counterinsurgency campaign has included shootings and parcel-bomb assassinations of ANC leaders in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, as well as two major cross-border attacks against the homes of black South African exiles in Mozambique and Lesotho. In the latter attacks alone, indiscriminate South African rocket and gunfire killed fifty-four persons, most of them asleep in their beds, and many of them refugees with no demonstrable connection to the ANC. As if to prove its point, moreover, the government responded to the Pretoria attack with an air strike on Maputo which killed or wounded at least twenty more people, most of them Mozambique citizens in a factory and residences unrelated to the ANC.

In attempting to build a base of international support for its actions, Pretoria has consistently painted the ANC as a terrorist proxy for the Soviet Union or, more abstractly, for the forces of “world communism.” This charge once formed the regime’s principal basis for prosecution of ANC members under South Africa’s sweeping anticommunist legislation. The Botha government makes much of the ANC’s ties with the banned South African Communist party and the Soviet-bloc nations, and emphasizes both in its efforts to maintain US support for the white government. Particularly when invoked with respect to US concerns about maintaining access to South Africa’s strategic mineral resources, the vision of “losing” South Africa to a Soviet-led takeover has found a ready audience among American conservatives. After viewing documents supplied by South Africa, and hearing testimony of communist subversion that included lurid tales of sexual coercion and psychological abuse of ANC recruits by Soviet agents, the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, led by the arch-conservative Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, declared that the ANC has “been deeply infiltrated by those who seek to advance the imperialistic ambitions of the Soviet Union” and thus works “to the obvious detriment of the peoples of the southern African region, not to their advantage.”1

Such characterizations of the ANC as a pawn of East-West rivalries seriously distort both the group’s present situation and its likely development. As a broad multiracial coalition, the ANC has long accepted communists into its ranks, but its membership and support both within South Africa and in the exile movement remains diverse. Officially, the group takes its stand on its original populist manifesto—the Freedom Charter, which was adopted in 1956. The charter calls for universal suffrage, racial equality, and personal freedoms, and could hardly be construed as revolutionary by Western democratic standards. Although it contains mild references to land reform and to redistribution of mineral and other national wealth, those provisions, too, could hardly be found surprising in a country where existing racial legislation restricts 72 percent of the population to 13 percent of the nation’s land.

Behind the broad language of the Freedom Charter there exist two fairly distinct schools of ANC thought, whose adherents are separated as much by age and experience as by ideology. The older group, including noncommunists such as Mandela, Tambo, and many other senior ANC officials, represents a more traditional or conservative approach to the fight against apartheid, grounded in a strong faith in the rule of law. Much influenced by the British legal traditions in which many older ANC leaders were trained, this school tends to emphasize political rights and juridical equality for blacks as the ultimate aim of the ANC’s struggle. It also reflects the strong admiration that many older ANC members still hold for Western—and, specifically, American—legal history. “When we grew up,” Tambo told me, “we were fascinated by the history of America—the United States. Looking at life against the backdrop of our own experiences, we were fascinated. And we thought that if there was any country which would understand our position, it was the United States. There was the South, there was the Civil War, and then there was the civil rights movement. There were laws against racism, which they enforce. It is the opposite in South Africa—the laws dictate racism, they punish people who are not racists.”

The younger and more radical school of ANC thought sees in the Freedom Charter a much more comprehensive mandate for change. This view emphasizes the economic consequences of South African racism; it concentrates on the poverty and exploitation of black workers and interprets the ANC’s struggle as following the pattern of Marxist class conflict. Even dedicated ANC Marxists, however, do not argue that the class struggle and the racial conflict neatly correspond with each other. “What you have in South Africa,” one member told me, “is a racist structure that has grown up to enforce certain economic relationships. You can’t deny that. But beyond that it isn’t so clear. Theoretically, you might expect the working-class Boer to be on our side, but that’s where the regime’s real strength lies. So it’s not always obvious where class ends and race begins.”

The popularity of radical ideology among younger ANC members is partly explained by their training in Soviet-bloc nations. The movement is invited to place more than three hundred students a year in Soviet-bloc universities, and returning students have had important intellectual influence among their peers. The thousands of ANC recruits undergoing military training in Angola and in Soviet-bloc nations must also be exposed to Marxist propaganda about the coming war of liberation. Arguably the most important factor in radicalizing younger ANC members, however, has been the bitter nature of their early clashes with the white regime. “It is less a question of ideology than of experience,” said Mfanafuthi Makatini, a longtime ANC official who now heads the movement’s diplomatic section. “When we first marched in the early 1950s, we were charged with batons. But when [young blacks] first tried to march in Soweto they were shot down in the streets. You don’t come away from that as a moderate.”

The question of ideology is likely to receive growing attention within the ANC as the exile wing comes into closer contact with its broad base of support within South Africa—much of which is far from sympathetic to Marxism. Although often strong partisans of the ANC, many blacks within South Africa remain deeply suspicious of communism—and, in particular, of Soviet or other foreign interference in the ANC’s traditional hierarchy and nationalist platform. This feeling is no doubt an indirect result of Pretoria’s attempts to picture the ANC leadership as controlled by foreign whites, but it also reflects the strong proprietary concern that many blacks show for the ANC as the only group that can reflect their own interests and aspirations. Again and again I was told by black leaders in South Africa itself that most of the population would object to the idea of single-party rule on the Soviet or Cuban model. This is a consideration that ANC leaders who would advocate such a system cannot afford to ignore, and one that may impose constraints upon their ideological tendencies as their coalition grows.

Since 1960, the size of the ANC’s exile community and the scope of its activities have grown rapidly, and its need for material assistance has obviously kept pace. In addition to its Lusaka headquarters, the group maintains a farflung collection of camps and facilities, including farms in Zambia, a large communal settlement and training college outside Dar es Salaam, and military training facilities outside the Angolan capital of Luanda. The organization also maintains diplomatic representation in more than thirty capitals worldwide.

As this exile network has grown, the ANC has been forced to depend increasingly upon support from abroad. Tambo, who led the group’s early fundraising efforts, recalled his experiences: “I left South Africa in 1960. It was in the United States that I went first to ask for assistance and to address meetings—addressing Americans, asking them for support. But we received no real response. I only went to the Soviet Union in 1963, and when I got there, in the first instance, I said we needed some funds. They gave us some. I’d never handled so much money before—it was only $20,000. I went to China after that, and they gave us money. We asked for it. They didn’t come and say, ‘Do you want money?’—we asked for it, we needed it.”

Since the 1960s, the ANC has continued to receive somewhat more than half of its overall support from the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc—particularly in the form of military assistance and weapons, which are distributed through the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity. As international condemnations of apartheid have intensified, however, the sources of ANC support have broadened considerably, particularly for humanitarian purposes. The ANC has cultivated especially close ties with the Scandinavian nations, which together provide a majority of the group’s outright cash assistance. In addition, it receives funds from the governments of Austria, Italy, and a broad cross section of third world nations. The United Nations and its related agencies provide the ANC with more than $10 million in refugee funds annually, and the movement also receives aid from a range of nongovernmental organizations, including Oxfam, the World Council of Churches, the United Church of Canada, the British Council of Churches, various Catholic aid agencies, and Scandinavian charities.

In weighing the relative influence of benefactors on the ANC, some critics have been quick to suggest that Western financial aid cannot hope to compete with Soviet-bloc weapons and military training in shaping the group’s tactics and outlook. Yet the ANC members who tend to be the most pro-Soviet are generally not those in the military wing, but those who have benefited from non-military contacts such as scholarships and educational aid, often including long terms of residence in Soviet-bloc countries. Of clear importance, too, is the outward respect shown to ANC leaders by their Soviet counterparts. “If we want to go to Moscow,” an older ANC member explained, “they will meet us at the airport. If we want to go to New York, we will have to beg for a visa, if we can get one at all. A lot of it is as simple as that.”

But a lot of it may not be so simple. The Soviet Union may have had considerable success in winning ANC loyalties; just how much is a question that outsiders cannot precisely answer. Both the ANC leaders and experts within South Africa, however, made clear to me their view that the most important factor in influencing the group’s position toward the two superpowers will not be the money or weapons they respectively contribute, but their policies toward Pretoria. And in that respect, ANC leaders increasingly see the United States as a self-defined enemy. Particularly among the youngest and most militant of the ANC members, the US is viewed with a mistrust that is quickly hardening into hatred. “What do you expect us to think?” asked Welile Nhlapo, the grimly professional former Black Consciousness leader who directs the ANC youth section. “The United States has an unbroken record of support for the racist regime, not just in terms of its commercial interests, but in Angola, Namibia. And as our people have died and suffered, Washington has just moved closer to the regime—a racist regime that is despised around the world. Under Reagan this situation has got much, much worse—we will not forget that. As far as the position of the US is concerned, our expectations are very low.”

Under its policy of “constructive engagement,” the Reagan administration expects the development of a “centrist consensus” among both blacks and whites in South Africa to erode the ANC’s more moderate support. It hopes that the group will be shut out of any eventual power-sharing arrangements. Yet so far no such political “center” has emerged. Indeed, the polarization of South African society has accelerated sharply, and moderates on both sides have been left leaderless and impotent.

White Afrikaners, deeply divided over even the mildly reformist policies of Prime Minister P.W. Botha’s ruling Nationalist party, have moved in significant numbers toward right-wing parties which promise a last-ditch stand in defense of white supremacy. In the country’s most recent general elections in May 1981, the ultraconservative Herstigte Nasionale party won nearly 14 percent of the overall vote, up from 4 percent in the 1977 general elections, setting Nationalist majorities at risk in some seventy voting districts.2 The Nationalists were further weakened last spring, when Transvaal leader Andries Treurnicht and sixteen other Nationalist members of Parliament split off to form the new Conservative party in protest against Botha’s recent proposals for constitutional reform. Botha retains a clear hold on Nationalist policy, but the prospect of further defections has placed important new limits on his ability to promote change. Although some observers have suggested the possibility of a coalition between reform-minded Nationalists and the liberal Progressive Federal party, such a development would require an unlikely bridging of deep-seated animosities between the Afrikaners and the English. If attempted, it would splinter the Nationalist organization beyond repair, and could well result in the formation of a new Afrikaner majority located even farther to the political right. In the meantime, the strength of right-wing demagogues continues to grow, and the prospects for serious reform have become increasingly remote.

Recently the State Department praised as a “milestone” the vote on November 2 by 66 percent of the white population approving the new constitution proposed by the Nationalist party. The new arrangement will, for the first time in nearly three decades, permit limited participation in government by the country’s Indians and mixed-race “Coloureds.” Because it still denies any political role for the black majority, however, the plan’s practical effects are likely to be quite limited. Prime Minister Botha has emphatically disavowed any intention of broadening its terms to include blacks. The new scheme has been a source of disagreement among various Indian and Coloured groups, but it has been sharply denounced by black leaders and was officially opposed by the white Progressive Federal party, which fears that it will only serve to intensify racial animosities. The plan will for the first time permit the white government to conscript Indians and Coloureds into the South African Defense Force, giving Pretoria important new recruits to its effort to crush any black resistance.

In the black community, few moderate groups have been allowed to gain the following needed to challenge the dominant role of the ANC. Potential black political leaders have been regularly imprisoned or silenced by banning orders, and most who have not, such as hereditary Zulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi, have maintained their personal followings largely by trading upon tribal ties and political favoritism. Buthelezi, who heads the Zulu-based Inkatha movement, suffered a particularly hard fall from grace among many South African blacks after lashing out erratically at his political enemies, and siding with Pretoria on several important local issues in the KwaZulu homeland. Although he claims several hundred thousand followers in the ranks of Inkatha, membership in the movement is a practical necessity for blacks in many areas under Buthelezi’s administration, and the actual extent of his support is certainly much smaller. Not one of the black South African leaders I spoke with looked for Buthelezi to be a credible or effective exponent of black opinion in the years ahead. Still, in a country where the regime has done so much to destroy all other forms of political cohesion among blacks, the potential force of tribal associations, such as the one Buthelezi still dominates, should not be discounted. Other nonpolitical black figures, such as Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, are widely respected as spokesmen for the black population, but they lack the organizational base that would enable them to become strong leaders in their own right. Few if any, moreover, have been willing to challenge the popularity of ANC leaders, and Tutu himself is on record as predicting that Nelson Mandela will be president of a free South Africa within the next decade.

Western liberals have for some years hoped the black trade union movement would emerge as a strong pressure group for political reform. But it remains limited to only a small part (approximately 2 percent) of the black working population, and its activities are closely monitored by the white government. Many of the most effective black labor leaders have been arrested and tortured, and striking workers have been harassed and deported to their remote “homeland” areas. The unions are a growing source of resistance to racism in the work place, particularly in the heavy industries located in large cities. But they still seem unlikely to galvanize the kind of nationwide black support that might threaten the fundamental structure of apartheid.

While Pretoria has been able to block those avenues of black opposition that it considers most dangerous, such as the trade union movement, it has been notably unsuccessful in channeling that opposition into more manageable forms, such as the recently strengthened system of black town councils. The new system, which will shift some governmental responsibilities to local black elected officials, has been harshly rejected by many black leaders as an effort to postpone black political participation nationally; opposition groups have urged black voters to boycott the election process. In the vote on December 3 for representatives to such councils in the important Soweto area, the turnout was extremely low, amounting to as little as 1.6 percent of eligible voters in several key wards.

As the middle ground in South Africa has begun to fall away, the field has thus been left increasingly to the two major antagonists—hard-line whites on one hand, and the growing if underground ranks of the African National Congress on the other. And as the process continues, American policy, which assumes that a middle ground exists, is destined to become increasingly onesided, and increasingly irrelevant to the confrontation that seems more and more likely to take place. This is not to say that the various organized sources of internal opposition—tribal leaders, unions, student groups, liberal and church organizations—are doomed to have no part in South Africa’s future. In August the recently organized United Democratic Front, a coalition of more than four hundred organizations representing such groups—many with close ties to the ANC—was able to hold a protest meeting of approximately ten thousand people outside Cape Town. No one can predict just how the transformation of such a troubled and divided society will come about. What seems clear, however, is that the ANC has now become a formidable center of the black opposition that cannot be ignored.

Among the Western allies, the United States is by far the most estranged from the ANC and its growing influence. The West German government made informal contacts with the ANC during the 1970s, and the movement was later officially invited to open an office in Bonn. This office continues to have good working relations with the conservative Kohl government, and West German foundations now provide scholarships and other aid for some 120 ANC students attending universities in that country. French contacts with ANC officials have also intensified recently, and an ANC delegation headed by Tambo and Makatini is scheduled to meet with President François Mitterrand. The ANC receives support from several British humanitarian and relief groups, and has a close relationship with the British Labour party.

The effect of such Western ties is difficult to measure, but they represent a recognition, on the part of our allies, of diplomatic opportunities and South African realities that the United States can no longer afford to disregard. By clinging to a vague faith in the white South African political process, and rejecting even informal contacts with the ANC, the US risks losing influence and respect in a situation where both are essential. And by underestimating the growing black resentment that underlies the ANC’s resurgent support, we are likely to promote neither American interests nor regional peace.

Tambo’s statement to me about the conditions of such a peace would be endorsed by practically all the black leaders I talked to, whether they were inside or outside South Africa: “What the blacks want more than anything else is to be free in our country—more than anything else. We are dying under the system. We are treated like foreigners in our own country. At best, we are sent to small little barren areas, and we die there. The system itself is an act of violence, because it subjects you to Draconian laws, to impossible laws, which must be obeyed for fear of arrest and being shot down. Your life is defined by these laws, and by the police who are standing around, and by the law courts who are waiting to sentence you. And you have nowhere to go.

And we say we can’t allow this. We say: End that system. We will fight, and we will sacrifice to that end. We want to live in our country—we want to govern our country. It’s true we have various racial groups and must govern together. We don’t want anybody to leave—everybody’s welcome here. But let’s learn to regard ourselves as human beings. And until we have reached that position there will be no peace. There can be no peace.”


Violence in South Africa March 29, 1984

  1. 1

    US Senate, Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, Soviet, East German and Cuban Involvement in Fomenting Terrorism in South Africa, 97th Congress, 2d session (Washington: GPO, 1982), p. 24.

  2. 2

    See John de St. Jorre, “South Africa: Is Change Coming?” Foreign Affairs, vol. 60, no. 1 (Fall 1981), pp. 106–122.