‘The saddest thing about the death of Comrade O.R. Tambo,’ wrote one of the black students in my local university newspaper, ‘is that he will not now be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Comrade Mandela on that great day when freedom comes.’ Other, more radical students are less respectful of the ANC luminaries and their chosen strategy of negotiation. ‘The only thing to negotiate,’ they are given to saying, ‘is the transfer of power’ – or sometimes, ‘the seizure of power’. Only then – and here all concur – can we get ahead with the great task in hand, that of ‘building the new nation’.

Such sentiments attest to the pervasive strength of a nationalist paradigm long since exhausted and discredited in the rest of Africa, but proposed with a burning zeal for South Africa, as if the disasters to the north had never occurred. For ‘that great day when freedom comes’ is, of course, based on a fond folk memory of uhuru. A member of the royal family lowers the flag, the band plays, the plume on the prince’s solar topee flaps in the breeze, and then a new flag ascends to the tune of a new anthem. The prince hands the keys to the governor’s residence (‘the transfer of power’) to the nationalist tribune, the once and future Leader of the Oppressed. The latter heads a party which is co-extensive with the nation and thus not only is there no need for any opposition: it would actually be harmful for such a thing to exist. Tribal, regional and language divisions have largely been created by the forces of colonialism: they will now disappear in the general catharsis of nationalist transformation. It is a point of view which has led large parts of Africa towards single-party rule, bitter tribal division and civil war.

It is also quite peculiarly inappropriate to South Africa, for it has already been agreed that there will, in effect, be no ‘great day’ on which power is ‘transferred’. Instead, there will be a period of power-sharing in which the ANC will sit in a cabinet alongside the party responsible for apartheid. More broadly, it is inconceivable that any government, no matter what its political stripe, will be able to run South Africa without sharing power with white civil servants, policemen, generals and businessmen. The rhetoric about the welding of disparate groups into a new nation is, at best, harmless window-dressing; taken seriously, it would be extremely dangerous, for it would mean the enforcement of a national unity where none exists. In Africa, only Nigeria, Sudan and Zaire share anything like South Africa’s diversity of ethnic and social cleavages. All three have had civil wars, none has known democracy for long, and sub-division into separate states still seems their only alternative to a long-term future of disorder, corruption and tyranny.

Theoretically, South Africa’s African nationalists know all this. On its return from exile, the ANC leadership was eloquent in its determination to prevent the chaos it had experienced in Angola and Zambia; and officially, at least, the movement is committed to multiparty democracy. But statements to this effect look more and more like the pro forma utterances of a leadership keen to maintain contact with an international gallery of liberal opinion. On the ground it’s very different. The monopolistic style which seems almost intrinsic to African nationalism is strongly reinforced here by the dominance within the ANC of an old-style Communist Party (the SACP) for whom the Berlin Wall has never really come down. (SACP delegations travel to and from Cuba, reporting enthusiastically on the way Comrade Fidel organises his one-party elections.) Putting these two traditions together produces an unmistakable push towards single-partyism, theorised by (usually white) Marxists as the ANC’s need to ‘develop multiple hegemonies within the new society’, an argument buttressed by quotes from Gramsci taken from ancient copies of New Left Review.

Theological justification of this kind bolsters the natural language of African nationalism. The ANC talks of itself as ‘the nation’, its guerrilla wing is ‘the spear of the nation’, its newspaper the New Nation. Similarly, Mandela talks of the ANC as ‘the Parliament of the African People’ – not one party among others but an expression of the people as a whole. The ANC pays lip-service to the need for a ‘civil society’ beyond the world of parties – but then insists that the only legitimate voices of civil society are those that are heard through the ANC associations for women, culture, labour, youth and so on. The South African Council of Churches is the odd man out – but it parrots the ANC line on every issue anyway.

ANC speakers extol human rights and pluralism at meetings carefully orchestrated to allow only one voice and one party line. On all but the Afrikaans university campuses, the ANC is the only party permitted to speak – on the grounds that the universities must right the bias against ‘the oppressed’. Kenneth Kaunda, the heavily disavowed ex-President of Zambia, who seems to have taken up permanent residence in South Africa (he apparently owns three houses here), is an honoured guest at all ANC functions. The ANC is blithely unembarrassed by the fact that once a free election was allowed more than three-quarters of all Zambians voted to get rid of Kaunda and that he remains a frank advocate of single-party rule. It turns out, by the by, that the whole election was an imperialist plot against the people of Zambia and that the only reasonable outcome would have been for President Kaunda to continue his rule for ever: we have this on the great man’s own insistent authority. For all that, Kaunda is routinely billed as ‘a great democrat’ and a ‘campaigner for human rights’.

There is a lot to be learnt from this description. For Kaunda ruled Zambia without free elections, operated a strict press censorship, detained people without trial, abolished academic freedom and filled the country with his own boastful personality cult for 27 years: Objectively, he was an enemy of human rights and an anti-democrat. Over the years, however, ‘campaigner for human rights’ became shorthand for someone who opposed apartheid, and a ‘democrat’ was someone who favoured one person, one vote in South Africa. Gradually these meanings were elided to mean simply that such people wanted the ANC to win and since Kaunda certainly wants that, he qualifies for the sobriquets above. In the same way, anti-apartheid movements around the world are controlled by the ANC or SACP, and assume a complete identity between the anti-apartheid cause and support for the ANC, entirely neglecting the fact that an array of other black, Indian and white parties have also opposed apartheid and campaigned for universal suffrage. The ANC’s appropriation of the anti-apartheid cause has been sanctified by generations of clerics, by those who, like Canon Collins, Trevor Huddleston, Desmond Tutu or Frank Chikane, have regularly officiated at ANC congresses or funerals, but never at those of other anti-apartheid parties. This is one reason the ANC has no policies, only ‘policy guidelines’, statements of the vaguest general principle: it is felt to be enough that it is the ANC.

Liberal whites are crucially assisting the trend to single-partyism. If, for instance, you go to a history or sociology conference at an English-speaking university you are very likely to find that a paper on youth has a rapporteur from the ANC Youth League, one on women a rapporteur from the ANC Women’s League, one on labour a rapporteur from Cosatu, the ANC-aligned union confederation and so on. It’s odd enough that an academic conference should have a party-political input: even odder to find that it is always the same party. The same sort of trend is apparent even at quite a low level. Thus, the annual Durban Film Festival has been reorganised by a committee composed entirely of ANC/SACP members – a change encouraged by the liberal whites who used to run it.

At national level the ANC Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) has appointed a board of trustees to act as the ‘guardians’ of cultural life, but insists that this is not a party body, even though all its members (who include Nadine Gordimer) are ANC members or sympathisers, and it was set up without any pretence of discussion. At the same time, DAC has launched blistering attacks on the National Arts Initiative, a lobby of artists and administrators who had the temerity to declare themselves non-aligned. Those who are active in the NAI are already so frightened of DAC that they will only speak to the press on an anonymous basis. The Congress of SA Writers (COSAW), of which Nadine Gordimer is again the doyenne, shows ominous signs of de facto ANC-alignment. Local enthusiasts who want to start a literary journal, for example, complain of difficulties with COSAW because the journal is not ANC-approved. And so on and on. White liberals are almost invariably unwilling to stand up to such pressures, though they showed great courage and tenacity when the pressure came from the other end of the political spectrum.

Not surprisingly, the ANC and SACP have successfully colonised all manner of voluntary associations and non-governmental organisations, thus allowing their side’s supporters to be counted more than once. For example, the National Forum on Education has representation from COSAS (the ANC-aligned school union), SASCO (ditto for university students), SADTU (ditto for teachers), UDUSA (ditto for university teachers), the ANC-aligned National Education Co-ordinating Committee and the ANC’s own Education Department. Other ANC bodies – the Youth League, Women’s League etc – offer an almost unlimited list of potential further representatives. We are well within sight of the time when all such forums, whether on education, culture or anything else, will be either single-party affairs or consistently dominated by one party.

Take the Independent Electoral Forum of NGOs active in voter education, research and organisation for the coming elections. Only three of the NGOs participating in the IEF are truly non-partisan, the rest are all ANC-aligned. The oldest and most distinguished body active in the field, the SA Institute of Race Relations, has been excluded from the IEF essentially because its director is suspected of anti-ANC views. When I pointed out the unfairness of this, given, for example, the participation in the IEF of the (ANC-founded and funded) Matla Trust, I was told that Matla was non-partisan. How so, I asked: after all, its director was an ANC militant and all but one of its trustees were ANC members. Ah yes, came the rejoinder, but its director was under direct orders from Nelson Mandela himself to be non-partisan.

So the leviathan grows: those well-meaning people in Western countries who feel that their anti-apartheid commitment should lead them to treat the ANC as South Africa’s ‘sole legitimate representative’ are feeding the tiger. Not that the ANC itself is a tiger – it is a broad church that includes Communist militants and Christian moderates, the genuinely tolerant and the rabidly anti-white (and anti-Indian) racists. Without doubt the rival African nationalists of the PAC would display the same single-party instincts if only their party were bigger, and within Zululand, Inkatha has long ruled as a single-party regime. The tiger is the single-partyism endemic to all these variants of African nationalism, the notion of a party which sees itself or is seen as the ‘sole legitimate representative’ of the national interest.

In any case, a single-party straitjacket simply will not fit over the burly shoulders of South Africa’s diverse black population, let alone the whites, Coloureds and Indians. There is considerable danger of single-party monopolism, but the greater danger lies in the certain and furious resistance it will meet. In a Ghana or a Zambia, African nationalism could bully and subdue and imprison those who opposed the single party, and thus bring about an apparent (though bogus) 95 per cent consensus in favour of the regime. Even in Zimbabwe this has been achieved, with the whites keeping their heads down or, in two cases out of three, emigrating. But nowhere on the continent has this single-party push had to confront ten million non-Africans – the large majority of whom cannot emigrate. In order for a colossal clash to be averted – if not now, then in a few years’ time – it will not be enough for African nationalism here to find a new form or rhetoric, or to try to gladhand everyone into a single nation: it will have to become as genuinely pluralist as if it were an American political party. It will, in a word, have to change its spots. This is not quite as impossible as it sounds: the ANC has already jettisoned many of the central principles for which it had stood for forty years. Should this evolution continue, then South Africa might indeed evolve into an African Brazil – a great big, violent, corrupt but open and dynamic country, full of problems but full of promise.

The alternative will be war and, probably, attempted separation. As one surveys the possible separatisms of Bophuthatswana, the Western Cape and KwaNatal, let alone the various potential new Boer Republics, one is tempted to see Ian Smith’s Rhodesian UDI as setting a pattern for all southern Africa. After all, Angola and Mozambique already have their effective Renamo and Unita sub-states and the de facto fragmentation of Zaire is underway. In the end all these quasi-independent states may fail, as Ian Smith’s did, but equally, the map of southern Africa may look very different twenty years from now.

The politics of liberation will certainly not be much like the ANC’s dreams in exile. Let us assume, somewhat wishfully, that a federal deal can be worked out which placates the various potential separatists, and that the ANC and NP see their power-sharing pact through to fruition, with the ANC the senior partner under President Mandela. On entering office, the movement will face the immediate problem of what to do about the growing lawlessness. For many, the whole point of the forthcoming Government of National Unity (GNU) is that the ANC’s legitimacy will reinforce the brute efficacy of the NP, thereby allowing the GNU to crack down extremely hard on crime and the extremisms of Left and Right.

This idea, beloved of foreign embassies, could well be too simple: the ANC is likely to baulk at the thought of taking responsibility for the deployment of white-officered forces against other sections of the ‘liberation movement’ or, indeed, against blacks of any description. But it is impossible to imagine, let us say, education being restored to order without the adoption of an extremely tough line against rioting pupils and the sometimes appalling behaviour of township teachers. Already three black universities have been shut down in the face of student riots, and a fourth teeters on the brink. In the townships Mandela’s call for children to return to school has been blithely ignored. An ANC minister, faced with a tidal wave of disruption in schools and universities, may well find himself having to put down his own version of the Soweto uprising. Similarly, it is difficult to see how the ANC in government will be able to do anything other than support tough action against the gangs who roam the countryside, seeking to murder white farmers – although this, too, will put the ANC uncomfortably on the side of the right-wing Afrikaners against penniless blacks. It will have the effect not only of empowering and emboldening its rivals to the left but of threatening the stability of the GNU itself. Moreover, once in power, the ANC will understand in a wholly new way the need to create a favourable investment climate – and how crucial to this is an improvement in law and order.

Again, it is difficult to see how the future government will be able to avoid a clash with the trade unions, for all that Cosatu forms the third leg of the ANC-SACP alliance. In the days when the ANC was banned Cosatu was by far the most important legal black organisation in South Africa, which obviously gave it considerable power – a power it was able to turn into large real wage increases. This process has been put into sharp reverse since the ANC was unbanned and the unions have not only lost strikes but have also lost members, funds and political clout. Inevitably they have now placed their faith in an ANC victory, hoping that it will secure for them what they were unable to gain by industrial action. Some of these hopes are bound to be disappointed.

At the beginning, however, there is likely to be at least a brief economic honeymoon. In part this will be due to the release of frozen domestic funds – most notably, the billions of rands waiting to be used on low-cost housing for blacks. The ANC has been using its leverage in the Housing Forum and similar bodies to block any expenditure of these and related funds until it is itself in power and in a position to profit from the considerable political credit (and patronage) accruing from the programme. Beyond that, of course, the installation of Mandela as president will be a cathartic moment not only for many South Africans but for black and Coloured people around the world. Some of this euphoria and good will ought to translate into money. President Clinton has promised to help, and the World Bank and other international agencies will be keen to provide the rest of Africa with one outstanding example of successful capitalist development on the continent.

The international moratorium on bank lending to South Africa has left the country a long way under-borrowed and once Pretoria gets the nod for IMF credits, there is likely to be a rush to lend to the new government on the part of the commercial banks. Some voices within the ANC caution against a rapid debt build-up which ultimately results in the economy being placed under the administration of bureaucrats in Washington, as has happened to most of the rest of Africa. But there is almost no power on earth which will prevent politicians (and certainly not ANC politicians) from taking delivery of large bags of money if their constituency is frantic for houses and jobs and the money is on offer. There will, in other words, be almost inexorable pressure for a debt-led boom, with money being poured into black housing, education and welfare, into an increased public sector and, of course, into politicians’ bank accounts.

Such a boom would be extremely inflationary and – given that it would add little to the Country’s productive capacities – quickly run into balance-of-payments constraints. All of which would doubtless result in a fairly sizeable devaluation of the rand. The World Bank, which has seen numerous African countries ruin their economies with similar boom-and-bust ‘strategies’, has pointedly stated that as yet it sees no role for itself, for no one has submitted any projects or outlined any development strategy to it – this despite the fact that it has been trying to get the ANC to elucidate such matters for over a year now. In part this is just a comment on the policy-less state of the ANC, but it is also a reflection of the keenness of the Bank and other international agencies to guide the ANC away from what one might term the classic downward path of African nationalism. The Bank would, in a word, like South Africa to avoid having to undergo the rigours of an ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) by observing in advance the ESAP logic – an acceptance of liberal market economics, a realistic exchange rate, a tough limitation on public spending and full integration into the international economy.

A great struggle for the soul of the ANC is silently in progress on this ground, for all the instincts of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance lie in the opposite direction. The awkward truth is that Cosatu, representing a labour aristocracy of one and a half million in a country of nearly forty million, has pushed up wages fast while productivity has lagged, with a resulting deterioration in unit cost competitiveness. What makes this possible at the moment is sweeping protectionism in one industry after another – so Cosatu has much to fear from freer trade. The politicians of the ANC, on the other hand, would like to make free with public spending and an enlarged public sector so as to be able to reward their supporters with increased welfare and jobs in an enlarged bureaucracy. The SACP, for its part, feels that the whole aid and development establishment is, in a general way, the enemy – it is forever pointing out the superiority of the Cuban model, apparently oblivious of the fact that Cuba is on the point of collapse, (As recently as 1988 it was pointing to East Germany as the best model for South Africa’s development.) Equally significant is the fact that the SACP has always acted as the ANC’s in-house intelligentsia, as its strategic brain, and in this capacity finds itself threatened by the aid and development agencies who are now moving in to provide an alternative – high-status – source of advice, as well as very different intellectual perspectives.

The most striking sign of this process is the fact that Trevor Manuel, the ANC’s shadow finance minister, has come out in favour of abolishing the two-tier currency system, collapsing the financial rand (available only to foreign investors) into the commercial (ordinary) rand (which currently trades at a 50 per cent discount to the finrand). The delight felt by the white middle classes (who will then be free to send capital abroad, their dearest dream) is matched only by their sheer amazement. Rumour runs that Mr Manuel, who had no previous background in economics, has been effectively taken over by the World Bank’s economists who, in some reports, are actually credited with writing his speeches. It has not escaped Cosatu that the abolition of the two-tier currency system would amount to a devaluation of perhaps 25 per cent, and that the whole point of devaluation would be lost if real wages were not subsequently held down.

Such a prospect brings clearly into view the likelihood that the ANC will come to power as representatives of the black middle class, one of whose key objectives will be to reduce the institutional strength and real wages of the black working class. Certainly, as one casts an eye over the economic wish list favoured by Cosatu – minimum wage, right to work, the unionisation of every group and Cuban, if not Swedish levels of welfare – and compares what is available in competitor nations elsewhere, one cannot but suspect that the key mission of the ANC in the Nineties will be to lower the levels of popular expectation it encouraged in the insurrectionary Eighties. Clearly, such a development would fit snugly into the logic of what is required for South Africa’s full integration into an international economy based on free flows of trade and investment. This notion may be taboo, but some of the radical intellectuals advising Cosatu have sniffed the wind and done their sums. Their reaction is to take refuge in further protectionism and even in defiant notions of building socialism in one country. The more thoughtful of them have begun to realise that this will not be enough, however, simply because no set of merely theoretical objections is going to stop ANC politicians in power from taking money on offer. In other words, there will have to be a political showdown within the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance not too long after the ANC has entered government: some of the SACP’s slogans about the need to ‘continue building people’s power’ and to ‘retain the capacity for armed struggle’ even after the elections already point to it.

A further key element in a showdown of this kind is likely to be the growing wealth gap between the ANC élite and their followers. This has already become very noticeable. Even in opposition the ANC leadership has been enriching itself at a remarkable rate. In fact, we have recently had another interesting glimpse of the way this process works in the negotiations between the big banks and building societies and the (ANC-aligned) SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco) led by Moses Mayekiso.

Sanco is an interesting body. During the heyday of the UDF in 1983-86, civic associations sprang up all round the country, purporting to represent local black communities. Most of these consisted of self-appointed élites who imposed their will on their communities by fairly robust means, but they generally represented the temper of the times far better than the Uncle Tom municipal councillors they displaced. The Civics have continued into the new era as local ANC 2nd XIs, as it were, unwilling to give up their power bases but with a somewhat uncertain role now that the era of community revolt is over. Last year Mayekiso announced the creation of Sanco, a body which peculiarly negates the whole idea of local community representation, especially since the Sanco committee is entirely self-chosen – the civic associations have no say in the matter. The ambitious Mayekiso, miffed by his failure to get elected to the ANC’s national executive, seems to have the notion of making Sanco into a national ANC 2nd XI and has openly thumbed his nose at Mandela by calling for blacks to refuse to pay their mortgages as a protest gesture. Mandela, who quite self-consciously identifies himself with property-owning blacks, had strongly warned against this kind of tactic, for nothing would more thoroughly sabotage the cause of black home-ownership than the spectre of blacks deciding to bilk on building societies as a matter of principle.

Mayekiso, like all the Sanco leadership, is an SACP man, keen to outbid everyone in his radicalism – immediately after the recent court verdict against Winnie Mandela, he appointed her to a senior position in Sanco. Sanco leaders have declared that they will attempt to prevent even liberal white parties campaigning in the townships (‘it would serve only to confuse and destabilise the masses’), but their main target is the banks. They have not only called for mortgage boycotts but have also, somewhat contradictorily, attacked the financial institutions for not extending easier credit to blacks. Thoroughly rattled, the financial community recently met Mr Mayekiso and hurriedly cobbled together an agreement, the first item of which was that – for whatever high-minded reason – it would henceforth pay salaries and expenses to Sanco’s officials. One sometimes finds ANC officials or organisation negotiating multiple agreements of this kind, collecting half a dozen retainers – the surprise was simply that this deal leaked into the press.

If all of this is happening when the ANC is still in opposition, the results are likely to be spectacular when it acquires majority control of government patronage. It would probably be sensible, at the least, to assume that most of the top ANC leadership will be millionaires before long and that major patronage baronies will develop throughout the state, parastatal, NGO and party bureaucracies. At the same time, the relentless decline in per capita income seems certain to continue, at least for a time: the population is expanding rapidly, economic growth is barely positive – and the ANC’s perverse decision to maintain trade and investment sanctions right down to the wire guarantees that there is no new investment in the pipeline. That is, poverty will continue to increase at least until the mini-boom gets going once the ANC is in power, and will probably go on increasing when the boom fades.

While these inequalities increase the PAC and AZAPO will make handsome use of a political concatenation which could have been made for them. As the masses get poorer and more desperate, the ANC leadership, by then locked in cosy collegial relationships with former apartheid politicians, police and bureaucrats, will be getting ostentatiously rich: the cry of ‘sell-out’ will be overpowering. The SACP and Cosatu will be badly squeezed and will either join in the attack against the new bourgeoisie or lose their constituency. This brings us to the most frequently asked question in South African politics: when will the alliance between the ANC and the SACP break up? In fact this is a bad formulation of a much more important question, which is already being debated sotto voce within the liberation movement: are we on the verge of a two-stage revolution in which the African bourgeoisie, triumphant at the first stage, will be over-thrown at a socialist second stage? I shall attempt to answer this question in a concluding article.

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Vol. 15 No. 18 · 23 September 1993

We are all familiar with the ubiquitous pub character who has no good word to say for anybody or anything, who sees nothing but the worst in the present and future, whose views are peppered with anti-foreign, racist remarks. He is generally dyspeptic, sour and gloomy. He also bears a striking resemblance to R.W. Johnson (LRB, 8 July, LRB, 22 July and LRB, 5 August) whose survey of the prospects for South Africa’s future repeats (in rather more sophisticated language) every gloomy prognostication, rumour, exaggeration and distortion I am used to encountering in every pub frequented by whites, from Lusaka to Cape Town.

While a good deal of what Johnson reports is factually correct, the sum of his conclusions is a gross distortion of the actual situation in South Africa. Consider briefly only a few of the more damaging generalisations he makes. ‘Every top ANC politician now has business patron(s) who pay for his house, car, children’s education and much else besides.’ Every top politician? I challenge him to name more than, at most, six who qualify for this description. Nor, surely, is it a heinous offence that these few exceptions should accept favours from sympathisers (which doesn’t make them ‘patrons’) in view of their total lack of personal resources and the arduous daily responsibilities they face.

Afrikaners, he says, are ‘upping sticks en masse’ and heading for safer homes in the Cape. En masse? How many of the two million-plus Afrikaners have in fact engaged in this new trek for safety? A few thousand at most. I recently looked into this situation in the Western Cape and found that, with few exceptions, all those who had moved were either pensioned civil servants, senior retired army officers, or rich farmers who have established second homes.

Johnson’s special animus is reserved for white liberals and African nationalists. The former, he says – failing to distinguish between the different strands of liberals – refuse to stand up to the ANC. What of the Democratic Party, van Zyl Slabbert’s IDASA, the Institute of Race Relations, enlightened businessmen and others? Such an undifferentiated judgment is sloppy.

He doesn’t hesitate to quote rumours as if they were facts. For example, he says it is ‘rumoured’ that ex-president Kenneth Kaunda has three homes in South Africa and spends most of his time there. Neither statement is true. Kaunda owns no property in South Africa (in fact, he doesn’t even own houses in Zambia except for his home in his own place of origin). In his antipathy, Johnson smears Kaunda as a villain. Kaunda has admittedly made serious political mistakes, but knowing him as intimately as I do, a fair judgment on him is that he has always been a humane, decent, honest and committed Christian.

To Johnson, as is true of many others, ‘African nationalism’ has produced a ‘state of anarchy, corruption and disaster’ throughout the continent. As one with a fairly wide knowledge of just about every African country, I fail to recognise his generalisation as being typical of Africa. No more than six of the continent’s 52 states qualify for his inaccurate description. A number of countries (such as Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Zaire) are in turmoil, not because of ‘tribalism’ and ‘separatism’, but because they are involved in a healthy demoralisation process. To describe Zimbabwe as ‘a socialist’ country is about as accurate as saying that Britain is socialist.

Johnson’s second article is shot through with internal contradictions. Two examples. Having spent a lot of effort in showing up the ANC as a single-minded monopolistic party, he ends up by acknowledging in a single sentence that the ANC is not ‘a tiger’, but ‘a broad church’. A more careful analysis of the ANC as a broad church would avoid many of the errors he makes. A second contradiction is that, having said that the SA Communist Party (SACP) intelligentsia act as the ANC’s strategic brain, he goes on to criticise the ANC’s shadow finance minister, Trevor Manuel, for having been ‘effectively taken over by the World Bank’s economists’ – another bunch of Communist intellectuals?

In his third article, which is devoted to examining the SACP, he presents them as a government-in-waiting; but after devoting thousands of words to this frightening prospect, he concludes, mirabile dictu, that ‘there is no prospect of the SACP being able to build an East-Germany-in-Africa, strive as it might, and it is doubtful whether it will even be able to prevent the embourgeoisement of its own cadres’ (emphasis added). He then lamely poses the question ‘whether it will put up a fight before it accepts that the nationalist revolution is real, but the socialist revolution is not.’

Finally, Johnson concludes that South Africa is in a state of ‘incipient anarchy’. Such a pessimistic conclusion is perhaps inevitable if what Johnson reports even remotely approximates the realities of the present situation. South Africa is indeed in a stage of cruel political violence, a situation not unknown in other countries undergoing a radical reordering of political power. It is predictable – and indeed has been predicted – that the closer the political centre (the Government and the ANC) come to agreement on the basis of a federal democratic constitution, the worse the violence will become, as the white ultras (as in the case of Algeria) and dissident black leaders attempt a last-ditch stand to prevent the majority from establishing an interim coalition government and arranging for the holding of the country’s first ever democratic elections. There are still hard times ahead, but I believe that after another bloody chapter, we will see the end of apartheid South Africa and the birth of a new society which will be faced with the immense difficulties inherited from centuries of inequitable rule.

Colin Legum
Plaw Hatch, West Sussex

Your correspondent R.W. Johnson writes disparagingly of a ‘Chaucerian variety of pilgrims’ to South Africa, including some ‘old anti-apartheid lobbyists out for a holiday in the sun’. What a pity that he could do no more than gather together the rag-bag of anecdote, gossip and misinformation. There is no evidence that he met or tried to meet any of those South Africans of all races who are attempting, despite all the difficulties and dangers in a time of escalating violence, to create something of value in housing, health, education, social welfare or politics from the wreckage of the apartheid era. There is no evidence that he went anywhere except in (white) middle-class suburbia; or that he met or listened to any blacks at all, except perhaps the flunkey whose memorable exchange was: ‘Have a nice safe evening at La Bonne Cuisine, sir.’ Apparently he moved among ‘society hostesses and their millionaire husbands who happily trill about their friendship with Comrade This and Comrade That’; ‘Anglophone professional or businessmen’ who, ‘especially’ if they were also Jewish, kept their heads down; and ‘greying and affluent whites’ fleeing with their property to ‘the part of the country which, having the fewest blacks, is safest’. He manages small sneers for all of them.

Not so long ago in your columns Johnson was propounding the thesis that Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party represented the real new dawn on the South African horizon. But that was yesterday’s thesis. Now he excoriates the ANC and the state for the fearsome corruption which flourishes on all sides’, without need even to mention the fully documented corruption of Inkatha, which received state funds in secret to destabilise the ANC, and which brought into the Kwa-Zulu police recruits who had been secretly trained by the South African death squad. Johnson now also remains totally silent on the record of Inkatha ‘impis’, and of Inkatha-inspired hostel mobs which turned Alexandra and other townships into killing fields. He does make one – and only one – substantial mention of Inkatha, to assert that ‘the largest set of victims [of the current violence] are Inkatha officials killed by the ANC. Rich even by Johnson standards: two allegations in one sentence, both unproven and both almost certainly false.

Johnson does not like the ANC and its allies. This explains the main thesis of his second article: that the ANC is creating the ground for a venal one-party dictatorship. In order to prevent the facts getting in the way of a plausible-sounding theory, Johnson ignores the evidence from decades of ANC ‘multipartyism’ both before and during the current constitutional negotiations. He reduces all that to the mealy-mouthed admission that ‘officially at least the movement is committed to multi-party democracy. But the statements to this effect look more and more like the pro forma utterances of a leadership keen to maintain contact with an international gallery of public opinion.’ How does he know? Because ‘the ANC talks of itself as the “nation"; its guerrilla wing is “the spear of the nation"; and its newspaper the New Nation.’ (Its newspaper? Since when?) And even more sinisterly: ‘ANC speakers extol human rights and pluralism at meetings carefully orchestrated to allow only one voice and one party line.’ By which criterion Tory, Liberal and Labour Parties are all concealed one-party conspiracies.

The ANC, we learn, ‘has appointed a board of trustees to act as the “guardians" of cultural life’. Whose? ‘The Congress of SA Writers shows ominous (?) signs of de facto ANC alignment.’ ‘Local enthusiasts who want to start a literary journal … complain of difficulties … because the journal is not ANC approved.’ Is this gossip to be taken seriously as the underpinning of his great one-party theory? We learn that there is an Indian dominance in the administration ‘of rugby, cricket, soccer and the national Olympics, even though Indians play little of any of these sports’. Little! Cricket! Cricket is as much an obsession amongst Indians as rugby is amongst whites.

L. Bernstein

R.W. Johnson writes: Messrs Legum and Bernstein both reproach me, in effect, for being too gloomy about South Africa. In a sense I sympathise with them. They both belong to a South African generation which, having followed the country’s evolution form abroad for thirty years, has now, like the rest of us, to face the possibility that the ending of apartheid may not usher in the liberal, Communist or social democratic dream which we have, respectively, espoused (I am the social democrat of the three). Such an awakening can be painful.

Mr Legum’s judgment seems dodgy to me. He has failed to understand that my reference to ‘socialist Zimbabwe’ was a joke, and has contrived a confusion all his own between World Bank economists and Communists. And surely he knows perfectly well the legal reasons which make it sadly unwise to print a list of corrupt politicians? More seriously, I am simply dumbstruck that he believes that only six African states are on the casualty list, a list that doesn’t include Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, Algeria, the Sudan or Somalia. Similarly, if someone tells me that the complete social, political and economic breakdown currently visible in Zaire is part of ‘a healthy democratisation process’, I frankly begin to wonder whether he is playing around with hallucinogenic drugs.

Most remarkable of all is his description of Kaunda. For nearly a whole generation Kaunda prevented free elections or a free press, detained people without trial, promoted his own personality cult, presided over wholesale corruption and brought about the economic ruin of Zambia. If the inadequacy of Legum’s judgment on this record is not apparent to him, further comment seems superfluous.

Lionel Bernstein is right that many Indians like cricket, and also right that many fine people are working with great energy and imagination for a better future here, but wrong to suggest that I am or ever have been a supporter of Buthelezi and the IFP. He is right that Inkatha scandalously received secret state subsidies for some of its rallies; but wrong to suggest that it bears sole responsibility for the carnage on the East Rand. The IFP and ANC are simply rival African nationalisms, rather like Zapu and Zanu in Zimbabwe or Kanu and Kadu in Kenya. If it is foolish to treat the ANC or IFP as morally worse or better than one another, it is the purest folly to demonise either, but since the IFP is the more frequently demonised in the media, an attempt at balance will often have the appearance of being pro-Inkatha. At the time I wrote there had indeed been a particularly egregious campaign of assassination against IFP officials in Natal and on the Reef, but the smoke of battle moves on: this week we mourn different victims, such as the (pro-ANC) American student Amy Biehl, murdered by a township gang, the bus passengers wounded by AK-47 fire from unknown assailants in Beaufort West, and the steady toll of dead in Bhambayi squatter camp.

Mr Bernstein’s indignation over the question of one-party dictatorship is welcome – but surprising. For almost half a century now Mr Bernstein has been a leading member of the SACP which, throughout that time, has been an enthusiastic supporter of one-party dictatorship. Indeed, up till 1988 the SACP espoused the one-party dictatorship of the GDR as the model for South Africa, since when it has switched its loyalties to one-party Cuba. I am glad to hear that Mr Bernstein now favours multi-partyism – no sinner repents too late – but the idea that there existed a long historical period in which he or his party were encouraging the ANC to think this way is, to put it kindly, revisionism on the grand scale. I am not encouraged by the fact that he apparently still does not understand why the idea of a party-aligned writers union is ominous.

On the hillsides behind me as I write, a squatter invasion is under way – the number of shanties there has exploded from three hundred to nearly two thousand in a month. The local white residents are in a state of hysteria as their properties become worthless; the possibility looms of violent clashes between black squatters and nearby Indians who claim the land; and there is dire talk of an IFP-ANC squatting race, it being assumed that each side will want, if it can, to turn those hillsides into a political no-go area for the other. Nobody – neither the local authorities, the ANC or the IFP – seems to have the will or nerve to grasp the situation, though all agree it is a disaster and will stand in the way of the low-cost housing scheme planned for that area. So the situation drifts and gets worse as more squatters, displaced by the murderous fighting in Bhambayi, pour in. Already there’s fighting down there too: you can hear the gunfire from where I sit – indeed, I think I heard some more tonight as I booted up my computer to write this. To Colin Legum, I suppose, that gunfire would be part of a healthy democratisation process. To Lionel Bernstein, I guess, it would be the sound of IFP murderers at work. That way they can both feel that it will stop once certain political changes are made. To me it represents just trouble and ungovernability and I have no confidence that it will stop. But I very deeply hope that they are right and that I am wrong.

Vol. 15 No. 21 · 4 November 1993

In everyday conversation R.W. Johnson (LRB, 8 July) is a considerably more humane and complex person than he is when he becomes the victim of the bright and punchy prose style which he seems to think appropriate for his kind of intellectual journalism. Colin Legum (Letters, 23 September) compares him to ‘the ubiquitous pub character who has no good word to say for anybody or anything’: but surely what is most disturbing about his articles is not their gloom but a certain air of scarcely suppressed farce. Johnson – who was born in South Africa and knows the place quite well, but is above all the travelling Oxford don – is struck again and again by how silly almost everyone seems to be: political leaders are corrupt or incompetent, parties make the most elementary and predictable errors, everything is drifting into chaos in a fundamentally absurd way. If only someone on the political scene in South Africa had a bit of the wisdom of …

South Africa is indeed beset by grave and complicated problems, but there are many hopeful signs along with the many worrying ones, and in any case a great, varied and wounded society attempting with difficulty to transform itself is to be seen in its agony and uncertainty as tragic rather than as a subject for a commentator’s confident ebullience. The worst thing about Johnson’s cheerful gloom, however, is that it perpetuates one of the central myths of the colonial narrative: people at the centre are, to use E.M. Forster’s terms, rounded characters; people at the periphery are flat – stereotypes or, in Johnson’s vision (or at least his vision as a journalist), caricatures.

Colin Gardner
University of Natal

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