The Devised Divisions of South Africa
Foreign Yet Familiar
There is no calculus for injustice, no measure
for atrocity. In the Gulag Archipelago starving prisoners have
been known to cut off pieces of their own flesh simply to taste
a bit of red meat. Idi Amin required some of the condemned of
Uganda to perform sexual acts of his own devising before they
were pounded to death by cheerfully wielded sledgehammers. In
Uruguay there are professional torture centers, not unlike clinics
in appearance and administration, to which prisoners of conscience
are taken on a bureaucratically constant schedule to have their
neurological systems meticulously ravaged. The list can go on
and on, with greater or lesser vividness, until long after our
sensibilities are numbed.
Most acts of savagery, like the structure
of the atom or the size of the universe, surpass our imaginative
grasp. The worst victims shrivel our capacity for sympathy, since
they have lost the last shred of dignity necessary to evoke the
remnant of hope for realistic remedy.
It is for this reason that we Americans, with
our history of slavery and racism, so readily recognize and facilely
revile the apartheid system of the Republic of South Africa.
It presents a familiar scale of misery and a nostalgic form of
injustice. True, black men have been beaten to death slowly or
killed instantly for no offense beyond their color. But most
of us have no realistic comprehension of what it must be like
to be beaten to death or even to observe such a process.
Social discrimination and economic exploitation
You are at a posh bar in Johannesburg (Jo'burg), the largest
city in South Africa and the one to which the largest black city
in Africa, Soweto, is subserviently appended. It is the commercial
center of the country, spiked with high-rise hotels and office
buildings, wrapped round with expressways, and plagued by downtown
parking problems. You are alone, attended by a white bartender
in crisp red and gold. Behind you at a cocktail table are four
young business men, slightly tipsy, bantering boyishly in Afrikaans.
Two tables away a solitary black man, tweed jacket and trim beard,
nurses a tall beer with a paperback book opened before him. Casually,
one of the mustachioed businessmen tosses a peanut on the black's
table; it bounces insolently to the side of the hand holding
the paperback, black wrist in white cuff. There is no reaction.
The whites' loud talk is abruptly hushed, punctuated by muffled
snorts of derision. Soon, another peanut hits the table, another
hits the book, a fourth plops menacingly on the padded shoulder
of the tweed jacket. The barman studiously polishes glasses.
You are transfixed, uncertainly alarmed, angry, a bit anxious.
After three or four eternal minutes, the white men return to
their conversation and the black man perdures in his impassive
What has happened is against the law.
If you had insisted on complaining and the
white men persisted in their little prank, the police might well
have arrived, embarrassed at your presence, avuncularly annoyed
with the young men, scrupulously correct with the black man,
probably a visitor but possibly a native South African businessman
himself (South Africa does have the largest black middle class
in Africa). Boys will be boys. Best ignore the whole thing. The
black man may have some trouble later; be disinvited for his
own good from this bar. You suddenly find your voice and make
some overly loud banal remark to the barman who agrees with hysterical
bonhomie. Law and order have been restored.
The Law. The law is the key to our perpetually
selective outrage at South African apartheid. White South Africans,
even during the recent years of increasing township violence
and repressive emergency measure, present themselves to
the world as the embattled custodians of civil order in a continent
notorious for whimsical massacres. As of this writing, far more
Africans have died of starvation in Chad and Ethiopia, because
of deliberate government policies, than have died in all the
impoverished South African homelands put together. Yet racism
is enshrined in the South African legal system, however many
decent people try to circumvent it; just as racism is against
our law, however many Americans practice it.
The Law. South Africa is a police state and
was so long before recent states of emergency were declared;
a Poland with palm trees. You are lucky if the police formally
arrest you, for then you must be charged. In that case, you can
get a lawyer and perhaps be released on bail pending trial. But
any policeman of senior rank (in the state of emergency, any
policeman or soldier) may "detain" you - throw you
in jail for ninety days without charges, then renew the detention
for another ninety days, then for another.
Why have they come for you? You may never
know. Perhaps you are suspected of being a terrorist, which is
so broadly defined in the Terrorism Act that anyone who "embarrasses"
the government can be legally considered a terrorist. Perhaps
you are just a suspicious character, or a valuable witness to
something you know nothing about. Your white skin is no protection here.
Although all the laws are differentially enforced, the security
laws do not observe apartheid.
Knowing this, you are amazed at the rarity
of uniformed policemen. Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan center,
yet one can arrive at Jan Smuts Airport, take a cab the many
miles through the suburbs to the business center, and the only
uniforms observed will have been on customs officials, bus drivers,
doormen, and bellboys. Curiously, this visible absence creates
the apprehension that there are even more policemen, in mufti,
than the government could possibly muster. Doubt about real identities
is a national state of mind.
You are digging into scrambled eggs and bacon
at high noon on a well-windowed connecting structure between
two bustling department stores in the main shopping center of
downtown Jo'burg, not far from the railroad station. It is thronged
with blacks, a few white faces in the milling crowds. Your white
companion points to a traffic light just below. A few weeks ago,
you are informed, he was robbed at the height of the rush hour
right there, a knife to his white throat from behind, while another
black robber went through his pockets deftly. Eight stitches
took care of the farewell slash across the chest. Passersby minded
their own business. Police? None about in uniform, as usual,
and undercover men on more important security detail would not
reveal themselves for such a trivial cause. They might have come
forward had the white man been foolish enough to pursue his attackers
into the railway station, packed with bustling blacks hurrying
to get home before the witching hour when special passes would
be required for staying in the white center of Jo'burg. The white
man might be stopped from running into a black area, for his
own good. It might be against the law.
You are standing on a hill overlooking a Scarsdale-ish
inner suburb of Jo'burg. Your companion this time is a white
executive, known as a liberal who pays blacks and whites alike
for equal work. He is a patriot, too, proud of his country's
material accomplishments, pleased with the recent relaxations
of petty apartheid, the Jim-Crow segregating of public facilities.
Making a broad proprietal gesture over the scene of tree-shaded
lanes and discreet estate fences, bourgeois comfort wrested from
the unforgiving red earth of Africa, he smiles confidently. You
mention freedom. (At that time and place, no state of emergency
had been declared.)
"Ah, yes," he admits, "the
two of us could be standing here on this balmy winter day and
a car could pull up and we could be hustled off, perhaps never
to be heard of again. But it would be most unlikely. The police
are not mad dogs; they would need a pretty convincing argument
to detain us."
"Or," you suggest. "a plausible
He makes a gesture of exasperation at this
"Yes, yes, but, well, we are under siege
from all over the world. The entire continent has vowed to bring
us down. The Soviets consider us the key to the entire southern
tier. And what about your CIA and FBI? Don't you think they keep
tabs on subversives? In any event, the detention laws are perfectly
legal - and necessary."
You recall that the South African Broadcasting
Corporation, the exclusive state monopoly for radio and television,
had the night before run an American Defense Department film
version of their latest report on "Soviet Military Power,"
with Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger issuing dire warnings as
animated hammer-and-sickle emblems marched menacingly down the
coast of Africa. There was little possibility, within this closed
system, for the South African executive to see a broadcast rebuttal
to this particular view of the world.
It is a pity, for this man is decent and honest;
he is remarkably candid in his willingness to even discuss the
existence of the Security Police and the awesome extent of their
powers. South Africa is a vast land, bigger than France and Germany
combined. It has three mountain ranges of great beauty, an endless
seacoast that joins two oceans, red deserts and white deserts,
deep forests and high savannahs, Irish-green vineyards and Utah-bleak
scrub country. It has one of the largest seaports in the world
at Durban on the Indian Ocean and one of the most dramatically
scenic harbors of the planet at Cape Town on the South Atlantic.
Johannesburg itself is an African Denver, 6,000 feet above the
sea on the high veldt, straddling the Reef or Rand, a deep rock
backbone veined with gold. No matter where you go, the topic
of the Security Police is met with the same fearful freeze
the topic of cancer evokes elsewhere.* Horrible thing.
Dreadful. Could get any one of us at anytime. But it is in rather
bad taste, depressing and neurotically morose to go on about
it. Chances are you will be passed by - unless you are foolish
enough to take unnecessary risks.
The avoidance of politically heated topics
is mightily encouraged by the law itself. Just as South Africa
is a police state without too many police in evidence (and, as
a matter of fact, with less police per capita than New York City),
so, too, many of its political prisoners are not in jail. Rather,
they are banned, a form of punishment unique to South
Africa, with the partial exception of Brazil. Banning admits
of different degrees, but it is fundamentally a form of
house arrest and a stripping of political rights. In some cases
the banned person may not be with more than two people at once.
It is a crime for anyone to quote you, even from your unbanned
past. The banned are nonpersons.
Although being banned is more humane than
solitary confinement in a sternly administered prison, it has
a more chilling effect on civil liberties in general because,
as it were, it makes of the entire country a prison. The invisibility
of the police makes you think they are everywhere. The invisibility
of the banned makes you think that any odd passerby may be one
of the damned - a prisoner in mufti.
The emergency decrees and the detention of
more than 30,000 people by the end of 1986 only underscore the
obsession of the authorities with legal forms for their own essentially
lawless behavior. What the various fine details of the decrees
and regulations do is to put a theoretical boundary around the
areas of draconian repression. But there remains yet another
device for legal illegality, and that is the virtually duplicate
shadow government that operates beyond the knowledge of the legislature
or court system. It is the intricate system of security management
so characteristic of totalitarian states. China had its Red Guards,
who stood watch over every function to guarantee political orthodoxy;
Nazi Germany had the ever-present party loyalists in all levels
of the government, education, and the military sworn to the leader;
Stalin had his political commissars who told generals what to
do. A secret real government makes a mockery of the facade of
legality of the surface government. And of course, mutatis mutandis,
there is the same alarming propensity in the American leadership,
from Nixon's "Plumbers" to Reagan's National Security
In South Africa, the agency of fear is the
State Security Council (SSC). Chaired by State President P.W.
Botha, SSC expands and contracts at the whim of the leadership
from a central core of the ministers of defense, foreign affairs,
police, justice and their lieutenants. This central organ reaches
out to the smallest village through a tight network of a central
Working Committee, an operations Secretariat, and a dozen regional,
three score subregional and 448 local Joint Management Centers,
each of which has an intelligence committee, a political-social-economic
committee, and a commmunications committee. These local intelligence
committees are the nerve centers of control through domestic
spying and the use of informers: all the information is funneled
to the National Interpretation Branch in the SSC Secretariat
It is ironic that this shadow government,
with the Orwellian title of National Security Management System,
is practiced by Botha's Nationalists in a sort of mirror image
of the black African National Congress and other antiapartheid
groups, who are delegitimizing the official local black town
councils and setting up what the government selectively brands
"kangaroo courts." The Nationalists have a kangaroo
kingdom of their own devising, while the "real" government
of elected representatives is a sort of elaborate charade without
power or punch. This emasculation of duly elected officials (if
only by whites) reached near completion in the new emergency
regulations of December 11, 1986, which abolished one of the
most sacred aspects of the quasi-Westminster system that the
Nationalists used to boast of: the freedom of debate and speech
in the legislature. This abolition was accomplished in a typically
"legal" way: legislative speech is still privileged,
but only in the actual chamber; if reported elsewhere, it may
be judged "subversive," and is thus punishable. Open
court proceedings, the sole surviving arena for uncensored reporting,
may no longer be reported, if detainees are involved, until after
a verdict is reached.
You have just finished a succulent broiled fish fillet washed
down with a delicate Cape version of Macon Village at
the Civil Service Club in Cape Town. Your table is on a glassed-in
veranda overlooking the Botanical Gardens, beyond which are the
dignified whitewashed silhouettes of the Parliament buildings.
Towering over the entire scene is Table Mountain, for the moment
trailing a plume of silken vapor. Cape Town, physically, is a
place of enchantment. It combines the best features of Bermuda,
San Francisco, and Vancouver: salt sea air, red flowers, royal
palms and tall pines, misty parks, booming surf, crowded and
hunched mountains shoving their shoulders into the city. At times,
silver curtains of sun showers sweep down one street, leaving
its neighbor bone-dry.
You have been lunching with Tony Heard, editor
of the Cape Times, one of the principal English-speaking
opposition papers, which has more than once been punished by
the government for its lack of cooperation. Heard himself has
been detained and arrested for violating press laws. Gerald Shaw,
the distinguished assistant editor, is also present. As with
so many South Africans, they are gracious hosts as well as witty
and earnest conversationalists. After lunch you stroll the few
blocks to the editorial offices. Once there, Heard makes an ambiguous
gesture toward a word-processing station, which Shaw activates;
the printer rasps into life and spews page after page of dense
text, which mounts steadily in the tray. When it finishes, Heard
hands you the packet. It is an updated version, fresh this day,
of the various regulations that control the press and the latest
list of the banned, the unquotables.
"High tech," he says, with resigned
The Law. You recall being in the offices of
John Dugard, the celebrated civil rights advocate and human rights
activist, professor of law at Witwatersrand University (Wits)
in Johannesburg, whose Centre for Applied Legal Studies has been
the principal instrument for appealing censorship decisions.
It had come as a surprise that his highly critical, yet massively
scholarly work, Human Rights and the South African Legal Order, had
not been banned. Wryly, he had mentioned that the book had probably
passed muster because of its scholarly technical nature. But
the dust jacket of the book was not so fortunate. It quoted the
endorsement of a scholar who had subsequently been banned. So
all the dust jackets had to be stripped from the book, an expensive
and time-consuming process. Thus the great utility of the up-to-the-minute
list provided for Tony Heard, who could hardly afford to dump
entire editions of the Cape Times. Gulliver in Laputa
could not have run across anything more meticulously absurd.
Of course, the need to avoid quoting nonpersons
is but a minor itch amid a raging eczema of regulations. Laws
unrelated to communications have censoring codicils. Acts primarily
concerned with the police or prisons, as we shall see, forbid
reporting of "false" information concerning them. No
information about nuclear energy can be reported at all. The
Internal Security Act bristles with direct hostility toward even
the most gentlemanly versions of press inquiry. Tertius Myburgh,
editor of the Johannnesburg-based but nationally circulated Sunday
Times, told me, with baffling good humor, that he was
given a suspended three-month sentence for merely printing the
facts of a case that was known the world over: the aborted coup
of the Seychelles and the subsequent amnesty granted the failed
mercenaries. Some of them were South African intelligence agents.
Publishing the names of intelligence agents is illegal.
It is the Publications Act, however, which
embodies most of the regulations that affect freedom of expression
in South Africa. Like any act of Parliament, it is crammed with
details, exemptions, exceptions to exemptions, procedural rules,
and conditions for the suspension of procedural rules; nevertheless,
the sweep and scope of the repression is breathtaking. It embraces
all media and even includes "objects" that may be seen
as expressive of an idea or political position. The grounds for
banning any form of expression are extremely broad and vague.
Anything that might cause "ill-feeling" among
the different races is reason for finding an utterance or object
"undesirable." T-shirt slogans, key-ring emblems, films,
audiotapes, videotapes, song lyrics, plays, cabaret skits, even
government broadcast material, are all subject to banning just
as much as the obviously threatening political speeches, books,
socially critical novels, and works of scholarship. There are
stretches of blank pages in locally published encyclopedias.
Paradoxically, however, it is in keeping with
South Africa's curious mixture of Draco and due process that
abundant criticism of the government flourishes, as do scathing
condemnations of the central policy of apartheid. There is a
handful of small opposition parties and a coalition of the disaffected,
called the United Democratic Front, in this overwhelmingly one-party
country. National Party members and government officials are
quick to point out that this toleration of vigorous criticism is
unusual for Africa. Although the picture is complex and the freedom
is both subtly and crudely curtailed, they are sadly correct
in the context of sub-Saharan Africa. Without one-tenth of the
regulations or one-hundredth of the bureaucracy to enforce it,
the rest of Africa has a much less free press, because the media
that manage to exist there are either state owned and operated
or bribed into compliance. Worse, many African media are bullied
into submission by totally unpredictable extrajudicial state
The cultural shape that freedom of expression
assumes in the legal climate of South Africa is therefore of
unique interest. Some countries have unabashed state censorship.
Others have a bought-and-paid-for press, whatever the official
policies. Still others have a sacred tradition of freedom of
expression in religion, morals, and political affairs that may
or may not foster an encouraging milieu for countercultural modes
of expression. Astonishingly, South Africa shares in all these
characteristics, sometimes tilting toward freedom, sometimes
toward repression. It has a legal culture cognate to our own
yet in some ways alien to it. The differences are for the most
part technical, stemming from the former Westminster system and
the Dutch-Roman elements in the area of common law.
Imagine, if you will, a United States Department
of Public Media, which would operate all the radio and television
stations in the country and make all the programming decisions.
All broadcasters, from TV anchorpersons to station janitors,
would be federal employees, like park rangers or Pentagon public
relations colonels. Now imagine, beyond and above this legion
for communication control, a United States Department of Public
Expression, which could act on its own or respond to anonymous
complaints about any book, magazine, newspaper, statue, painting,
poster, videotape, song lyric - in short, about any "object"
that might "express" anything. The department would
then be free to ban the sale, distribution, even the possession,
of any "object" because it was "un-American"
or "anti-Christian" or "undemocratic" or
"depraved" or "communistic." Further imagine
a Federal Media Appeal Board, which would review the censorship
decisions of the government, now gently chiding the department
as too narrow-minded, now castigating excessive leniency. Finally,
picture these agencies of repression presiding over a plethora
of varied media that in no way resemble the great gray yea-saying
totalitarian states, but rather reminds one of our own vulgar
and sassy, bright and brave, deep and honest confusion of voices.
In some ways the media spectrum of South Africa is broader than
our own, because the churches and universities there are in the
mainstream of political debate and their spheres of influence
are less narrowly construed than our own.
In this hysterically anti-communist country,
with state-run higher education, there are scores of Marxist
professors, some of the vulgar variety. A city block distant
from Wits is a bookstore that specializes in Marxist literature
and revolutionary tracts. On the other side of the railroad tracks,
quite literally, is Khotso House, headquarters of the South African
Council of Churches (SACC) that provided Desmond Tutu with the
strong and secure antiapartheid platform which led to the Nobel
Prize and his elevation to the Anglican primacy of South Africa.
Until it was banned during the most recent state of emergency,
SACC published Ecunews, filled with thoughtful yet uncompromising
denunciations of many government actions and policies, particularly
the forced removals of blacks from newly declared white areas.
There is a large number of civil rights lawyers
who donate their services or work for much lower fees than other
work would garner in order to obtain due process for the detained
and arrested, particularly among the poor blacks. During the
mass detentions of the summer of 1986, platoons of such
lawyers brought countless court actions. The South African Institute
of Race Relations, a rough counterpart of the American Civil
Liberties Union, issues a broad program of scholarly books and
statistical surveys that are implicit condemnations of state-sponsored
racism. Its massive annual survey of issues, topics, and events,
crammed with careful documentation, is the standard reference
work for recent history. Ironically, the Institute published
a study of censorship in 1983 that itself would have to undergo
the censorship process from the Directorate of Publications.
Perhaps because of the climate of censorship,
theater is more politically conscious in South Africa than in
the United States, reminding one more of Czechoslovakia. Woza
Albert, written and presented by two spectacularly energetic
young black Africans, is a dazzling set of skits and mime that
works off the single premise of Christ staging his Second Coming
in South Africa; it is comic apocalyptic that sizzles with satire.
Produced at the Market Theatre in Jo'burg, which features protest
plays as well as Neil Simon-type imports, Woza (rise up) Albert
(Albert Lutuli, a revered Christian Zulu chief, African National
Congress president, and Nobel laureate) has toured, uncensored,
South Africa and the world. Country Lovers and City
Lovers, two of six short films adapted from Nadine Gordimer
short stories and locally produced, are well-wrought cries of
controlled outrage against sexual apartheid. Despite an on-again-off-again
censorship status, these films have been screened all over the
world. Finally, there is the globally noted irony of exhibiting
the imported superhit Gandhi before segregated audiences.
The letter of the censorship laws, like the
letter of the security laws, is meticulously detailed, yet the
spirit of their application seems capricious. Dissident South
Africans develop a sense of what is currently getting by, and
the brave push against this moving edge until they meet rock.
You are walking down a "street" in Crossroads, the
disputed no-man's land some miles from Cape Town, teeming with
black squatters in cardboard or plywood hovels stapled over with
plastic garment bags. There is not a blade of grass on the compacted
dust. There are no sewers. Amazingly, there is a heroic form
of cleanliness here and no foul odors flavor the sere air.
Crossroads has a dogged civic pride born of
its very insufficiency. The government has been bulldozing the
hovels and trucking people further out from the city, claiming,
among other things, that no sanitary facilities are present or
providable. The "approved" more distant locations impose
a crippling commute. Khayalitsha, the latest, has neat rows of
cinder-block and corrugated tin shacks, with plumbing. It is
built on sand, surrounded by high barbed wire, the stark grounds
spiked with immensely tall lighting poles that cast an alien
sodium vapor glare at midnight: a Stanley Kubrick set for a futuristic
You have also driven through Langa, closer
to town, but meant only for men, not families. The men are stored,
not housed, like sides of beef in concrete bunkers. They are
often drunk, always angry. Here you did receive some taunts,
some menacing gestures, on a late smoky Sunday afternoon. Unlike
these pitilessly planned places, Crossroads is a home, however
You enter a large cinder-block building, once
owned by the international self-awareness movement, Transcendental
Meditation, now used as a community center. You have come to
see live protest theater. The blacks, advised by two white women
students from Cape Town University, are to put on a play in their
own tribal language; its general drift, if not clear from the
action, will be explained by locals at your side. No set, few
props, a bare wall. The story is about a family going to jail
for living in a white area, about unrequited love, about sickness,
about revenge and rage. To get the girl who rejects him, the
protagonist must present to his medicine man the testicles of
a white man; these he duly obtains from the policeman who has
been hounding his family. Exeunt omnes to that plaintive
African chant that has a hint of the Gregorian. After the performance,
the shy young actors gather around you, thinking you might be
an agent from the big time.
You stroll over the dirt floor, chatting in
English with the gently mannered and friendly black actors, heading
for the door. Outside, the young white woman adviser is angry.
She had asked them to present a more authentic play, one about
displaced native life. This was patched-up Americanized theater
of rage, staged to meet your assumed American liberal expectations.
Your black African guide for the day, a social
worker, pulls up in a battered Volkswagen and lurches you toward
Nyanga, another black area, but legal, with semipermanent buildings,
even some struggling gardens despite the drought.
The guide is a handsome, compact man, from
a different township, Guguletu, established and settled: he was
born there 32 years ago. At the time, it was thought to be on
the list of areas to be declared off-limits for blacks, who would
be subject to "relocation" - forced removal.
"We will have to fight. We just won't
He says this matter-of-factly as you begin
walking through a scrubby field to an old white farmhouse, ramshackled
and sagging, in need of paint, but generously proportioned and
graced with a wraparound veranda. There must be 15 or so men
lounging about, smoking with the air of drained combatants between
battles. Inside, in what must have been the front parlor, a grizzled
thin black man is playing a battered but tuned upright piano.
You are led into a further room, quite large, dusty, filled with
clay figures. This is the Nyanga Community Art Center. The next
room, not quite so large, is filled with paintings and sketches.
There is no attempt to sell or promote anything. Modestly, but
knowingly, the works are discussed, the voices soft and serious.
The eyes of the speakers are intense, as are the rapid hand movements,
commanding you to carry away a message: These people are not
beasts of burden. They have sensitivities, dreams for their children,
social aspirations, even bourgeois pretensions.
The next day you are back in Cape Town, in
the shadow of Table Mountain, driving through a bright neighborhood
of middle-class homes, with front yards, plantings, dogs, people
chatting on front steps. It would remind you of a Creole area
in New Orleans except for the vigor of the salt air. The district
is designated for "coloured" people, as those of mixed
white and black ancestry are classified under apartheid. Awaited
in one of the homes, you are met with casual and natural hospitality.
Soon you are sipping a beer, your back against the refrigerator
door, as the women bustle and the children shriek around you,
getting ready for dinner. Pat, the father of the family, is expertly
filleting a fish he caught that morning. Over his shoulder, he
talks to you about his great love, the Afrikaans language: its
earthy flavor, sexual frankness, its connections with manor life
and with an earlier, seemingly happier, time for his people.
Pat is a high school teacher who refuses any
longer to teach Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor. This
is a sad thing, since until recently Afrikaans was the first
language of the "coloured," many of whose ancestors
were the slaves or servants of Boers-Afrikaners, or, of course,
of Afrikaners themselves. Disowning the language is painful,
but beyond that, the "coloured" are beginning to dissociate
themselves from their very name. If they cannot be white, they
might as well be black, true brothers to the oppressed underside
of apartheid. The category is of course hardly scientific, bundling
a loose mixture of black, white, imported Malay, Indian, and
East Asian. Historically, however, it is quite real.
The Afrikaners have always had a special affection
for this group, roughly comparable to the "decent white"
regard for the blacks in the older American South. One of the
major precipitators of the current political crisis was the passing
of the new constitution, which gave the Indians and "coloured"
each a Parliament of their own (about which Thomas More's comment
on the Parliament under the Tudors is most apt: like the male
teat, decorative but useless). The regime still hopes to use
the "nonwhite/nonblack" groups as buffers between themselves
and the angry Africans. In time, they promise the "coloured"
full political rights, something they had over 50 years ago,
when at least the men had a real vote.
At dinner, switching over to the superb Cape
wine, you are bathed in a happy family babble of teasing, dispute,
conversation, Pat's strong teacher-voice cutting through to you,
still talking about the beauty of Afrikaans, which is a language
concocted from Dutch, German, and French, with a certain Flemish
fullness to it. As with Norwegian, Afrikaans literature is inaccessible
to the world because so few read it.
A local priest drops in, obviously very close
to the family. (Pat is the church organist). He has come to take
you back to your hotel but first sits down to share dessert,
charm the children, tease the ladies, and argue with Pat about
his abilities as a fisherman. Later, out on the street, slightly
muzzy from the wine and beer, you get in the priest's car and
are driven off serenely, as he waves back to dozens of families
that know and apparently love him. As you leave the area for
the open road, roaring along with the rest of the traffic, the
priest turns to you seriously and begins to talk about his country.
The "coloured" number a bit over
two-and-a-half million, mostly clustered around the Cape. This
is almost exactly equal to the number of Afrikaners spread around
the country. Although they predominate among Cape whites, Africaners
are nevertheless concentrated in the Orange Free State and the
Transvaal, the high veldt of the northeast, the center for mining,
finance, and government administration.
The English-speaking whites (he goes on) are
spread all over the country, but they predominate in Natal, the
province containing Durban, the major commercial port. As in
India, English is the unifying medium. All ethnic groups can
deal with it, at least as a second language, although it may
be utterly foreign in some isolated rural areas. Generally, the
English are in commerce and the professions; the Afrikaners are
farmers or in government service. Although more Afrikaners are
getting into business, they among the whites would have the most
to lose if the African majority ruled, for they would lose their
government jobs. Productive whites may be welcome to stay in
a new black order, but it is doubtful they would man the bureaucracy.
The Afrikaners are a tight-knit white tribe,
descendants of Dutch, German, and French Huguenot settlers, as
well as some blacks, no doubt. The English are in fact predominantly
British, but the term is used to embrace all whites who are not
Afrikaners. The Catholic priest telling you about all this is
himself something of an anomaly since he is an Afrikaner, virtually
all of whom are members of the Dutch Reformed Church, "the
National Party at prayer."
He looks levelly at you for a moment, his
eyes off the road. Overseas, you are told, the impression one
might have is of an overwhelmingly black country dominated by
a few clever and cruel whites. Not quite so simple, although
it is essentially correct in the moral sense. Nonblacks, to put
it that way, number about eight million. The 26 million or so
blacks (the census is not terribly accurate about them, just
as the American census is not very accurate about the Hispanic
population) are tribally fragmented over a vast, mostly desert
landscape. Many of the few (about 10 million) who are close to
the major cities or in so-called white rural areas have been
forcibly relocated to the homelands, often remote, allegedly
ancestral, tribal reservations like the Transkei, Bophuthatswana,
or Venda. These territories are being converted into separate
countries, although the international community looks upon these
artificial fiefdoms as internal colonies. The regime had high
hopes for this plan until, under foreign pressure, it suspended,
at least momentarily, the policy of denying blacks citizenship
in their own country.
Whatever the cosmetic packaging of the policy,
to the regime it certainly was and may still remain a plausible
foundation for maintaining white supremacy. Should it succeed,
the role of the "coloured" would be pivotal, giving
the urban whites a strong local plurality vis-a-vis the urban
blacks. If the "coloured" decide they are "black,"
as it appears they are doing, thanks to both the United Democratic
Front and the sledgehammer politics of the Nationalists, then
the game is clearly up.
Petty apartheid, the Jim Crow practices in
public facilities that are truly being phased out in the larger
cities (where they matter), are trivial and largely irrelevant
to the grander strategies of both apartheid and liberation, a
point sometimes lost on American liberals who remember the U.S.
civil rights activism of the sixties.
The priest suddenly pulls over to the side
of the road.
"You've got to see something."
You drive back a bit, still in the central
area of Cape Town, only about a half-hour's brisk stroll from
your hotel. You have entered a sea of rubble, level and combed,
the size of Harvard Yard, its emptiness emphasized by three widely
separated standing buildings: the priest's own Catholic Church
at one end, a mosque to the east, and an abandoned Episcopal
church, now used as a community art center, further to the south.
This is what is left of the notorious District 6, a "coloured"
area once densely packed with a bustling community. It was declared
too close to the center of things, too poor, too unsanitary,
a hotbed of crime. The people were moved out to more planned,
more controlled, more remote places. And then the bulldozers
came in and leveled everything. To the north, where the rubble
rears up toward Table Mountain, a new row of luxurious townhouses,
reserved for whites, had just been erected.
It is this kind of action that makes "coloured"
solidarity with the blacks rather than with the whites more likely.
Pat's family, in this scheme, is between a rock and a hard place,
deprived of their language and left only with another white one,
English; deprived of their local habitation and name.
The priest has a professionally cheerful manner
as he ticks off these observations, but his eyes are sad, flickering
over smashed walls that you suppose might have housed memories
of parish life, good and bad. Now there is a void. He drives
you back to your hotel in five minutes.
White on White
The Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town is a rambling Bermudan pink
structure, approached up a long drive guarded by soaring royal
palms and surrounded by its own garden, which is alive with songbirds
even in winter. Inside, past a very efficient porter who disarmingly
resembles Monty Python's John Cleese, there are cozy, hearth-dominated
tea lounges, walls and drapes in flowery pastels. It is veddy,
veddy British and the black and Indian staff serve with the style
of the Savoy.
You are reminded that the British ruled South
Africa for centuries under a variety of political arrangements
and at the cost of some bloody battles. The last battle was against
the Boers, the Afrikaner settlers whom they defeated and kept
down for generations with their inimitable class system.Only
a few years ago, to speak Afrikaans in these rooms or in a posh
shop was an admission of hairy-backed country-bumpkinism. Afrikaners
do not forget this, especially since they turned the political
tables on the English in the 1948 elections, when the National
Party began its first uninterrupted climb to consolidated power.
Among many other more obvious things, apartheid is also an attempt
to restore the legal and social bondage of the darker-skinned
that had been self-righteously diminished by the long arm of
Victorian conscience, which was eager to "improve"
Pieter Dirk Uys, a cabaret satirist who often
does his stand-up routines in drag, plays an upper-class "English"
matron who between bonbons confesses her enormous hatred of apartheid
- and of blacks, too, of course. Dirk Uys, an Afrikaner, does
an Afrikaner matron as well as a merciless rendition of every
verbal and facial tic of the state president, whom he can uncannily
resemble. As in Moscow or New York, the great causes have left
in their wake small hates and parlor grudges that the Directorate
of Publications is just as happy to have lanced in public.
So the apartheid system is not just a question
of black or white. It is the codified summit of a complex ziggurat
of caste and culture, language and bloody history. It is an ingenious
exploitation of African tribalism, that most intense form of
the universal human need for in-group - out-group dichotomies
which animates petty practices and energizes grand ideologies.
Prison life, for instance, is rife with conflicts between rival
gangs, and the warders encourage it. They, in turn, are part
of a civil service caste system that recalls Evelyn Waugh's satiric
view of the British army.
Apartheid in defined by its inventors as separate
development and defended as a protection for disparate cultures.
This formulation, if applied on a global scale, is alarmingly
parallel to the language of apartheid's archenemies, Third World
members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization and the United Nations, who have been demanding
a "New World Communication Order" that will honor local
cultures and oust the "information imperialism" of
that great vulgar leveler, Western mass culture, with its mouthwash,
blue jeans, and James Bond movies.
Unhappily for ideologues on both sides of
the argument, tribalism is not a total principle of social organization
in the modern world, however fervently some form of tribalism,
in Africa or Lebanon or Ireland or Iran or Israel, is invoked.
People cannot help belonging to a variety of cultures and groups
in different degrees at the same time. A Frenchman may eat an
American hamburger, see a British movie, revere a German philosopher,
enjoy Spanish music, use Japanese technology. Look at any nation,
even a Denmark, which banks on cultural homogeneity, and ethnic
diversity appears. On a grander scale, India, China, Malaysia,
and Polynesia have all mixed and mingled cults and customs over
the centuries. The high-tech communication distribution systems
developed by the West and Japan may pour images of Madison Avenue
all over the globe, but those very images are ladled from a huge
melting pot of the creative and kitschy by hordes of ethnically
The South African media system is part of
this diversity and part of this unity, but it exists within a
symbolic apartheid system of its own.
At one end of the media spectrum is the South African Broadcasting
Corporation (SABC), the state monopoly for all television and
almost all radio; it serves as an arm of the state, much more
so than French television does and only slightly less so, if
these things can be measured, than Soviet broadcasting. At the
other end are the print organs of the black labor unions and
black communities, which focus on specific grievances that stem
from daily coping with life under apartheid. In the middle are
the establishment presses. First come the fiercely loyalist Afrikaans
press, which has a mildly dissenting wing on the right, growing
less mild each day of township unrest. Next come the English
newspapers and magazines, which range from apolitical sex-and-soccer
tabloids to brave antiapartheid journals, mostly from the left.
Student and church publications are politically aware, usually
from a sharply left or right viewpoint, and have a much greater
influence than do similar organs in America. Finally there are
the nonbroadcast audiovisual media, from rock and reggae records
to videotapes, live theater, and funeral orations. Although these
formats favor either apolitical entertainment or moral uplift,
they nonetheless offer instances of both the most extreme state
propaganda and the most radical rejections of the establishment,
especially through the unique form of black protest theater.
In surveying the media world of South Africa,
one must bear in mind that most South Africans cannot or do not
choose to read. In a country with an educated white population
of over four million, with a middle-class mixed race group of
about two million, a significant number of Asians and the largest
black middle class in Africa (admittedly a small part of the
total black populace), the largest single print run is under
half a million, for the weekly Sunday Times. The largest
daily, The Star, runs well under a quarter million. None
of the Afrikaans dailies exceeds 90,000. The solitary newsmagazine,
The Financial Mail, modeled on Great Britain's The
Economist, reaches 30,000. Frontline, an English liberal
feature magazine similar in style to Clay Felker's original New
York Magazine, has a readership of 10,000.
Books are very expensive in South Africa,
partially due to the censorship laws (a banned person's books
are all retroactively contraband), which have made remaindering
impossible, and partially due to the high cost of importing books.
Outside of schools and churches, there are few bookstores in
the country, although, as in the United States, drugstores and
newstands have paperback racks.
Once the literacy factor is accounted for,
however, one must not underestimate the indirect, and for that
reason perhaps more powerful, influence of the press. American
broadcast news would have to invent The New York Times
, and even the New England Journal of Medicine, if they
did not already exist. So, too, South African audiovisual media
depend on print for their ideas and most of their facts.
The most important influence of the mass media
system, however, is its intrinsic marketing mentality, beyond
and behind any fundamental moral conflict about apartheid. It
forms the assumed unquestioned background to everyday life, dominating
the public images and inner fantasies of black and white, of
South and North Africans, of American, French, and Japanese.
In this context, Tom Selleck or Frank Sinatra, Pele and Jimmy
Connors, Donna Sommers and Ralph Lauren are more important than
Archbishop Desmond Tutu or State President P. W. Botha. Despite
the increased global coverage during the state of emergency and
the heightened curiosity provoked by tighter press controls,
most people outside of South Africa have not paid much heed to
either of them, but probably are aware of Sun City, the African
Las Vegas in Bophuthatswana. Here whites and blacks dance and
drink together and watch Vegas acts like those of magician Doug
Henning or, until the boycott of the mid-eighties, of Sammy Davis,
Jr. As we shall see, the commercial transformation of publics
into markets makes T-shirt slogans and rock lyrics, which fall
under the all-seeing eye of the Directorate of Publications,
far more influential than Professor Dugard's scholarly skewering
of the legal system.
Although losing ground to the secularizing
influence of the media, the churches still provide the single
major forum for the apartheid struggle, which at a time of increasing
violence still remains more a matter of words and symbols than
of guns or fists. Although the Cape Parliament formally disestablished
the Anglican Church in 1875, both it and the Dutch Reformed Church
have a history of ecclesiastical leadership in civil affairs.
With the ascendancy of the Afrikaners and the National Party,
it became the increasingly reluctant task of the Dutch Reformed
Church of South Africa to demonstrate that the status quo was
the will of God. Virtually all the other ethnic groups, black
and white, have their own churches, from Catholic to Congregationalist.
Most of these are politically united under the banner of the
South African Council of Churches (SACC), which, as noted, has
gone far beyond declaring apartheid a heresy as an idea and fundamentally
anti-Christian as a policy (which it has repeatedly done in a
variety of forums). SACC supports a string of media beyond its
own churchly publications. It gave an initial grant to Frontline;
it produces videotape documentaries and editorials decrying substandard
conditions for the black population; it regularly sends abroad
exposes of government repression. In effect, SACC serves as an
The government has struck back with the Eloff
Commission. South African commissions are similar to American
congressional investigating committees in powers and purpose,
but they are totally creatures of the executive arm and their
members are not necessarily elected officials. As in a previous
investigation of a dissident church group (Beyers Naude's Christian
Institute), this commission zeroed in on the finances of SACC
and found irregularities. It also accused the body of actively
supporting terrorism. It did fall short of urging the government
to declare SACC an "affected organization." This is
a legalism which would forbid SACC to accept foreign money. Since
SACC is greatly dependent on funds from the World Council of
Churches and other outside sources, such a ruling would have
Both sides share the conviction of American
clergy and politicians that the mass media are their most effective
instruments of control, for "winning minds and hearts."
Interestingly, as the churches at home and abroad condemn apartheid
with rising intensity, SABC has turned more and more of its religious
programming within. Christianity is projected as a private inner
choice with no social consequences. The programmers may have
gotten their cue from the corporately run American media, who
find it convenient to present morality as private, something
that should not be socially or politically "imposed"
on others. Churches are for charity, not justice.
Under South African law, powerful political parties opposed to
the nationalist regime, by definition, may not exist. To the
right, the Conservative Party is gaining strength. But its quarrel
with Pretoria is hardly about the premises of apartheid, but
about the tactics of accommodation to growing black power. At
the other end of the political spectrum, the Progressive Federal
Party has long waged an honorable campaign against state-sponsored
racism. Nevertheless, it has done so within the parameters of
the existing order. Radical opposition that calls for immediate,
universal suffrage in a unitary state is the province of outlawed
and exiled parties like the African National Congress (ANC) and
the South African Communist Party.
If a fundamental principle of organization
informs the strategy of apartheid, it is that groups have
separate turfs, each with their own distinctive rights and rules.
Hence, many "enlightened" whites are in favor of some
sort of federalism, which would cede territories to different
groups - whites, Zulus, Indians, "coloured," and so
forth - within which universal suffrage would be granted. Then
each group would have some sort of weighted representation in
a national body, perhaps like the U.S. Senate, where each state,
despite significant differences in size, population, and economic
stature, has an equal voice.
Because apartheid is based on the primacy
of groups, mainstream opposition is ideologically committed to
the notion of equal rights for each individual, regardless of
color or race. It is on this account that ANC and others reject
the term "coloured" and prefer to call all nonwhites
black, as a sign both of their solidarity and, paradoxically,
of each individual's separate legal and moral existence apart
from group identification. This focus on the individual (quite
apart from certain tendencies toward strong-arm fascist tactics)
has made Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's Zulu political party, Inkatha,
unpopular with the mainstream opposition, even though it is opposed
to white supremacy and constitutes the largest single political
party in South Africa. Inkatha seeks group rights and group turf.
As a powerful group with an existing territory (KwaZulu) and
government, any future movement away from apartheid would place
the Zulus in a much more favorable position than other blacks.
Because no political party can be formed legally
in order to oppose apartheid, creating alliances of established
groups, such as unions and churches, is the necessary tactical
choice of the mainstream opposition. It is thus an irony that
the opponents of apartheid have emphasized group membership
in their fight for individual rights.
The current cycle of violence and repression
was set off in 1983 by the campaign against the government's
proposal for a new constitution, which in the end was adopted
(blacks had no vote in this, or any other, referendum). The campaign
was spearheaded by the United Democratic Front (UDF), a coalition
of churches, student organizations, labor and trade unions, comprised
of over 600 groups with a cumulative membership of about two
and a half million. Dr. Allan Boesak, head of the "coloured"
division of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Sendingkerk,
Fr. Smangalisu Mkatchwa, executive secretary of the Catholic
Bishops, Cyril Ramaphosa, head of the National Union of Mineworkers,
and others, became leaders of UDF, because they were already
leaders of legal constituencies. Thus the opposition to the separate
group politics of apartheid ironically depends upon the power
of groups, of interlocking coalitions.
As with the churches, the labor unions had
become platforms for the struggle against apartheid by default,
after trade unions became legal for blacks on the recommendation
of the 1979 Wiehahn Commission and were the only alternative
to black political parties, which had been harassed and legislated
out of existence. Since 1979 the number of black unionists has
burgeoned from 50,000 to almost a million, and strike man-days
(blacks only) had jumped from 20,000 to well over a million by
The government acquiesced to the Commission
in its own self-interest, of course, seeing the creation of black
trade unions as a chance to incorporate black labor demands into
the system of controls the state has at its disposal. Originally,
the unions by law were to exclude migrants, be of one race membership,
be subject to state registration and financial regulations, and
refrain from all party political activity. In fact, the unions
organized both migrants and other races and mounted prominent
political platforms. This created and still creates some internal
disagreement between the populist and "workerist" elements
in the union, since the latter feel that the antiapartheid struggle
detracts and distracts from the primary union goal of better
wages, benefits, and working conditions for its members. Because
800 miners were killed in 1986 in accidents such as "rockbursts"
and gas emissions, these needs are not trivial. Nonetheless,
the election of 1987 and the preceding repression have fueled
the populist cause further.
As with the South African Council of Churches
and UDF, several unions since 1985 have formed a coalition of
their own called the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
COSATU replaced another coalition of unions,
the once powerful Trade Union Council of South Africa, whose
more exclusively "workerist" emphasis was seen as increasingly
irrelevant during the states of emergency. Earlier still, a politicized
union coalition, the South African Congress of Trade Unions,
openly allied with ANC, had been driven into exile. COSATU has
successfully blended both "workerist" and populist
On the economic side, COSATU aims to unify
disparate small unions, form unions among the unorganized, and
to establish a national minimum wage. On the political side,
it aims to fight homeland policy, influx control, and pass laws
while continuing to seek Pretoria's recognition of ANC as the
bargaining agent for the nonwhite population in the process of
power sharing. Ironically, unions pose a threat to blacks in
the homelands in the economic sense, even as they are allies
for their political liberation, due to the fact they will exclude
the unemployed from a chance to enter the labor market, just
as they will exclude more immigrant workers in the frontline
states, a conflict Pretoria hopes will grow.
With a half million members and a campaign
to organize industrywide single unions, COSATU is easily the
most powerful element within UDF and a force that the government
must reckon with. Before the 1987 election, Cyril Ramaphosa,
whose National Union of Mineworkers is the largest union in COSATU,
told Alan Cowell of The New York Times that the burgeoning
numbers and community support of the black unions, as well as
the symbiotic relationship they had with their employers (whose
own associations, such as the Urban Foundation, Federated Chamber
of Industries, and the Association of Chambers of Commerce, were
pressuring Pretoria to ease up on labor for the sake of good
business) would make it very unwise for the government to increase
Pretoria still has some very strong cards
to play. Despite the strength of COSATU's numbers, in its strongest
area, the mines, only half of the 600,000 workers are unionized
and there are 400,000 on the waiting list for employment in the
mines. In January of 1986, 20,000 workers who went on strike
in a platinum mine in the homeland of Bophuthatswana were summarily
dismissed. For its plan to succeed, COSATU must organize a labor
force of six million, 80 percent of which is non-unionized. There
are no strike funds to speak of.
The depressing and unforeseen swing to the
right in the elections of 1987 have dimmed opposition prospects
Prague Spring Revisited
By the end of 1986, most of South Africa was in a declared state
of emergency, and the press had been completely smothered by
December 11 under layer upon layer of bureaucratic blankets.
It was believed that most of the townships, the black urban ghettos
near most major white cities, were ungovernable, with black collaborationists
- policemen, town councilmen, and others - abandoning ship in
fear of their lives. The U.S. Congress had voted for sanctions,
and more and more American companies were pulling out of South
Africa. In what was seen as a defiant gesture of desperation,
President Botha called for elections on May 6, 1987.
The period of the campaign was perceived from
abroad as a period of further decay of National Party power,
with furious defections to the extreme right at the mere suggestion
of accommodation to black demands and some spectacular defections
to the left. The Nationalist regime's ambassador to Great Britain,
Denis Worrall, resigned his post in order to run against Botha's
party for a White Assembly seat.
Most spectacular of all, Willem de Klerk,
editor of Rapport, a widely read Afrikaans weekly supportive
of the regime for years, and brother of F.W. de Klerk, National
Party leader, also resigned his position in protest against the
slowness of the party to accommodate the demands of the moderate
left within the establishment, such as the abolition of pass
laws. David de Villiers, a distinguished Afrikaner journalist
and former managing director of Nasionale Pers, the more powerful
of two Afrikaner press chains loyal to the National Party, also
resigned his position to serve as campaign adviser to Ester Lategan,
yet another defector. To add to the sense of disintegration of
support for Botha's policy of Romanita (agree and delay),
over 30 academics at Stellenbosch University, the Afrikaner Harvard,
signed a reform manifesto calling for the granting of full political
rights to blacks through peaceful negotiation.
While Botha was losing on the political front,
his policies were also being thwarted by the courts.
On March 10, 1987, police entered the offices
of Johannesburg's leading daily, The Star, in an attempt
to seize all editions carrying an advertisement urging public
support of all those detained under the emergency powers. But
the paper, under editor Harvey Tyson, refused to permit the confiscation,
citing lawyers' opinions that offending phrases (calling for
release of the prisoners) had been deleted from the ad and the
call for release had been placed in a front-page editorial in
the same editions. While the presses were rolling and police
were standing by in the pressroom, Tyson and the paper's lawyers
went to the Supreme Court to get a restraining order. They got
it and the paper went to press.
But it was in April, just two weeks before
the election, that the most stunning blow to Nationalist policies
of censorship and stifling of dissent was dealt. On April 24,
1987, the Supreme Court of Natal at Pietermaritzburg declared
the press restrictions of June 12, 1986, and December 11, 1986,
to exceed the powers of the President. Also set aside were the
rules against advertisements promoting banned organizations.
The regulations of December 11 were found by the court to be
particularly vague in defining what were "subversive statements,"
"security action," "unrest." The judgments
were the results of actions brought against the government by
the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Release Nelson Mandela
Law Professor John Dugard, a constant critic
of the judiciary (his magisterial Human Rights and the South
African Legal Order and many other public statements and
scholarly articles have sought to debunk what he believes to
be the "myth" of the South African judiciary's independence),
has noted that the Natal decision, and others like it, show a
new character forming among some judges. Dugard believes that
this development resulted from the pressure of the civil rights
lawyers, the loss of black confidence in the courts, and the
criticism of the International Commission of Jurists that the
South African courts have been legitimizing apartheid.
It looked like a Prague spring was at hand.
But it was not to be. On May 6, 1987, whites chose Botha again,
and any electoral defections of note were to the right. Although
Botha's party garnered only 52.28 percent of the popular vote,
it gained seven seats to form a majority of 123, a total of 101
seats more than that of the new opposition, the Conservative
As for the court ruling against censorship,
it may have been a Pyrrhic victory: Acting on legal advice, ABC,
CBS, Visnews, Independent Television News, Reuters, the Associated
Press, Time and Newsweek covered a peaceful demonstration
at the University of Cape Town that was violently dispersed by
the police. Claiming that the regulations were still in force
pending appeal, police arrested at least thirteen journalists
at the scene. Many believe new rules, technically within the
guidelines of the Natal ruling, will soon replace the overruled
The white elections of May 6, 1987, showed
the still forceful appeal of the laager (the ring of covered
wagons under "native" attack) mentality. Michael Buerk,
the BBC-TV correspondent whose vivid pictures of protests and
police retaliations led to his being deported by Pretoria (as
was his Independent Television News counterpart), told Robert
MacNeil on the May 25th MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour that
this "spectral shift to the right" was a manifestation
of "fatalistic defiance" of world condemnation on the
part of the Afrikaners (and many other whites as well).
The emergency regulations had kept the whites
"more ignorant than ever" of what was going on in their
own country. Buerk noted that the "tolerance on the margins
of apartheid" would be eroded further as a result of the
election and that the cyclical violence that has characterized
South Africa for the last hundred years would speed up drastically,
with shorter and shorter lapses into periods of quiet desperation.
Dr. Allan Boesak of UDF felt that the blacks
would be more irreversibly alienated by the regime - not even
comforted by the sporadic court rulings that had forced government
repressions to stagger in legalistic spurts: "For every
ruling in our favor, the South African government has a new law.
. . . It is something happening in a remote courtroom out of
the reach of the people."
The Congress of South African Trade Unions
(COSATU) had its headquarters in Johannesburg ripped to shreds
the morning after the election by two powerful explosions. The
previous week, COSATU offices throughout the country were raided
by police. During the election period, COSATU meetings and rallies
had been banned. A month before the election, six railroad strikers
were shot by police.
The struggle continues.
In what follows, I will try to show part of
what counts for so much in this and other struggles for freedom
around the world: the power of speech and press, both high tech
and humble, to force respect for freedom on those who would crush
* The writer
has visited all the major cities and many of the towns and villages
in every province of the Republic, as well as the "homelands"
of Ciskei and Transkei. Interviews, shared meals and quarters,
journeys, brief and lengthy encounters were experienced with
scores of South Africans. Rev. Bernard Sponge of the Interchurch
Media Program, who shares my professional interests, was particularly
informative and gave me entree to all the relevant and generous
people at Khotso House, including, of course, the heroically
accessible Bishop Desmond Tutu, then executive secretary of SACC.
Official South Africa was, I should add, both correct and cordial.
My impressions and recollections are of course my own. I wish
to emphasize that no one to whom I spoke ever favored any violent
overthrow of duly constituted authority, although many were deeply
opposed to apartheid on moral and humanitarian grounds and were
well known to the authorities for this reason.
** Since this
point is often made as a justifying boast by the Nationalist
regime, it is often either ignored or denied by opponents of
apartheid, especially if they are white and safe. Black African
journalists and authors outside South Africa are not helped by
this selective and ultimately self-undermining tolerance.
Nigeria, the most populous black African country,
has had a particularly sad history of press repression, particularly
under the former military junta headed by Major General Muhammadu
Buhari, whose infamous Decree Number 4 against criticism of the
government was the pretext for a number of detentions of journalists,
some of whom died under mysterious circumstances. When President
Ibrahim Babangida took over the government in August of 1985,
he immediately repealed this decree. This was taken as a signal
by my former student and friend, Dele Giwa, who had suffered
for his journalistic courage and integrity, to try yet again
with a new weekly newsmagazine, Newswatch, with the help
of fellow journalists Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and Dan Agbese.
The magazine was a sensation, which made us very proud of Dele,
who was editor-in-chief. The new government was not very happy
with this exercise in press freedom and made threatening noises
which did not daunt Newswatch. On October 19, 1986, Dele
Giwa was blown apart by a letter bomb. There is a widespread
belief, and fear, that the bomb originated with the Nigerian
Security Police. It was a message for other critical journalists
but we hope that Dele Giwa, who wore his bravery lightly, who
was warmly affectionate as well as coldly analytical, stands
for a more enduring message to journalists and dissenters everywhere.
Nigeria has had a consistent history of press
repression under a succession of otherwise diverse governments.
Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momh,
has declared that "President Ibrahim Babangida's administration
has consistently regarded the press as a true partner in progress."
Less diplomatically, Nathan Shamuyarira, Minister of Information,
Posts and Telecommunications for Zimbabwe, has routinely given
notice to all foreign correspondents in his country that they
will be deported for writing "negative" reports.
Robert Mugabe, highly regarded for many of
his leadership qualities, has nonetheless (through the Mass Media
Trust) effectively nationalized all but one of Zimbabwe's newspapers.
Despite his early promises of press freedom, he has also introduced
emergency powers that control what reporters can write and where
they can go, detained reporters for long periods without charges,
expelled a number of journalists, and refused entry visas to
others. Kadoma, a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, was the
site of an agreement on treatment of the press by the frontline
states (black-ruled African countries bordering South Africa).
The terms of the Kadoma Declaration banned foreign journalists
based in South Africa from all the signatory states, and assured
admission to all states for any journalists admitted to one.
Although even South African-based correspondents have been welcome
in Zambia and Zimbabwe for ANC press conferences, in times of
domestic troubles they are unwelcome and even banned. Many authorized
in Zimbabwe are still waiting for permission to enter half of
the frontline states that keep them at bay.
a Paris-based magazine that allegedly covers and is distributed
throughout francophone Africa, is heavily tied to the governments
it must report on. Many of the magazine staffers are also, either
directly or indirectly through public relations agencies, employed
as flacks by the African governments. The company that owns Jeune
Afrique also runs its own agency, DIFCOM, which does the
same work, often with the same people. This is evident in the
appearance of the copy, loaded with "advertorials"
and so labeled. The newshole itself is a long glowing testimony
to the "Sage of Africa," Ivory Coast President Houphouet-Boigny,
Senegal's Abdou Diouf, Congo's Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and others,
among whose entourages and reporters often travel. It is noteworthy
that few of the reporters are black.
Oliver Chimenya, a black journalist under
both Smith and Mugabe, has said that all African leaders, black
and white, "have fallen victime to controlling their own