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Alex Callinicos

Southern Africa:
The Great Carve-Up

(February 1976)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.86 (wrongly numbered No.85), February 1976, pp.20-26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the 1960s and early 1970s the lines were clearly drawn in Southern Africa. The Zambesi separating Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) from Zambia also separated white from black Africa. Implacable hostility divided the two Africas. The new black governments backed the liberation movements pledged to destroy the settler regimes in South Africa, Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonial empire; the whites retaliated in kind by organising subversion, sabotage and even bombing in exposed black states like Tanzania and Zambia.

Yet the circumstances have thrown the leaders of black and white Africa into each other’s arms. Symbolic of this change was the meeting at the Victoria Falls in August 1975 between Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and John Vorster of South Africa – the one the founder of Zambian humanism, and, with Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, the conscience of the African left, the other a former supporter of Hitler, the man who built up the police state that crushed all opposition to apartheid in the early 1960s.

The Times of Zambia commented:

‘A year ago a psychiatrist would have been recommended for you if you even thought about it, let alone talked about it.

‘But it happened – rather it’s happening – and the thousands of people who witnessed the historic occasion are as sober as a High Court judge’.

These old enemies are now united around a policy of ‘détente’ – that is, a gentlemen’s agreement under which the black governments will end the liberation wars if South Africa makes concessions to black interests within its sphere of influence, primarily in Rhodesia.

Détente has not, as its advocates claimed, brought peace to Southern Africa. In October 1975 a South African armoured column invaded Angola in support of the pro-Western FNLA/Unita alliance. By January 1976 South Africa was estimated by the Observer to

have between 4,000 and 6,000 troops in Angola. The invasion was carried out with the support, not only of the United States, but also of Kaunda and the Mobutu regime in Zaire, in the hopes of crushing the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

Regimes as bitterly opposed as Vorster’s and Kaunda’s once, have come together to impose their will on Southern Africa, by force of arms if need be. Why this change?

To answer this question we must look first to Rhodesia. At the end of the 1960s the Smith regime looked impregnable. The settlers’ rebellion had, thanks to South African support, survived the economic sanctions reluctantly imposed by Britain and the UN and defeated the guerilla offensive launched by Zimbabwean nationalists, primarily ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), with support from black Africa. But this situation did not last.

Smith and the Zimbabwe National Movement

In 1971 the regime signed an agreement on Rhodesia’s constitutional future with the Tory government in Britain. British policy, under both Labour and Conservative cabinets, had been to do nothing to disrupt the status quo in Southern Africa, since this might threaten the huge investments by British companies there, and to solve the Rhodesian ‘problem’ by extracting certain concessions towards black interests from the regime in exchange for legal recognition. The Smith-Home agreement was the culmination of this policy. It fell far short of majority rule – its only major concession was that a British royal commission headed by Lord Pearce would ‘consult African opinion’. The result was expected to be a rubber stamp.

In the event, the Pearce hearings sparked off a tremendous wave of mass hostility which shook the regime to its foundations. Demonstrations began with a miners’ strike at Shabani and spread to all major cities; they were only crushed at the cost of more than 40 lives. Britain was forced to scrap the agreement and drop all future negotiations until an Internal settlement’ took place – i.e. until Smith could make a deal with the new African National Council (ANC).

The nationalists in Zimbabwe were by 1971 split three ways. The oldest, ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo, had only dropped the strategy of relying on Britain to secure majority rule after the Tiger talks between Smith and Harold Wilson in 1966. The guerilla offensives mounted by ZAPU in alliance with the African National Congress of South Africa had, by 1970, manifestly failed. [1] ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) was formed in 1963 by ZAPU leaders like Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe who were impatient with Nkomo’s British-oriented strategy. Although it was the first movement to launch armed struggle against the regime (in 1964, before UDI) it had played little part in the battles of the late 1960s. Nkomo, Sithole and Mugabe were all under detention in Rhodesia, and the 1971 settlement took the nationalists by surprise – both parties were bitterly divided over whether or not to reunite and over guerilla strategy. Frolizi (Front for the liberation of Zimbabwe), formed as a result of the impatience of the black governments and some of the guerilla rank-and-file with sectarian squabbling, simply made the disunity worse by adding another party to join in the fray. International factors exacerbated the problem – ZAPU was backed by Russia, ZANU by China.

The ANC was formed ostensibly to provide a united front against the settlement and headed by a group of unknown and uncommitted parsons like Abel Muzorewa and Canaan Babana as well as ZAPU and ZANU leaders. In fact, Nkomo is said to have ordered its formation from detention at Gonakudzingwa. Certainly the local branches of ANC were controlled by ZAPU cadres and, according to Smith’s police, were used to recruit ZAPU guerillas. After the collapse of the Smith-Home deal, the ANC pursued an endless series of desultory and inconclusive negotiations with the regime.

Then in December 1972 ZANU opened a few front in the north-east of Rhodesia. The regime, taken by surprise, found itself fighting on a terrain far more favourable to the guerrillas than the Zambezi valley, the scene of the previous battlex, against an enemy enjoying plenty of support among the local peasants. Adopting by turn indiscriminate brutality, collective fines, forced removals of up to 100,000 peasants to ‘protected villages’ (like strategic hamlets in Vietnam), no-go areas (like free-fire zones ditto) and fences along the north-eastern border (they are now planning to install electronic alarms along the border), the regime found itself unable to break the ZANU guerrillas. [2]

The victories of Frelimo in Mozambique had already provided ZANU with the bases from which to launch their guerrilla campaign. By August 1974 it was clear that the new regime in Lisbon would hand over power to Frelimo. Smith’s vital eastern flank was turned – the military situation had become desperate for the regime.

But Smith could not move towards the nationalists of his own volition. The social base of the ruling Rhodesian Front (RF) is an alliance between the white farmers and petite bourgeoisie. These groups would suffer the most under black rule – no nationalist government could avoid handing over some at least of the white farms to the land-starved black peasantry or Africanising the public administration (one-third of the white population in Rhodesia work for the state). The initiative could only come from South Africa, Smith’s backer.

South Africa and the ‘Continential Market’

The decision on a policy of détente was a turning point for South African capitalism. South Africa is the only advanced industrial country in Africa, producing 22 per cent of the continent’s gross domestic product, and 40 per cent of her manufacturing output, and consuming 53 per cent of her energy. Her success arises from a number of factors – vast mineral wealth, her position as the largest Western gold producer, the low wages paid to black workers, the modern infra-structure built up by the state-capitalist policies of Afrikaner nationalist governments, massive investment by Western capital (nearly £1 billion between 1965 and 1970 alone) egged on by these attractions. The policy of successive nationalist governments since 1948 has been to prevent the transformation of South Africa into an industrial capitalist society from creating a powerful urban black proletariat, with the political and economic price that this would involve. The key to this policy has been the attempt to turn the black working class into an unskilled migrant labour force, cutting costs by forcing workers’ families to live off tribal agriculture in the rural ‘homelands’ and maintaining tight control over the movements of black workers in the towns.

The policy is rapidly becoming unworkable. The South African economy is a high-cost one. ‘Job reservation’ – keeping blacks out of skilled jobs -means an artificial shortage of skilled workers, raising white workers’ wages. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of skilled workers of 2 million by 1980. It can only be met by dropping job reservation. Productivity is very low in South African industry compared to Western Capitalist countries. Raising it means a better fed, housed, clothed and trained black work force. But raising productivity presents problems. It means financing large-scale investments at a time when a falling gold price will reduce the amount of capital available. And these investments would only be worthwhile if new markets can be found. The domestic South African market is quite small, given the low level of black wages. The white market for cars, for example, is considered to be saturated. [3] These markets can only be found in black Africa. As the Johannesburg Star commented recently on the idea of a Southern African common market:

‘With a huge market all over the subcontinent eagerly waiting to soak up South African exports of cars, mining machinery, textiles and a host of other manufactured and primary products, the conviction is dawning that a new golden era could be dawning ... for South Africa.

‘Boosted sales in South Africa’s "natural" markets would bring down unit costs of production and improve the viability of local industry.’ [4]

These markets were closed to South Africa by the confrontation with black Africa. They could only be opened by a political deal with the governments of black Africa. The price of such a deal would be, in the first instance, concessions over Rhodesia and Namibia. The Lusaka Manifesto, issued in 1969 by black leaders like Kaunda and Nyerere, had offered a peaceful negotiated settlement with South Africa and had drawn a distinction between South Africa as a sovereign independent state and colonial leftovers like Rhodesia and Namibia. South Africa had ignored the Manifesto at the time; perhaps now was the time to take up the offer.

‘The increase in South African defence spending in the 1975-76 budget is more than the total allocated to black education.’

South Africa’s internal political situation argued for a change in course. Low wages, the misery of the stagnating homelands, forced to feed the growing numbers of black workers’ dependents on land whose fertility was falling, rising prices, combined to fuel a growing rebellion among black workers. White South Africa had been shaken by the wave of strikes that swept through Natal in early 1973; they were followed by continual unrest among the most downtrodden and exploited section of the black working class, the mineworkers, unrest which has taken 140 lives in the last two years.

A framework had to be found to contain this unrest. It was found in an extension of the ‘separate development’ policy of giving political autonomy, and eventually independence, to the ‘homelands’. These statelets, neither territorially unified nor viable economic units, would be forced into dependence upon South Africa, like the notionally sovereign states of Lesotho and Botswana. The meaning of the policy is obvious – an attempt to fragment the black people of South Africa, and to split off a black middle class around the Bantustan leaderships identified with the preservation of the status quo.

This is the essence of so-called ‘internal’ or ‘domestic’ détente. Various forms of ‘petty’ apartheid, like discrimination in public places, are being phased out. Separate development is being accelerated – the Transkei will be the first Bantustan to become independent in 1976. The other concessions promised – like restoration of the right of blacks to own 30-year urban leaseholds – are also aimed at the black middle class. Some concessions are being made to workers’ interests – although black trade unions are still not recognised in law, legislation is being introduced to permit black workers to form ‘industrial committees’ to negotiate with employers on an industry-wide basis. However, this measure reflects pressure from employers concerned to avoid a repetition of the situation during the Natal strikes, where settlements were often impossible because the workers refused to appoint representatives for fear of victimisation.

A recent Financial Times survey admitted, ‘the overall effect (of domestic détenteAC) on the lives of Africans ... is practically nil’. A review of domestic détente by the Johannesburg Financial Mail makes grim reading. The increase in defence spending in the 1975-76 budget is more than the total allocated to black education. The daily prison population is 99,000 of whom one third are for offences against the pass laws, which control the movement of urban blacks. One in every four adult blacks is arrested each year for technical infringements of laws applicable to blacks only. [5] The recent large-scale detentions involving many black trade unionists reflect the regime’s continuing commitment to crushing all opposition to apartheid. Détente inside South Africa is taking place within the framework of separate development.

The main thrust of détente, then, is oriented beyond the borders of South Africa itself. Only by concessions to the black governments could the guerrilla struggles creeping ever closer to South Africa’s borders be ended, and the markets of black Africa opened to her goods. Vorster’s secret feelers found a receptive audience in black Africa – above all, in Lusaka. Zambia, once a showpiece of Third World economic nationalism, has been shaken by the steep fall in the world price of copper, her main export, by the international inflation, and by a succession of bad harvests that forced her, humiliatingly, to import grain from Rhodesia and South Africa. Incipient political and social unrest caused by the crisis and by the flagrant corruption of the Zambian bourgeoisie, the economic militancy of the copper mines, wearing tribal divisions; all these factors combined to create strong opposition to Kaunda’s standing policy of confrontation with South Africa among Zambia’s rulers. A document smuggled out of Zambia earlier this year put it this way:

‘They (i.e., the Zambian bourgeoisie – AC) believe that Zambia should trade with the cheapest source, i.e., South Africa, and that it is not in Zambia’s interest to interfere in the internal affairs of her neighbours. Thus they blame the present economic crisis in Zambia to (sic) Zambia’s involvement in the Southern African Liberation Struggle and believe that it is in Zambia’s interests to refuse any further aid to liberation movements, and to co-operate with the government of South Africa.’ [6]

This is exactly what has happened.

Other forces were also at work. The policy of the US government has been, since the inauguration of the Nixon administration in 1969, one of encouraging ‘dialogue’ between black and white Africa. Donald Easum, then Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and an ardent advocate of ‘dialogue’, met Nyerere on October 24 1974 when they were both in Lusaka for the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of Zambian independence, at a time when the secret negotiations between Vorster and Kaunda were well under way. Henry Kissinger recently commented:

‘We are pleased to see the constructive measures taken by African governments to bring about better relations and peaceful change (in Southern Africa – AC).’ [7]

Vorster and Kaunda

The result was the Lusaka agreement of December 1974. ZANU, ZAPU and Frolizi were drilled by Kaunda and the other black leaders into the ANC under Muzorewa’s presidency. The ANC was to end the war and negotiate with Smith, who in his turn would release all nationalist detainees and respect a ceasefire.

Smith had only signed the agreement under immense pressure from Vorster. His security forces exploited the ceasefire in an attempt to persuade all guerrillas to disarm. The result was the collapse of the ceasefire. The war continues as bitterly today as it ever did. There are now more nationalists under detention than before the Lusaka agreement – 664 as opposed to 430 – and more than twice as many as there were in January 1975 (330), when the ceasefire broke down. [8]

The new ANC united front ran aground on the old divisions. ZANU disliked losing the advantage they had won over ZAPU by initiating the campaign in the north-east, and hence were unhappy about détente from the start. They succeeded in preventing ANC from agreeing on a negotiating position. When Smith had Sithole gaoled in order (he said) to break the logjam this caused (as he had hoped) a break-off of negotiations by the ANC.

The negotiations were only kept on the rails by South Africa and Zambia. Vorster made Smith release Sithole. When the chairman of ZANU, Herbert Chitepo, was killed by a car bomb outside his Lusaka home in March, Kaunda claimed that he had been murdered by ZANU opponents of détente, had the ZANU camps in Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique seized by the armies of these countries and arrested large numbers of ZANU members. Chitepo’s death is surrounded by mystery.

The document previously quoted paints a very different picture from Kaunda’s. It claims that Chitepo’s death was the result of a failed coup by pro-détente forces within ZANU, stage managed by Sanyanga, Lusaka District Chairman of ZANU and an employee of Lonrho, which has been very active in backing détente. According to the document, South Africa and Zambia then decided to have Chitepo killed in order to blame his death upon the ZANU left, who come from a different tribe from Chitepo and thus could be accused of tribalism.

‘Thus the aim behind the murder of Chitepo was to arouse as much tribal antagonism as possible, as well as to provide an excuse for arresting all ZANU leaders.’ [9]

It is alleged that Mark Chona, Kaunda’s right-hand man isimplementing détente, received a special South African emissary shortly before his death and that the evening before his death, there had been a violent argument during a meeting between Kaunda and ANC leaders at which Chitepo had refused to hand the ZANU guerrillas over to a joint ANC command.

‘The daily prison population is 99,000 of whom one third are for offences against the pass laws which control the movement of urban blacks.’

There is no way of judging the truth of these claims. It would not be the first time that Kaunda had collaborated with the white regimes to crush militant nationalist dissidents. In 1971 he deported to Rhodesia, 129 ZAPU guerrillas opposed to the vacillations of their leadership to face death sentences or long gaol terms at Smith’s hands. Certainly, it was the advocates of détente who profited from Chitepo’s assassination.

Finally in August 1975 the two sides, dragooned by their respective backers, met at the Victoria Falls. Despite the presence of Kaunda and Vorster, the talks failed within hours when Smith refused to have Sithole and other ‘convicted criminals’ return to the country.

The ANC meanwhile had split deeply, and, as it turned out, irrevocably, between Nkomo, who favoured continued negotiations, and a disparate alliance between ZANU and the former ANC leadership headed by Muzorewa. The split initially involved fears that Nkomo would exploit ZAPU’s control of the ANC apparatus within Rhodesia to call a congress and install himself as president. Another secret document claims to record a meeting between Smith and Nkomo, as well as other RF and ZAPU leaders, at which they agreed that Smith would back Nkomo’s bid for leadership of the ANC in exchange for an end to the war and the formation of a multiracial capitalist government in which PCC (a ZAPU front organisation – People’s Caretaker Council – AC) and RF would participate.’ [10]

The split finally took place after the failure of the Victoria Falls conference. Muzorewa and Sithole formed from exile in Lusaka, the Zimbabwe Liberation Council pledged to an intensification of the chimurenga (war of liberation) and opposed to any further negotiations. Nkomo retaliated by calling a congress in Salisbury in September which elected him president of the ANC. But the Muzorewa-Sithole group clearly has considerable mass support within Zimbabwe – a rally called by their supporters in Salisbury in October was attended by 40,000 people.

There are different interpretations of the significance of the ANC split. For example, the Johannesburg Star, reflecting South African big business circles, argued that the split came very conveniently, leaving all the militants outside the country, but most of the executive inside, including Mr Nkomo ...

‘Now comes the next movement. This is for Mr Nkomo to stump the country, following his recent election as ANC president, to boost his already considerable popularity with his powerful charisma.

‘If he can do this to the full satisfaction of Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania, it will enable those countries to recognise his leadership without the embarrassment of being accused by the OAU (Organisation of African Unity – AC) of selling out.

‘One suggestion is that the militants might be sent to Mozambique, ostensibly to continue guerrilla attacks in Rhodesia in defiance of Mr Nkomo’s ANC with the sympathy of the Mozambique Government.

‘But effectively, they would be open prisoners in Mozambique, subject to control by Frelimo, which has already disarmed some ZANU groups and is believed to be holding back fresh arms deliveries from Russia and China.’ [11]

On the other hand, the Africa correspondent of the Financial Times, Bridget Bloom, who enjoys excellent contacts in black Africa, recently reported that the leaders of Tanzania and Mozambique had decided to replace the two wings of ANC With a new leadership that could win the confidence of the guerrilla rank-and-file, and mount another campaign that would force Smith to make real concessions at the negotiating table. [12]

Some things are known for certain. Nkomo is actively courting the Rhodesian whites. His interest is to some extent reciprocated. The Star commented: ‘Rhodesian whites suddenly see "good old Josh", as they affectionately call him now, as a sort of Great Black Hope for their future security of tenure in Rhodesia.’ [13] Nkomo is also reported to have appointed a team ‘charged with meeting white professional and business men in commerce and industry.’ [14] It is also known that the regime’s offensive against the freedom fighters of ZANU (launched in July) has been their most successful since the opening of the north-east front. One major contributing factor is the fact that Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique have drastically cut supplies of arms to the guerrillas.

In December 1975 Smith and Nkomo signed an agreement to start talks on a settlement. Smith conceded to Nkomo what he had refused the united ANC – the right of exiles wanted by his security forces to take part in the talks. Nkomo’s advisers at the December meeting included Mark Chona’s deputy, Peter Kasanda, the Zambian deputy Chief Justice, Leo Baron, and a lawyer who often works for Lonrho, the multinational that has been fantastically successful in penetrating black Africa’s economies, R.A.K. Wright. But Smith declared that Nkomo’s demand for immediate majority rule was ‘completely unacceptable’ and seems intent on spinning out the talks as long as possible.

The success of détente in Zimbabwe will depend in part upon developments in the white camp. Smith has so far performed an extremely clever balancing act, caught as he is between the pressures to settle with the ANC from South Africa and the resistance to any deal on the part of the Rhodesian Front. The recent RF congress was persuaded to ‘leave it to Smithy’ and anti-détente resolutions were therefore withdrawn. However, Smith cannot keep up his performance indefinitely. The recent row between Smith and Vorster over Smith’s claim that Vorster was responsible for the failure of the Victoria Falls conference is indicative of the growing rift. South Africa at the beginning of August 1975 withdrew the troops she had been maintaining in Rhodesia, partly in response to a secret deal with the black governments, one of whose results has been the defeats inflicted upon ZANU in the recent fighting, partly as a way of putting pressure on Smith. The result has been to make Rhodesia’s already acute white manpower crisis even worse – the regime has recently tightened up the already stringent conscription rules, which can only make the economic disruption caused by the absence of skilled personnel on military service even worse.

The emergence of a pro-détente faction aligned with South Africa within the Rhodesian Front seems a distinct possibility. There are already signs of such a development. In June, a number of younger Rhodesian Front MPs, headed by Wickus de Kock, then Minister of Information, visited Zambia on the invitation of Mark Chona. [15] There has been a meeting between Kaunda and leaders of the Rhodesian National Farmers Union. [16] The RNFU have always been among the staunchest of Smith’s supporters. They must have taken comfort from the fact that 80 per cent of Zambia’s agricultural output is produced by 500 white farmers. The resignation of Wickus de Kock from Smith’s Cabinet at the end of October 1975 reflects his support for close links with South Africa.

‘In order to put pressure on Russia and Cuba to withdraw, Vorster may remove some troops from Angola, while stepping up the supply of money, arms and mercenaries to FNLA and UNITA. In this he can expect to have the backing of Kissinger and the CIA.’

South Africa’s invasion of Angola is seen by Vorster as part of the strategy of détente. The thinking behind the invasion seems to have been the fear that an MPLA victory would both compromise the military situation in Namibia, where South Africa is under increasing pressure from SWAPO, and strengthen the opponents of détente throughout Southern Africa. Moreover, both, Zambia, lynchpin of détente, and Zaire, with whom South Africa has growing economic links, are heavily dependent on the Benguela railway.

At first the South Africans were fairly confident that the invasion could only help détente. The Star commented:

‘Our involvement (in Angola – AC) will be utterly defensible in the Western world. We will be fighting alongside Africa, for Africa. We will be paying in blood our membership dues to join the community of African nations.

‘In this sense, there is no validity in some overseas comment that our role in Angola, present or future, will prejudice détente. If anything it should strengthen the new and still fragile links that hold the détente policy together.’ [17]

These hopes were not fulfilled. When the blitzkrieg against Luanda failed thanks to popular support for MPLA and Russian and Cuban aid, the South Africans were faced with the prospect of a long war. They strengthened their forces in Angola: the 2,000-3,000 troops committed in October/November were joined by a further 2,000-3,000 mechanised cavalry early in December. Two wings of South African fighter bombers began to operate from Southern Zaire. [18] The length of service for national servicemen in the ‘operational area’ (Namibia and Angola’ was extended from three to twelve weeks. As the military burden has grown, so has the backlash against South Africa in black Africa. Most significantly, the conservative military regime in Nigeria, moved mainly by fears of the strategic and political threat represented by South Africa establishing herself as the dominant power in Angola, decided to back MPLA.

The pressures on South Africa to withdraw from Angola are growing. They come partly from those Western interests worried about the effect of the invasion on black Africa (particularly since Nigerian oil was vital for the West during the Arab boycott in 1973), and partly from sections within the South African white establishment who are afraid that détente may be damaged by the Angolan war. But Vorster cannot afford to allow Angola to fall under MPLA’s control – a MPLA victory over South Africa would have catastrophic effects on détente. In order to placate international opinion and put pressure on Russia and Cuba to withdraw, he may remove some of his troops from Angola, while stepping up the supply of money, arms and mercenaries to FNLA and UNITA. In this he can expect to have the backing of Kissinger and the CIA. US cargo planes are reported to have been dropping supplies to the South African troops. [19]

The crisis of bourgeois nationalism

Whatever the outcome, détente has redivided the political map of Africa. It represents the political collapse of the black national bourgeoisie in Africa. The advocates of détente within black Africa, men like Kaunda and Nyerere, are not corrupt allies of imperialism like Banda of Malawi or Chief Jonathan of Lesotho- Their regimes represented the best in African nationalism, an attempt to build regimes uncompromised by involvement with Western capital or the white regimes. Their strategy was to achieve economic independence by building strong state-controlled sectors and to support the Southern African liberation movements. Détente is the admission that this strategy has failed – that the black bourgeoisie can only survive in political and economic alliance with the apartheid regime.

The most obvious case of this failure is Zambia. In July 1975 Kaunda took what seemed a step to the left when he announced measures against property speculators and nationalised two daily newspapers. But these measures are only the latest example of an old Kaunda ploy of announcing apparently radical economic measures (like the takeover of the copper companies in 1969) in order to stave off political unrest. They were welcomed by Lonrho, who owned the papers.

The situation of the Zambian economy is desperate. Copper has become almost uneconomic to produce, having fallen from 1,953 kwacha a tonne in April 1974 to a 1975 average of 800 kwacha (£1= 1.33 kwacha – break-even point is between 780 and 830 kwacha a tonne). The traditional agricultural sector has stagnated since independence: production of Zambia’s main agricultural export, tobacco, has fallen since 1964; maize production is controlled by a few hundred expatriate farmers. Much of Zambia’s food has to be exported from abroad. Inflation has meant that fertiliser bills are up 333 per cent since 1972, wheat over 200 per cent, oil 400 per cent. Zambia’s once swollen foreign reserves were down to 40 million kwacha in August 1975.

Kaunda is desperately trying to stave off the social and political unrest the crisis has caused. 60 million kwacha are spent a year to keep down the prices of basic necessities as a way of ‘buying peace with the unions’, as one minister put it. In an attempt to deal with the problems of stagnating agricultural production, and the potentially explosive situation in the towns, clogged with unemployed school-leavers and peasants who leave the land to look unsuccessfully for urban jobs, Kaunda is organising rural labour armies. Military recruits, under strict army discipline and paid subsistence wages, will be trained and work for three years for the rural reconstruction programme, and then organised under state control into cooperatives that will be required to meet very high production targets. School leavers will be required to work for 20 months in rural reconstruction camps. A compulsory savings scheme by workers has been reproduced.

Closely connected to this attempt to raise production through a massive forced labour scheme is Kaunda’s support for détente. Landlocked, Zambia has been dependent on her neighbours for access to the sea for her exports.

A Rhodesian settlement would re-open the route to Mozambique’s ports via Rhodesia closed since early 1973. Zambia was very badly hit by the Angolan civil war, which cut her off from the ports of Benguela and Lobito, which used to take 50 per cent of her copper exports. This may help to explain why Kaunda no longer permits MPLA to operate from Zambia and is instead backing UNITA. The Star suggested recently that ‘Unita tactics are to seize control of the line from the Zaire border to Lobito harbour and to reopen the line for Zambian imports and exports.’ [20] The Tanzara rail link with Tanzania, completed in October 1975, will not be able to take heavy traffic for another nine months at least, and in any case Tanzania’s main port, Dar-es-Salaam, is heavily congested.

Even more striking is the role played by Mozambique. The former Portuguese colony became independent in July 1975, after nearly nine months of a Frelimo provisional government. Before coming to power Frelimo had ah international reputation as one, of the most militant of the liberation movements. Its attempt to provide health and education services to the poverty-stricken illiterate peasants of the areas it liberated, was famous.

‘In the Central African Republic, South African firms are working on hotel and low-cost housing projects. The list could be extended indefinitely, and it is growing.’

Yet there was no radical change following the independence celebrations. The railway line between Umtali in Rhodesia and the port of Beira in Mozambique, one of the Smith regime’s most vital lifelines, remained open. The African National Congress of South Africa was permitted to open offices in Mozambique, but not to infiltrate guerrillas into South Africa. Robert Mugabe, one of the ZANU leaders was kept in ‘protective custody’ by Frelimo.

No sudden rupture between Mozambique and South Africa is expected. Indeed the Star commented:

‘Like it or not, South Africa and Mozambique are forced to live together – a right-wing capitalist state and a left-wing socialist one in the same Southern African harness.’ [21]

(South Africa is taking no chances, though – a 400 kilometre fence is being built from the Crocodile river to the Limpopo river between the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Mozambique and will be ready by April 1976. The Government claims that it will serve as an ‘elephant deterrent’, but the coincidence between the date that the fence was started – November 1974 – and the formation of a Frelimo government is a bit too good to be true [22]).

South Africa has good reasons for keeping on good terms with Frelimo. The congestion of her own ports means that she cannot afford to do without the harbour facilities of Cam Phumo (formerly Lourenço Marques, built by British and South African capital to service the mines of the Witwatersrand). Moveover, the flow of black labour to the South African gold mines has been reduced by the intervention of the governments of Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi. The mine owners have had to raise wages in order to attract South African workers from better paid manufacturing jobs and do not want to lose the 100,000 Mozambicans who work in the mines. Finally, Vorster does not want to fight a guerrilla war on his eastern border.

Economic necessity helps to explain Frelimo’s attitude. Under Portuguese rule Mozambique became little more than an appendage to the South African economy, penetrated by South African and Western capital and shaped to fit South Africa’s needs (an example is the huge Cabora Bassa project, most of whose power will go to South Africa). The South African mines pay part of their Mozambican workers’ wages in deferred payments to Mozambique – in gold – bringing in R200 million per annum in desperately needed foreign exchange. Falling agricultural output since April 1974 can only increase Mozambique’s dependence on South Africa.

Frelimo’s economic dependence On South Africa has let to it going out of its way to placate foreign capital. To quote the Star again:

‘Efficient farmers and industralists here – including South Africans, Rhodesians and other foreigners – have been quietly urged by Frelimo to stay and work on, with profit taking assured.

‘Frelimo has given valuable assistance in solving labour and other problems since the post-coup turbulence began.’ [23]

The Star quoted the example of one Mozambique firm, employing 1,000 workers. After the April coup a wave of strikes broke out. In this firm the workers demanded and won a 100 per cent wage increase. When on 7 September 1974 white settlers attempted to prevent a black takeover in Mozambique, a workers’ commission was formed in the factory on Frelimo instructions. The commission demanded a further increase and transport to and from work. Productivity and ‘labour discipline’ deteriorated sharply. Finally two Frelimo political commissars turned up, lectured the workers on the need to work harder and reimposed discipline. The placated employer commented:

‘I am convinced that there is a future for us in Mozambique – it’s just a matter of adjustment.’ [24]

The farms owned by settlers and foreign companies will only be nationalised where land is not being used. Otherwise white farmers will be encouraged to stay on. Pretoria has reciprocated in kind. The general manager of South African railways appealed to businessmen to use Cam Phumo. The South African visa, customs and railway offices and South African Airways (with a large Frelimo flag in the window!) were still open in Cam Phumo after independence.

Falling agricultural production forced Frelimo to import 100,000 tons of wheat from Rumania and created shortages and food queues in the cities. Industry is operating way below capacity, and the ports are only working smoothly thanks to massive South African aid. An army swollen by the needs of war and of maintaining order during the Portuguese withdrawal filled the streets with idle soldiers whom the government dared not mobilise because there were no jobs for them to go into.

The army and police went unpaid until the economy could be placed on a sound basis. As a result drunkenness, corruption and brutality were rife among the troops. These tensions led to bloodshed in December 1975, when 400 Frelimo troops mutinied while boarding a troopship bound for Angola where they were to fight on MPLA’s side. The rebellion spread to sections of the police and to the northern Macue and Makonde tribes, traditionally hostile to Frelimo. Although loyal troops put down the risings, Mozambique faces a grim future.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s economic links with the rest of Africa are spreading. The Financial Mail boasted:

‘There’s hardly a country on the Dark Continent (sic) whose traders are not doing good business with South Africa – though admittedly some more furtively than others – and almost all with at least the tacit approval of local rulers.’ (28 November 1975)

Thus, both Zambia and Zaire, badly hit by the falling copper prices, are receiving South African government credit via instructions from Pretoria to South African firms trading with these countries not to press too hard their demands for payment for orders delivered. In the Central African Republic, South African firms are working on hotel and low-cost housing projects. The list could be extended indefinitely, and it is growing.

The decay of Third Worldism’

What we are witnessing is the disintegration of an ideology that seized the imagination of many people in the oppressed colonial world, along with their sympathisers in the imperialist countries. This ideology based itself on the notion that the main conflict in the world was one between oppressed and oppressor nations. What was necessary to end imperialism was for the oppressed nations to win political’ independence and then develop strong national economies independent of the imperialist countries. This ideology corresponded to the interests of certain classes in the colonial countries – a national bourgeoisie too weak to compete with imperialism without the control and intervention of the state and an urban petit bourgeoisie subsisting largely thanks to employment by the state. To both these classes the notion of state capitalism – of the direction and development of the economy under the auspices of a state they controlled – would provide a framework within which both national income and jobs for them and their children would grow.

‘Only the working class can give a lead to the urban unemployed and the rural masses, uniting them in opposition to détente, to the settler regimes and to the nationalist collaborators like Kaunda and Nkomo.’

What the African bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie, in common with those of Asia and Latin America, did not see was that the cards of the game were stacked against them. They were living in a world in which the relations of production were increasingly becoming internationalised and in which the scale of production was ever growing – hence the emergence of the multinationals. The entry price onto the capitalist world economy was going up all the time. [25] In any case, for them to ‘develop’ their miserably backward and lopsided economies (an inheritance of colonialism) they needed capital and technical assistance that only the imperialist countries could provide and in the meantime their prosperity depended on the price they could get for their primary products, a price that itself depended on the movements of the world economy. The slump, and consequent fall in the copper price, means a collapse of all the hopes once placed on Kaunda’s Zambia. If five years ago state capitalism in Zambia meant economic growth internally and confrontation with apartheid externally, today it means an alliance with apartheid abroad, and at home an increasingly bitter struggle as the classes turn upon each other in an atmosphere of economic crisis, with the bourgeoisie attempting to enforce upon workers and peasants alike discipline, self-restraint and hard work to increase the surplus extracted from them.

The divide in Southern Africa today is along class lines. Even-among South African blacks détente finds its supporters. Richard Maponya, a businessman in Soweto, the biggest concentration of urban blacks in South Africa, commented on Mozambique’s independence:

‘It would be premature for Mozambique to break its long-standing economic ties with South Africa on whom they will depend for the development of the country.’ [26]

A black bourgeoisie is emerging throughout Southern Africa, its spokesmen, men like Maponya and Nkomo, ready to take their share with Vorster and the multinationals. Zimbabwe would then become another Kenya, with its tribal divisions, flagrant corruption and nepotism, political assassinations, as the shanty towns fester and the multinationals fatten.

The only clear lead against détente can come from an organisation which knows that what is at stake in Southern Africa is a struggle between classes not nations. Even the Sithole-Muzorewa wing of the ANC does not fit the bill. It remains as much a prisoner of nationalist ideology as Nkomo or Kaunda. This helps to explain the opportunism that unites in the same camp the ZANU left and figures like Muzorewa, who as president of the old ANC agreed a settlement with Smith on far worse terms than those he is now denouncing Nkomo for considering, only to have it rejected by his own executive.

The battle can only be won in Southern Africa is the international character of the struggle is recognised. Zambia and Mozambique have been forced to ally with Vorster because they see themselves as separate national units trying to survive in an international game they cannot win. It is only if the oppressed and exploited workers and peasants of these countries see that to solve their problems they must ally themselves with the workers and peasants of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia that this dilemma can be avoided.

The leadership of the revolution in Southern Africa will fall on the shoulders of the urban working class. The peasantry as a social force is disintegrating. Whether in South Africa, Rhodesia or Zambia the picture is the same – stagnating tribal agriculture, rural overpopulation, the drift to the towns, a sizeable working class. The dynamic of African nationalism, even in predominantly peasant societies like the former Portuguese colonies, has been one originating in the urban masses, even though it has spread to draw in the peasantry. The limitations of African nationalism reflect the dominance of the urban petit bourgeoisie in the anti-imperialist coalition, a social group whose interests have centred around winning control of the state, rather than the overthrow of capitalism. It is this that is now drawing the nationalist leaderships’ into the imperialist camp.

Only the working class can give a lead to the urban unemployed and rural masses, uniting them in opposition to détente, to the settler regimes and to the nationalist collaborators like Kaunda and Nkomo. Working-class leadership of the liberation struggle will transform it into a fight, not only to overthrow minority rule in Southern Africa, but also to expropriate the capitalists responsible for the misery of black workers and peasants alike, and to spread the revolution throughout the subcontinent, rather than permitting the collapse into South Africa’s arms of isolated black regimes like Frelimo’s in Mozambique.

South Africa is the lynchpin. South Africa’s wealth and military power have dragged every other Southern Africa country inexorably into its orbit. This stranglehold can only be broken by smashing the apartheid system and expropriating the South African and Western capitalists whose interests it serves. There is only one force that can achieve this task – the black working class of South Africa. It has made its power and anger felt in recent years. The effects of stagflation prompted by the fall in the gold price is likely to lead to more and greater convulsions. Out of these struggles there could emerge the leadership not only of the black workers’ movement but of the exploited masses of Southern Africa as a whole, the leadership of a struggle not merely to smash apartheid but also the capitalist system with which it is inextricably linked, a struggle for workers power. [27]

Thus in Southern Africa as in Britain or Portugal the struggle is that between labour and capital. The task is therefore the same – to build a revolutionary workers’ party capable of leading that struggle to victory and a real communist international that will spread the revolution and ensure that neither South Africa nor British nor Portuguese workers fight alone.


The framework of this article Is one developed during discussions within the Socialist Worker Africa Group over the last few years. Special thanks are owed to Alan Baldwin for his comments on an earlier draft and John Rogers on whose illuminating analysis in The World Crisis in Southern Africa (MA thesis in the University of London 1975) much of the economic argument this article rests.

1. For the background to this, and later, guerilla campaigns, see K. Maxey, The Fight for Zimbabwe, London 1975.

2. For details of atrocities by the Smith regime’s forces see Rhodesian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, The Man in the Middle, London 1975.

3. Economist Intelligence Unit, Quarterly Economic Review South Africa, 1975 no.2.

4. October 16 1975

5. October 15 1975.

6. Kaunda’s Role in Détente, document dated 31 March 1975 p.2.

7. Johannesburg Star, December 14 1974, October 11 1975.

8. Financial Times, 30 October 1975.

9. Kaunda’s Role in Détente, p.5.

10. Nkomo’s Secret Deal with Smith, n.d., p.2.

11. Star, 4 October 1975.

12. Financial Times, 30 October 1975.

13. Star, 20 September 1975.

14. Ibid., 4 October 1975.

15. Ibid., 28 June 1975.

16. Socialist Worker, 28 June 1975.

17. Star, 22 November 1975.

18. Observer, 11 January 1976.

19. Ibid.

20. 11 October 1975.

21. 18 June 1975.

22. Star, 20 September 1975.

23. 28 June 1975.

24. 5 July 1975.

25. The essays, in M. Kidron, Capitalism and Theory, London 1974, provide meat of this analysis.

26. Star, 28 June 1975.

27. A brief application of this analysis to Zimbabwe can be found in Crisis in Zimbabwe, a pamphlet obtainable from the Socialist Worker Africa Group, 8 Cottons Gardens, London E2 8DN.

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