P. W. Botha
P. W. Botha; drawing by David Levine

It is a stark indication of black nationalism’s tortuous crawl toward an independent South Africa that the question of how to regard whites opposed to apartheid still—after thirty years—engenders more rancor within nationalist circles than does the conduct of whites defending the laager itself. The gulf between the multiracial African National Congress (ANC) and the “exclusivist” Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) has never been wider nor the differences more bitterly divisive. Both movements were outlawed in 1960 and forced into exile or underground. Since then, the realization by the leaders that violence is now the surest method of contesting white rule has prompted them to seek arms from conflicting international camps—thus further increasing the risk of factional war, should the white citadel start to crumble.

Many of the leaders of ANC and PAC have been put out of political action: the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, is serving a life sentence on Robben Island. The PAC leader Robert Sobukwe, who died last year, spent the final seventeen years of his life in prison or under “restriction.” The two organizations are now primarily exile movements, based in such African countries as Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. They are kept alive largely by funds from outside South Africa, often from global or African rivals.

The roots of discord between ANC and PAC reach deep into the past and reflect a gap between two utterly different schools of thought. As Gail Gerhart describes it in her finely charted navigation down the twisted and often murky channels of South African nationalism, the essential issues have remained the same at least since World War II, and extend beyond the history of rivalry between ANC and PAC right through to the uprising in Soweto and the stand taken by Steve Biko before he was killed. The problem has in no manner been resolved by the spread of “black consciousness,” in the form advocated by Biko and others. Moreover, the gap between the two schools of thought has been widened not only by tactical differences—over how to rid South Africa of its present rulers—but also by sharply divergent visions of what postapartheid South Africa should be.

From its inception in 1912, ANC was a reformist party led chiefly by members of the emergent black professional class—often teachers, lawyers, clergymen—who demanded advancement for blacks into white society, but who hardly questioned the essential values of white society itself. It was argued that the decency of “good” whites, especially liberals and those active in the churches, would surely be able to instill “common sense” into white society as a whole, and would persuade white government gradually to open economic and political avenues to blacks, as “equal partners.” Integration was the ANC aim. And in the words of the first ANC president, Rev. John Dube, “race co-operation must be the watchword.” Reformism was slowly abandoned in the face of steadily increasing repression by white governments after 1948, but a heavy strain of liberalism remained within ANC at least until it was banned in 1960. Even as late as 1957, Secretary-general Walter Sisulu was remarking optimistically that Afrikaner Nationalism had “passed the high water mark.” There was still the presumption that true change must be generated within the white political forces.

Even after 1960, integration remained the cornerstone. When it became clearer, especially after the advent in 1948 of the first Afrikaner government under Daniel Malan, that whites were actually tightening the reins of power at the expense of blacks (and indeed of Coloureds and Indians too), ANC had begun to look toward extra-legal tactics—such as the Defiance Campaign of 1952, and strikes. But it remained fiercely opposed to violence until the early 1960s. In particular, it continued to deplore any incitement of racial hostility to further the aims of nationalism. When the ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, he emphasized as ANC’s proudest achievement that, despite the provocation of white society, ANC had steadfastly refused to drum up popular support by inciting racial enmity.

On the other hand, the overriding aim of the “Africanist” bloc, which slowly evolved into the separate PAC, has been to resuscitate black pride without recourse to help from white liberals. PAC has never allowed for the advocacy of multiracial “partnership” as expressed by the early ANC leaders. PAC demands total power for blacks alone: only after the collapse of the white power structure may society be reconstituted to include those whites willing to remain in an essentially black country.

As far back as the early 1940s, the birth of an Africanist bloc within ANC had become apparent, largely as a protest against cautious leadership. The most vocal early Africanists were members of the impatient and energetic ANC Youth League, formed inside the ANC fold, under the magnetic leadership of Anton Lembede, an intense and vivid figure, the pioneer of what later became known as black consciousness. He was the first in a line of exclusivists that extends through Robert Sobukwe and on to Biko himself.


The driving fear of Lembede and his Africanists was that the ANC leadership had been seduced by liberal white mentors into becoming the unwitting victims of a stifling white paternalism. The Africanist hostility to white “wellwishers” did not stop at the liberals. Lembede believed no less strongly that Marxism, as articulated by whites, was equally capable of stunting the growth of black pride and self-confidence and was just as likely to undermine the black will to grasp power. Thus began an important tradition among orthodox black nationalists of enmity toward Marxism. The antagonism exists today.

While the mainstream of ANC remained intent on proving that blacks were potentially as capable as whites, professionally and in government, Lembede rejected the entire assumption of the continuing presence of whites in South Africa. Above all, he rejected the norms of white society, to which blacks—he argued—were sycophantically aspiring. Instead he demanded a resurgence of black culture.

In his search for ways to create a new sense of black brotherhood, Lembede was drawn even to the writings of the future Afrikaner prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, who as editor of Die Transvaler glorified the achievements of the Afrikaner volk. As Gerhart writes, “Lembede saw nothing wrong with quoting certain ideas of Hitler and Mussolini with approval.” He looked to the tribal heroes of the South African past and studied several vernacular languages. He tried to evoke admiration for a tribal past uncontaminated by the white man’s values. Noting—as did Biko after him—what he saw as the ingrained religiosity of the black African people, he told the independent churches to incorporate elements of traditional African religion within the Christianity imported by whites. “Nationalism should itself,” he declared, “be pursued with the fanaticism and bigotry of religion, for it is the only creed that will dispel and disperse the inferiority complex which blurs our sight and darkens our horizon.” The main body of ANC followers—and especially its white adherents—was quick to condemn such beliefs as “inverted racism.” Sobukwe and other nationalists invariably faced the same charges. It was Biko who was best at deflecting them.

ANC has always paid official homage to black culture, yet its political activities have remained most attractive to those black Africans who strive to attain a “modern Western lifestyle”—but find themselves balked by the system. Romanticizing the tribal past ran counter to the entire ethos of ANC. “The whole idea of ‘African culture,’ ” explains Gerhart, “smacked of beads and blankets and primitivism, and they wanted to have nothing to do with it.” Lembede, who died in 1947, when he was thirty-three, did manage to use ANC’s Youth League to nudge ANC from its generally cautious, reformist position, but he failed to turn it away from multiracialism.

Far from it. Soon after his death, there ensued a crucial series of changes inside ANC that would have wholly divorced him from the movement and which eventually resulted in the Congress Alliance—a broad multiracial front, in which ANC was the key organization and which embraced Indians, Coloureds, and radical whites. Ironically, the changes began with the brutal Durban riots of 1949, when fighting between Indians and blacks left 137 dead. A couple of years later, in order to avoid such violence between the communities, leaders of ANC and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) launched a Joint Planning Council to foster cooperation between the groups. Other sectarian movements were brought in. By 1954 a broad alliance had blossomed and encompassed the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO) and the white Congress of Democrats. When the Communist Party of South Africa, whose leadership was dominated by whites, was outlawed in 1950 many Marxists began to look to ANC as the best forum for political activity. In addition, a number of leaders in SAIC were also communists. The concept of multiracial cooperation was given substance. But Lembede’s nightmare—multiracialism in harness with communism—had come true.

Such a shift was anathema to the Africanists. What particularly incensed them was the endorsement by ANC of the “Freedom Charter,” drawn up in 1955 with the encouragement of the Congress Alliance. The most contentious clause was: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” To the Africanists, that was blasphemy. To them, South Africa—or Azania, to use the later terminology of PAC—belongs only to the indigenous black inhabitants, to whom all the land must be restored.

To the ANC leadership, the new connections with other groups led to welcome organizational improvements, not to mention financial assistance. ANC could point to its Defiance Campaign of 1952, based on a Gandhian model of civil disobedience, which sent ANC membership soaring upward and heralded a more militant phase of opposition. The campaign had been jointly planned by black and Indian leaders.


The Africanists, however, were convinced that the price was too great: the blacks’ own liberation battle was being waged by “foreigners” whose real aim was to keep control—in whatever guise—over the blacks. The Africanists reserved special hostility for communists, who, they argued, had begun to permeate and warp the nationalist movement. Lemebede had condemned communism partly because, as with many like-minded orthodox colleagues, his religious training set him against a philosophy that appeared to play down man’s spiritual nature. It was part of the Africanist catechism that materialism was the disease of the white man, and political creeds that laid stress upon material equality seemed somehow unwholesome.

At the same time, despite the growing emphasis on egalitarianism that understandably arose within ANC along with Marxist participation, the Africanists insisted that ANC as a whole was taking on a more elitist hue. Many of the Africanist leaders had rural backgrounds, in contrast to what they depicted as the slick urban flavor of ANC. Africanists said they stood for the “sons of the soil.” They said that the Congress Alliance meant that ANC leaders were losing touch with the masses by consorting with “tea-drinkers in smart Johannesburg suburbs.” Trips to Eastern Europe were drawing black leaders even further from the people. Despite its universal claims, Marxism—according to the Africanists—was another religion of the white man. To counter charges of narrow black chauvinism, the Africanists began to extol the Pan-Africanism of Nkrumah and other rising Continental leaders.

The main reason for the Africanists’ rejection of Marxism was not so much hostility to Marxist theory itself but rather the fact that its chief South African exponents happened to be white or Indian. Gerhart also argues that ANC—certainly up until its 1960 banning—was not taken over by white communists, despite the decision to cooperate with them. The Africanists (and later PAC) stuck to their fundamental objection to communism: that white communists, just as much as white liberals, prevent blacks from achieving the psychological freedom that is the prerequisite to nationhood. Biko made the same charge against the radical white students in 1968.

Despite deep differences within ANC, it was not until 1959 that PAC formally broke away as a separate movement, with Sobukwe as first president. Since the days of Lembede, Africanism had been modified under the shrewd guidance of the less flamboyant Ashby Mda, but it was Sobukwe who made the concept “respectable” through his articulate advocacy of what later developed into the Black Consciousness Movement. He himself, like Steve Biko, was always courteous and often friendly to the whites with whom he came into contact. He emphasized the “positive” aspects of black consciousness and black pride, and insisted that “anti-whiteism” was not the mainspring of PAC. But Sobukwe spurned the ANC line that “the system” alone should be the object of hatred. “We do not hate the European because he is white,” he said. “We hate him because he is an oppressor.” But he went on, “It is plain dishonesty to say I hate the sjambok [the whip] and not the one who wields it.” He began to dilute the exclusivist purity of traditional Africanism, especially with regard to the rights of the whites after independence. But a white journalist, reporting on PAC’s inaugural convention, more cynically described the ambiguities of the new approach: “All who give their allegiance to Africa are African, but some Africans are more African than others.”1 More charges of preaching “reverse apartheid” were brought against PAC by the ANC multiracialists.

PAC’s main counter to such accusations was to assert that it would be more effective than ANC in bringing change. PAC failed to substantiate this claim, for its organizational resources were much slenderer than those of ANC. Within a year of its foundation, PAC did, however, manage to set up the “Pass Campaign,” in which blacks were encouraged to defy the law that they carry passbooks in order to legally “stay in white areas.” The result, in March 1960, was the killing at Sharpeville of sixty-seven blacks, mostly as they ran away from Verwoerd’s police. Within months, both ANC and PAC were banned. Heightened vigilance and savage repression by the government sent the nationalist movements reeling into a state of disarray and quiescence from which they have still to recover. Thus the only real—and unintended—success of PAC was, through the grim statistics of the massacre, to publicize the nature of apartheid to the outside world. In the early 1960s, the entire leadership of ANC and PAC was banned, imprisoned, or forced into exile.

Tactically, PAC counted on “the spontaneity of the people” and held other optimistic revolutionary notions ill-suited to the needs of a long drawn-out struggle. Two months after the Pass Campaign was over, thousands of blacks were lining up for new passbooks to replace the ones they had burned. Organization for sustained opposition was wanting. Even Robert Sobukwe overestimated the readiness of the masses to respond to his call. Once he was jailed, leadership passed to Potlako Leballo, whose impulsive character has provoked a series of divisions within PAC right up to the present day. In 1963, an unhappily timed boast from his haven in the British-administered enclave of Lesotho that Poqo, the PAC military wing, was about to unleash a wave of violence indirectly led to the arrest of 3,000 Poqo activists in South Africa. The movement carried out a few killings and provoked brutal repression. PAC had propagated black power as an idea, but failed to give it reality.

In its drive for “separate development” in all walks of life, the Afrikaner regime made all mixed-race political organizations illegal. In 1968, even the multiracial Liberal Party had to dissolve. By that time, the white-dominated English-speaking National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) had become the sole mixed-race opposition group that could both include radicals and survive.

It was then that the figure of Steve Biko swept onto the scene. Educated at a Roman Catholic school in Natal, he entered the “non-European” section of the Durban medical school in 1966 at the age of nineteen and soon became a prominent student leader. He carefully avoided identifying himself with either ANC or PAC, though his elder brother had been arrested as an activist of PACs Poqo in 1963. Biko expressed a vague wish that the two older movements and the group that emerged out of his own Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) should unite. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he falls squarely in the category of orthodox nationalists, epitomized by Lembede, Mda, and Sobukwe.

As a leading member of the white-dominated National Union of African Students, Biko came to the same conclusion as his nationalist predecessors: however well intentioned—or guilt-ridden—were white liberals, blacks could only achieve freedom on their own. “The biggest mistake the black world ever made,” he said, “was to assume that whoever opposed apartheid was an ally.” So in 1968 he founded the exclusively black South African Students’ Organization (SASO), which became the chief purveyor of the gospel of black consciousness.

Much of his message echoed that of Lembede, with updated borrowings from American black nationalist rhetoric of the 1960s. He banned the South African official term “non-white,” with its degrading negative, from the black consciousness vocabulary. The white English-speaking liberal became the butt of much abuse, both angry and humorous. Above all, Biko attacked the assumption that integration must be the goal of anyone opposed to apartheid.

For the liberals, the thesis is apartheid, the antithesis is nonracialism, but the synthesis is very feebly defined. They want to tell the blacks that they see integration as the ideal solution. Black Consciousness defines the situation differently. The thesis is in fact a strong white racism and therefore the antithesis to this must, ipso facto, be a strong solidarity amongst the blacks on whom this white racism seeks to prey. Out of these two situations we can therefore hope to reach some kind of balance—a true humanity where power politics have no place.

At the same time as he tried to reinvest the word black with a fresh dignity, he broadened the term black consciousness to embrace all groups outside the pale of well-to-do white South Africa. “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation—being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” Being black, as Gerhart summarizes his view, is “status more than color.” But, like Lembede and Sobukewe, Biko would not avoid a certain ingenuousness when charged with racism: “One cannot be racist unless one has the power to subjugate.”

Nevertheless, as is well known, Biko harbored little personal animosity to whites. Indeed, in the exclusivist tradition, he confessed to an admiration for the way the Afrikaners—once themselves in a sense an oppressed minority—had preserved their own cultural energy. His contempt was directed more against the English-speaking liberal, with a “passport in the back pocket,” enjoying the fruits of privilege until the time would arrive for the scuttle “home.” Still, it was from white liberals that Biko received much of his encouragement, publicity, and even some of his movement’s financial assistance. By far the best selection available of Biko’s essays and speeches has been compiled by a liberal Anglican priest, Father Aelred Stubbs.

The collection shows that, beyond the immediate aim of restoring pride and psychological freedom to the black man, Biko’s explicit political views were visionary, mild, and vague. He conjured up the prospect of an “African communalism” that would eschew both capitalism and socialism. He said he “appealed to the masses,” but the Black People’s Convention (BPC), the front that was set up in 1972 by SASO and the Black Consciousness Movement, was confined largely to students, intellectuals, and churchmen. Biko was far from radical. Nor was he a populist who envisioned a rising of the rural poor. Defending his SASO colleagues after they were put on trial in 1975, he said, “Rural folk are essentially the kind of people you cannot politicize through the introduction of political debate because of their hand to mouth existence.”

His few statements for the BPC on the redistribution of property are scarcely drastic. He made an ill-defined appeal for “an African middle way”—the standard jargon of laissez-faire African governments—and he talked of a “judicious blending of private enterprise and state participation.” He had little patience with the schematic class analyses of the kind undertaken by ANC. He scoffed at the thesis that “the struggle is a class struggle rather than a racial one. Let them go to Van Tonder [the typical Afrikaner farmer] in the [Orange] Free State and tell him this.”

Yet Biko’s ideas did not go beyond the revival of black consciousness. His theorizing on the utopian black society of the past that will be resurrected in the future draws more on fantasy than on history.2 He reveres Africans’

deep concern for each other…. We are not a suspicious race. We believe in the inherent goodness of man. We enjoy man for himself. We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life. Hence in all we do we always place Man first and hence all our action is usually joint community-oriented action rather than the individualism that is the hallmark of the capitalist approach. We always refrain from using people as stepping stones.

He goes on to quote the “humanism” of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda:

Africans…experience a situation rather than face a problem. By this I mean they allow both the rational and non-rational elements to make an impact upon them, and any action they may take could be described more as a response of the total personality to the situation than the result of some mental exercise.

Pursuing such “African concepts” as Kaunda’s, he said: “I cannot help feeling that more time should be spent in teaching man and man to live together and that perhaps the African personality, with its attitude of laying less stress on power and more stress on man, is well on the way to solving our confrontation problems.” The ideas are amiable—but as meaningless as Kaunda’s “humanism” is to the Zambian peasant who sees the corruption and mismanagement of government driving his country to economic ruin.

Stubbs’s compilation vividly illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of Biko’s work. He was certainly a clear and persuasive advocate of the meaning and necessity of black consciousness, as in this impromptu answer to the defense lawyer during the SASO trial:

Soggot: Now, the concept of Black Consciousness, does that link up in any way with what you have just read?

Biko: Yes, it does.

Soggot: Would you explain briefly to His Lordship that link-up?

Biko: I think basically Black Consciousness refers itself to the black man and to his situation, and I think the black man is subjected to two forces in this country. He is first of all oppressed by an external world through institutionalized machinery, through laws that restrict him from doing certain things, through heavy work conditions, through poor pay, through very difficult living conditions, through poor education, these are all external to him, and secondly, and this we regard as the most important, the black man in himself has developed a certain state of alienation, he rejects himself, precisely because he attaches the meaning white to all that is good, in other words he associates good and he equates good with white. This arises out of his living and it arises out of his development from childhood.

When you go to school for instance, your school is not the same as the white school, and ipso facto the conclusion you reach is that the education you get there cannot be the same as what the white kids get at school. The black kids normally have got shabby uniforms if any, or no uniform at school, the white kids always have uniforms…. Now this is part of the roots of self-negation which our kids get even as they grow up. The homes are different, the streets are different, the lighting is different, so you tend to begin to feel that there is something incomplete in your humanity, and that completeness goes with whiteness. This is carried through to adulthood when the black man has got to live and work.

Yet he remains essentially a propagandist, an intuitive debater, a catalyst for ideas, a charismatic and sensitive leader. His own exemplary organization of clinics and self-reliance projects after he was banned to his remote home town showed that he could also practice what he preached—yet many of his ideas were a jumble of well-worn platitudes borrowed from African utopian ideologues—Sékou Touré, Franz Fanon, Kaunda, and so forth.

But Stubbs’s selection of Biko’s writings, some of them harsh and strident, is tenderly offset by a personal memoir which, however effusively, describes the softer, gentle side of Biko’s nature. For, despite his glittering performance as a speaker, Biko was a humble man, imbued with a religious feeling handed down from a devoted and devout mother. The correspondence between Stubbs and Biko conveys the humanity that fed Biko’s distaste of “power politics,” despite his own skill at them.

Part of the reason for the BCM’s effectiveness was the inability of the authorities to connect Biko to a particular political creed. That is largely because Biko found it convenient to play on the cultural and quasi-religious aspects of black consciousness. Before he was brutally killed in 1977, while naked and manacled, Biko had been banned from all political activity in 1973, and had been detained and arrested many times—but he had never been convicted. He was remarkably adroit in keeping his movement alive. It has indeed been argued by radical black critics of Biko that he pandered to “the system.” His accent on a separate black identity did, after all, dovetail nicely with some of the key tenets of apartheid. At first, as Biko himself pointed out, some thought the Black Consciousness Movement was playing into the hands of the Afrikaners. Biko was certainly nimble at manipulating the rules. It was, in the end, a tactical triumph that he achieved what he did within the walls of apartheid.

That is well shown by Millard Arnold’s faithful transcription of the 1976 SASO trial, where Biko spent four and a half days defining black consciousness and the aims of the BPC and SASO. He displays his humor, both kind and angry, his quick wit and intelligence. He ran rings around the state prosecutor and magistrate. Yet much of his philosophical lecturing, legal quibbling, and semantic bickering was designed not for posterity, but simply to defend his own colleagues in the dock.

As Stubbs observes: “One could not imagine Trotsky or Lenin being at home with [Biko and his colleagues]. Herein lay the weakness of the movement: it was too much the movement of an idea; too little a ruthless, organized force. Its weakness, yes; but also its ultimate strength! Being the movement of an idea, almost a mood, it was, and is, extraordinarily infectious.” Gerhart notes similar limitations to Biko’s black consciousness, which,

for all its success in helping to arouse Africans to a new sensitivity to oppression, is in the end primarily a transitional philosophy, aimed at overcoming the psychological handicaps which have crippled Africans politically for so long. Its constructive potential, and that of African national ideology generally, will almost certainly prove too limited once a more searching analysis of political and economic problems becomes an urgent requirement….

Biko, then, put the people “in the mood” but gave them no working strategy for the future. That, after all, is what the exile movements should be planning. Much of the energy that erupted in Soweto in June 1976 had been channeled and inspired by Biko’s movement. In the end, however, the Afrikaner government was shaken—but hardly moved. It is a sobering reminder that the one scheme that could have materially damaged the white bastion—a call, a few months after the riots, to urban employees to stay away from work—was a failure. Biko himself had to admit that the BCM had embraced mainly students, intellectuals, and churchmen. A trade union wing of the Black People’s Convention had been formed, under the label of the Black Allied and Workers’ Union (BAWU), but it had failed to build any muscle. Coloureds and Indian workers proved unwilling to risk losing their few privileges within their own unions for the sake of a broader black unity.

While the trade unions have remained badly organized and—to use Biko’s term—“unconscientized,” it remains possible, paradoxically, that the ideology of black nationalism may yet be engendered in the Bantustans, the tribal reservations which amount to 13 percent of South African land and which the government insists the blacks should regard as their home. Gerhart admits that, despite the official contempt of Biko and of the exile movements, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi of the Kwazulu Bantustan is now the most powerful spokesman for a black ideology within South Africa. Among acknowledged nationalists, there is a distinct ambivalence toward him. He stands condemned by many for agreeing to use the Bantustan platform and is accused, too, of nurturing tribalism and divide-and-rule. But he insists that his Inkatha movement, which now claims over 120,000 paid-up members, already extends beyond the Zulus, and itself condemns the Bantustan idea whole-heartedly.

Yet, as we have seen, it had long been the policy in some PAC circles to evoke the tribal past, to stir up pride that may later be channeled into a broader national consciousness. And many former Zulu adherents of Chief Luthuli, the late ANC president, may now have switched allegiance to Buthelezi. Bantustans could unwittingly become the Achilles heel of the apartheid system. The “black islands” of Lesotho and Swaziland, along with Botswana on the perimeter of South Africa, in some respects are not far removed from Bantustans; yet these formerly British-administered enclaves are now harboring anti-apartheid nationalists. The Bantustans could become the haven for a fifth column of nationalists within the system.

If Gerhart raises the question of the Bantustans, she is disappointingly reticent about the progress of the main exile movements within the last ten years. Indeed, throughout her book, informative and well-researched as it is, there is the academic’s reluctance to speculate or to make value judgments, though, like almost all white writers on South Africa, she is clearly unsympathetic to Leballo’s brand of PAC nationalism. She ably explores the nuances of the two main movements until 1960 and explains why blacks were so receptive to black consciousness in the late Sixties. But she fails to examine a number of key questions, especially concerning the position of the Communist Party within ANC.

This topic is, after all, the greatest source of nationalist discord. Was the Congress of Democrats, for instance, a simple front for the Communist Party, as some of its former members have now claimed? Why has the CP followed so strong a pro-Moscow line? Why have South African communists not experimented with theories of Afrocommunism, in parallel with recent Euro-communist ventures? What power do communists actually have in ANC decision-making today? Is there any evidence, as recent defectors from ANC insist, that Moscow is deliberately trying to “hijack” ANC?

After most of Gerhart’s book was already complete, there was a further important split within ANC—on the same contentious issue of whites and communists within the movement. ANC’s financial indebtedness to Moscow is said to be increasing. White communists like Joe Slovo are said to have a major part in formulating ANC policy. As in most exile movements committed to underground violence, there are reports that the armed wing may be drifting out of the grasp of its political controllers. Both movements are preparing for guerrilla war, but one gets the sense that the troops are being led from very far behind the lines.

PAC has been even more seriously weakened by splits, mostly caused by personality clashes at the top. China gives it lukewarm support. In recent years there have been hints that the US may look to PAC and other orthodox nationalists as a counter to the pro-Moscow ANC. Andrew Young continues to be the guardian of two of Sobukwe’s children. Much is made of Leballo’s supposed anticommunism (anti-whiteism?) and his brief period working for the US Information Service in Johannesburg. The black consciousness trade union movement BAWU is being heavily financed from America. Is the US preparing to place its bets in what is a complex game with high stakes?

African leaders who have gained power on the orthodox nationalist ticket—Kenyatta’s Kikuyu nationalism, Senghor’s negritude, Mobutu’s authenticité—have tended to welcome the growth of a capitalist economy, and have on the whole been cordially supported by Western capital. But it would be foolish for the US to interpret South African nationalism according to an East/West ideological yardstick or on the assumption that orthodox black nationalism is “pro-Western.”

At present, the PAC-black consciousness strain of nationalism is probably more susceptible to the allure of Western interests. Yet the xenophobic undercurrent within the same movement may encourage resistance to all outside influence. Attempts by outsiders to control either movement could easily backfire. In ANC, the growth of a radical authoritarian leadership, especially among whites hostile to Western capital, may possibly strengthen ties with Moscow. But that tendency is and will be opposed within the movement by the old reformist traditions of Luthuli and perhaps by Nelson Mandela himself, who is said to want ANC to accommodate many points of view within its fold.

The only consensus discernible among both exile movements and the black consciousness groups is that liberalism is dead. Whether or not they are accepted within nationalist movements, only whites of an authoritarian bent can find a part to play today, on either side of the Limpopo—whether they are tycoons in some black African countries or Marxist ideologues in others. Liberalism appears as obnoxious to the philosophers of black nationalism as it is to the Marxists. The free press, parliamentary democracy, and other such pillars of liberalism are seen as fripperies of the cosseted white mentality, alien to the traditions both of precolonial society and of twentieth-century authoritarian egalitarianism.

There was an old adage that Afrikaners either voted Nationalist—i.e., proapartheid—or communist. Liberalism has little place in Afrikaner political culture. When blacks take power, perhaps the Afrikaner heirs of Verwoerd and Vorster, rather than the English-speakers who say they are ready for “equal rights for all,” will turn out to be the sole white tribe to survive.

This Issue

April 19, 1979