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International Socialism, June 1975


Member of IS South African Group

South Africa: Illusions and Confusions


From International Socialism, No.79, June 1975, pp.5-6.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A member of the IS South African group writes: Just over six months ago South African Prime Minister Vorster asked the world for six months in which to effect changes which would surprise their critics. This May the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, proclaimed that they were giving the Smith regime six months survival as they outlined new measures to intensify pressures on Rhodesia. And in six months’ time ...? Everybody is setting deadlines and timetables in the heated atmosphere of events in southern Africa which for more than a decade has had the appearance of monolithic changelessness. The dangers in the present flurry of activity are very grave and illusions and confusions abound.

The major change has of course been the ending of Portuguese colonialism in Angola and Mozambique. It was this factor which brought the two sides of white and black Africa together to map out a common programme. The name of the game is ‘détente‘ and like the US-USSR version it involves an accommodation of ruling classes, an attempt to buy off the forces of potential revolution and stabilise Africa for imperialism.

Détente was born out of long-standing contacts between South Africa and Zambia both at government level and through multi-national firms like Anglo-American (which epitomises the common economic links and the involvement of Zambia within economic sphere of South African capital). South Africa had for some time been cultivating a new ‘reasonable’ image for consumption abroad, and she gave assurances to her western allies after they had bailed her out of being expelled from the UN (through the use of a triple veto – US, Britain and France in the Security Council) that she would change some of the more embarrassing aspects of her internal policies and seek accommodation with her black neighbours. Détente achieved its major breakthrough with the Lusaka Conference in early December attended by representatives of the governments of Zambia, South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania, FRELIMO from Mozambique, the Rhodesian regime and the Zimbabwe liberation movements. An agreement was reached over Rhodesia for a ceasefire in the guerrilla struggle, the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of South African troops and talks to begin on a settlement. Though most of these terms were only marginally implemented, the OAU, previously the most prominent mouthpiece of anti-South African rhetoric, enthusiastically endorsed the moves in its January Conference and although still making militant noises, the April Conference of Ministers in Dar es Salaam underwrote the moves to détente with South Africa. As the Johannesburg Star put it in an editorial:

‘Setting aside the invective, the rhetoric, the blood and thunder of the OAU Foreign Ministers’ meeting, one fact of decisive importance for South Africa emerges: for the first time Black Africa has committed itself to dialogue with South Africa.’

The use of the term ‘dialogue’ is calculated, since this was the term used for the last bout of Africa-wooing that South Africa indulged in in the early ’70s and which was roundly condemned by the OAU militants.

The difference now is, on one level, that the negotiations are about changes, not within South Africa but within its two weak-points in the periphery, Rhodesia and Namibia (South West Africa). It is hoped that some form of black majority rule can be negotiated in these territories. This is all the rulers of black Africa are concerned about, to end colonialism and establish black governments; in other words the process through which they themselves emerged from western colonialism. Their independence has long since been well accommodated under imperialist domination and they are quite prepared to see Rhodesia and Namibia do likewise. The anti-imperialist rhetoric is just that. The economic realities of ‘independence’ in Africa, intensified now in the worldwide economic crisis, are forcing the African states into appeasement with the south and intensified repression at home. Nowhere is this more true than in Kaunda’s Zambia.

The black neo-colonial regimes want to stabilise southern Africa and bring about a negotiated settlement under their control. To this end they are ruthlessly smashing those elements in the liberation movements who are not bowing to the requirements of détente, in other words those forces which do not see a neo-colonial regime at the behest of South Africa as the ‘solution’ to Rhodesia. Thus many ZANU militants have been locked up to join those other freedom fighters who have previously fallen foul of the Zambian government, which must now number in the hundreds. The rest are being forced into a coalition under the ANC and its ‘moderate, reasonable’ leader, Bishop Muzorewa.

With the shifts and potential shifts in the balance of forces stemming from the end of Portuguese colonialism, the South Africans now clearly see their interests best served through an accommodation over Rhodesia and Namibia. In this their interests co-incide with those of black Africa. They desperately need to stabilise their periphery, which consists of the belt of Mozambique, Rhodesia, Zambia, Angola and Namibia. Economically they need it as a market for their exports of goods and capital and as the vital supplier of cheap labour for its mines, for its cheap raw materials, and strategically as a buffer against guerrilla attacks. By neutralising the black regimes South Africa hopes to retain its internal white supremacist policy and its domination of the subcontinent. It has no choice but to attempt to do this with Mozambique so it is going to try it with Rhodesia and in so doing win itself some bargaining leeway by significantly assisting the demands for majority rule there.

For South Africa détente is the fruition of plans which have been drawn up for several years for the creation of a southern African ‘Commonwealth’ with South Africa as the hub. The other key aspect of this policy is in gaining acceptance for its internal policy of ‘Separate Development’ in creating client mini-states of the Bantustans which will revolve around the white South African economy as suppliers of cheap labour and markets for its products in the same way as the rest of the periphery. This is the crux of the white supremacist system and if it can guarantee this, the South African government will make many apparent concessions and dismantle the bizarre and unnecessary aspects of racism and apartheid. Their present attitude has been summed up as:

‘Liberalise, make economic concessions and bend apartheid, but crack down hard on any signs of organised opposition; above all maintain or strengthen all aspects of security.’

The 50 per cent increase In defence spending, the black militant victims of the latest trial under the vicious Terrorism Act, the intensification of patrolling of the inhuman pass laws and mass removals are sufficient testimony to the iron fist of South African fascism.

Below the surface and often kept out of the media, there is the opposition of the black workers and peasants which poses a fundamental challenge to the interests of the local ruling class, be it the white racists in the south or the black neo-colonial regimes, and to imperialism for whom the region is vital as a supplier of raw materials and controller of strategic routes.

Détente is rapidly becoming the touchstone by which the opposing sides are distinguished in Africa. The comfortable days when everyone ‘of good will’ who thought racism was nasty could come together with pious words are over. Détente and collaboration with imperialism is now the battlefield over which the struggles of the future will be conducted.

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