Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela; drawing by David Levine


In South Africa today, President F.W. de Klerk has disavowed apartheid and claims to be seeking a democratic solution; and Nelson Mandela, the effective leader of the African National Congress, has now agreed to negotiate with him. Allister Sparks’s The Mind of South Africa is a splendid guide to the new situation in which both leaders find themselves. As a South African journalist and a former editor of Johannesburg’s morning newspaper, the Rand Daily Mail, which ceased publication in 1985, Sparks writes with close knowledge of the workings of apartheid. The first part of The Mind of South Africa deals with South African history down to 1948; the rest, more than half of the book, describes the apartheid era, about which he draws on his own experience. South Africa, he believes, is in transition to a better future, and later in this article, I shall discuss his conclusion in the light of my visit, during the last two weeks of March, to the southern Transvaal, Kwazulu, and Natal.

Sparks’s interesting account of the two forces that confront each other in South Africa today, Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism, follows the lines of interpretation of most liberal South African historians, although many passages in his book are impressionistic rather than grounded in specific evidence, and, in continually emphasizing the contemporary significance of the past, he takes liberties that professional historians are loath to do.

He begins his book with a well-informed and warmly sympathetic account of the precolonial culture of black South Africans in which he tries to rebut the stereotyped views that prevail among many whites:

From the beginning, whites saw only those surface manifestations of African culture and the African mind that conficted with their own concepts of approved social behaviour. What they failed to see, because they were not disposed to get close enough to do so, was the complexity and subtle texture of traditional African social organization, the restraints on the exercise of chiefly power, the elements of grass-roots democracy, the balance between communal, family, and individual rights, and the pervasive spirit of mutual obligation and respect, the spirit of ubuntu [humaneness].

This somewhat idyllic picture is offset by Sparks’s accounts of ethnic violence by African people such as the Zulus, during the nineteenth century.

Sparks shows how the Afrikaners, whose National Party has ruled South Africa since 1948, inherited the Protestant sense of racial superiority which prevailed in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. It was carried to South Africa by the settlers who came with the Dutch East India Company (its supply station was set up at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652). There, they became “a white tribe of Africa…but they continued to refuse any identification with those black tribes.” In South Africa, this sense of superiority

was reinforced when they found themselves among people they considered dark, sinister, heathen, shiftless, and unclean—thus conspicuously lacking in the outward signs of grace—and which was evoked easily and powerfully later on when the myth makers got to work. In this initial stage it was not nationalistic, but when it blossomed forth as such in another two centuries, the nationalism emerged in a particularly fervent form: the sacral nationalism of a chosen people in their promised land, imbued with a sense of divine mission and equipped with a utopian ideology for reordering society that amounted to a civil religion.

The history of the British who began to settle in South Africa in the early nineteenth century, following the British conquest of the Cape Colony from the Dutch was, according to Sparks, one of economic achievement and political failure:

In truth the British created modern South Africa. Whereas the Afrikaners left Europe behind them, the English brought it with them. They opened up the country economically where the Afrikaners had merely penetrated it physically, bringing with them the spirit of a new age. They turned a subsistence-farming economy into a Wirtschaftswunder, discovering the world’s most fabulous deposits of diamonds and gold and using these to launch the continent’s only fullblown industrial revolution and build its most powerful economy.

The British dominated the Afrikaners economically and defeated them militarily, but they lost out to them politically, and the English-speaking South Africans are now a curiously helpless and rather pathetic community who do not identify with either side in the conflict of nationalisms they helped to create and cannot define a role for themselves in between.

Sparks retells many of the well-known stories of the devastating warfare among Africans in the nineteenth century initiated by impis, the regiments of the Zulu ruler Shaka, and the “Great Trek” of the Afrikaners, who left the Cape Colony to escape British control, defeated the Zulus, and set up independent states in the eastern interior of South Africa. He follows the standard interpretation of the origins of Afrikaner nationalism, stressing the influence of a small group of Afrikaner intellectuals who lived in the wine-producing district forty miles from Cape Town. Responding to the British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 and writing in Afrikaans, which replaced Dutch as the vernacular of their people, they produced an Afrikaner nationalist version of South African history. The British victory over the Boer Republics in the war of 1899–1902 was, as Sparks says, an illusion.


Though the war had smashed the Afrikaner world, it had left its mind and will intact, indeed strengthened…. Out of the war came new heroes to worship, new martyrs to mourn, and new grievances to nurture.

However, Sparks goes too far when he adds, “The Boer people, man, woman and child, fought and suffered and died to preserve the independence of [the] republics.” In fact, few of the Afrikaners who lived in the Cape Colony assisted their republican kin, and some republican Afrikaners even fought on the British side.

Around the turn of the century, with the growth of the mining industries and the expansion of commercial farming, both whites and blacks moved to the towns. Sparks shows how Afrikaners were able to overcome poverty by gaining political power through the franchise. A year after Louis Botha’s South African Party won the first general election in the Union of South Africa in 1910, the parliament passed a law that gave whites a monopoly of skilled jobs in the huge gold-mining industry; and after J.B.M. Hertzog’s Afrikaner National Party won a general election in 1924, it established a “civilized labor” policy, which gave poor whites employment at uncompetitive wages. They thus directly benefited from the racial segregation and discrimination which denied black Africans the vote. Comparing the reactions of the two peoples, Sparks writes:

The black South Africans…have not responded by turning in upon themselves with the same aggrieved self-obsession as the Afrikaners. Their experience has produced a black nationalism, just as the Afrikaner sense of grievance produced Afrikaner nationalism. But it is not a narrow, narcissistic, exclusivist nationalism intent on preserving its own little volk and isolating itself in its self-centred anxiety from the rest of mankind. Black nationalism embraces mankind. It does not shrink from humanity, it wants to be part of humanity. “People are people through other people….” It is an open, inclusivist, integrationist nationalism. “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,” says the Freedom Charter adopted at an ANC-sponsored Congress of the People in 1955.

In this passage, Sparks sets out too sharp a contrast between exclusive Afrikaners and inclusive Africans. Some Afrikaners have always dissented from the narrow nationalist perspective, and many Africans do not act according to the fine ideals he evokes, as is shown, for example, by the violence that is currently tearing African society apart in Natal.

Sparks’s history of South Africa before 1948 ends with an account of the origins of apartheid, which was to become notorious as the policy of the National party after it came to power in the general election of 1948. He shows how the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa prepared the way for the new policy. Drawing on the ideas of conservative European Protestant theologians, notably the Dutchman Abraham Kuyper, it began to segregate its black from its white members in the nineteenth century. Sparks quotes a policy statement that the DRC adopted in 1935:

The traditional fear of the Afrikaner of gelykstelling [equality] between black and white has its origin in his antipathy to the idea of racial fusion. The church declares itself unequivocally opposed to this fusion and to all that would give rise to it, but, on the other hand [it does not begrudge] the Native and Coloured a social status, as honourable as he can reach. Every nation has the right to be itself and to endeavour to develop and elevate itself. While the church thus declares itself opposed to social equality in the sense of ignoring differences of race and culture between black and white in daily life, it favours the encouragement and development of social differentiation and intellectual or cultural segregation, to the advantage of both sections.

Sparks also calls attention to the contribution of Nazi ideology to apartheid, through the influence of Afrikaner intellectuals who had studied philosophy at German universities in the 1920s and 1930s. “Probably the most influential foursome in the development of the apartheid concept,” he writes, were Nico Diederichs, who was to become president of South Africa from 1975 to 1978, Piet Meyer, chairman of the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation from 1961 to 1979, Geoff Cronjé, professor of sociology at Pretoria University, and Hendrik Verwoerd, minister of native affairs between 1950 and 1958 and prime minister from 1958 to 1966.

It was Diederichs who first laid the philosophical basis for it, Cronjé who first conceptualized it, Meyer who was its key backroom strategist, and Verwoerd who finally implemented it in its most absolute form.

Though scholars will admire Sparks’s intellectual range and the vigor of his prose, many may have some disagreement with him. Sparks not only makes huge leaps from the past to the present, but he also tends to oversimplify complex matters. For example, to say that “Overnight…[the discovery of diamonds and gold] turned a pastoral country into an industrial one” is to distort a very complex process of partial industrialization. Similarly, he writes that “at a stroke” the Native Land Act of 1913 “put a stop to the tenant and sharecropping systems,” whereas those systems persisted in some regions for more than thirty years.


Sparks is also excessively inclined to believe that moral considerations have an effect on national policies. He writes, for example, that after the Second World War a “revolution in racial attitudes…caused the great imperial powers of the West to withdraw their hegemony over billions of coloured people around the globe.” It was not as simple as that. European governments withdrew from their colonies in the face of mounting resistance from indigenous peoples, including bitter warfare in Algeria, Indonesia, and Indochina. Sparks also overrates the influence of ideas over actions when he treats Geoff Cronjé’s 1945 book, ‘n Tuitste vir die Nageslag (A Home for Posterity), as though it were a blueprint for what actually happened in South Africa, whereas the National party government was largely responding to changing circumstances. At no time did it reduce white dependence on black labor, as Cronjé advocated. (Scholars will also regret Sparks’s unqualified reference to “the opaqueness of the academic historians,” since Sparks is himself no more lucid than many of them.)

In discussing the era of apartheid itself Sparks is at his best when he draws on his experiences as a political journalist. He witnessed the unfolding of Verwoerd’s fantasy, when the government was to herd nearly all Africans, except those whom whites needed as laborers, into scattered African reservations, which took up 13 percent of the country. These were to become the “homelands” for ten different African peoples. It was Verwoerd’s view that the tide of African influx into the cities would turn and the movement back to the homelands would begin in 1978.

Nothing of the sort occurred. The black population of the cities has increased continuously and the homelands have become, for the most part, unproductive, overpopulated rural slums. The failure of Verwoerd’s plans was not for want of trying. Every year, the government arrested more than 100,000 Africans under the pass laws—as many as 381,858 in the year 1975-1976. It has uprooted more than three and a half million Africans, Coloureds (people of mixed descent), and Indians from their homes and transplanted them to places remote from where they work.

Sparks has powerful observations to make about these events. In the early 1950s, one of the few urban centers where Africans had rights to own property was Sophiatown, west of Johannesburg. This, writes Sparks, was “South Africa’s closest approximation to a free black society, a vital, vibrant community, a living example of what a free South Africa might have been and may yet be.” In 1954,

bulldozers moved in and Sophia-town was flattened, and government trucks transported its sixty thousand inhabitants a sanitary distance out of town to a new “home” in a sprawling conglomerate of dormitory units known simply as the South Western Townships—later to go by the acronym Soweto. The rubble of Sophiatown was cleared and the area fumigated. A new suburb was laid out and white families moved in.

They named the place Triomf in celebration of the first big achievement in a process that continues to the present day.

Throughout the 1950s, the African National Congress (ANC), with its Indian, “Coloured,” and white allies, responded to apartheid with a series of peaceful protests. At one meeting in 1955 three thousand people gathered on a farm near Johannesburg and adopted a Freedom Charter before the police broke it up. That peaceful strategy came to an end after March 21, 1960, at Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg, when police opened fire from Saracen tanks on an unarmed crowd that was protesting the pass laws, and killed sixty-nine people. Sparks quotes the recollection of a survivor of this tragedy, a high school teacher named Zondo. “‘Brains,’ he murmured, shaking his head in a vague way that conveyed a sense of disbelief…. ‘I just saw brains. Skulls were bursting open in front of me.”‘

The Sharpeville killings greatly intensified the polarization of South Africa. After suppressing a widespread black reaction, including rioting in some of the townships, the government banned the ANC and its recent offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The PAC disapproved of the ANC’s policy of co-operating with sympathetic whites and called for a purely African movement, dedicated to the emancipation of the African population.

By 1964, both congresses had resorted to sabotage campaigns, but without much effect, and their leaders were either serving life sentences in jail on Robben Island or living in exile and trying to drum up foreign support. Discussing their decision to adopt violent methods, Sparks writes, “Passive resistance can work only if there is a certain sensitivity within the ruling community,” and that was lacking in South Africa. But, he also says, blacks have never seemed capable of mounting an effective guerrilla war in South Africa, and the decision to carry on a violent struggle has made it possible for the government to portray the ANC and the PAC as demons of subversion. He thus raises doubts about the wisdom of the policy of violent struggle.

During the 1960s, Parliament enacted a series of harsh repressive laws, empowering the government to ban organizations and prohibit public meetings, and giving the police vast powers to arrest people and hold them indefinitely in solitary confinement. Moreover, the police used advanced techniques of torture to extract information from people detained, several of whom died in police custody. Sparks gives searing accounts of these proceedings. “Torture,” he says, “has become routine, a standard tool employed in the name of state security.” The consequences are devastating. Young black South Africans lost any respect for the law; and whites were corrupted as their control came to rest more and more on the services of black informers, and on the detention, interrogation, and torture of political opponents.

As he traces the successive cycles of revolt, repression, and, in some cases, government concessions, Sparks pays particular attention to the events of 1976, when African children in Soweto protested against the use of Afrikaans in the schools, set fire to cars, and defied the police who were called in. By the end of 1977 a growing movement among young people was largely suppressed by arrests and bannings. Steve Biko, the young founder of the Black Consciousness movement, was killed while being held in detention.

There followed a number of reforms under P. W. Botha. His government legalized black trade unions, repealed the laws banning multiracial political parties and interracial sex and marriage, and even repealed the pass laws. Some hotels, trains, and buses were desegregated and a new constitution was introduced that maintained white political supremacy while providing separate, uniracial parliamentary bodies for Coloureds and for Asians—but not for Africans.

Botha’s reforms did not succeed in stilling the resistance. Beginning in 1984, a formidable series of protests by students and workers, including Coloureds and Asians as well as Africans, erupted throughout South Africa. The government responded to the large demonstrations with brutal force, and in 1986 it imposed a nationwide state of emergency, which remains in effect, notwithstanding the recent relaxation of some of the emergency measures.

Sparks spoke with Eric Thembani, a survivor of the events of March 21, 1985, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the shootings at Sharpeville, when police fired from an armored troop carrier and killed twenty members of an African funeral procession in Uitenhage, in the eastern Cape Province near Port Elizabeth. After he was hit on the head, Thembani recalls,

I hear more shots and then a [probably black] policeman’s voice saying in a mixture of Xhosa and Zulu that they should finish off the people lying there because they may bring claims later. I lie there very still, pretending to be dead…. I feel someone pricking my ribs with his finger. He grabs hold of me and feels for my pulse, then turns me face upwards and puts his hand on my neck. He opens one of my eyes and shines something like a torch in it, then the other eye. I hear him call out in Afrikaans: “This kaffir is long dead.”

In view of these events, Sparks raises “the possibility of a Khmer Rouge generation emerging, a generation of black youth so brutalized and desensitized by its violent encounter with white South Africa’s repressive forces that it would lose all sense of life’s value.” But apartheid has also produced heroes, like Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who had been the lover of Steve Biko. Sparks describes how, in 1977, Ramphele was banished from her home in Kingwilliamstown in the eastern Cape Province to a remote village in the northern Transvaal, where she knew nobody. There, after bearing their child, she created a medical clinic which now treats eighteen thousand patients a year.

Sparks traces the various factions in the black resistance to apartheid, showing not only how the ANC came to dominate the black Africanist ideology and movement, but also how each black generation has become more radical than its predecessor, and more prone to violence. Now, writes Sparks, South Africa is in transition. Black resistance has mounted. Africans are flocking to the towns in such numbers that they now form the majority of residents in Johannesburg. Rapid urbanization has been accompanied by upward mobility for a significant number of blacks, who are filling the vacancies in an economy that has outgrown the supply of white labor. For example, over five thousand Africans, Coloureds, and Indians are now employed in mines in jobs previously reserved for whites only. Change, Sparks predicts,

will be an internal, incremental process, with the white power establishment yielding ground reluctantly, inch by inch, trench by trench. There will be interim phases as the regime tries to establish new defensive positions with a new reform constitution. And even when it becomes clear that white control has to be forsaken, there will still be attempts to build in barricades for the future to protect the core interests of the white establishment after a new regime takes over…. By their nature political transitions of these sorts are turbulent, uncertain, and often violent processes…. The experiences of…other societies…suggest the general direction the South African transition may take, a route of negotiation and pact-forming nudged along by recurring confrontation and crisis.

Sparks says that we in foreign countries should try to strengthen the democratic opposition as well as make clear our opposition to the current white power structure. He claims that South Africa could transform itself into one of the world’s few truly nonracial societies, and become economically to Africa what Japan has been to the Pacific basin.


How well do Allister Sparks’s somewhat optimistic views hold up in the light of events since the elections last September, including the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and the Communist party, and the release from jail of leading political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela? During my recent visit to the Southern Transvaal, Natal, and the Kwazulu homeland, I talked with a large variety of South Africans, and I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that Sparks has underrated the obstacles to deep change in South Africa. In particular, I think that he has underestimated the long-range effects of forty years of apartheid.

Every day the visitor to South Africa is struck by seemingly dramatic new events; but no two people interpret them in the same way. It is extremely difficult to discern the strength and staying power of the forces that are tugging the country in different directions. The euphoria that accompanied the release of Nelson Mandela has given way to widespread confusion and much violence. Police and white thugs attack black people. Black factions fight one another, causing more than a few deaths.

Both F. W. De Klerk and Nelson Mandela have committed themselves to negotiating a new constitution. But while they agree in denouncing apartheid, there is a vast gulf between their published hopes for South Africa. Mandela’s ANC stands for a straightforward, nonracial, democratic political system, in which each person would have an equal say—“one person one vote in a unitary state.” It is also committed to an independent judiciary and a Bill of Rights.

The ANC’s plan would amount to a reversion to the British system of parliamentary government that existed in South Africa between 1910 and 1984, but the franchise would be extended to all adult citizens, regardless of race, and legal safeguards would be provided for the rights of individuals. If the plan were carried out, and if politics were to follow racial lines, the 28 million Africans, the 3 million coloureds, and the one million Indians would be able to dominate the 5 million whites, and they would be constrained only by whatever legal safeguards are in place.

De Klerk rejects that prospect. Majority rule, he insists, is “not suitable for a country like South Africa because it will lead to the domination and even the suppression of minorities.” Instead, De Klerk talks of power sharing. What he means by that is not yet clear. Perhaps he will propose that there should be a parliament composed of two or more chambers, of which one would be reserved for whites, that each chamber would have the same power, and that decisions would have to be reached by consensus among them. This plan would amount to an extension and modification of the existing constitution, which came into force in 1984 and provides separate legislative bodies for whites, coloureds, and Indians, but none for Africans. For political purposes, South Africans would still be divided into racial categories and the whites would still be able to block changes in the existing laws and frustrate efforts to remedy the currently skewed distribution of wealth and social services.

If the two sides are eventually to come to an agreement, it might have to include one or more departures from the ANC formula, such as federalism, or a second parliamentary chamber based on a criterion other than direct election in equal constituencies, or a complex voting system, such as the “alternative vote” which has been suggested by Professor Donald Horowitz of Duke University.

Meanwhile, although their stated plans are poles apart, both leaders face serious challenges within their own constituencies. In unbanning political organizations, releasing political prisoners, and relaxing the curbs on public meetings and the press, De Klerk has apparently made many whites fear for their lives as well as for their property. Years of official propaganda have painted the ANC, the PAC, and the South African Communist party as wholly evil, and the racist sentiments that prevail in conservative Afrikaner circles have become more virulent as a result of the recent changes. In Pietermaritzburg, a liberal white woman told me her Afrikaner brother-in-law confided to her and to other members of the family circle that he looked forward to AIDS hitting South Africa; it would kill off the Africans. De Klerk, moreover, must deal with a delicate situation in his cabinet, in which General Magnus Malan, the minister of defense, has been fighting for his political life ever since a government commission recently revealed that assassinations and other secret acts of violence were committed under his jurisdiction during the Botha years.

In every part of South Africa, moreover, thousands of white police and bureaucrats support the pro-apartheid Conservative party (CP, led by Andries Treurnicht, which broke away from the National party in 1977 and won 39 out of 166 seats in the 1989 general election. Organizations still further to the right have more than negligible backing. Such people are defying De Klerk’s appeals for cooperation. In rural districts, local police are still behaving with brutality and contempt for law, harassing blacks and obstructing attempts by white liberals to bring them to book. In the black townships, there have been renewed outbursts of police brutality. On March 26, in the poor black township of Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, police opened fire and killed at least ten Africans who were peacefully marching to protest high rents and poor living conditions.

Sometimes, white mobs go on a rampage. In Soweto on March 18 the senior nurse of the African section of Johannesburg General Hospital told me she had spent the previous night patching up the wounds of hundreds of Africans who had been attacked by white thugs after they left a Mandela rally the previous night.

Many young Afrikaners, particularly white university students and teachers, seem to accept that the days of apartheid are numbered. Professor Johann van der Westhuizen has founded the Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, which has been the home of many right-wing Afrikaner politicians, including Andries Treurnicht. At a faculty seminar at Pretoria University on March 19, I found the senior scholars I talked to receptive to my argument that Afrikaner historians had been remiss in neglecting the study of the history of the African population.

While De Klerk’s hold on white opinion and behavior is being challenged, Mandela’s hold on blacks seems to be extremely tenuous. Since he was released from jail, Mandela and his colleagues have been trying to build a broad coalition of Africans, Indians, Coloureds, and friendly whites; but he is encountering serious difficulties in a country where black youths have become brutalized and the educational system, which many blacks have boycotted, has collapsed. Moreover, his search for unity is impeded by the divisions that apartheid has created among whites, Coloureds, Indians, and ten different ethnic categories of Africans. Not only has the government treated Africans as belonging to ten different nations or potential nations, each with its homeland; it has also tried to drive wedges between an African middle class and other Africans, and between Africans working in the cities, Africans working on white farms, and Africans living in the homelands.

Mandela wants to build the ANC into an effective disciplined force, but it is composed of people who have had radically different experiences for many years—some as prisoners, others as exiles, still others as trade unionists and members of community organizations inside South Africa. Some of them are jockeying for power in what they now regard as potentially a ruling party. There are also complex ideological differences between relatively conservative black people, many of them middle-aged and Christian, and radical blacks, most of whom are young and secular, and many of whom have no respect for law.

Moreover, the ANC is being challenged by rival organizations, notably the PAC, which emphasizes Black Consciousness and rejects cooperation with whites, and the Zulu movement, Inkatha. During the years when both congresses were banned, the ANC created by far the most effective antiapartheid organization in exile and it is now dominating the news both inside South Africa and abroad. Nevertheless, the PAC presents a formidable potential threat. Rejecting Mandela’s efforts to persuade them to form an alliance with the ANC, and refusing to participate in negotiations with the South African government, the PAC leaders are already making substantial gains among frustrated young Africans, and they are confident that sooner or later they will win the support of the majority of the African population. They believe that the ANC will sacrifice African interests during negotiations, or that it will fail to satisfy African expectations if it gains control of the government.

The unpredictability of what will happen in South Africa has been underlined by events in Natal and Kwazulu, where Africans are mostly of Zulu origin. Natal is a special case. Only there do people of British origin outnumber Afrikaners; and only there do Indians outnumber whites. Moreover, since the death of Albert Luthuli, whose advocacy of passive resistance won him a Nobel prize in 1967, scarcely any Zulus have been prominent in the national ANC leadership, which is now dominated by people of Xhosa origin. That is not surprising. The Xhosa were the first Africans in the region to be conquered, evangelized, and incorporated in the capitalist economy, and they have had the longest experience of living in a society dominated by whites.

Two kinds of violence are now taking place in Natal. Along the coast, Africans are attacking Indians and their property. There is a long history of tension in Natal between Africans and Indians, who are better educated, control much of the trade, and hold a high proportion of the white-collar jobs both in government and in private business. Africans rioted against Indians in Durban in 1949, and now attacks are being made on Indians in towns and villages outside Durban. The violence has attracted very little attention from the press, but it is driving a wedge between the Indian population and the African resistance movement, and it is thwarting Mandela’s effort to include Indians in his grand coalition. Professor H. M. Coovadia, a distinguished pediatrician at Natal University and vice-president of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), told me that the alliance between the NIC and the ANC has become strained, and that he suspected that allies of the De Klerk government are provoking animosities between Indians and Africans, although he had no evidence for this.

Meanwhile the Africans in Natal are engaged in a virtual civil war. During the last three years, about 3,500 people have been killed and probably as many as 70,000 have been displaced from their homes. This violence derives in part from African poverty, and it is accentuated by the homelands system, which created the artificial entity of Kwazulu, which now consists of more than twenty fragments of land, interspersed among land owned by whites in Natal. Parts of Kwazulu abut on white cities and towns, including Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the chief minister of Kwazulu, was originally an ANC member and he has always opposed apartheid. He says he stands for a united, democratic South Africa and he has refused to allow Kwazulu to become “independent” from South Africa, as the homelands of Transkei, the Ciskei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda have done. But since the late 1970s the ANC and the organizations close to it—recently organized in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)—have denounced him for accepting office in the Kwazulu homeland and for opposing sanctions and the armed struggle.

Buthelezi is also president of the Inkatha, which has a monopoly of power in Kwazulu. Inkatha claims 1.6 million paid-up members, including a women’s brigade of more than 400,000 and a youth brigade numbering 600,000, which makes it the largest and most disciplined political force in South Africa. Broadly speaking, Inkatha appeals to rural Zulus, while the UDF and COSATU, whose appeal is national and not addressed to particular Zulu interests, have gained support in the Natal towns and have penetrated into many parts of Kwazulu.

The competition between the UDF and Inkatha has degenerated into widespread violence. Warlords lead gangs in a continuing cycle of revenge killings and criminals join in for the loot. In some districts, notably the valleys around Pietermaritzburg, virtually everyone is affected. An official at the Pietermaritzburg campus of Natal University told me that his gardener had had his head chopped off by his own son. He also said that an Inkatha impi (regiment) 12,000 strong was massing on the outskirts of the city. A UDF supporter had a similar story, but reduced the number of warriors to 4,000.

There is ample evidence that the South African police have favored Inkatha in this struggle, turning a blind eye to Inkatha crimes but prosecuting crimes by ANC surrogates. In some cases, it seems that the police have supplied Inkatha with ammunition. Consequently, the ANC did not object in early April when the government decided to send army troops to Natal, because they felt the army would be more evenhanded than the police.

To hear the Inkatha side of this tragedy I went to Ulundi, the Kwazulu capital, where on short notice Chief Buthelezi agreed to talk to me for an hour. A statue of Shaka (ca. 1786-1828), the founder of the Zulu kingdom who was responsible for the deaths of more Africans in South Africa than any other man, dominates the entrance to Buthelezi’s spacious office building. It is an idealized young Shaka in traditional military costume, complete with shield and spear. Shaka Day is a major holiday in Kwazulu. As for Buthelezi, he presented himself to me, with considerable charm, as a man of peace who had been wronged by the ANC and its surrogates. He told me that he is a practicing Anglican and has held numerous prayer meetings for peace. Inkatha and UDF representatives have signed a series of peace agreements, he said, but none of them has stuck. Buthelezi realizes that he is losing control of some of the Zulu towns, villages, and home-steads where the fighting is most serious. Nevertheless, he and Inkatha are still a major force in South Africa, and, from an African nationalist perspective, they have become a deeply divisive one.

During an ANC rally in Durban toward the end of March, Mandela came face to face with Natal warfare. Members of the audience booed when he appealed to them to stop fighting and throw their arms into the sea. Some of them showed their discontent by cutting the image of Mandela’s face out of their T-shirts. The incident was one of many showing the depth of the antagonisms between Africans in South Africa. They prevent Mandela from creating a truly national alliance of blacks and sympathetic whites in support of his strategy of negotiation; and they reinforce the racism of white South Africans.

Even so, Nelson Mandela is clearly central. A mythologized hero so long as he was in jail, since he was released he has handled himself with great dignity and, I believe, in nearly every respect with remarkable political wisdom. His survival seems crucial for the prospects of peaceful transformation in South Africa. I was therefore dismayed when his close friend, Dr. Nthato Motlana, who was the guardian of his children while he was in jail and who directs a large clinic in Soweto, expressed the fear that Mandela is being given so much to do that his health is in danger.

One wonders whether South Africa is now experiencing a period of confrontation and crisis as part of a transition from apartheid toward a better future, as Allister Sparks argues in the cautiously optimistic conclusion to his fascinating book. Or is South Africa inexorably set on a different and more catastrophic course? Is it possible that the country will disintegrate into a group of mutually hostile states? Or that forces within the police and army will install an authoritarian military regime? Or that the cycle of reform, resistance, and reaction will continue until, some day, radical forces that have yet to emerge will overthrow the regime? In the present state of confusion and conflict, none of these possibilities can be discounted.

This Issue

June 14, 1990