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Alex Callinicos & John Rogers

Southern Africa after Zimbabwe

(Summer 1980)

First published in International Socialism 2 : 9, Summer 1980, pp. 1–43.
Transcribed by Nicola Ginsburgh, with thanks to the Lipman-Miliband Trust.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On–Line (ETOL).

Wednesday, 27 February 1980 – the first day of the Zimbabwean general elections. At the main polling station in Salisbury’s Harare township, a huge queue of black voters awaited their turn impatiently. Walking along this winding line of people we were welcomed by a chorus of cock-crows and cries of ‘Jongwe!’ ‘Jongwe’ is the Shona for ‘cock’; this bird was the symbol of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the party which was to win a landslide victory in these elections. At the end of the queue a mass of those who had already voted sang and danced. The refrain of their song was that they were tired and wanted a rest, after coming all the way from Mozambique. It was from Mozambique that the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), ZANU-PF’s military wing, had for the previous seven years waged the war of liberation against Ian Smith’s settler regime. The climactic phase of that struggle, it seemed, was now taking place, peacefully, in the polling booths. Angry white police reservists clutching G-3 rifles looked on impotently.

At the main polling station in Highfield township a vast, rapidly growing crowd of young blacks were chanting ‘Forward with ZANU-PF! Death to the auxiliaries!’ The auxiliaries were the private army of Bishop Abel Muzorewa; 25,000 young thugs put into uniform, given guns and rudimentary training, and sent into the countryside in what proved to be a fruitless attempt to roll back ZANU-PF’s influence. Under a tree ZANU-PF activists had set a table where they sat advising people how to vote. In charge was a young woman in a Mugabe T-shirt. ‘Are you going to win?’ we asked her. Radiant with confidence, she replied: ‘We’re going to win and then we’ll hold a big party and everyone will be invited.’

A big party there indeed was, but not everyone was invited. On midnight of 17 April Zimbabwe became an independent state. The official ceremony at which 90 years of British sanctioned settler rule ended took place at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare. It was packed with local and foreign dignitaries, including Prince Charles, Indira Gandhi, Julius Nyerere. Outside a mass of ordinary Zimbabweans pressed at the gates, demanding to be let in. The police used tear gas to drive them away. One observer described the incident as ‘a symbol of what the new government had most to fear – ... any inability to satisfy the aspirations of their followers’. [1]

The victory of ZANU-PF and the installation of Robert Mugabe as prime minister of Zimbabwe proved, as we shall see, to be highly ambiguous. Mugabe told an interviewer that ‘we would wish to be known as a government which is people-orientated; we work for the people and we serve the people. Socialism is our by-word’. [2] However, in practice his government immediately set out to conciliate western capital and the local white population and to restrain the strike wave which their election stimulated. One of the main purposes of this article is to account for this development.

The election of ZANU-PF had reverberations outside the borders of Zimbabwe. Above all, it had an explosive impact upon the apartheid regime in South Africa, which had confidently expected Bishop Muzorewa’s UANC to win. ‘I can’t understand how we were so misinformed. I just can’t understand it’, was the response of one senior South African official. ‘The defeat of Bishop Muzorewa exposed a failure of intelligence as bad as the American failure in Iran’, wrote Ken Owen in the Johannesburg Sunday Times. ‘How could a government have been so wrong?’ [3]

Mugabe’s victory is the latest in a series of hammer blows striking white power in southern Africa. The first chapter in the crisis came with the great strike wave in the Durban area in 1972–3. Then, almost exactly five years before Zimbabwe achieved independence under ZANU-PF, came the fall of the Caetano dictatorship in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 and with it the end of the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa. South Africa’s attempt to reverse the victory of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) ended in the humiliating withdrawal of her beaten troops from Angola in February 1976. Then, in June of the same year encouraged by their oppressors’ defeat in Angola, the black youth of Soweto rose up against apartheid. [4]

The election of a ZANU-PF government found the South African regime in many respects on the defensive and faced with the revival of the mass movement which the savage repression after Soweto had only temporarily cowed. Zimbabwean independence coincided with a school boycott in protest against the racist education system by 100,000 Coloured students. [5] It also intensified the pressure upon the prime minister, P.W. Botha, to extend the reforms he has introduced since taking office in September 1978 to include a new political dispensation for the African majority. Commenting on the black take-over in Zimbabwe, the Afrikaans Johannesburg paper Die Beeld, reputedly close to Botha, said:

‘The ball is now to such an extent in the hands of our government that it is urgently necessary for us to build a new constitutional dispensation here which will comply with changed circumstances ...

‘The white, and particularly the Afrikaner, has grave doubts about this process of constructing a new constitution and the creation of new structures to accommodate the clashing demands of our various nationalisms and unequal societies.

‘However, the contrary is even more dangerous – to do nothing and to think that matters can stumble on as in the days before Mugabe took over Rhodesia and before Angola and Mozambique fell’. [6]

Any discussion of the wider impact of Mugabe’s victory must focus on the crisis of white power at its heart, in South Africa itself, and analyse the economic and political context within which PW Botha has launched his ‘total strategy’ for white survival and the black masses are once again taking up the cudgels. Finally, we shall try to draw some political conclusions from our analysis of Zimbabwe and South Africa, with respect to both the general question of the relation between national and class struggles and the specific problem of strategy and tactics in the struggle against the apartheid regime.

The rise of Robert Mugabe [7]

1972 was a watershed year in the history of Zimbabwe. Settlement proposals drawn by Ian Smith and the British foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas Home, which would have extended white supremacy well into the 21st century, were decisively rejected by the Zimbabwean masses. A series of militant demonstrations in the main urban centres showed that the banned nationalist movements, ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), still enjoyed massive popular support. The need for a legal front through which opposition to the settlement proposals could be organised led to the formation of the African National Council under the chairmanship of Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa, an American Methodist Bishop with no previous record of political activity.

Much more important, however, was the opening of a new guerrilla offensive in north-eastern Zimbabwe at the end of 1972. Behind the campaign was ZANLA which, in co-operation with Frelimo, had set up bases in areas of Mozambique liberated from Portuguese rule. Whereas earlier guerrilla campaigns, notably that of ZAPU in the Zambezi Valley between 1967 and 1970, had concentrated on spectacular confrontations with the security forces, ZANLA’s emphasis, under the direction of Josiah Tongogara, was on winning the support of the local peasantry, attacks on white farmers and disruptions of the rural administration. In time the armed struggle launched in the north east was to spread over the whole of the country. [8]

The regime’s chances of containing the guerrillas were severely reduced when the Armed Forces Movement overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship in April 1974. The accession to power in Mozambique of ZANU’s ally, Frelimo, meant that the freedom fighters could now operate from bases in a friendly country across Zimbabwe’s long eastern border. Ian Smith’s flank had been turned, and a guerrilla victory, however long it might take, had become inevitable.

The result was the attempt by the South African Prime Minister, John Vorster, to reach agreement with the black front-line states, Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia (later joined by Angola and Mozambique). Vorster’s motives in launching this policy of détente with black Africa arose immediately from the changed situation created by the collapse of Portuguese colonialism – South Africa could no longer rely on a chain of white buffer states to protect her own borders from guerrilla infiltration. The policy also reflected the long-term need of South African manufacturing industry for markets in black Africa. On the other side, the near collapse of the Zambian economy, caused largely by the world recession, made closer links with South Africa imperative. [9]

The terms of détente were simple: Vorster would use his influence to secure a peaceful transfer of power in Zimbabwe provided that the frontline presidents – notably Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania – persuaded the Zimbabwean nationalists to co-operate. The aim was to replace the white settler regime with a compliant black neo-colonial government which would respect South African hegemony. The highpoint of its success was December 1974 when Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU and Ndabaningi Sithole of ZANU joined James Chikerema, leader of a splinter group called FROLIZI, in accepting Muzorewa’s leadership in negotiations with Smith, the Lusaka Agreement.

The frontline presidents themselves differed over strategy. Kaunda was the most wedded to détente; he even went as far as to preside with Vorster over the abortive Victoria Falls conference of August 1975. When the ZANU chairman, Herbert Chitepo, was killed by a car bomb in Lusaka in March of that year Kaunda used the pretext to lock up the entire ZANU high command. Over 1,000 guerrillas were arrested at Chitepo’s funeral and Zambian troops seized transit camps used by ZANLA.

President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania on the other hand, although he had supported the Lusaka agreement, rapidly became disillusioned with Smith and came to believe that a further dose of armed struggle would be necessary to force Smith to the negotiating table. ‘We are building up the pressure to deliver Smith to London’, he claimed in March 1976, explaining his support for a (temporary) end to negotiations and an intensification of the guerrilla war. Effective prosecution of the war meant, however, getting rid of all the old political leaders with their squabbles and ambitions and building up a united organisation based on the guerrillas. So ZIPA – the Zimbabwe People’s Army – was launched. The ZANU guerrillas held in Zambia were released in December 1975 and transferred to camps in Tanzania and Mozambique, where they were joined by ZAPU fighters. A joint military command of nine ZANU and nine ZAPU men was established. Effective control, however, was in the hands of Colonel Mbita, a Tanzanian officer who was also executive secretary of the OAU liberation committee. This, at least, is what Muzorewa and Sithole claimed, in a document where they complained about their forcible exclusion from the guerrilla camps. [10]

It was in this immensely confused situation that Robert Mugabe made his bid for power. Mugabe is undoubtedly a remarkable man. He participated in two of the seminal experiences of post-war African nationalism. He was a student in 1949–51 at Fort Hare College, in South Africa, through which much of the country’s black elite have passed, at a time when it was under the influence of the dynamic and militant Youth League of the African National Congress. The ANC Youth League, under the guidance in its early years of Anton Lembede, developed the ideology of ‘Africanism’ which continues to be a powerful force through the black consciousness movement today; it also produced the main leaders of the South African black resistance in the great battles of the 1950s and early 1960s – Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo. [11] Mugabe joined the Youth League and had his first encounter with marxism (of a kind), through his contact with white members of the South African Communist Party. Then in 1958–60 he taught in Ghana, then the first British colony in Africa to achieve independence under the leadership of the Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. Here his commitment to a radical form of African nationalism crystallised.

On his return to Zimbabwe in 1960 Mugabe threw himself into the national movement, playing a leading role in the National Democratic Party and its successor, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. When in August 1963 ZAPU split and those committed to a more militant stance – ‘Confrontation not Conciliation’ – formed ZANU Mugabe became the new party’s secretary-general under the presidency of Ndabaningi Sithole. He was arrested in 1964 and spent the next ten years in prison and detention camp. During that time Mugabe studied fervently, adding no less than three degrees to his already impressive collection. As is well-known, he was not permitted to attend the funeral of his only child. Less well-known is the fact that he also used his time in gaol to exercise his considerable political skills. In 1970 a group of ZANU leaders held at Que Que prison, including Edgar Tekere, Morton Malianga, Maurice Nyagumbo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Mugabe himself, voted to depose Sithole as ZANU president and replace him with Mugabe. However, when the nationalist leaders were released in November 1974 Kaunda and Nyerere refused to accept the validity of the vote (although apparently they used the threat of supplanting him with Mugabe to force Sithole to sign the Lusaka agreement).

Mugabe rapidly grasped that détente was unlikely to succeed and that the political future would lie with those clearly identified with the armed struggle. When Smith put Sithole on trial on trumped up charges in March 1975, Mugabe slipped out of the country and went to Mozambique, accompanied by Tekere. There he campaigned for an intensification of the armed struggle. The Frelimo leadership, in line with détente, placed him under ‘protective custody’. This does not seem to have prevented him from building a political base among the freedom fighters. In part this was because ZIPA proved to be a non-starter. The ZAPU elements in the joint army withdrew after several bloody clashes with ZANLA guerrillas and ZIPA became effectively ZANLA under another guise.

There were, however, complicating factors. With the collapse of the ZAPU-ZANU joint military command the dominant influence among the guerrillas became a group of Maoist radicals, notably Dzinashe Machingura and Elias Hondo. They were notable for their hostility to any sort of negotiated settlement. They also wished to build ZIPA independently of all the old nationalist leaders, including Mugabe. Machingura said, ‘we do not identify ourselves with any faction’ and described ZIPA as ‘a unique and revolutionary army in the sense that it has a strategic role of transforming itself into a political movement’. [12]

To overcome these obstacles Mugabe required both the support of the front-line presidents, notably Samora Machel of Mozambique, and the co-operation of elements within ZANLA. The first factor was the most important; it seems clear that in the course of 1976 Nyerere and Machel swung their support behind Mugabe, as the most effective agent of their policy of using armed struggle to force Smith to concede majority rule. Kaunda, isolated as a result of the collapse of his alliance with Vorster after the Angolan debacle, was forced to fall in line.

In late 1976 a new political pattern crystallised in Zimbabwe. The framework was provided in part by the new strategy of the frontline presidents, in part by the new western interest in southern Africa, symbolised by Henry Kissinger’s visit to the region in September 1976. Kissinger met Smith in Pretoria and bulldozed him (with Vorster’s help) into conceding the principal of one person, one vote. [13] It was under the aegis of the Kissinger mission that the British government convened a conference representing both the nationalist and the Smith regime in Geneva on 28 October 1976.

The conference eventually collapsed. Much more significant, in a sense, were two events which occurred before it opened. On 9 October Mugabe and Nkomo announced the formation of the Patriotic Front, based on the rejection of the Kissinger proposals and the intensification of the armed struggle. Both had much to gain from the arrangement. Mugabe, in order to consolidate his position, needed the international recognition that would follow an alliance with Nkomo, far and away the best known of the nationalist leaders. Nkomo, on the other hand, needed a new policy to replace his previous one of negotiating with Smith. Association with ZANLA, who had done the bulk of the fighting, would undoubtedly improve his standing with the frontline presidents.

What sort of party is ZANU? By origins it was a bourgeois nationalist party. The differences which precipitated the split with ZAPU centred on tactics rather than ultimate aim, national independence and majority rule. Its leaders were predominantly mission-educated intellectuals. Exile, imprisonment and war radicalised the party. The links ZANU developed with China helped to spread Maoist ideas of peasant revolution and protracted guerrilla war among the younger cadres. However, ZANU remained heavily dependent on the frontline states for bases and supplies; Mugabe’s rise to power depended crucially on the support of Nyerere and Machel. It became clear during the February elections that ZANU-PF enjoyed the support of significant sections of the African business classes. For example, the ZANU-PF activists in the Gwelo area whom one of us (AC) met during the election campaign included (apart from Maputo-based intellectuals) an accountant and a small businessman. It would be surprising if this pattern were not repeated elsewhere in the country.

What about ZANU-PF’s professed socialism? The party’s election manifesto states that:

‘ZANU’s ideological belief is SOCIALISM. We believe that the achievement of political power by the People will remain hollow in terms of their material development unless it can translate itself into quantitative and qualitative benefits deriving from the economy. Such translation of political power must necessarily be by way of economic power in social form. ZANU thus believes in the development of a socialist economy.’

Certainly ZANU-PF on the stump during the election stressed this. A meeting AC attended in Selukwe Tribal Trust Land (in the Midlands province where ZANLA had been very active during the war) included this exchange between ZANU-PF speaker and peasant audience: ‘What does majority rule mean?’ ‘A full belly.’ Nathan Shamuyarira, now Mugabe’s minister of information and tourism, was, therefore, quite right to say in an interview with AC on 26 February 1980, the day before the election: ‘Of all the nine parties contesting the election ZANU is the only one that has a socialist programme’ (ZAPU, by contrast, stressed the need for peace, projected Nkomo as ‘Father Zimbabwe’ and refused to rule out a coalition with Muzorewa).

Shamuyarira went on to spell out ZANU-PF’s long-term objective – the nationalisation of the multinationals’ interests in mining, agriculture and manufacturing industry (all sectors which, as we shall see, foreign capital dominates). He claimed that ZANU-PF supported independent trade unions: ‘we want them to blossom with the full backing of the party. We don’t want them only to bargain for wages. When the President [Mugabe] saw ACCOR [the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Rhodesia] he gave the example of Britain and said that the trade unions were very strong there. They replied: “We don’t want that here! That’s a very unfortunate example!”’

However, it seems clear that the model of socialism which prevails among Mugabe and his associates is one in which the state controls the economy and a benevolent party controls the state and manages affairs on behalf of the masses. Mugabe’s aim is a one-party state. In answer to the question: ‘Do you see your party joining with Mr Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU ... to form a single party instead of the present Government coalition?’, he replied, ‘As a single party? Well, that’s the ultimate goal ...’ [14] Shamuyarira explained that ZANU-PF was in favour of ‘a grass-root kind of democracy, debate and discussion from the bottom to the top’. However, it seems clear that what this means is rank-and-file participation in decision-making, within the framework of ZANU-PF’s monopoly of political power. The flow of discussion would be, as he emphasised, ‘from the bottom to the top’; in the light of this discussion, decisions would be taken at the top. It is a scheme which has no room for rank-and-file control of the party and the state.

This is the ideology of a party whose objective is state capitalism, not workers’ and peasants’ power. Such an objective does not present a fundamental threat to the interests of the African bourgeoisie. One estimate is that there are 20,000 black businessmen in Zimbabwe, the majority of them small traders. Their share of productive capital is negligible: the same estimate suggests that they account for 10% of gross manufacturing and commercial output, 7.5% of rural employment and 3% of urban employment. [15] Expropriation of foreign and settler interests would in itself make little difference to the African bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the state already plays a major economic role; it began to do so during the Second World War, when the government took over steel works and cotton mills, but greatly increased its activities after the Rhodesian Front’s unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in 1965. In 1965–77 state sources accounted for some 40 per cent of gross fixed capital formation. [16] The basis, therefore, already exists for the expansion of state control of the economy, with ZANU-PF using this control to drastically increase the African share of productive capital in Zimbabwe. As elsewhere in the ‘less developed countries’, the state would provide the means for the development of national capitalism in Zimbabwe, while the weakness of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ would be made good by the role of the black petty bourgeoisie acting through ZANU-PF. [17]

The prospects for success of such a strategy can only be judged after we have examined the conditions in which ZANU-PF came to power. It is to this question that we now turn.

The road to Lancaster House

1976 was another watershed year, this time for the whole of southern Africa. The disastrous South African intervention in Angola put paid to Vorster’s détente policy and at the same time helped to stimulate the Soweto uprising of June 1976. The effect of these developments was to enforce a shift in western policy. Since 1969, in line with the ‘Nixon doctrine’, which eschewed direct American intervention in the third world in favour of reliance on various ‘sub-imperialisms’ such as Brazil and Iran to police particular regions, Washington had tacitly left the South Africans in charge of southern Africa. The infamous Kissinger memorandum approved by the National Security Council in 1969 ruled out the possibility of successful black liberation struggles. In the event, of course, this prediction proved to be wrong. The colonial wars in Africa brought down the Portuguese dictatorship. The events of 1976 hammered home the lesson. Moreover, the disastrous failure of an attempt by the CIA to bring down MPLA in collaboration with South Africa and Zaire and the refusal of the US Congress after Vietnam and Watergate to provide funds for military intervention in Angola underlined the need for a change in American thinking. [18]

Kissinger therefore, successfully turned the pressure onto Smith, and in a broadcast of 24 September 1976 Smith grudgingly accepted the principle of majority rule. South African co-operation was essential to Kissinger here; he told some pressmen that ‘the key to breaking Smith was Vorster’. [19] And Ted Sutton-Byre, at the time deputy minister in Smith’s office, although he was later to form a far-right splinter group, told a closed meeting of the ruling Rhodesian Front that ‘Vorster is the bad guy. The real reason for the RF failure was because of pressure put on Rhodesia.’ [20] Smith, completely dependent on South African financial aid, oil and war materials, was made an offer he could not refuse.

In a sense, the Kissinger mission was an extension of Vorster’s détente policy. The necessity for American involvement arose partly from the Russian new presence and partly because, after Angola and Soweto, the front-line states could not deal directly and publicly with the South Africans. Kissinger’s attacks on apartheid seem simply to have been cosmetic; changes in South Africa do not seem to have been an important element in his strategy. His aim was to restore stability to southern Africa by ending the war in Zimbabwe and creating a black neo-colonial regime involving the nationalists. A $1½ billion Zimbabwe Development Fund was set aside to finance the reconstruction and expansion of the Zimbabwean economy once agreement had been reached.

The agreement struck between Kissinger and Smith in Pretoria was intended to provide the basis for negotiations between the regime and the nationalist parties. However, the ambiguities it contained – particularly on the question of who would control the army and police during the transition to majority rule – ensured that the Geneva Conference ended in stalemate. Moreover, the alliance forged between ZANU and ZAPU before the conference, and the support given Mugabe by Nyerere and Machel, meant that the nationalists were a more cohesive and effective force, both at the negotiating table and in the field, than at any time since the détente exercise began. It became clear that they would have to be included in any settlement.

The new Carter administration made southern Africa a major focus of its attention. Unlike Kissinger, it refused to separate the question of decolonisation (i.e. the liberation struggles in Zimbabwe and Namibia) and that of apartheid. Relations between Washington and Pretoria steadily deteriorated, reaching a low point after the US backed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa imposed by the United Nations in protest against the murder of Steve Biko in gaol and the banning of the main black consciousness organisations on 19 October 1977. The breach with the South Africans undermined the basis of American policy in southern Africa. Washington still required South African support to force Smith into line, yet, with the ineptitude that has come to be the hallmark of the Carter administration, they succeeded in alienating Vorster and Botha and thus denied themselves the means to attain their objective.

Smith’s objective, once he had been forced to accept majority rule, was to establish it in a form as favourable to white interests as possible. Hence the ‘internal settlement’ of 3 March 1978. The signatories of this agreement were, apart from Smith, Bishop Muzorewa leader of the United African National Council (UANC), Ndabaningi Sithole, who insisted on calling his depleted band of followers ZANU and Chief Jeremiah Chirau of the Zimbabwe United People’s Organisation (ZUPO). Muzorewa, and to a lesser extent Sithole, were the important ones – the nationalist leaders who had been frozen out by the frontline states and excluded from the PF. They had nowhere else to go. A transcript of the negotiations leading up to the 3 March agreement reveals them to have been constantly looking over their shoulder nervously at ‘the boys in the bush’ (the guerrillas); at every sticking point, however, Smith was able to bludgeon them into line by explaining that this or that concession was necessary in order to secure white support. The agreement promised majority rule elections by 31 December; meanwhile, a transitional government was formed, presided over by an Executive Council consisting of the four main party leaders and involving black and white co-ministers in every department. The substance of power eluded the black leaders. When the UANC co-minister of Justice, Byron Hove, attacked the racism of the police and judiciary, for instance, he was summarily sacked by Smith within a few weeks of the 3 March agreement.

Smith sold the deal to his white supporters by claiming that it would lead to an end to the war. It is unlikely that he actually believed this. Muzorewa and Sithole’s attempts to persuade guerrilla units to change sides were almost uniformly disastrous. More likely he hoped that the internal settlement would provide an internationally acceptable façade behind which to prosecute the war more effectively. His hopes were raised by developments abroad. The row between Washington and Pretoria took the pressure off Salisbury. The election of PW Botha to succeed Vorster in September 1978 meant that the reins of power in South Africa were now held by a man with a reputation for pugnacity, the minister responsible for the invasion of Angola in 1975–6. Moreover, there were signs that the political climate was swinging rightwards in Britain and the US; in October 1978 Smith and Muzorewa toured America – pressure from conservative congressmen had forced Carter to grant them entry permits, while a Tory government seemed in the offing in Britain. Smith, the master dissembler and procrastinator, hung on in the belief that the time was on his side.

In reality, it was not. By the end of the war the Patriotic Front forces were between 35,000 and 40,000 strong, divided roughly between 24,000 ZANLA (Zimbabwe African Liberation Army) and 14,000 ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army), the military wings respectively of ZANU and ZAPU. The regime’s security forces were fighting on no less than six fronts. The guerrillas were everywhere. A couple of days after the internal settlement was signed, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed on a 70 kilometre belt of mainly white farming land to the north and east of Salisbury, at one point barely 20 kilometres from the city centre, in an attempt to prevent guerrilla infiltration from the Chinamore, Msana and Chikwakwa tribal trust lands (TTLs). A series of spectacular actions by ZIPRA in August and September 1978 – including gun-battles with the security forces in Salisbury’s Glen Norah, Highfield and Mufakose townships and culminating in the shooting down of a Rhodesian Airways Viscount – led to the imposition of martial law on the whole of the country.

The regime’s strategy involved classic counter-insurgency tactics – the forcible removal of 500,000 peasants to protected villages, the imposition of collective punishments, the creation of free-fire zones. The burden of compulsory military service on the white population led to shortages of skilled manpower and emigration (which, of course, only made the shortages worse). [21] The remedy was to increase the number of blacks in the security forces: by 1979, 80% of the regular army was black. After the internal settlement the security force auxiliaries were created, and were, by the time of the 1980 election, some 25,000 strong. They were deployed on a wide scale in 1979, providing important relief to the hard-pressed security forces. Finally, mercenaries were used – according to one estimate there were 1,500 of them, mainly British and American, serving in the Rhodesian forces in 1977, and many others were hired by white farmers. As the pressure of increasing guerrilla numbers came to be felt, increasing reliance was made on indiscriminate air attacks and on the helicopter-borne Fire Force, drawn from the elite, all-white Rhodesia Light Infantry. After P.W. Botha’s accession to the South African premiership, the supply of military materials to the regime was stepped up. South African Air Force Mirage 3s (flown by Rhodesian pilots) may have been used north of the Limpopo, while the Huey gunships which somehow came into the regime’s hands were no doubt supplied by the South Africans. South African ‘volunteers’ are reported to have manned the Fire Force helicopters.

The war was fought in the countryside. Only 17% of the African population lived in the main urban areas at the end of 1977, while some 3.5 million (out of a total Zimbabwean population of 7.5 million) live in the Tribal Trust Lands, the areas reserved for traditional African farming. [22] ZANLA concentrated upon winning the support of the peasantry – for example, organising pungwes (rallies) to politicise them – and upon destroying the structure of rural administration, in particular organising boycotts of schools and of cattle dipping. 80% of the 1,850 cattle dips in the TTLs were destroyed, causing a sharp rise in tick-borne cattle diseases. [23] By October 1979 474,770 black pupils, 53% of the total, had been displaced from their schools. [24] Guerrilla activities had a devastating effect on white farming in some areas – by April 1979 some 2,000 white farms had been abandoned, notably in Mayo and Odzi west and north-west of Umtali on the eastern border, and in Cashel, due south of Uintah. [25]

ZANLA was able in some parts of the country, especially Manicaland along the eastern border and Victoria in the south east, where ZANU-PF received its highest shares of the popular vote in 1980, to create liberated areas governed by their own administration. Indeed, Nathan Shamuyarira claimed that ‘in many rural areas the state machine was smashed’. In 1979 the regime launched a new strategy to undermine the guerrillas’ hold on the peasantry. Operation Turkey amounted effectively to the creation of famine in areas where ZANLA and ZIPRA were active. In many tribal trust lands all grinding mills and shops were closed down in order to deny the guerrillas access to food. The strategy seems to have had considerable impact, and may well have been a factor in persuading the PF to accept the Lancaster House agreement. In general, ZANLA seems to have been more effective in denying the regime access to the liberated areas and in winning the durable support of the peasantry than in creating their own stable structures and organising production (as Frelimo was able in large parts of northern Mozambique). Part of the inheritance of the war is a devastated countryside.

ZIPRA adopted very different tactics. Their guerrillas were trained along conventional military lines by Cuban instructors in Angola. The eastern bloc provided them with sophisticated heavy weaponry. ZIPRA forces were committed only sparingly; when in the field they were far more mobile than ZANLA and tended to keep away from the local population. They went in for spectacular actions – most notably the shooting down of two Rhodesian Airways Viscounts – and were on the whole more prone to seek out and attack the security forces. Much resentment was caused in ZANU, which bore the brunt of the fighting, by ZIPRA’s failure to throw itself fully into the fighting.

ZIPRA’s reluctance to become fully involved in the fighting seems to reflect Nkomo’s strategy. A conservative nationalist with a very long record of negotiations with the regime, he seems never to have excluded the possibility of a separate deal with Smith, who never concealed his respect for Nkomo. Eager supporters of such a deal were Kaunda, the Nigerian military regime and Tiny Rowlands of Lonrho, who has provided Nkomo with generous financial support for many years now. In the context of such a strategy, ZIPRA’s main function would be less to fight the regime than to act as a counterweight to ZANLA. ZANU suspicions were confirmed when it was learnt that Nkomo had met Smith in Lusaka on 14 August 1978. Mugabe and Nyerere were furious. However, what Smith called ‘a stroke of fate’ intervened to kill the chances of a split in the PF. The death at the hands of ZIPRA of 30 whites in a Viscount shot down by a surface-to-air missile on 3 September forced Smith to break all links with Nkomo, to ban ZANU and ZAPU, and to impose martial law. The security forces launched a series of devastating raids on ZIPRA bases in October and November 1978 and April and June 1979 which left Nkomo’s forces in disarray.

The break with Nkomo left Smith with no option but to press ahead with internal settlement, although he seems to have become increasingly contemptuous of Muzorewa. The constitution eventually agreed created a hybrid ‘Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’ an elected black government would have the appearance but not the substance of power. Effective control of the army, police, judiciary and civil service was preserved in white hands. Whites (less than 1/25 of the population) were given 28 out of the 100 seats in the House of Assembly and had a veto over constitutional changes affecting their position. It was a stooge constitution designed to conceal white rule behind a black puppet. The fact that some nationalist politicians were prepared to compete for the role of chief puppet was merely a sign of their weakness and isolation.

Elections under this constitution were held later in April 1979. The turnout was surprisingly high – between 51 and 63% of the electorate (depending on which estimate of the total population one accepts). Although to a significant extent this result can be explained by factors such as the activities of the auxiliaries in the tribal trustlands, and pressure by white farmers on their employees, it was an undoubted blow for the PF, whose military capacity to deny the regime access to the countryside was shown to be less than it had claimed. Muzorewa’s UANC won the election overwhelmingly, capturing 51 of the 72 African seats. To some extent their victory reflected a genuine belief, especially among urban Africans, that Muzorewa could deliver at least some of the goods he had promised – land reform, jobs and so on. [26]

The April elections were one factor behind the Lancaster House agreement. They brought out the fact that the PF was a lot further away from victory than it had claimed. Another factor which changed the situation was the election of a Tory government. Margaret Thatcher made no secret of her sympathy with Muzorewa and soon after taking office told a press conference in Australia that economic sanctions against Rhodesia would not be renewed in November. Creeping recognition of the Salisbury regime seemed inevitable.

What transformed the situation was the Tory government’s U-turn, which led the Salisbury Herald to ask in disgust, ‘is Mrs Thatcher really a Labour prime minister in drag?’ At the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka in August 1979 Thatcher proposed a conference presided over by Britain and involving both the Salisbury regime and the PF. Eating her earlier words in praise of the internal settlement, she criticised some of the more blatantly racist aspects of the new constitution. What caused this astonishing reversal? In part it can be explained by the pressure of Lord Carrington, the foreign secretary, and his senior civil servants. Carrington, an ex-director of Rio Tinto Zinc, which has considerable interests in Zimbabwe, was clearly concerned that continuance of the status quo would lead to a confrontation between the frontline states, backed by Russia and Cuba, and the South Africans into which the west would inevitably be sucked. Equally important was pressure on the British government by black Africa, and especially oil-rich Nigeria, which is now as important a recipient of British capital and commodities as South Africa. The Nigerian military regime nationalised BP’s assets and put a ban on tenders for government contracts by British companies. The CBI responded by sending a delegation to Whitehall to beg the Tories not to jeopardise British interests in Nigeria by recognising Muzorewa.

Muzorewa and Smith reluctantly agreed to participate in the new conference, which opened at Lancaster House in London on 10 September 1979. In an attempt to shift the military balance in their favour the security forces launched a series of devastating attacks on neighbouring countries. Raids on Zambia in October and November were designed to shatter the country’s infrastructure, thus putting further pressure on Kaunda to settle. An attack on Mozambique on 5 September was less successful. The Rhodesian forces found themselves confronted with well dug-in ZANLA and Frelimo troops backed up with T-55 tanks. A Huey helicopter was shot down and crack RLI troops mutinied when ordered to make a suicidal frontal attack on the ZANLA/Frelimo positions. The raid underlined the fact that time was not necessarily on the regime’s side.

The Lancaster House conference is generally regarded as a triumph of British diplomacy, its successful outcome due mainly to the negotiating skills of Lord Carrington. In reality both Zambia and Mozambique were desperate for a settlement. Zambia’s economic difficulties – the depressed price of copper (which accounts for over 90% of its export earnings), the closure of the Benguela railway and teething difficulties of the Tan-Zam railway, staggering unemployment, a large debt to western governments and banks -have forced Kaunda into the arms of the IMF and the South Africans. In 1978 he was forced to reopen the border with Rhodesia in order to secure access to South African ports for Zambia’s exports and imports. It was reported in 1979 that he had closed down a SWAPO base in Zambia in exchange for Pretoria’s agreement to open a new road route between South Africa and Zambia. There could be no doubt of Kaunda’s desire for a settlement at almost any price.

More surprising for some, perhaps, was ‘socialist’ Mozambique’s eagerness for a settlement. The large-scale withdrawal from the country of Portuguese settlers in 1974-5 caused considerable disruption and forced the government to nationalise many small businesses. The war in Zimbabwe placed a severe burden on the country. In 1978 the UN estimated that the closure of the border with Rhodesia had cost Mozambique between $108 and $134 million. Rhodesian attacks caused $44 million worth of damage, while Mozambique had to support some 150,000 Zimbabwean refugees. [27] And Mozambique’s dependence on South Africa has if anything grown since Frelimo took power, since the main sources of foreign revenue have been the use by the industries of the Witwatersrand of the port of Maputo and the deferred payment in gold of part of the wages of the 100,000 Mozambicans working in the South African gold mines. Since the beginning of 1980 there has been a marked shift in the policies of Frelimo. Previously great emphasis had been laid on the construction of socialism on the East German (!) model, with the state directing the entire economy and Frelimo, ‘the marxist-leninist vanguard party’, controlling the state. President Samora Machel has now at least partially reversed this policy. An offensive against ‘inefficiency, negligence and corruption’ has been launched. Private enterprise, at least in the small-business sector, will be encouraged. Foreign investment is being sought – in February 1980 a group of western businessmen were feted by the Mozambican government. Maracelino dos Santos, the Frelimo leader closest to the Eastern bloc, has been removed from his post as minister of economic planning and confined to party activities. The status of Frelimo itself is being reduced – people may not call each other ‘comrade’ except in private when discussing party business because free use of the term weakens hierarchy and encourages indiscipline.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Mugabe found himself under heavy pressure from his Mozambican allies during Lancaster House. Again and again the PF would reject some proposal of the British (which had usually been cleared in advance with Muzorewa) only to be bludgeoned into line by the representatives of the front-line states. The resulting constitution was a modified version of that produced by the internal settlement. Whites still had 20 out of the 100 seats in the House of Assembly, even though the PF had denounced such provisions as racist. Moreover, white MPs still retained a veto over certain constitutional changes, notably of the clause which requires that the owners of property compulsorily acquired by the state must receive ‘adequate compensation’. [28] In the run up to the elections under the new constitution power would be in the hands of a British governor. The cease-fire would be supervised by a predominantly British force of Commonwealth troops, while the guerrillas would assemble in a number of camps well away from the urban areas.

The Lancaster House agreement, finally signed on 21 December 1979 seemed a recipe for disaster. The guerrillas in their assembly points would be highly vulnerable to attack by the Rhodesians or South Africans. Muzorewa had the advantage of a legal organisation inside the country which had been built up over several years, while ZANU and ZAPU were illegal. Lord Soames, the British governor, from his arrival in Zimbabwe on 12 December made no bones of his hostility to ZANU-PF. It seemed as if Mugabe was walking into a trap. Oddly enough, it was Ian Smith who predicted that the PF would ‘walk’ the elections. Alone of the Salisbury delegation at the conference he had opposed the agreement. He was to be proved right. Against Thatcher and Carrington’s intentions, the chief beneficiary of Lancaster House was to be Robert Mugabe.


ZANU-PF’s victory was all the more remarkable in the light of the circumstances in which the election was held. The full weight of the Rhodesian state was deployed to prevent ZANU-PF winning. The British strategy, it soon became clear, was to create a coalition government dominated by Nkomo in which the radical influence of ZANU-PF would be diluted. They therefore backed steps taken by the security forces to prevent the mass support ZANU had won during the war being translated into an electoral victory. The auxiliaries were deployed in rural areas where ZANLA had been most active during the war and attempted, with great brutality, to break the peasantry from their allegiance to ZANU-PF. UANC activists, many of them unemployed thugs from the towns, some of them armed, were also sent into the TTLs with a similar purpose in mind. In violation of the Lancaster House agreement, which stated that ‘the task of maintaining law and order in the pre-independence period will be the responsibility of the civil police’, the biggest call-up of white national servicemen ever took place during the election period. [29]

ZANU-PF activists were subjected to constant police harassment. The party’s national headquarters only had a telephone installed two weeks before the election. Over 3,000 ZANU-PF campaign workers were arrested, including a number of candidates. ‘Inflammatory’ remarks at election meetings (such as Pamperi neChimarenga – Forward with the Revolution) were a pretext for arrest, while Smith and another RF leader, Chris Anderson, could threaten a military coup if Mugabe won the election with impunity. A campaign of dirty tricks, apparently organised by the regime’s elite terrorist unit, the Selous Scouts, involving several bomb attacks and three attempts on Mugabe’s life, seemed to be designed to provoke ZANU-PF into breaking the cease-fire and to discredit it. Muzorewa, enjoying financial support from South Africa to the tune of $55 million according to the OAU, waged a hysterically anti-communist campaign. ‘This is what communism means. Death. Oppression. Suffering. Poverty. Starvation. Human Misery’, ran a not untypical piece of UANC propaganda. (Ironically, in the light of the outcome, the UANC slogan was ‘Vote for the Winners!’)

The overwhelming electoral victory that he gained seemed to bring about an extraordinary change in Mugabe. On the night of 4 March he appeared on television and promised no victimisations, no nationalisations, respect for the constitution, national reconciliation. Equally significantly, he asked General Walls (Smith’s Commander of Combined Operations) to take responsibility for the job of integrating ZIPRA and ZANLA with the security forces. Walls, clearly, was now the most powerful representative of the settlers and the deal he struck with Mugabe, who confirmed him in office, was crucial to the post-election stability.

In reality, Mugabe’s new-found moderation had already been in evidence before the election. The ZANU-PF manifesto was very moderate in its proposals – resettlement of peasants on unused or abandoned land, underutilised land and land owned by absentee owners, state partnership in the mining industry, compulsory free primary and secondary education, a free national health service. All these would be, no doubt, significant reforms, but they did not amount to a radical transformation of Zimbabwean society. After the declaration that ‘ZANU’s ideological belief is SOCIALISM’ quoted earlier in this article came a qualifying paragraph:

‘in working towards the socialist transformation of Zimbabwean society, a ZANU government will, nevertheless recognise historical, social and other existing practical realities of Zimbabwe. One of these existing practical realities is the capitalist system which cannot be transformed overnight. Hence, while a socialist transformation process will be brought underway in many areas of the existing economic sectors, it is recognised that private enterprise will have to continue until circumstances are ripe for socialist change.’

During the election campaign Mugabe sought to cool things down as much as possible. At a huge rally at Fort Victoria he said: ‘Pamperi neBSAP!’ – ‘Forward with the British South Africa Police!’. It is normal for the crowd at a Zimbabwean political meeting to repeat the slogans shouted by the speakers; this time, however, the people refused to do so, even though Mugabe repeated the slogan three or four times. His ‘moderation’ in office was a continuation of his behaviour during the election campaign. He formed a coalition with Nkomo, and appointed two white ministers, David Smith, Smith and Muzorewa’s minister of finance and leader of the ‘liberal’ wing of the RF, and Denis Norman, president of the white Commercial Farmers Union.

Within weeks of the election ZANU-PF found itself confronted with a wave of strikes by black workers eager to see the political victory translated into economic improvements. Some 16,000 workers were involved, in five industrial centres – Salisbury, Bulawayo, Gatooma, Umtali and Gwelo. Among the 41 workplaces hit were Danby Mine (1,500 workers), Cone Textile (900), Bata Shoes (900) and David Whitehead, a textile company owned by Lonrho. ZANU-PF leaders reacted by attacking the strikers. Kumbirai Kangai, minister-designate of labour, said that ‘discipline at work must remain part and parcel of the freedom we have attained’. Maurice Nyagumbo, minister-designate of mines, a former member of the South African Communist Party who had spent many years in Smith’s gaols, declared that ‘we never promised instant pay increases. We said that the only way to get results was by working hard.’ [30] Although the efforts of ZANU-PF got the strikers back to work, it proved to be an only temporary respite. In early May a wave of strikes shook some of the biggest enterprises in Zimbabwe – 9,000 workers at Hippo Valley Estates and 8,000 at Triangle Estates, sugar plantations in the south-eastern Lowveld owned by two South African multinationals, respectively Anglo American and Hulletts Corporation, and at Wankie Colliery (which employs some 5,500 workers), another Anglo-American subsidiary.

ZANU-PF’s hostility to the strikes reflected its overall politics, which finds mass activity acceptable only within the framework of and under the direction of the party. However, similar ‘moderation’ was shown on all fronts. There are two crucial issues which will determine the nature of a future Zimbabwe – land and foreign investment. The basis of white power in Rhodesia lay in the settler monopoly of the best land. Under legislation only repealed in 1978 of the country’s farming land, 38.5 million acres (47%) were reserved for whites and 43.6 million acres (53%) for blacks (remember that blacks outnumber whites by 25 to 1). Most African peasants live on the Tribal Trust Lands, where there are some 675,000 cultivators, two and a half times the number which could work the land economically. By comparison, there are some 5,400 white farmers. The result of this pressure on the land is that many African peasants find it impossible to support themselves and their families from the soil. The TTLs have been devastated by soil erosion caused by overgrazing. Between 1962 and 1977 the maize grown per head in the TTLs fell from 352 lb a head to 231 lb, 40% less than the amount required to meet subsistence needs. The real average income of rural households fell by 40% between 1948 and 1970. It is estimated that half a million rural Africans living on the TTLs have no land at all. [31] This situation underpins Zimbabwe’s low-wage economy: it is estimated that between 60 and 75% of all African households depend upon wages for their subsistence. At the same time the existence of a tribal rural economy provides a social security system to support the old, the sick and the unemployed, so that employers can pay lower wages than would be necessary to reproduce labour-power. At the end of 1977 average African earnings were Z$588 per annum; average European earnings Z$6,156 (£1 = Z$1.44). [32]

The ZANU-PF manifesto states that ‘the private sector of agriculture will be retained but restricted only to efficient farmers’. Almost by definition, since the land system since 1890 has been organised to favour systematically the whites, it is the latter who are the efficient farmers. In 1976 European output accounted for 76% of total agricultural output and 92% of marketed produce (much of African agricultural production goes to meet subsistence needs and therefore is not sold on the market). [33] Furthermore production within the European sector is highly concentrated – over half the production from the white sector comes from 10 to 12 per cent of the farms. [34] Multinational companies play an important role in various branches of agriculture – for example, cattle ranching (Liebig and Lonrho), sugar and citrus estates (Anglo-American and Hulletts). Mugabe’s strategy seems to be one of leaving the big ranches and plantations alone. There is plenty of evidence that a majority of white farms are too inefficient to survive without state subsidy. Some 60% of all white farms did not pay income tax in 1976, while Z$138.2 million were paid out by the state to farmers between 1969 and 1977. [35] Mugabe could take over the smaller and less efficient white farmers without a significant fall in agricultural production – the chief constraint here would be the requirement to pay ‘adequate compensation’ (over Z$500 million to buy 75% of white land at current prices). [36] The result would be a land reform like that in Kenya after independence, where the big plantations were left alone, and the inefficient, state-subsidised mixed European farms taken over and transferred to what rapidly became a black kulak class. [37]

Mugabe’s approach to the question of the multinationals in general has been conciliatory. When asked about the private sector and the multinationals, he replied: ‘I’ll leave things as they are’. [38] This is a statement with the most immense implications. A study published shortly after ZANU-PF’s victory concluded that ‘it is hard to find a sub-Saharan African example comparable to the Zimbabwean case in which the role of foreign capital has been so long established, so deeply integrated in the sectors producing the bulk of output, so strongly interconnected with local capital’. Total foreign investment rose some 300% between 1963 and 1978–9, from £350 million to £1,230–1,640 million, between 67 and 73% of the total capital stock. The main foreign investors are Britain (50%) and South Africa (30%). In some sectors foreign capital’s dominance is almost complete. Thus in 1974 14 mines accounted for 73% of all mining output. All but one or two were operated by foreign companies. [39] Mineral exports in 1979 were valued at over Z$200 million, about a third of total exports. [40] The same is true of banking where Barclays, Standard Chartered, Grindlays and Nedbank hold unrivalled sway. But in other sectors – manufacturing, agriculture, hotels – the multinationals are almost as dominant.

Failure to confront the multinationals can only mean becoming their prisoner. Already there are signs of this taking place. On 5 May Mugabe opened the Bulawayo trade fair, and made a mild speech calling for foreign capital to show a Zimbabwe ‘orientation’, reinvesting its profits there. The speech caused such a flurry in business circles that two days later speaking to the Chamber of Mines, Mugabe went out of his way to re-assure his audience that the government was planning no nationalisations. Then there was the case of the minimum wage. On 23 April the Financial Times reported that a national minimum wage of Z$80 (£54.50) per month would be announced on May Day. But May 1st came and went without any such announcement – it was reported that pressure from the white Commercial Farmers Union had prevented the move. At the end of 1977 average African earnings in agriculture were about Z$28 a month.

Some 80 years ago Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

People who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for the surface modification of the old society. [41]

These words are completely applicable to Zimbabwe today. Mugabe has adopted ‘the method of legislative reform’ rather than that of social revolution’. In extenuation, his supporters will argue that once he had signed the Lancaster House agreement he had no other choice; and that, furthermore, he is now confronted with a state machine that is largely intact and still controlled by the settlers. Yet these arguments are not satisfactory: Mugabe consciously chose to adopt a strategy involving an alliance with the frontline presidents and the creation of a guerrilla army based in Mozambique from which dissident elements were ruthlessly purged. His dependence on Machel and Nyerere, a result of this choice, boxed him in at Lancaster House, forcing him to accept the British proposals.

Mugabe is now seeking to secure ZANU-PF control of the state machine. Mugabe himself controls defence and the security services. The most urgent problem is the integration of ZIPRA and ZANLA with the security forces, under the direction of General Walls, who still heads the Zimbabwe Joint Command. Some units – such as the Selous Scouts and the auxiliaries – have been disbanded and conscription has been ended. The black Rhodesian African Rifles (recruited mainly from the Karanga of Victoria province, a ZANU-PF stronghold) will with the guerrillas form the core of the new army. There are, however, considerable tensions between ZIPRA and ZANLA and the integration process has been going slowly, affecting only a section of the guerrillas so far.

Even if Mugabe is successful in reorganising the state apparatus, this is unlikely to bring the ‘socialist transformation of Zimbabwe’ any closer. The result will be a state machine run by the black middle classes rather than the settlers and a black professional army. Since taking office ZANU-PF have systematically sought to discourage the only force which could transform society – the black workers and peasants. The attitude of Mugabe and his ministers to the strike wave is indicative of their hostility to the independent self activity of the masses. Yet in the absence of such activity even the long-term goal Mugabe has set himself – the state takeover of the economy – is unlikely to be attained. The domination of Zimbabwe by western capital is likely to be, at best, qualified by the introduction of a new junior partner – the African bourgeoisie. The result will be ‘the surface modification of the old society’. When asked recently about his model, Mugabe replied: ‘Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia. Except for a few incidents here and there they have all succeeded in building harmonious societies.’ [42] All three countries, despite much talk of ‘African socialism’, have failed seriously to challenge the hold of foreign capital, while the masses, even in Tanzania, where strikes and demonstrations are ruthlessly suppressed, have been excluded from the political and economic equation.

The prospects for socialism in Zimbabwe will depend on the development of the black working class. Sizeable by African standards (at the end of 1977 there were about a quarter of a million black industrial workers and 342,300 African agricultural labourers) they have already in the few months since Mugabe’s victory begun to assert their claims. The very possibility of major social struggles, combined with pressures from within ZANU, make it likely that there will be a certain radicalisation of the Mugabe government. The miserly response of western governments in a context where the country needs massive amounts of money to repair the destruction of the rural areas, resettle refugees and replace obsolete plant and equipment (according to one estimate R 4.5 billion is needed) may push ZANU-PF to the left. However, Mugabe is likely to continue in his efforts to conciliate foreign capital. The greatest danger is perhaps that his compromises will in the end disillusion his supporters, while his vestigial radicalism alienates the multinationals, the settlers and even sections of the black bourgeoisie. In such circumstances, a coup (by leaders of the new black army – the example of Boumedienne in Algeria should not be forgotten) cannot be ruled out. Nkomo, whose ZIPRA is a formidable military force, is waiting the wings.

If social polarisation does occur, what forces exist capable of providing a left alternative to Mugabe? At present, none. When the detainees in Mozambique were released as part of the Lancaster House agreement, their subsequent political destinies showed the fragility of the radicalism of the ‘leftists’. Gumbo and Hamadzirippi joined up with Sithole’s ZANU, a rump financed by Libya and by Amin before his downfall. Machingura, the Maoist supporter of the Gang of Four, joined the Moscow-backed ZAPU. His former ally, Hondo, joined the UANC. This pathetic outcome suggests that their ‘marxism-leninism’ was skin-deep, a mere rhetoric concealing nationalism. If a genuine Zimbabwean socialist movement is to develop, it can only do so on the basis that genuine national liberation and socialist revolution are inseparable, and that the only force capable of carrying out such a revolution is the working class.

Developments in the past four years have therefore strikingly confirmed the analysis we outlined in our book Southern Africa after Soweto, which was written during the uprising of 1976. We argued that capitalism and racial oppression were so interwoven in southern Africa that genuine national liberation could only occur through the establishment of workers’ and peasants’ governments prepared to expropriate the interests of foreign and local capital. Furthermore, we went on to say that the dominant economic, military and geographical position of South Africa was such that no state in the region could achieve effective independence so long as the apartheid regime continued to exist. Any regime which failed to base itself upon the African masses and which did not seek to link their struggle with those of the black majority in South Africa itself would end up a prisoner of western and South African capital. This has been the fate of the Mugabe government, since its election.

The South African dimension of the struggle is of central importance. Mugabe has refused to allow the South African liberation movement to operate from Zimbabwe – South Africa is an independent state, he has argued, and it is up to its people to sort out their own problems (where would ZANU be now if FRELIMO had taken that attitude?). At the same time, he has sought to bind together the black states of southern and central Africa in a loose economic union designed to reduce their links with Pretoria. A conference of these states’ leaders met in Lusaka in April 1980 with this end in view. Hardly had it finished when South African Airways began its first scheduled flight direct to Lusaka (it had been due to start at the same time as the conference, but was put off to avoid embarrassing Kaunda). The region’s transport system remains centred on South Africa – thus, although the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique has been re-opened rail traffic between the two countries is being routed via South Africa to the port of Maputo, rather than to Beira, which used to be Rhodesia’s access to the sea, because of damage caused to the Umtali-Beira railway during the war. Although PW Botha’s proposed ‘constellation’ of states in southern Africa – a plan for a South-African-dominated common market tailored for compliant black rulers such as Muzorewa – is now dead after the Zimbabwean elections, South Africa remains the dominant force in the region. The country which stands to gain most from the sort of economic links discussed at Lusaka is Zimbabwe, the second most industrialised country in Africa. Moves toward a common market excluding South Africa would leave neighbouring countries awash with cheap Zimbabwean manufactures. And, given the major role played by South African companies in the Zimbabwean economy, Mugabe could end up as Pretoria’s trojan horse in the rest of southern Africa – the ultimate irony.

Rationalising apartheid – PW Botha’s ‘total strategy’

So everything depends on South Africa itself where major development since 1976–7 has been the adoption of an apparently radically new strategy by the new Prime Minister, PW Botha. Whereas Vorster stood for détente abroad and an obdurate refusal to countenance change at home, Botha has opted for external confrontation and domestic concessions. Thus, on the external side, Botha has been unwilling to help the five western ‘contact powers’ (the US, Britain, West Germany, France and Canada) in their efforts to reach a settlement in Namibia, preferring instead to pursue an ‘internal’ solution excluding the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO); again, in Zimbabwe, the South Africans backed Muzorewa and were plainly unhappy about Thatcher’s U-turn at Lusaka and the Lancaster House conference. Domestically, Botha has sanctioned two sets of proposals, the Wiehahn and Riekert reports, which appear to offer significant improvement in the status of at least some black people.

These changes can only be understood in the context of the development of South African capitalism over the last decade or so. South Africa is an extreme case of the law of uneven and combined development. It is, by most economic measures, an advanced capitalist country. Yet it denies basic political rights to the overwhelming majority of the population on the grounds of their colour. Without going much into the background, this paradoxical situation arises from the nature of capital accumulation in South Africa. The first major capitalist industry in the country was the gold mines, whose conditions of production (a low average ore grade, fixed gold price and high development and overhead costs) necessitated a large, cheap labour force, which was provided by the systematic destruction of African agriculture and the imposition of taxes upon the black peasantry; the black miners were recruited through the migrant labour system (which kept wages low because the Tribal Reserves took part of the burden of reproducing labour-power) and controlled at work through the compound system. The Native Land Act of 1913 set aside 13 per cent of the land for Africans – too little to reproduce the population, thus providing the mines and white farmers with workers. European agriculture also involved ‘labour-repressive’ techniques, with the survival of quasi- feudal labour-tenancy systems in some parts of the country well into the 1940s. The rapid expansion of secondary industry (encouraged by successive governments) led to the emergence of a settled urban black proletariat, which soon became a serious challenge to the existing order. A response was provided by the victory of the National Party in 1948, which led to the formation of a new power bloc, dominated the Afrikaner urban petty bourgeoisie and rural bourgeoisie, but also involving the white working class. Their solution was apartheid – the extension of the migrant labour system to the entire African population. No black would have the right to settle in a ‘white’ area (87% of the country); this situation was justified by the ideology of ‘separate development’, according to which every African, wherever he or she may have been born or may now live, is a citizen of one of the Bantustans – tribal statelets in the rural areas – and thus was the same position as, say, a Spanish gastarbeiter in Britain. A vast bureaucracy was created to administer the system of pass laws and influx control restricting Africans’ movement around the country, while black resistance, led in the 1950s and early 1960s by the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), was ruthlessly crushed. The triumph of the Nationalists was crowned, in the 1960s and early 1970s, by a prodigious economic boom, fuelled by massive foreign investment. Capitalism and racial oppression formed in South Africa an interdependent whole, apartheid securing the low-wage economy which made high profits possible. [43]

Yet the process of capital accumulation in South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s proved to be a contradictory one. The steady growth of manufacturing industry (whose output grew 5.7 per cent a year between 1961 and 1977) led to an increasing demand for a stable, semi-skilled workforce. [44] This workforce could not be provided by whites – skilled white workers proved to be increasingly, scarce and expensive, and whites tended to shift out of industry into better paid white collar and professional jobs. The Wiehahn report stated that ‘a process of restructuring of work categories to utilise available skills better and to create semi-skilled tasks for relatively unskilled workers – mainly blacks ... has become a permanent feature of the process of industrialisation in the country’s main centres’. This process – ‘fragmentation’ or ‘dilution’ as it is called -involved the shifting of the colour bar upwards as skilled jobs formerly held by whites were broken up into a number of simpler tasks performed by semi-skilled blacks. Apartheid’s aim of turning the black working class into migrant labourers proved to be a failure: in 1978 male migrant workers were 1.3 million of a total black workforce in white areas of 4 million, with 1.1 million non-migrant black workers in urban areas alone. Between 1970 and 1977 the African labour force rose by 1.6 million (30.4%) while the white labour force rose by 300,000 (21.7%). The proportion of whites in the total labour force fell from 19.6% to 18.7% in the same period, while that of Africans rose from 68.8% to 70.5%. [45]

Ironically, then, apartheid has led to the increased dependence of South African capitalism on black labour. The result has been, with the discovery of their economic muscle by black workers, increasing militancy. Here are the available figures for strikes involving blacks in the 1970s [46]:





on Strike






















These figures are official ones, and therefore underestimate the numbers involved; they also exclude the three political general strikes of 1976. However, they do indicate a huge jump in black workers’ militancy, whose high point was the mass strikes of 1973 in the Durban area. [47]

The response of the employers and the state of the Durban strikes was comparatively mild. One study of the strikes is worth quoting at length:

‘One of the employers’ representatives to whom we spoke explained the absence of massive arrests, and the fact that those firms who dismissed their staff re-engaged most of them, by saying that “it is too jolly difficult to get a labour force as it is”. He pointed out that groups of unskilled workers can be sent back to the homelands, but this is impossible when there are strikes all over. Moreover, when workers are a bit more skilled employers no longer want a high labour turnover ... The proportion of African workers in the workforce is increasing. The total number of African workers in the urban workforce is increasing. The number of African workers doing jobs that require some sort of training is increasing. The traditional artisan plus several unskilled labouring assistants is being replaced by the machine-minding operative who requires several weeks’ training and several months’ experience in order to reach the normal level of production. All these factors mean that the potential bargaining power of African workers is increasing.’ [48]

In 1973 the total ban on African trade unions was lifted, although they continued to enjoy a twilight, semi-legal existence, rarely recognised by the employers, never by the state. Even so the Wiehahn commission estimated that at the end of 1977 there were 27 black trade unions organising between 55,000 and 70,000 workers. [49] The increased bargaining power of black workers was translated into higher wages. Between 1970 and 1975 black wages rose by 6.6% a year, white wages by only 1 %. The black-white wage gap fell for the first time between 1973 and 1975, from R 2,815 to R 2,724 (in constant 1970 prices). The black share in personal income rose by 6% in 1970–5, from 26 to 32%. These increases were unevenly distributed, affecting migrant labourers far less than urban workers, and still left the white/black income ratio 11 : 1 in 1975. However, as one economist pointed out, ‘this is the first time in South Africa’s economic history that such a redistribution has taken place’. [50]

This shift in the economic balance between white capital and black labour underlay the Soweto uprising, even if it was the victories in Mozambique and Angola which provided the inspiration, and the tyranny and inhumanity of ‘Bantu education’ the occasion of the school students’ revolt. [51] Although the wave of school boycotts and mass demonstrations which began in June 1976 finally subsided in early 1978 after the suppression of most legal black political organisations, this proved to be only a temporary respite for the regime, as we shall see below.

The Soweto uprising hammered home the bankruptcy of ‘separate development’. Despite the charade of the Bantustans (two of which, Transkei and Boputhatswana, have actually become ‘independent’ states) urban blacks have staked their claim, not to some rural dumping ground for unwanted labour, but to the whole of South Africa. There have been increasing calls, even within the Nationalist establishment, for a new political dispensation for urban blacks, which would give them some say in the running of the country.

But continued economic growth requires large-scale imports of capital goods. To purchase these goods foreign exchange must be found. However, the productivity of labour in South African manufacturing industry is very low [52]; and the restricted character of the South African market prevents economies of scale being exploited. So South Africa’s main exports are gold, other minerals and agricultural commodities. A recent study showed that the most competitive South African exports are raw materials, while of manufacturing goods those produced in capital-intensive ones the least [53] – a clear legacy of the apartheid system. Thus, the South African economy remains dependent for its export earnings on industries such as agriculture and mining which account for only a small proportion of gross domestic product in 1975 (agriculture contributed 7.3% of GDP and 31.4% of exports). [54]

The result is that despite the expansion of modern, capital-intensive industries such as cars, petrochemicals and electronics, South African capitalism remains crucially dependent on export industries which are particularly ‘labour-repressive’. The best example is provided by gold mining: South African gold exports have played a crucial role in off-setting trade deficits and financing imports and the rise of the gold price in 1977–80 was essential to the recovery of the economy from the 1976–7 recession. Yet the mining industry continues to depend upon the migrant labour system in order to provide and discipline its workforce. Plans to transform South Africa into a major exporter of coal (a commodity for which the world market is expanding rapidly) will simply reinforce the country’s position as a producer and processor of raw materials within the international division of labour. South Africa, unlike such ‘new industrialising countries’ as Brazil and South Korea, has failed to become a significant exporter of manufactured goods.

However, South Africa is no exception to the tendency for capital to rationalise itself, leading to increases in labour productivity which are much more rapid than the increase in production itself. From 1970 to 1977 the proportion of capital to each worker (at constant prices) went up by an annual 3.3% for the economy as a whole. For manufacturing it was as high as 5.4% in this period; and in mining, between 1973 and 1976 the real capital stock rose by 28% at the same time as employment fell by 2%. [55] A consequence is very high levels of African unemployment. One business economist estimated that there were two million African unemployed in May 1978 (out of a total population of about 25 million). [56] The character of capital accumulation in South Africa bears a number of similarities to the pattern of development in some newly industrialised countries where the rapid expansion of manufacturing industry has been secured thanks to considerable state intervention, wholesale repression designed to keep labour-costs down and large-scale foreign investment. The migrant labour system is one method of sustaining this pattern of capital accumulation – by keeping wages low and shunting off the unemployed and the unemployable to the Homelands. [57]

There is one further aspect to the pattern of South African capitalism that must be mentioned. Traditionally it has been ‘English-speaking’ capital that has been dominant, symbolised by the mining finance houses, and above all by the Anglo-American Corporation, a vast multinational conglomerate in which British, American and South African capital are closely interwoven. However, since 1948 successive Nationalist Governments have sought to encourage the development of Afrikaner capital, both by giving government contracts to Afrikaner business and by the developing role of public corporations such as Sasol, Iscor, IDC, Escom, state industries controlled by Afrikaners. The result has been the rise of Afrikaner firms such as FUB (investments), General Mining, Rembrandt (tobacco and drinks), Volksas (banking), Nedbank, Sanlam (insurance). A powerful Afrikaner industrial and financial bourgeoisie has emerged that is increasingly integrated with English-speaking capital. The Financial Times recently commented that ‘the Afrikaner businessman now probably has as much, if not more, in common with his English-speaking counterpart in commerce, industry and mining as with the blue-collar workers, farmers, teachers and civil servants who have traditionally formed the power base of the National Party’. [58] This development is at least connected with the emergence of divisions between verligtes and verkramptes, moderates and hardliners, in the Nationalist establishment since the mid-1960s.

Linked with the development of the Afrikaner bourgeoisie was the expansion of the state capitalist sector. The following table shows the annual percentage increase in real fixed capital stock since the war:








Public authorities




Public corporations




Private sector




In manufacturing the difference was even more dramatic – the real fixed capital stock of public corporations rose by nearly 17% a year (from an annual rate of 9% in the 1960s), while in the private sector it fell from 9% in the 1960s to only 4.5% in 1970–77. Much of this expansion was due to massive projects mounted by state-owned firms involved in the processing of primary products – Alusaf (aluminium), Natref (oil refining), Iscor (iron and steel), Sasol (coal and oil). Investment by the state in transport and communications also rose sharply (from 4.8% in the 1960s to 7.6% in 1970–77) because of projects such as the port at Richards Bay, designed to facilitate mineral exports. [59]

This massive, state directed reorganisation of South African capitalism has come to face increasing opposition from businessmen, both Afrikaner and English-speaking, who came to fear, especially in 1973–6 when public expenditure doubled and the money supply I grew at an annual rate of 20% that they would be suffocated by the ever-expanding public sector. The most celebrated attack on the tendency towards state capitalism came from Arthur Wassenaur, chairman of Sanlam and one of the leading representatives of Afrikaner business, who wrote that ‘the economic policies followed in the RSA lead to progressive weakening of private enterprise and to the ascendancy of the state’. [60]

Vorster in a sense represented the continuing use of state capital for the benefit of the old Nationalist alliance, even if Afrikaner private capital was becoming rather uncomfortable. The recession of 1976–7, from which recovery was slow and uncertain, stimulated mainly by the rising price of gold and other primary exports, only really leading to rapid growth in 1979–80 and involving no fall in inflation, exposed the foolhardly ambitions of the stagflationary state projects of the early 1970s. Soweto revealed the dangerous inadequacy of the state bureaucracy as a mechanism for controlling the black masses. The Muldergate scandal symbolised the danger of squandering state money to the detriment of national capital’s international competitiveness. It led to the fall of Vorster and his chosen heir, Connie Mulder, leader of the Transvaal Nationalists. The Transvaal had produced South Africa’s prime ministers for the previous quarter century. Now came the chance of P.W. Botha, leader of the Cape National Party. He owed his election as prime minister in September 1978 to Pik Botha, the foreign minister, who stood as a candidate to succeed Vorster, taking enough Transvaal votes away from Mulder to nullify that province’s majority in the Nationalist caucus and let P.W. Botha in. Traditionally Cape Nationalists are supposed to be more verligte than the Transvalers, perhaps because of the concentration of Coloureds in the Cape, black people of partial Afrikaner ancestry, although Botha has been a firm supporter of the forcible removal of Africans from the western Cape.

Certainly Botha is no-one’s idea of a liberal. Muldergate and his accession to power occasioned a reorganisation of the state apparatus and in particular the rise to dominance of the military. Previously the security apparatus, and in particular BOSS (the Bureau of State Security) under General Hendrik van den Bergh enjoyed great political influence (Vorster himself had been minister of justice and police before becoming prime minister). Muldergate brought van den Bergh down as well. It is now the South African Defence Force (SADF) under General Magnus Malan that are on top. P.W. Botha’s years as minister of defence (1966–78) saw a prodigious expansion of the SADF and of South Africa’s military industrial complex. The defence budget in 1958/9 was R 26 million; today it is R 1,972 million. Thanks to the introduction of compulsory military service for white males between 18 and 45 (two years initial service, then three-month call-ups thereafter), the standing operational force has risen from 11,500 in 1969 to 180,000 in 1979, and total SADF manpower from 78,000 to 494,000. As a result of the activities of the state company Armscor, South Africa largely produces its own basic armaments. The National Supplies Procurement Act gives the minister of defence power to take control of any section of the economy ‘where necessary for the security of South Africa’. [61]

This militarisation of white society has come to be reflected at the top of the state apparatus under Botha, who retained the defence Portfolio on becoming prime minister. BOSS (now called the National Intelligence Service) was demoted to junior partnership with the Department of Military Intelligence. The State Security Council, a committee of senior ministers, civil servants and generals, came to assume the role of a sort of super-cabinet, meeting on Mondays, the day before the weekly cabinet meeting, and effectively pre-empting the latter’s decisions. Magnus Malan came to play the role van den Bergh had performed under Vorster of the premier’s right-hand man. Four other cabinet committees, on internal, social, financial and foreign affairs – each chaired by a minister close to Botha, control the non-military aspects of government. They and the SSC are directly accountable to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This centralisation of power is justified by the notion that South Africa is fighting a ‘total war’ waged by an enemy whose weapons include not merely hot guerrilla wars (in Namibia, until recently in Zimbabwe, increasingly within South Africa) but, in Malan’s words ‘diplomacy, industry and trade, technology, the written and spoken word, the public media, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, subversion and so forth’. The enemy, therefore, is perceived as being, not merely black nationalism and the Soviet bloc, but also western capital. This attitude flows from the diplomatic rows with the west over South Africa and Namibia in 1977–8 and to some degree reflects the drive to economic autarky of the Afrikaner-controlled state sector. However, South Africa continues to depend on western imports of capital goods and western investments to partly finance these imports. This dependence is as true of the state sector as of private industry – thus the expansion of the Sasol 2 coal-into-oil project is to be conducted jointly with the American Fluor Corporation, while Escom recently ordered six power generators from GEC.

Paradoxically, as part of his ‘total strategy’ to combat internal and external subversion, Botha has made quite significant concessions to the urban black population, contained in the reports of two commissions chaired by Afrikaner intellectuals which were published last year. Coolly cutting across the ideology of separate development, the Wiehahn report recommended that Africans should be permitted to form trade unions and that these unions could be registered as part of the state-controlled industrial conciliation system. The white trade unions are registered under the Industrial Conciliation Act, which subjects them to a variety of controls – for example, agreements made by industrial councils (representing both unions and employers) are legally binding. The commission complained that black trade unions ‘in fact enjoy much greater freedom than registered [i.e. white] unions, to the extent that they are free if they so wished to participate in polities’, which the white unions are forbidden to do. The fear of a political black workers’ movement is evident here. The report warned that ‘the influence of this extra-statutory segment could well undermine the statutory systems’, weakening the elaborate set of controls through which the organised white workers are incorporated in the state. It justified its main recommendation by arguing that permitting registration of black trade unions ‘would have the beneficial effect of countering polarisation and ensuring a more orderly process of collective bargaining, in addition to exposing black trade unions more directly to South Africa’s trade union tradition and the existing institutions, thus inculcating a sense of responsibility and loyalty towards the free market system’. [62] In other words, given that a settled black working class is here to stay, it makes more sense to incorporate its organisations than to seek simply to smash them.

The Riekert report, drawn up by Botha’s economic adviser and dealing with the utilisation of manpower, was essentially concerned with the problem of how to rationalise the influx control system. The massive bureaucracy created by the Department of Bantu Administration and Development (BAD – now called ‘Plural Relations and Development’) and the arrest of vast numbers of Africans every year for minor breaches of the pass laws (278,887 in 1978) had clearly become counter-productive, helping to provoke the Soweto uprising and severely limiting the mobility of labour-power. However, Riekert did not propose the abolition of influx control. The existence of a vast pool of unemployed and underemployed blacks in the Bantustans and ‘white’ rural areas meant that ‘control over the rate of urbanisation [ie the flow of Africans from country to town] is, in the light of circumstances in South Africa, an absolutely essential social security measure’. The changing language reveals the shift in the apartheid regime – once the pass laws had been an expression of baaskap (white supremacy), then of ‘separate development’, now they are a ‘social security measure’. The aim is the same – influx control will remain, only streamlined and rendered more efficient. It ‘should be linked only with the availability of work and of approved housing.’ [63] The old law that blacks must prove their right to be in an urban area for longer than 72 hours should be scrapped. Passes (reference books) should be replaced by passports issued by the Bantustan governments. Employers, not black workers, should be prosecuted for breaches of influx control laws. These measures should end the mass arrests of blacks under the pass laws. Most of the functions of BAD should be hived off to other departments.

The two commission reports involve an attempt to drive a wedge between the minority of black workers who are ‘section tenners’, having the right to live in a given urban area and the rest. Riekert proposes that the former should now have the right to have their families with them – not always the case at present, and the right to move freely from one urban area to another, provided that jobs and approved housing are available. At the same time the many workers without section ten rights who are illegally in urban areas will be subject to greater pressure, since the new heavy fines on employers of illegal immigrants will make them too expensive to risk hiring. Wiehahn clearly expects the settled urban workers to form the bulk of registered black trade unionists (the government only conceded the right to form and join unions to migrant workers, as Wiehahn had proposed, only under heavy pressure from all the black unions). It is a divide and rule strategy, intended to create a black labour aristocracy against whom the resentments of the migrants and those illegally in the townships will focus.

It should be added that the Wiehahn and Riekert reports which involve shifting the burden of administering apartheid from the state to employers, the white unions and the Bantustans are in line with the government’s economic policies. Botha has thrown himself behind the finance minister, Owen Horwood, who implemented an austerity programme in 1976–7 and who is committed to reducing the economic role of the state. After rising at an annual rate of 10% in 1973–6 real government expenditure increased only 1% in 1977 and ½% in 1978 and was static in 1979. [64]

The scarcity and cost of skilled labour led the Wiehahn commission to propose scrapping the statutory colour bar reserving certain jobs for whites. They found that there was a shortage of 9,667 artisans (9,144 of them white) and 597 apprentices (485 whites) even at the depth of the recession in April 1977. [65] The chamber of Mines predicted to the commission a shortfall of 50,000 white miners. Similar shortages affected civil engineering, transport, boilermaking, fitting, turning, bricklaying and cabinet-making.

The pressures leading to a confrontation between capital and white labour over bridging the skill gap with blacks erupted in March 1979. A strike started at the O’Kiep mine when 120 white miners were sacked for refusing to work with two Coloured miners; on semi-skilled jobs. 10,000 whites struck in racialist solidarity all over the mining industry. When Botha declared his support for generalised employment of blacks in the lowest white skilled grades Arrie Paulus, leader of the white Mineworkers’ Union, called it ‘the biggest treason toward the white workers in white South Africa since the days in 1922 when white mine workers [defending the colour bar] were shot down on the Rand by General Smuts’.

Paulus was being a little hysterical. Botha is hardly about to ditch safeguards on white employment over night. The Wiehahn report provides for the preservation of the colour bar where it is imposed by collective agreement of the employers and white unions. There were in fact, only five job reservation determinations in force, until they were scrapped in April 1980. Informal controls will keep blacks out of many skilled jobs, while the gradual process of shifting whites into supervisory and white-collar jobs will reduce their resistance to change. The process of negotiated change is already going on: an industrial council agreement in July 1978 opened up all job categories to Africans in the crucial iron, steel, engineering and metallurgical industries, which employ 500,000 workers.

As one observer pointed out, a ‘flaw in Botha’s reforms is that the political and social changes that are planned are on a lower level than the economic reforms’. [66] He plans to expand the Senate to include Coloured and Asian representatives; however, Africans are still being kept out of central political decision making, on the fiction that they are already represented by the Bantustan governments. Even here there are some signs of change. Immediately after Mugabe’s election Botha called for a multiracial national convention. This has been proposed by Gatsha Buthelezi, chief minister of KwaZulu for the last ten years. Buthelezi is the leading candidate for the role of a South African Muzorewa. He has a national political organisation, Inkatha YeSizwe, although its base is primarily Zulu. Inkatha was important in keeping the Durban area quiet in 1976 and is thought to have played some part in the attacks by Zulu migrant workers on militant students in Soweto during the stay-at-home of August 1976. Buthelezi’s role is a contradictory one. On the one hand, he constantly demands black majority rule throughout the country and threatens the regime with bloodshed if it does not talk to him; on the other, he collaborates with the institutions of apartheid. Thus on 14 March 1980 the Financial Times reported that ‘the South African government has won its biggest breakthrough to date in its efforts to get wider black participation in government-established institutions’, when Buthelezi told his supporters to participate in the Community Councils, which were set up after the Soweto uprising in an effort to get the black middle class to assist in the running of the African townships. Many people now see through him – when Buthelezi attended the funeral of Robert Sobukwe, founder of the PAC, in March 1978, he was stoned by militant black youth and driven away, his bodyguards firing blank shots into the crowd. However, when (and it seems only a matter of time) the regime attempts to incorporate sections of the black middle class into the political system, there is little doubt that it is to Buthelezi that they will turn.

Resistance to Botha comes from two quarters. First, from within the power bloc. Andries Treurnicht, leader of the Transvaal National Party and therefore a very powerful figure in the Afrikaner establishment, is leading verkrampte opposition to Botha. He has been joined by figures such as Vorster who lost out during Muldergate. Moreover, he is likely to receive the support of many white workers, as they see their traditional position undermined (although even within the far-right Confederation of Labour there are splits between Paulus and the MWU, on the one hand, and other unions which want to accept the Wiehahn report). There have been signs that the pace of change is slowing down as Botha encounters resistance from the establishment; perhaps, some observers suggest, he will end up like Vorster, who was scared by verkrampte opposition to some very minor liberalisations of apartheid in the early years of his premiership that after a while he stopped dead in his tracks.

The situation is different however – the regime is far more on the defensive than it was in the 1960s, before Durban, Mozambique, Angola, Soweto, Zimbabwe and therefore under much greater pressure to make concessions. But there are definite limits to peaceful change. Even internal settlement is unlikely, except as a desperate last measure, given the interpenetration of state and private capital in South Africa and the National Party’s dependence on the white working class for a mass base. It is the reality that capitalism still requires racial oppression in order to function and that the dominant, Afrikaner fraction of capital can only rule by means of a coalition with white labour that makes the gradual abolition of apartheid a Utopian perspective. Talk of a black labour aristocracy should be treated with caution: what is envisaged is changes in African workers’ position starting from a very low base indeed. The minority whom Wiehahn and Riekert hope to benefit are expected to become junior members of a white-dominated, state-controlled, class-collaborationist trade union movement, while their wages will be kept low by the pressure of a massive reserve army of unemployed in the rural areas.

Black resistance

And indeed black resistance to the regime, Botha’s second major problem, continues. A recent dispute at Ford’s showed that the already existing elite of skilled black workers is by no means compliant and grateful for their relative privileges. In November 1979 Ford recruited scabs to replace 700 black workers at the Cortina assembly plant in Port Elizabeth. This was the fourth unofficial walk-out in four weeks and it sparked a wave of other strikes in Port Elizabeth. At the American-owned General tyre and Rubber 635 struck for recognition of the auto Workers’ Union, which represents the 700, and were sacked.

The strikes began when Ford told a trainee draftsman, called, ironically, Thazmile Botha, who had just been elected chairman of the newly formed Port Elizabeth Black Civic Association (PEBCO), to resign from this position. He refused, was sacked, there was a strike, and he was re-instated. The white workers in the factory then threatened to go on strike, complaining that blacks were ‘dirtying’ the canteens and being ‘cheeky’. The black workers walked out again, demanding the re-employment of a black foreman on the same wages as a white would get. This process of guerrilla war on the shopfloor led in January 1980 to a situation where stone-throwing and petrol-bombing in support of the strikers seemed to augur another Soweto. Botha was arrested in the midst of tension at the impending removal of 6,000 black workers from the township of Walmer, as part of the government’s resettlement programme. A rally of 3,000 PEBCO members at Zide township decided on a general strike until Botha was released. Ford then re-instated those workers who had not got other jobs. Botha was released, only to be banned. He subsequently fled to Lesotho.

Then in April 1980 came a sign that the spirit of Soweto was not dead when 100,000 Coloured students boycotted their schools in protest against their inferior education (per capita expenditure on school pupils in 1976–7 was whites – R 654, Coloureds – R 157.59, Asians – R 219.96, Africans – R 48.55). [67] It began in the western Cape, where Coloured youth had been heavily involved in the uprising of 1976. In the first demonstrations at Cape Town schools one placard said, ‘Don’t force us out of school to supply cheap labour for capitalism’. [68] A group called the committee of 61 rapidly emerged to co-ordinate the action. Africans were not heavily involved, except in Port Elizabeth, where black students stoned to death one of a group of adult ‘peacemakers’ armed with sticks who tried to get them back to school. Interestingly, the regime’s response was conciliatory. There was not the massacre of demonstrators by police that occurred in 1976. Botha met the executive of the Coloured teachers’ union, admitted that the students had ‘justifiable grievances’ and promised an inquiry. The difference, perhaps, lay partly in apartheid ideology – Coloureds are part-Afrikaans and so Nationalists have an uneasy conscience about them, especially since they have no tribal ‘homeland’. However, it was a marked change from the sheer brutality of the Vorster years. By the end of May 1980 the movement had spread to the African townships around Bloemfontein, where there were several major confrontations with the police.

Finally, the regime is faced by a growing guerrilla threat. There are some 30,000 South African troops in Namibia, faced with a growing threat from the fighters of SWAPO. According to official figures some 266 guerrillas and 24 members of the SADF were killed in the first 4½ months of 1980. The whole of Ovamboland, where nearly half the population live, is a ‘red area’, subject to dusk-to-dawn curfew. SWAPO is growing more daring, for example, mortaring the major SADF base at Ondangwa. The Times reported that ‘there can be no doubt that the present rate of SWAPO activity is causing considerable concern to South African military commanders’. [69] The military situation, combined with events in Zimbabwe, may help to explain why Pretoria has cooled to the idea of a Namibian internal settlement, and responded with enthusiasm to the idea floated in May 1980 of a Lancaster House-style conference on Namibia.

Guerrilla activity within South Africa is also becoming a major problem for the regime. The ANC leadership is now based in Angola and Mozambique, with advance elements in Botswana and Swaziland. ANC guerrillas have been involved in a number of spectacular actions – notably, the seizure of a bank near Pretoria in January and an attack on a Johannesburg police station in April. In February the SADF assumed responsibility for the security of northern Natal after several incidents involving insurgents. The war is finally being taken to the white heartland.

Three major forces compete for the political loyalties of the black masses – the ANC, Buthelezi and the black consciousness movement (BCM). (The PAC seems rapidly to be falling apart amid exile squabbles.) Activists from the black consciousness movement played a leading role in the 1976 uprising, even if its actual organisations, notably the Black People’s Convention, failed to act as an effective co-ordinator of the struggles; furthermore, the ideology of the movement – its stress on the unique and particular quality of black culture, its refusal to rely on white liberals, its pride in blackness, all summed up in the slogan ‘Black man, you are on your own!’ – played an important part in creating the atmosphere which led to the uprising. [70] However, it is a movement largely of intellectuals, and there were considerable tensions beneath the surface between the comparatively privileged youth who led the Soweto Student Representative Council and the mass of those involved in the uprising; this tension was reflected in the failure of the rebels’ leadership to build durable support among black workers, and support for their strike calls dwindled away in late 1976 and 1977. [71] The BCM bore the brunt of the post-1976 repression, symbolised by the murder of Steve Biko, its founder and chief theorist, and many of its activists were forced into exile.

Oddly enough, in exile, it was the ANC, which did not lead the uprising, although its supporters played some part in it, which proved to be the chief beneficiary of the radicalisation of black youth after 1976. Many of those who went into exile joined the ANC. Often this was because they had no choice – an Amnesty International observer who visited refugees in Botswana discovered that the government threatened them with deportation back to South Africa unless they joined it. But there were other reasons. Black consciousness proved to be remarkably woolly on matters of strategy and tactics – Biko, although unremitting in his opposition to the regime, seemed to envisage a gradual growth in black ‘bargaining power’ that would force the regime to come to terms with the majority without the need for a violent confrontation. [72] ANC has the advantage of a clear strategy – the armed overthrow of the regime – which seems rather closer to the reality of the situation. Moreover, it has an armed wing, Umkonto weSizwe, and offers military training to those who want to fight.

We have discussed ANC’s politics at length elsewhere. [73] It appears to be controlled by an alliance of members of the South African Communist Party and conservative nationalists of the Nkomo stripe. Its public programme is essentially a vintage Stalinist stages theory (the SACP is one of the most violently pro-Moscow parties still in circulation) according to which the task of the day is the establishment of a democratic state based on universal suffrage. This task is to be achieved by a class alliance embracing black workers, peasants and capitalists and ‘white democrats’ (many of the SACP leadership are white). Lip-service is paid to the principle that the African working class will play the leading role in this revolution; however, this formula seems designed to justify the effective control of the ANC by the CP. When a group of activists in SACTU, ANC’s trade union front, argued for a serious mass orientation on black workers they were summarily expelled. [74] Yet ANC’s verbal radicalism was belied when Buthelezi announced that he had met the ANC executive in London in October 1979, confirming rumours of a tacit alliance between ANC and Inkatha that had been going round for some time.

Part of the reason for ANC’s courtship of Buthelezi may lie in the belief that it can use the Bantustans and primarily KwaZulu (which occupies a strategically important position) as a base for guerrilla operations. ZANU-PF’s victory in Zimbabwe can only have reinforced ANC’s illusions in guerrilla warfare, even though it backed Nkomo and was bitterly hostile to Mugabe. Yet the analogy does not hold up. Zimbabwe is still a largely rural country in which a significant section of the African population are able to support themselves off their peasant plots. It was ZANU’s success in partially liberating a large portion of southern and eastern Zimbabwe that underlay Mugabe’s victory. Yet the whole structure of the Bantustan system in South Africa militates against such a Possibility. Only 0.1% of the Transkeian population of two million have been classified as being still capable of regular peasant production of any surplus crop. 83% of the Transkei’s male labour potential has to seek work in the ‘white’ areas. If there is to be a challenge to the power of the Transkei’s tribal rulers and their functionaries, it is likely to come from the 4,050 workers, mainly women, employed in match, timber, weaving, textiles, hardware and furniture firms, and paid as those employed in factories in nearby ‘white’ areas. [75]

ANC’s strategy presumes a social structure such as that of Zimbabwe; it is quite inappropriate to a massively urbanised and proletarianised population. Apart from its lack of realism, it involves building up a guerrilla army which operates as a military elite separated from the mass of the population, who will be expected to support it, but not to act for themselves. Its bases will be the Bantustans and the townships, where the regime has long experience of surrounding disturbed areas and systematically smashing all opposition. It fails to capitalise on the real source of black power, in the factories and mines. None of this intended to deny that an armed uprising will be necessary to overthrow the regime; but such an uprising can only succeed if it involves the African masses.

All these defects flow from the fact that the ANC, like other nationalist parties, such as ZANU-PF, is concerned essentially with the question of majority rule, separates the national question from that of class exploitation and fears the self-activity of the masses. As in Zimbabwe, the people are invited to put their trust in a monolithic organisation that will act on their behalf. In reality, of course, ANC is not a monolith, and is subject to a variety of pressures, notably from the African middle classes, who are increasingly the object of the regime’s political attentions. It cannot be excluded that the regime may not embark upon its own internal settlement, in which case efforts might well be made to draw in sections of ANC, using Buthelezi as an intermediary. Already after the Zimbabwean elections, one Afrikaans paper, Die Vaderland, commented: ‘The traditional leaders are not the men who have the population behind them. The more radical, the more support. We have to talk to the real leaders, not to stooges’. [76]

The only force capable of bringing real liberation in South Africa is the black proletariat. It is its emergence that has led to the current political crisis of apartheid. The black middle class are likely to become increasingly an obstacle to the struggle; events are forcing the regime into alliance with sections of them. Real liberation, because capitalism and apartheid form one single organism in South Africa, depends upon a socialist revolution. Only such a revolution can free countries like Zimbabwe from the status of dependencies of Pretoria. Only the black working class can make such a revolution. These are the lessons of Soweto and of Zimbabwe. None of the existing organisations are capable of learning these lessons because they remain wedded to the ideology of nationalism, which blinds them to the interweaving of race and class. Highly complex problems of strategy and tactics will arise in the next few years – for example, should black trade unions register under the state system, as the main group, the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) argues, or should they boycott the system? There are arguments on both sides. What is needed is an organisation which combines great firmness and clarity on questions of strategy – above all the need for a black workers’ revolution – with considerable tactical flexibility, in other words, a revolutionary party. This is a task that is made especially urgent by the enormous objective possibilities opened up by the crisis in apartheid.


1. Judith Acton, Paper hats and half-price books, New Statesman, 25 April 1980.

2. Interview in Africa, No. 104, April 1980.

3. Quoted in Now!, 18–24 April 1980.

4. An analysis of the developments culminating in the Soweto uprising will be found in A. Callinicos and J. Rogers, Southern Africa after Soweto (London 1977; 2nd updated ed. 1978).

5. ‘African’ in the southern African context refers to the Bantu-speaking peoples who lived in the region before the conquest, ‘Coloured’ to those of mixed race, ‘Asian’ is self-explanatory, while ‘black’ covers all three groups, although the South African regime now uses the term to refer to Africans (its old term, ‘Bantu’, has dropped into disuse since Soweto showed the natives were restless).

6. Quoted in the Times, 18 April 1980.

7. Apart from personal information, two main sources on the Zimbabwean nationalist movement are R. Cary and D. Mitchell, African nationalist leaders in Rhodesia: Who’s Who (Bulawayo 1977) and Africa Confidential.

8. The best accounts of the earlier stages of the armed struggle in Zimbabwe are K. Maxey, The fight for Zimbabwe (London 1975) and A. Wilkinson, From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, in B. Davidson, J. Slovo, A. Wilkinson, Southern Africa: the new politics of revolution (Harmondsworth 1976).

9. For a detailed analysis of the détente, see Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit.

10. See Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit., chapter 9.

11. The ANC Youth League is discussed at length in G.M. Gerhart, Black power in South Africa (Berkeley and London 1978).

12. Africa Confidential, 4 November 1977 and 3 December 1976.

13. See Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit., chapter 9.

14. Financial Times, Survey on Zimbabwe, 22 April 1980 (hereinafter FT Survey).

15. C. Ashton, The future of black business, Commerce (Salisbury), February 1980.

16. D.G. Clarke, Foreign companies and international investment in Zimbabwe (London and Gwelo 1980), p. 137.

17. See T. Cliff, Deflected permanent revolution, IS (old series) 61.

18. On the CIA’s antics in Angola, see J. Stockwell, In search of enemies (London 1979). Stockwell was the chief of the CIA task force in Angola.

19. P. Moorcraft, A short thousand years (Salisbury 1980), p. 50.

20. Full text in Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit., pp. 186–8.

21. These are the figures for net European migration: 1974, +580, 1975, +1982, 1976, −7,072, 1977, −10,908, 1978, −13,079, 1979, −9,557, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Central Statistical Office, Monthly Digest of Statistics, February 1980, Table 1.

22. Economic Survey of Rhodesia, 1977 (Salisbury, the Government Printer: 1978) table 10 and FT Survey.

23. FT Survey.

24. R. Riddell, Education for employment, From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, No. 8, (London, CIIR: 1980), p. 32.

25. Africa Confidential, 25 April 1979.

26. See Free and Fair? The 1979 Rhodesian Election, A report by observers on behalf of the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group.

27. Africa, No. 105, May 1980.

28. The Constitution of Zimbabwe (Salisbury, the Government Printer: 1979), s. 16.

29. Zimbabwe-Rhodesia: Proposals for Independence, Cmd.R.ZR.18-1979 (Salisbury, the Government Printer: 1979), p. 25.

30. The Times, 22 March 1980.

31. The source for these figures is R. Riddell, The Land Question in Rhodesia (Gwelo, Mambo Press: 1978).

32. Economic Survey of Rhodesia, 1977, tables 12 and 13.

33. Riddell, op. cit., pp. 63–72.

34. FT Survey.

35. See Riddell, op. cit., pp. 63–72.

36. R. Riddell, Alternative development strategies for Zimbabwe, paper read at the Issues in development seminar, Centre for Inter-racial Studies, University of Rhodesia, 18 February 1980.

37. See C. Leys, Underdevelopment in Kenya (London 1975), chapter 3.

38. FT Survey.

39. Clarke, op. cit., pp. 168, 32, 61.

40. FT Survey.

41. R. Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York 1970), pp. 77–8.

42. Interview in Financial Weekly, 2 May 1980.

43. See Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit., chapters 1–3. See also C. Bundy, The Rise and Decline of the South African Peasantry (London 1980); R. First, J. Steele and C. Gurney The South African Connection (Harmondsworth 1973); F.A. Johnstone, Race, Class and Gold (London 1976); M. Legassick, South Africa: capital accumulation and violence, Economy and Society, 3 : 3, August 1974; M.L. Morris, Capitalism in South African agriculture, Economy and Society, 5 : 3, August 1976; M. Williams, An analysis of South African capitalism, Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists, Vol. IV. 1, February 1975; and H. Wolpe, Capitalism and cheap labour-power in South Africa, Economy and Society, 1 : 4, November 1972.

44. South Africa, 1979, Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa (Johannesburg, Van Rensburg Publications: 1980), pp. 472–4.

45. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Labour Legislation: Part 1 – Key Issues, RP 47/1979 (Hereinafter the Wiehahn Report). (Pretoria, the Government Printer: 1979), p. 487.

46. South Africa, 1979, p. 487.

47. See in general on the black workers’ movement in recent years D. Henson, Trade unionism and the struggle for liberation in South Africa, Capital and Class, No. 6, Autumn 1978.

48. Institute of Industrial Education, The Durban Strikes (Durban-Johannesburg 1976), pp. 144–5.

49. Wiehahn Report, p. 15.

50. J. Natrass, The narrowing of wage differentials in South Africa, South African Journal of Economics, 45 : 4, December 1977.

51. There are now the following accounts of the revolt – Counter Information Services, Black South Africa Explodes (London 1977); D. Herbstein White Man We Want to Talk to You (Harmondsworth 1977); J. Kane-Berman, South Africa: The Method in Madness (London 1979); and B. Hirson, Year of Fire, Year of Ash (London 1979).

52. See Callinicos and Rogers, op. cit., p. 69.

53. See G. Airovich, The comparative advantage of South Africa as measured by export shares, South African Journal of Economics, 47 : 2, June 1979.

54. South Africa, 1979, p. 611.

55. C.J. Swanepoel and J. Van Dyk, The fixed capital stock and sectoral capital-output ratios in South Africa, 1946 to 1977, South African Reserve Bank Quarterly Bulletin, September 1978, pp. 36–8. For an explanation of why this is so, see N. Harris, The Asian boom economies and the “impossibility” of national economic development, IS 2 : 3, Winter 1978–9, p. 2.

56. L. Gordon, S. Blignaut, C. Cooper, L. Emsor, Survey of Race Relations in South Africa (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1979), p. 210.

57. Kane-Berman, op. cit., p. 224.

58. Swanepoel and Van Dyk, op. cit., p. 31–32.

59. Financial Times, 29 February, 1980.

60. A.D. Wassenauer, Assault on private enterprise (Cape Town 1977), p. 150.

61. The source of these figures is International Defence and Aid Fund, The Apartheid War Machine (London 1980).

62. Wiehahn Report, pp. 18–20.

63. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Legislation affecting the Utilisation of Manpower, RP 32/1979 (Pretoria, the Government Printer: 1979), pp. 167, 168.

64. South African Reserve Bank Quarterly Bulletin, March 1980.

65. Wiehahn Report, p. 53.

66. Africa, No. 105, May 1980.

67. Gordon and others, op. cit., p. 399.

68. The Times, 18 April 1980.

69. Ibid., 21 May 1980.

70. Gerhart, op. cit., and Hereon, op. cit., offer the best studies of the origins and development of the BCM.

71. Hirson, op. cit., contains an excellent analysis of the tensions, although he greatly exaggerates the part played by the ANC in the uprising.

72. See S. Biko, I write what I like (London 1979).

73. See Callinicos and Rogers, chapters 1, 2 and 9.

74. The documents written by the ANC dissidents are now available in pamphlet form as The workers’ movement, SACTU and the ANC – a struggle for marxist policies (London 1980).

75. D. Innes and D. O’Meara, Review of African Political Economy, No. 7.

76. Quoted in Now!, 7–13 March 1980.

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