Cheered in the street, much as Charles or Di

R.W. Johnson

The massacre at Boipatong and the subsequent breakdown of talks between the ANC and the Government have set the seal on a mood of almost panicky pessimism in South Africa. The high hopes of two years ago seem impossibly distant now. To be sure, there was always bound to be a period like this in the middle of the negotiation process, but there is certainly nothing finite or controlled about the gloom that grips the country. White morale and confidence have never been lower, and since they and their media still set the tone for the whole society, and since blacks and Coloureds have less in general to feel happy about anyway, this means that the gloom is general. It does also happen to be winter, a beautiful but drought-stricken winter.

There seems little hope that the murk surrounding the Boipatong tragedy will lift. The Police have appealed in vain for witnesses to come forward with evidence. A body calling itself the Independent Investigation Board claims to have already gathered over thirty statements from witnesses, but refuses to let the Police see any of these. Like so many bodies claiming to have access to the facts, the board is not really independent at all. It investigates only allegations made against the security forces and ‘works with the ANC’. All we really know is that 39 people died horribly in what looks to have been a classic Zulu warraid in reprisal for the murder of an Inkatha activist the week before; that significant question marks hang over the role of the Police; and that Boipatong was just one more massacre. On average this year four people have died in political violence every day. Often – as with the massacre of 23 Inkatha activists six months ago – such deaths raise only passing interest. Boipatong was special not just because of the size of the massacre but because it came at a delicate political juncture following the breakdown of the constitutional negotiations at Codesa (the Convention for a Democratic South Africa) – which had occurred even before Boipatong.

Although debate continues over the exact details of the breakdown and although back-channel talks between the Government and the ANC dribble on, the crunch is that the Government wants power-sharing and federalism, while the ANC wants simple majority rule and a centralised state. This difference is complicated by the fact that the National Party’s own rule has been a model of centralised authoritarianism and that the ANC fixed on the slogan of ‘non-racial democracy in a unitary state’ more than thirty years ago and has repeated it as a sort of mantra ever since. To the discomfort of the ANC even the Nigerians have made it plain that they see federalism as the only realistic option, while every opinion poll here shows huge majorities of all races preferring power-sharing to majority rule. The polls also make it clear that large majorities of both the Coloureds and the Indians are frightened by the thought of majority rule and will form a bloc with de Klerk against it. For the moment deadlock is complete.

Much of the gloom is economic, however. The growth rate, which averaged only 1.4 per cent p.a. over the whole decade of the Eighties, has been in recession and negative growth for three years now: in 1990 it was -0.5 per cent, 1991 -0.6 per cent and 1992 is forecast at -0.5 per cent. True, these things are notoriously hard to measure in an economy with a vast ‘informal sector’ well beyond the reach of the taxman or any statistician, but there’s no doubt that unemployment is mountainous and still climbing steeply as further and further swathes of young blacks get tipped onto the unreceptive job market. And, for that matter, young whites – jobs are scarce across the board and you see the odd white beggar here and there in the street. In general, the lot of the poor whites, the class that originally propelled Afrikaner nationalism to power, has not been so bad since the Thirties.

On top of that, inflation is 16 per cent and, because of the drought and some profiteering, food price inflation is around 30 per cent, though for meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts it is 41.5 per cent. Potatoes have at least doubled in price. Bankruptcies, closures, redundancies, mortgage defaults and repossessions continue at a steady clip, while young and affluent whites continue equally steadily to emigrate. There are few white middle-class families left, especially Jewish ones; and among those who remain some, most, or all the kids are in the UK, US, Australia, Canada, while the parents agonise about whether to join them. The great barrier here is that the housing market has frozen solid, especially at the upper end, so it may be all but impossible to sell up. (This, note, despite 16 per cent inflation.) And if you do sell up, you can’t get your money out, except by currency fraud and at a punitive exchange rate. For all that, many do it: white people leak abroad and so does their money in a host of ways.

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