How Long Can They Last?

Why South Africa Will Survive: A Historical Analysis

by L.H. Gann and 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 and 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…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.