With or without the ANC

Heribert Adam

  • The Unbreakable Thread: Non-Racialism in South Africa by Julie Frederikse
    Indiana, 304 pp, $39.95, November 1990, ISBN 0 253 32473 4
  • A Democratic South Africa? Constitutional Engineering in a Divided Society by David Horowitz
    California, 293 pp, $24.95, March 1991, ISBN 0 520 07342 8
  • Koexistenz im Krieg: Staatszerfall und Entstehung einer Nation im Libanon by Theodor Hanf
    Nomos Verlag, 806 pp, September 1990, ISBN 3 7890 1972 0

South Africa still holds a morbid fascination for outside observers, despite the competition from more old-fashioned Arab autocracies. An astonishingly smooth experiment in social engineering intrigues neo-conservatives. Left-leaning scepties hold their breath lest Mandela and the ANC allow themselves to be co-opted by the white establishment. A stream of earnest political tourists land at Jan Smuts to make the traditional tour from Cape Town to Durban, to arrange appointments with willing but isolated academic pundits and newspaper editors. Now they can even visit the disorganised ANC headquarters legally or absorb atmosphere on an afternoon bus-tour through Khayelitsha or Alexandra.

Neither Julie Frederikse nor Donald Horowitz is a South African. The former has obviously become a friend of the ANC and the Mass Democratic Movement; the latter, on short visits to South Africa, has met some astute Stellenbosch and Natal academics but does not thank one African informant by name. They come to opposite conclusions. Frederikse considers non-racialism a living reality; Horowitz sees the non-racial project as a naive hoax, a dangerous illusion.

Activists in the Congress tradition may argue about whether non-racialism is merely ‘a form that the struggle takes’ (Max Sisulu) or its essential content and objective. Julie Frederikse, a former Harare-based American journalist, firmly declares it an ‘unbreakable thread’. However, the thread has not yet been tested to breaking-point. Although the relative harmony of black-white private relations over the forty years of apartheid remains astonishing, some anti-Indian outbursts in Natal and the revival of tribal antagonisms among a differentially frustrated urban proletariat counsel caution about the future. The rhetoric of political leaders and the sentiments of their followers often diverge. The genuinely non-racial perspective of Marxist inter-nationalists is not necessarily shared by the more volatile masses. Why should harsh racial oppression not produce an equally intense counter-racism?

It is in the complex answers to this crucial question that the key to understanding South Africa lies. The selection of speeches and interviews that constitutes 90 per cent of Frederikse’s book is one-sided and biased towards the ANC. One searches in vain for an exposition of the non-racial position of South African business, for example, or of the Progressive (later Democratic) Party. Did Anglo-American advocate a racial division of labour? Certainly not. Are Van Zyl Slabbert or Alex Boraine and their fellow Liberal MPs not worth listening to? Frederikse finds a glib answer in her simplistic dichotomy between a ‘popular democratic tradition rooted in an alliance of all the oppressed’ and a liberal tradition of 19th century British missionary culture.

Jo-Anne Collinge, a journalist on the Johannesburg Weekly Mail, has criticised the book for ‘the blandness which results from faithfulness to the idea of letting participants tell the story’. This is a polite way of saying that the author has failed to provide a critical analysis of her interview material. As if the pure truth were revealed when the leaders and activists speak, everything they say is to be digested without being questioned. Stalinist traditions will never disappear if notions of what it is to be ‘progressive’ aren’t constantly probed and redefined. This uncritical approach is surprising coming from the author of South Africa. A Different Kind of War (1986), a revealing account of government propaganda.

Donald Horowitz, the Charles Murphy Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University, and Theo Hanf, the director of the Freiburg Bergstraesser Institut, are among the world’s leading comparative analysts of ethnic conflict. Horowitz in particular skilfully integrates a vast literature on Asia and Nigeria into his South African survey, one of the most sophisticated accounts of the current debate despite a somewhat dubious beginning.

Horowitz overemphasises the cleavages in South African society, perhaps because he doesn’t realise the extent to which they are increasingly being bypassed by an emerging consensus. In reality there are only three irreconcilable positions on the present conflict. First, the extreme right-wing position of secession in a racial white homeland. While the disruptive power of armed ideologues must not be underestimated, the secessionist project has little chance of gaining support, because it runs counter to business interests in an integrated economy. Since South African business, including Afrikaner capital, needs, on the one hand, to be part of the global economy and, on the other, is dependent on the willing co-operation of black labour, it would also be hostile to a military takeover. This is something which distinguishes South Africa from Latin American regimes or the ideological intransigence of Israel. Second, the Africanist/socialist position of no negotiation until the regime is defeated and ready to transfer power. This would be a threat only if current negotiations were to fail. Third, the emerging National Party-ANC alliance, which is much more solid than Horowitz realises. The ANC leadership, including its South African Communist Party members, have moved closer to a social-democratic economic compromise, and in constitutional matters, they have accepted proportional representation. The ANC is no longer ‘hostile to federalism’ and the hegemonic temptation of a first-past-the-post stance has given way to a democratic model of power-sharing. Horowitz is mired in past debates when he emphasises ‘the National Party’s advocacy of group rights’ or ‘reserved white seats’. The ruling party no longer bases its hopes on racial minority protection but on alliances with like-minded conservative forces across the racial divide –alliances which may well prove surprisingly successful once the stigma of apartheid is removed.

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