Who is responsible for apartheid? That is the central question in the most challenging of recent books on southern Africa—King Solomon’s Mines Revisited by William Minter. Minter, a scholar and journalist who has lived and worked in Tanzania and Mozambique, harks back in his title to Rider Haggard’s immensely popular novel of 1885, a story of the white man’s search for wealth in the region, which went through thirteen American editions in the first year, sold more than 650,000 copies before Haggard died in 1925, and had an enduring influence on Western perceptions of Africa. King Solomon’s Mines Revisited is a well-written, readable, sustained examination of the past and present roles of Great Britain, the United States, and international capitalism in southern Africa. As an effort to broaden our understanding of racism in southern Africa it warrants careful consideration.
Apartheid, Minter says, is not “a unique creation” of the Afrikaners—the people whose ancestors settled in South Africa under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The British government, British capitalists, and South Africans of British descent bore the main responsibility for creating “the system that has reserved political power and economic privilege for whites for over a century” in South Africa. Since the Second World War, the American government and American capitalists have been largely responsible for maintaining it, in collaboration with European capitalists and white South Africans.
According to Minter, the history of southern Africa began to be significant in 1870, with the discovery of diamonds in the interior, soon to be followed by gold. The mineowners created the basic elements in the class system that has survived in South Africa to the present day: a privileged white bourgeoisie and an exploited black working class. In 1899, the British went to war against the Boer Republics, the result of a convergence of interests among the major mineowners, industrialists, financiers, and politicians, who had the common aim of bringing all of South Africa and its riches into the British Empire. The creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 was a “British-initiated” achievement. In the national convention that hammered out the constitution, the position of black Africans and Coloureds (people of mixed descent), whom it excluded from the Union parliament, was not a significant point of contention.
Between 1910 and 1948, British capitalists “retained the dominant role” throughout all of southern Africa and all South African governments applied a segregation policy that elaborated the “basic structural features of South African society—division of the land, the whites-only franchise, and coercive mobilization of cheap black labor.” South African liberals were not serious opponents of segregation. “In liberal circles, concern for African conditions faded imperceptibly into a focus on management and preservation of the existing order…. The gap between them and even black-elite opinion was clearly visible.”
In Minter’s perspective, “Apartheid,” the policy of the Afrikaner National party that has been in power since 1948, “was not an entirely new or different song, but a variation on a theme.” It gave preference to Afrikaners, but it also satisfied the economic needs of foreign investors and of the South African mining and manufacturing industries. Western rhetoric against apartheid was out of step with the actual behavior of Western governments and businessmen, which amounted to profitable collaboration with apartheid.
After the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960, and again after the uprisings in Soweto and elsewhere in 1976, foreign businessmen for a short time lost confidence in South Africa. But within a few months the International Monetary Fund and private American and European banks poured much-needed capital into the country. The 1960s was a decade of plenty for white South Africa and confidence in its regime. South Africa’s economic growth rate ranked with Japan’s as the highest in the world, and Western capitalists were receiving exceptional returns on their investments. In the late 1970s, however, the prospect was less rosy and the South African government embarked on a “Total Strategy” with two components: a large military buildup, and reforms in the apartheid system designed to divide the domestic opposition, to appease foreign criticism, and to enlist the active support of domestic and foreign big business. In Minter’s words:
The “total strategy” encompassed both an outstretched hand to the pragmatic “reformers” of big business and a mailed fist raised against even moderate black opponents who might dare to advocate nonracial democracy. To back such a goal was to be counted a communist dupe, part of a global Soviet conspiracy against Western civilization.
In his final chapter, Minter brings the story down to 1985, stressing the effects of the presence of governments friendly to South Africa in America, Britain, and West Germany. In the United States, although the anti-apartheid lobby mobilized nationwide support from students and civil rights activists, and captured the attention of the press and television, President Reagan and his advisers were opposed to any actions that might weaken the South African state. Minter quotes an anonymous American official as saying that all President Reagan knows about southern Africa “is that he is on the side of the whites.”
He also provides many examples of a tilt to the right by the Reagan administration: official hospitality to South African military and intelligence officers and to Jonas Savimbi of Angola; relaxation of the interpretation of the United Nations ban on the supply of arms to South Africa; the use of American votes to extend IMF credits to South Africa and to veto Security Council resolutions for action against South Africa. “By the 1980s,” he writes, “the steady growth of anti-apartheid forces impelled further disengagement from Pretoria. But the trend still faced adamant opposition from the Republican administration in power, and could rely on only hesitant support from the Democratic establishment.”
What, then, can those who are deeply opposed to apartheid do? Granting that they lack the power or the mandate to impose a solution, Minter says that Western actions will make a difference. We should impose and enforce severe sanctions against the Pretoria regime. Minter counters the standard arguments against sanctions. They may work, he says: they contributed to the outcome in Rhodesia. The South African economy is vulnerable, requiring foreign oil, technology, and capital. The blacks may suffer, but most of them welcome sanctions provided they are severe enough to help bring down the regime. Rather than force the Afrikaners into a laager, sanctions will accentuate divisions among them, divisions that have become more acute since he wrote his book. Finally, Minter says, the often disappointing performance of the governments in other African countries should not deflect one from supporting majority rule in South Africa, since South Africa is a fundamentally different country.
King Solomon’s Mines Revisited also examines the role of the West in the countries to the north of South Africa. It shows how the United States had a vital part in the events leading to the success of the Mobutu faction in the struggle for power in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo; and how it tried but failed to achieve similar outcomes in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and in Angola, where it has since joined South Africa in assisting the Angolan rebellious movement led by Jonas Savimbi.
Most of the things in Minter’s book have been said before; but nobody has previously pieced them all together in a single, sustained account of Western dealings with all of southern Africa over the last century and more. This is a formidable achievement. Much of what he says is true: but he does not give the whole truth. For example, he does not mention the fact that Afrikaner culture was shaped in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope. There the embryonic Afrikaner people became the dominant class in a highly stratified society; the subordinate classes were dark-skinned slaves imported by sea from tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Southeast Asia, and conquered indigenous people. Having taken the colony from the Dutch, the British government emancipated the slaves in the 1830s. Half a century later, the mineowners, with the active encouragement of the white population, extended to the mining industries the principle of racial stratification that was already deeply embedded in South African society.
Minter overestimates the responsibility of the British government for the creation of the color bars in the constitution of the Union of South Africa that came into force in 1910. True, it was the British Parliament that enacted the South Africa Act, as it had previously enacted constitutions for Canada and Australia. But Minter fails to point out that every member of the national convention that drafted the constitution was a white South African politician elected by white South African voters; and he is altogether wrong in saying that black political rights were not a significant point of contention in the convention. They were the subject of long debates and complex negotiations. The outcome was a compromise that preserved possibilities for a few black African and Coloured men to acquire the franchise in the Cape Province, until those possibilities were destroyed, one by one, by Afrikaner nationalist governments.
Minter also puts too much stress on the continuities in South Africa before and after the Afrikaner National party won the decisive general election in 1948. Previously, South Africa had been in step with opinion and practice in Europe and the United States. Racism was at the core of European imperialism and United States segregation, and was endorsed by many prominent Western scientists. Since 1948, there has been a parting of the ways between South Africa and the rest of the world. Racist theories have been generally discredited, the European empires have dissolved, and the civil rights movement has made gains in the United States; whereas racism is the bedrock of apartheid and South Africa has become an anachronism. The National party’s claim to be providing fulfillment for Africans in the ten eroded, overpopulated rural slums that it calls homelands goes far beyond the policies and achievements of its predecessors. Above all, though earlier governments were capable of brutality, the National party government has been acting with a systematic ferocity toward its opponents—children as well as adults—that was not previously dreamed of in South Africa.
To cap it all, the government has now gone to inordinate lengths to conceal its activities. Before 1948, the South African press was as free as in Britain or the United States. Now, having declared an indefinite state of national emergency on June 12, 1986, the government has given the police unlimited powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate people, and to curb political activity. General Johan Coetzee, the police commissioner, has decreed the tightest imaginable muzzle on all the media. Even before he promulgated extra controls in April 1987, the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, DC, concluded that “at the time the state of emergency was imposed there was no public emergency threatening the life of the nation of South Africa and, therefore, there was no justification for the imposition of press restrictions,” and that for these and other reasons “the press restrictions are unlawful.” In fact some of them have recently been declared unlawful by South African courts, but the government is ignoring those rulings pending the outcome of its appeal to the country’s highest court. Even if the lower courts’ rulings then stand, the government, with its long history of press censorship, will probably impose new restrictions either by parliamentary legislation or by executive order.
Minter’s book is a polemical case for the prosecution against Western governments and Western business. The case is indeed a strong one, for South Africa presents the ugliest face of capitalism. But Minter overestimates the political reach of Western business. His people tend to be stereotypes: bad capitalist, good socialists; bad whites, good blacks. A skillful prosecuting counsel, he has selected data that support his thesis, and ignored evidence that would provide a more accurate, though less simple, explanation of the entanglement between the West and South Africa as in his account of the making of the South African constitution. Moreover, Minter’s prescription—sanctions severe enough to drive the South African government to the bargaining table—is utopian in view of the reluctance of the Western industrial powers to take a united stand.
Anthony Sampson’s Black and Gold introduces more subtlety into the debates. Sampson is a British journalist who lived in Johannesburg in the 1950s, when he was editor of the black South African magazine Drum. Since then, he has become well-known as the author of numerous books on contemporary Britain and other subjects, as well as on South Africa.
Black and Gold covers much of the same ground as Minter’s book but, by concentrating on the period since 1948 and narrowing his focus to South Africa rather than attempting to encompass the entire southern African region, Sampson provides much more detail about recent events in South Africa and the linkage between business and apartheid. Also, Sampson is more interested in people. He has been in close touch with many of the major figures in South African affairs, from Nelson Mandela (whom he got to know well in the 1950s) to Harry Oppenheimer, and he conveys something of the confusion and indecision of American and European business executives as they deal with impassioned stockholders, as well as the anguish of black South Africans, outraged by successive rounds of government brutality.
Sampson rebuts the more extreme charges against big business, showing that mining, manufacturing, and retail capitalists have divergent interests, and that apartheid has imposed costs as well as benefits; for example, it has provided expensive sheltered employment for whites in the mining industry. But he does take seriously the argument that
business interests, including American and British, were far too easily seduced by the apartheid government into conniving with their system, much as Hitler manipulated German industrialists after 1933; and that businessmen never seriously tried to dissociate themselves from apartheid or to identify with black aspirations until violent opposition compelled them, too late.
Sampson also rebuts the doctrine that economic growth inexorably promoted the general welfare in South Africa. Providing moral justification for capitalist enterprise, this has been the basic philosophy of foreign as well as South African businessmen and politicians, who have found it comforting to equate economic growth with social justice. The Reagan administration believes in this philosophy. So have Americans and Europeans who are sympathetic to the African cause. Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, identified with black South Africans, but he read his American experience into the different circumstances of South Africa. “Like other black Americans,” says Sampson, “he could compare South Africa too readily to the South, and put too much faith in the ‘Oppenheimer thesis’—that prosperity would in itself undermine apartheid.” Similarly, the main point of the Sullivan principles, a code drawn up in 1977 for United States firms by the Reverend Leon Sullivan, a black clergyman and General Motors director, was to persuade corporate America to purge its South African businesses of their racist characteristics and make enlightened capitalism an agent for the deracialization of South Africa.
Sampson’s most striking conclusion is that during 1986 “the West had finally dissociated itself from Pretoria, and begun to change sides.” He describes how P.W. Botha, who became prime minister of South Africa in 1978 and president with enhanced powers under a new constitution in 1984, has tried to enlist the cooperation of South African business, singing the virtues of stability, free enterprise, and anticommunism.
Sampson goes on to summarize the subsequent cooling of the relationship. By the mid-1980s, the economy was stagnant and black people were taking the law into their own hands in Soweto and other segregated townships. In the United States, anti-apartheid activities had become a fashionable mode of expression of black, student, and civil rights idealism. In Britain, the government was confronted with demands for sanctions against South Africa from the other members of the Commonwealth. During 1985 and 1986 the tide of opinion was turning in both countries. In July 1985, Chase Manhattan announced that it would stop rolling over its loans to South African companies and would freeze all the unused lines of credit, and other banks followed suit. Soon afterward, American corporations began to withdraw from their South African operations. During 1986, leading politicians from six Commonwealth countries tried to persuade the South African government to take significant steps toward the dismantling of apartheid and entering into negotiations with the black opposition. In June they reported that Pretoria was
not yet prepared to negotiate fundamental change, nor to countenance the creation of genuine democratic structures, nor to face the prospect of the end of white domination and white power in the foreseeable future.
During that same month, Leon Sullivan declared that if apartheid was not completely dismantled by June 1987, he would recommend total economic sanctions against South Africa. Finally, in October 1986 the United States Senate overruled the presidential veto of legislation imposing sanctions against South Africa.
Sampson takes these events very seriously:
The agreement to impose sanctions, however divided and incomplete, represented a complete break with earlier policies over the last forty years of apartheid. It also marked a tragic admission: that investment and economic improvement would not in themselves lead to peaceful change and the achievement of black rights. It was the end of that long road of the love-affair between South Africa and Western capitalism, which had begun in earnest a century before with the discovery of gold in Johannesburg.
This conclusion is debatable. As Sampson realizes, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher speak for powerful forces in their countries when they continue to resist meaningful efforts to dislodge the white regime in South Africa. General Motors and IBM, and most of the other American corporations that have withdrawn from direct control of their South African subsidiaries, have merely sold out to local South African managers, who continue to sell their products.
Moreover, although South African capitalists have been putting distance between themselves and the government, as in the much publicized pilgrimage of six top businessmen, including Gavin Relly, chairman of the giant Anglo-American Corporation, to meet leaders of the African National Congress in Lusaka, none of them has endorsed the basic political demand of the ANC: one man, one vote in a unitary state. Indeed, most of them prefer Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, prime minister of the KwaZulu Homeland, who praises free enterprise and opposes sanctions. Buthelezi has built up a powerful lobby in the United States and Western Europe, and is the preferred fall-back option of white South Africans. In fact, he represents a profoundly divisive force among black South Africans. His support is largely confined to KwaZulu, where he heads a quasi-military ethnic movement called Inkatha and appeals to the military tradition of the nineteenth-century Zulu kingdom founded by Shaka. Still, we may expect that Buthelezi will increasingly be presented as the man who offers a federal solution congenial to foreign business.
Martin Murray, author of South Africa: Time of Agony, Time of Destiny, is a sociologist at the State University of New York in Binghamton. Readers need not be daunted by his passages of heavy jargon derived from academic social science and neo-Marxist ideology. 1 Most of the book is a lucid account of recent events in South Africa, down to the middle of 1986.
Murray provides details about the stagnation of the South African economy since 1982: the high inflation; the corporate bankruptcies; the decline in retail sales, in real wages, and in the gross domestic product; and, most revealing of all, the rise in unemployment rates, estimated, for example, to have reached 35 percent among the black labor force by mid-1985, and a catastrophic 56 percent in the vicinity of Port Elizabeth, where Ford, General Motors, and Volks-wagen were drastically reducing their production because of the collapse of the local market. Against that background, Murray describes the erosion of American and European business confidence in South Africa’s financial stability, and the responses of the South African government and American and European financial and industrial corporations, which are emphasized by Sampson.
What makes Murray’s work exceptional is his information about the black resistance. He has four strongly argued points. First, the resistance has deeply penetrated the African population:
The challenge to minority rule that swelled from below fluctuated wildly between politically self-conscious behavior undertaken under the auspices and direction of the popular organizations and the more or less spontaneous agitation that kept both employers and the white minority regime off balance…. Small groups of self-conscious activists experimented with new organizational forms, modifying their tactics to correspond to the particular situation they faced.
Second, Murray emphasizes the indigenous character of the resistance:
What is taking shape across the country, without any help from Moscow and very little from Lusaka, is a loosely organized, radical mass movement of youngsters who operate outside any law and without identifiable leaders. They see themselves as socialists and their enemy as white capitalism…. In some ways, the unrest has taken the ANC by surprise, and they are certainly not in control of it or in any position to be able to control it.
Third, Murray describes the dreadful consequences of poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities for economic advancement in the segregated African townships. “Youth gangs found a niche in this festering miasma…. In Mamelodi [near Pretoria], gangsters indulged in the fanciful charade that they were ‘comrades’ engaged in ‘the struggle’ but instead they terrorize residents in the name of the UDF.” In the eastern Cape, such gangs formed “clandestine people’s courts…to ‘punish’ those alleged to have hindered ‘the struggle,’ meting out primitive sentences on wrongdoers. For those condemned to death, a tire doused in petrol was draped as a ‘necklace’ around the head and shoulders of the accused and then set alight.”
Other gangsters became “vigilantes” serving the ends of the regime and beat up opponents of official administrators—the black community councillors—in the African townships:
In some instances, vigilante groups simply press-ganged politically unsophisticated unemployed youth to join their ranks. In many instances, community councillors enticed so-called “illegal residents” to take part in operations with the promise that their actions would be rewarded with official authorization to legally remain in the township.
Finally, Murray makes no bones about the will and the power of the South African government to suppress the present wave of overt resistance. Despite his conviction that “the white minority regime and its local surrogates had decisively lost its [sic] grip in quite unexpected places,” he recognizes that
without a real organizational network and a concrete perspective to sustain them, these localized groups tended to lose momentum, to wither, and to fall into a state of suspended hibernation.
Murray thus ends on a sobering note. Since his book went to press, moreover, the South African government seems to have succeeded in preventing the latest phase of resistance from escalating into sustained civil warfare. But the price of the government’s repression has been a further and perhaps irreversible weakening of the legitimacy of the state. Against the short-term gain of restored “law and order” must be set a distinct increase in the likelihood of eventual violent retribution.
In The Politics of Economic Power in Southern Africa, Ronald T. Libby, a political scientist who has taught at universities in Malawi, Zambia, and Botswana, concentrates on the relationships among the states in the southern African region. Libby says he is “challenging the conventional orthodoxy that South Africa dominates the economies of other states in the region without, however, experiencing corresponding influence [from them] upon its own economy.”
Libby examines the economic relations of each neighboring state with South Africa, to show that they have had negative as well as positive effects on the South African government, and positive as well as negative effects on the governments of its neighbors. In the South African case, says Libby, the government has
aligned itself politically with largescale regionally oriented commercial and manufacturing industry…in order to cope with external and internal threats to the state.
This has “contributed to the most serious challenge to the ruling National party in its history”—a challenge by right-wing parties which appeal to “white trade unions, middle-class whites, and lower and middle echelon state employees for electoral support to defeat the party’s alliance strategy” with transnational corporations. Libby then shows how the governments of South Africa’s neighbors have used their regional relationships to suit their domestic political needs, “manipulating their economic ties with states in the region to serve their own interests.’ These state by state studies, including political and class analyses, are the strongest part of the book—well-informed and interesting. For example, even in the case of Mozambique Libby demonstrates that South Africa’s capacity to dominate its neighbors is constrained by the fact that they provide the closest markets for South Africa’s industrial exports. However, some passages have been overtaken by events. His analysis of the political economy of Lesotho does not prepare the reader for the military coup that overthrew the government of Lesotho in 1986.
Unfortunately, Libby puts off the reader by repeatedly telling us how original a thinker he is. Scholars like to think that what they are writing is original; but it is unwise, as well as unseemly, to flaunt such claims without convincing evidence. Libby substantiates his criticism of his predecessors with nothing more than a listing of their names and the titles of their works in a footnote to his introduction. Moreover, after all his evidence is considered, the fact remains that South Africa’s economic power does give it an immense advantage in its dealings with its neighbors; and its neighbors are behaving rationally when, in the Southern African Development Coordination Conference, they seek to diminish their economic dependence on South Africa.
The South African regime is the last survivor of the age of white hegemony that peaked toward the end of the nineteenth century. In its fight for survival, the ruling oligarchy has fallen back upon the crudest expedients: suspending the law in the name of defending law and order, and defaming its opponents as communists and terrorists. As the long report in Time magazine of May 4, 1987 suggests, the government is losing the support of Afrikaner clergy and intellectuals—the very classes that previously provided ideological underpinnings for the racial order in South Africa.2 The situation is deeply unstable and it cannot last. One cannot say when, or how, or with what outcome a transformation will occur, any more than people predicted the future in prerevolutionary France, or Russia, or China, or Cuba, or Iran. Now that white South Africans have cast their votes once again on May 6, 1987, commentators are calculating the effects of the gains of the Conservative party of the right and the losses of the Progressive Federal party of the left; but the proceedings in the South African parliament may have become as irrelevant as those in the Duma of prerevolutionary Russia.
June 11, 1987
As when he tells us that “the organic crisis did not evolve in the form of straight linear development but was made up of many overlapping and intersecting structural contradictions that converged within a particular historical conjuncture of unspecified duration.” ↩
The Time article contains egregious historical errors. For example, writing about the Afrikaners who left the Cape Colony in their Great Trek in the 1830s, Time said that “it was only after they had established themselves that they clashed for the first time with fierce Bantu tribesmen moving southward in search of new lands.” In fact, Bantu-speaking farmers were not “moving southward in search of new lands” in the 1830s. They had been living in South Africa since the fourth century AD. Before Afrikaners could “establish themselves” in the eastern part of South Africa, they had to conquer the Zulu kingdom of KwaZulu and the Matabele kingdom in the Transvaal. In this passage, Time is (presumably unwittingly) disseminating official South African propaganda. ↩