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International Socialism, September 1977


Notes of the Month

Southern Africa


From International Socialism (1st series), No.101, September 1977, pp.8-9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


‘My argument boils down to my conviction that the free market system can be the greatest force for constructive change now operating anywhere in the world. The most successful transformation of society can, come, not from some fiery Ideologue’s doctrine, or even from force of arms, but rather from advancing technology and organisation for the production of goods and services! (Johannesburg Financial Mail May 27 1977)

WITH these words, addressed to a group of Johannesburg businessman, Andrew Young, the US Ambassador to the UN, and a ‘Third World hero’ according to. Jimmy Carter, spelled out the thinking underlying the new policy of US imperialism in Southern Africa. Whereas previously the American ruling class had been quite happy to leave the defence of Western capitalist interests in the region to the apartheid regime in South Africa, now they have decided to intervene directly in order to force the pace of change throughout the region.

This change of policy reflects the seriousness of the threat to Western interests in Southern Africa: the tide of black resistance is no longer confined to the Portuguese colonies – they long since fell to the liberation movements. Today this tide encircles the white settlers in Zimbabwe and Namibia, and has shaken the cities of South Africa itself with the rebellion of black youth. The urgency of the situation for American capitalism is increased by the presence of Cuban troops in Angola and the growing links between the Soviet Union and the Frelimo regime in Mozambique. In order to secure its interests in Africa, US imperialism must be seen to be pressing for black majority rule in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

This means going further than the Kissinger policy of supporting black governments in Zimbabwe and Namibia and backing the status quo in South Africa itself. It means demanding that the South African ruling class make major concessions to the black middle class. When Vice-President Mondale met Vorster in Vienna last May he said:

‘Full participation by all the citizens of South Africa – equal participation in the election of its national government and in its political affairs – is essential to a healthy, stable and secure South Africa.’ (ibid.)

The divisions within the Vorster regime

SUCH a formula would ring the death-knell of apartheid, which is based on the principle of white supremacy in the central government while black tribal leaders are permitted autonomy in governing the rural slums known as the ‘Homelands’. The parliamentary caucus of the ruling white Nationalist Party approved on August 22 a new scheme which would give the minority Coloured (mixed-race) and Asian communities a say in the central government, while preserving white supremacy and denying any role to the Africans who make up the overwhelming majority of the black population.

Some among the white establishment would like to go further. Last year’s Soweto uprising and the continuing militancy of young blacks in the townships have forced a section of the Nationalist Party to reconsider whether or not political rights should be conceded to urban Africans at least. The call made by a group called the Soweto Committee of Ten, with the support of organisations like the militant Student Representative Council, for a democratically elected Soweto City Council with full powers of self-government has deeply divided the Nationalist Party. There are those like M.C. Botha, Minister of Bantu Administration, and Jimmy Kruger, Minister of Police, who remain committed to the traditional policy of denying blacks political rights outside the Homelands. But a number of younger Nationalists, like Botha’s Deputy, Willem Cruywagen, and the MP Louis Nel, have reacted more sympathetically to the Committee of Ten.

Big business, suffering from the effects of the world recession-South Africa will probably experience nil growth this year – and the outflow of foreign capital frightened off by the Soweto uprising and Angola, supports concessions to urban blacks. South African capitalists have been infuriated by Botha’s threat to prosecute companies which employ black managers in white areas. Many would agree with the Johannesburg Financial Mail, the South African equivalent of the Economist, when it said:

‘Only by dramatically stepping up the pace of change – from 5km/h to 100km/h – can we avoid letting the subcontinent slip into the grip of those who believe capitalism in Africa is finished and must be replaced by autocratic central planning. The time to act is now.’ (ibid.)

The other problem facing Vorster and his Cabinet is how far to collaborate with the Anglo-American initiative to settle the Zimbabwean crisis. The regime is both frightened and angry about the change in American policy, and the threats of economic sanctions if they do not co-operate – already the Chase Manhatten Bank, controlled by Rockerfeller interests closely aligned to the new administration in Washington, is not lending any more money to South Africa. Vorster in a recent speech bitterly attacked the effect of US foreign policy – it was ‘exactly the same as if subverted by the marxists’.

Andrew Young and the British Foreign Secretary, David Owen, found Vorster markedly uncooperative when they visited him at the end of August to discuss the Zimbabwean situation.

An ‘internal’ settlement?

IN Zimbabwe itself, a new alignment of forces is developing. The results of the August 31 general election will be announced after this journal goes to press. However, it seems likely that the predominantly white electorate will give Ian Smith his fourth successive mandate, in twelve years, freeing him to pursue his target of an ‘internal’ settlement with, as he puts it, ‘responsible blacks who are prepared to turn their backs on terrorism.’ (Johannesburg Star International Airmail Weekly, August 6 1977)

Smith knows that the settlers cannot survive the war against the forces of the nationalist Patriotic Front indefinitely. The economy has been shattered by the war in 1976 Gross National Product fell by 4 per cent. The main causes are the burden of defence spending, running at 400,000 rand a day and eating up scarce foreign exchange, and the shortage of white manpower. The pressure of the war means that many whites, who occupy most of the skilled and managerial positions in Rhodesian industry, are on permanent call up. Moreover, many whites are giving up and leaving the country. 7,072 more whites left Zimbabwe than entered it in 1976; up to May this year the net loss was 4,917. Meanwhile, the black population of 6 million, compared to 250,000 whites, is growing at a rate of 3.6 per cent a year (all figures from Star, August 13 1977). Time is running out and Smith knows it.

However. Smith has so far refused to accept the Anglo-American proposals for a settlement. These proposals, drawn up in consultation with the rulers of the black frontline states (Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique), have so far foundered on the issue of the transfer of power. The frontline governments want the forces of the Patriotic Front (or perhaps the nationalist army being trained under the control of the Tanzanian army at the minute) to replace the forces of the regime during the interim period before elections under a majority rule constitution take place. Smith has refused to concede on this issue: preserving settler control of the army and police is the best guarantee that whatever government finally emerges under a settlement will not encroach too deeply into white power and privileges.

However, Smith believes that a settlement of some sort is necessary to end the war. It is this that provoked a split in the ruling Rhodesian Front and the emergence of the new far-right Rhodesian Action Party. This group, formed by former RF MPs and party officials, stands for the implementation of ‘provincialisation’, a Rhodesian version of full apartheid, and the complete destruction of the black nationalists. It has some support in the army, especially among young white conscripts in units like the Rhodesia Light Infantry which have borne the brunt of much of the fighting. But Smith will probably pull a majority of the whites behind him in his drive for an ‘internal’ settlement.

What does Smith hope to achieve by such a settlement? Basically his aim is to split off a section of the African nationalists, those excluded from the Patriotic Front, and make a deal with them under which a predominantly black government will emerge, which would demand support and recognition from the West. Such a deal would find considerable support in British ruling-class circles. The Economist has for months been demanding that the more radical wing of the Patriotic Front, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), headed by Robert Mugabe, be excluded from any settlement. And the Sunday Times recently demanded that the government ‘forget the Front’. (August 14 1977)

Smith hopes that such an internal settlement would win the support of the African middle class in the cities and the countryside for a government that would respect the interests of the multinationals and the settlers in Zimbabwe. In a recent speech to 100 black farmers at Dombashawa, he said: ‘You are the vanguard of a great new African land-owning class in Rhodesia, and as such your rights must be respected.’ (Star, August 13 1977) In this way Smith hopes to preserve economic power in the hands of white capitalists. His ‘formula for white survival can be summed up in a simple phrase: give them [the blacks] parliament and keep the banks.’ (Sunday Times, August 28 1977)

Nationalists in disarray

SMITH’S plans have been assisted by the divisions in the nationalist camp. The two nationalist leaders excluded from the Patriotic Front and without a guerilla base, Bishop Muzorewa and Ndabaningi Sithole, recently returned to Zimbabwe to negotiate with Smith, after having spent the last two years touring the capitals of the world in order to proclaim the necessity of armed struggle against the regime. Now Muzorewa is prepared to sit down to talks with Smith without laying down one man one vote as a precondition for negotiations.

Sithole’s collapse is even more abject. The intellectual father of African Nationalism in Zimbabwe and the founder of ZANU, Sithole coined the guerillas’ slogan ‘We are our own liberators’. However, he has now renounced armed struggle as the road to liberation. Instead, he is trying to buy a house in the plush white suburb of Houghton Park in Salisbury. According to his daughter the deposit for the house was paid ‘out of party funds’ and the sale guaranteed by a ‘very large’ organisation which she refused to name. (Star, August 6 1977) (Unfortunately for Sithole, the government is evicting him because blacks are not permitted to live in white areas).

Although Sithole has far less popular support than Muzorewa, he has succeeded in weaning away a number of the latter’s leading supporters. According to the Guardian,

‘Sithole ... is a rich man with the power to dispense immense patronage ... Cars are not the least of the gifts that Mr Sithole has recently dispensed to African groups whose support for the bishop is wavering.’ (August 23 1977)

Where does Sithole’s money come from? Possibly from Lonrho, which funded Joshua Nkomo in the days when he was negotiating with Smith.

The Patriotic Front has its own problems. In theory the forces of its two component groups – ZANU, and the Zimbawe African People’s Union (ZAPU), headed by Joshua Nkomo – are meant to form one united army. However, the brunt of the fighting has been taken by the ZANU forces concentrated in Mozambique. ZAPU recruits are flown from Botswana and then transferred to an Aeroflot plane which takes them to Angola. There are reported to be 10,000 Zimbabweans under Cuban training in Angola. (Economist, August 6 1977) No doubt Nkomo sees himself following in the footsteps of Lieutenant-Colonel Haile Mengistu Mariam of Ethiopia (he has lately taken to wearing a Russian general’s uniform) as a recipient of Soviet and Cuban aid in the fight to rule and independent Zimbabwe.

ZANU have their own problems. One of them is that the Frelimo regime in Mozambique is under constant pressure to collaborate with the apartheid regime in South Africa. These theses agreed by the Frelimo congress in February, which declared Mozambique to be a People’s Democracy ruled by a vanguard party, also contain a reference to ‘taking advantage of our situation as a maritime country on a route essential to the world economy.’ (Frelimo’s Guidelines for a People’s Democracy, African Communist, No.69, Second Quarter 1977, p.120.)

In other words, Frelimo should continue to encourage South Africa to use the port of Maputo. It was reported last October that a Mozambican delegation was visiting Johannesburg to persuade South African businessmen to increase the volume of goods passing through Maputo. (Financial Mail, October 15 1976)

More recently the Financial Mail reported:

‘South Africa’s ties with Mozambique have strengthened markedly in recent months, leading to speculation that Maputo and Pretoria have reached some sort of political agreement.’

The Mail pointed to the revival of trade between South Africa and Mozambique, including the use of South African materials to rebuild bridges blown up by Rhodesian raiders, and the fact that part of the wages of Mozambicans working in the South African mines is still being paid in officially priced gold which Mozambique can then resell at a profit on the free market. The Mail speculated that

‘President Samora Machel has come to realise that South Africa can help him rebuild the Mozambique economy both by taking its exports (and thus providing foreign exchange) and by supplying essential goods.’ (August 5 1977)

The economic pressures on even radical black governments to collaborate with the apartheid regime in South Africa are very real. They continue to operate despite the setbacks suffered by Vorster’s détente policy and the Soweto uprising. They can only be eliminated by the destruction of South African capitalism by the black working class.

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