Speakers Attack Apartheid, but Agreement Ends There
The lectures on South African apartheid at two Orange County colleges last week couldn’t have been more different in style and content if they’d been given by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson--each of whom was lambasted in one speech or the other.
The Rev. Kenneth Frazier, who gave a noon talk Wednesday at Rancho Santiago College and journalist Donald Woods, who spoke at UC Irvine that evening, both agreed that South Africa’s system of institutionalized racial segregation is racist and “abhorrent.” And that’s all they agreed upon.
A black American from Canoga Park, Frazier, who has never been to South Africa, told his audience of about 150 that the current unrest in that country is part of a Marxist strategy to put all of Africa under Soviet rule. Woods, a white South African journalist, now in exile in Britain, said that unless Western powers support South African blacks in their push for the rapid dismantling of apartheid, the Soviet Union can, indeed, be counted upon to give increasing aid to that cause.
Frazier, introduced as the president and “chief banner carrier” of the Frederick Douglas Memorial Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting “the advantages of the American free enterprise system and the genius of American constitutional government” in the black community, spoke in the booming cadences made familiar by black civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson. Frazier went to great lengths, however, to point out that his views on South Africa were quite different from those of Jackson, whom he repeatedly denounced as “an opportunist” and “a champion of the cause of Marxist-Leninism.”
“We have but to look at the millions dead, the economic chaos and human misery in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, in the killing fields of Cambodia and Vietnam to understand how the communists liberate people of color,” he asserted.
“In South Africa, the saga continues as blacks themselves, inspired by the wild rhetoric of Marxism, murder and mutilate their own black teachers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women,” Frazier continued. “The worst thing in South Africa you can be today is not a white racist, but a black teacher, a black doctor or lawyer--any person of color who is using the South African system to create for himself and his family the trappings of an abundant life.”
To illustrate his point, Frazier, a former Methodist minister, presented a grisly videotape in which South African blacks pounded the mutilated body of a black countryman with bricks then set it on fire. The man had attracted the group’s wrath because he was a teacher, Frazier contended.
‘Evidence of Distortion’
That American television stations refused to air that tape, Frazier said, is evidence of the media’s distortion of what is occurring in South Africa. As another example of the American media’s bias, Frazier pointed to what he sees as lopsided coverage of various black South African leaders.
“You hear from the press in this country an awful lot about (South African) Bishop (Desmond) Tutu. You don’t hear very much about Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi,” Frazier said, during a long question-and-answer session which immediately erupted into mild-mannered heckling and counter-heckling from members of the audience.
Along with Buthelezi, whom Frazier said represents 6 million South African Zulu tribesmen, Frazier cited Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane, who represents 4 1/2 million members of the Zion Christian Church, and Bishop Isaak Mokoena, who represents 4 1/2 million members of the Reformed Independent Church, as South Africa’s true black leaders.
“Compare these (numbers of followers) with the 2 million or so who are said to be in the Archdiocese of (Anglican) Bishop Tutu. It is very clear that we don’t get here the full story of what is going on in South Africa. . . . I hope you’re not fooled by Bishop Tutu, who, when he comes to the United States gets the red carpet rolled out,” Frazier said of the Nobel laureate. Frazier later said that he agreed “absolutely” with a remark the Rev. Jerry Falwell made and later retracted that Tutu is “a phony.”
“Tutu has declared by his own mouth that he’s a Marxist. Why do we not have the courage to call a spade a spade?” Frazier asked.
“I’m pretty familiar with Rev. Tutu’s writings and speeches, and I’ve never heard that quote,” a woman in the audience called out, asking Frazier to cite his source. Frazier moved on to another subject.
Asked by another audience member where he got his information that various black South African nationalist groups are communist-led, Frazier said “major research organizations in the United States, including the federal government . . . have well documented these groups and their communist ties.” He went on to argue that if a Marxist government were to gain control of South Africa, the Soviet Union would have control of 99% of certain strategic minerals needed by the United States “to sustain our military and our way of life.”
Again pressed by audience members for specific references, Frazier put on another videotape, an address by Buthelezi to “100,000 blacks, whites and coloreds” at the dedication of a Hare Krishna temple.
Asked, after the question-and-answer session broke up, to explain what he saw as the solution to the problems in South Africa, Frazier said: “The best solution there is to follow the principles that Buthelezi has laid out.” Those principles, he said, call for gradual reform through cooperation with the South African government. External pressure should be avoided, Frazier said, adding that divestiture--the withdrawal of foreign investments from South Africa--"has the greatest potential to exacerbate the racial turmoil in South Africa and will place upon those who can stand it the least a greater economic peril that is bound to lead to a greater discontent and fanning of the flames of revolution.”
Among the reforms the black South African people would like to see, Frazier said, are “an end to economic conditions that breed poverty” and the freedom to move freely in the country “without being interfered with by the government.” Another reform black South Africans want is “representation in the halls of government,” he added.
By representation does he mean that South Africa should give one vote to each man and woman regardless of race?
“I don’t know,” Frazier replied. “From what South Africans say themselves, I don’t know if that is a workable solution in South Africa. It may be. What South Africa needs is an opportunity to evolve a solution to this problem, without having to be forced to resolve in a year or so what it took us in America 100 years to resolve.”
If there was a pivotal issue that distinguished Frazier’s talk from the talk that evening by Donald Woods, it was this issue of black participation in the South African government.
Apartheid, Woods told an audience of about 200 at UCI, is a system of 317 racial laws. This complex system includes regulations requiring blacks to carry passes with them at all times--"over 200,000 blacks were imprisoned last year under pass laws,” Woods said--and laws regulating where blacks may or may not live.
“But of all these 317 laws, the whole conflict is over one law and one law only,” Woods explained, in a lilting British accent. “That is the law which reserves the vote for the (white) minority.”
Woods, who edited the Cape Province newspaper the Daily Dispatch for 15 years, was officially “banned” by the South African government on Oct. 19, 1977, after printing articles that created a public uproar over the death of black nationalist leader Steve Biko at the hands of South Africa’s security police. According to Woods’ introduction to his 1978 biography of Steve Biko, the banning order prevented Woods from “writing for any publication and from entering all printing establishments, factories, schools, and educational premises; from leaving the magisterial district of East London, Cape Province; from being quoted, and from all social or other gatherings involving more than two persons.”
Soon after the banning order was imposed, Woods and his family slipped out of the country and moved to London. In exile, Woods completed work on “Biko” and two other books and was appointed by the British government as a special adviser to the 49-nation Commonwealth Secretariat,” explained the young African student who introduced the speaker.
Whereas Frazier had referred to a “communist propaganda machine” he said was intent on “bringing South Africa to its knees,” Woods spoke of the South African government’s “constant stream of propaganda” and “image creation” campaign. The government of South Africa, he said, has spent more than $150 million in the last 15 years in an effort to present British and American citizens with an inaccurate picture of life in that country.
“The South African government wants you, when you think of South Africa, to think of whites,” Woods said, citing as one example of this, what he said was a widely reported attempt by the government to fix a Miss World contest so that a white South African would win.
This campaign is designed, he said, “to obscure the reality that six out of seven South Africans are black.” Woods added that in addition to projecting the misleading message that South Africa is basically white, the government is also actively lobbying in the United States and Britain to support other “myths.”
“For example, they try to push the idea that black South Africans are eons better off than anywhere else in Africa,” Woods said. Such considerations are irrelevant to the issue of civil rights within South Africa, Woods argued. “And as a matter of interest, it’s not true,” he added, citing, among other sources, a Swedish “physical quality of life” index which ranked South African blacks 19th on the continent.
Another alleged myth, which Woods said Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R-N.C.) and Falwell embrace, is that “South Africa contains not 27 million black South Africans, but (a number of) mutually antagonistic tribes.”
“In the north, tribalism is still an important political factor,” Woods said. “But that has not been the case in South Africa for over 100 years.”
Woods also termed “a myth” the belief that the United States military could not survive without the strategic minerals it imports from South Africa.
“The facts of the matter are that in 1979 the U.S. Senate published the results of a two-year study on strategic minerals which clearly established that alternative sources of these minerals in Brazil, Australia and a number of other countries could meet American needs,” Woods said.
As for solutions, Woods said he and most black South Africans favor trade sanctions by foreign governments against South Africa and divestiture by foreign corporations. “Constructive engagement” (the Reagan Administration’s longstanding program of behind-the-scenes diplomacy) is not working, Woods said, arguing that “more blacks have been killed during the past five years of constructive engagement than in 20 years previously.”
There’s no point in providing money for things such as education for blacks when the same source of money supports the oppression of those blacks, Woods continued.
Woods emphatically denied that the black liberation movement in South Africa is communist-led, although he conceded that after futile requests for aid from Western countries, some nationalist organizations have accepted money from communist governments as well as from many other nations, including Sweden. But accepting aid from communists does not mean an organization is communist-controlled, Woods added. “If accepting aid from Russia makes them communist, does accepting aid from Sweden make them Lutheran?,” he asked.
In the question-and-answer period that followed Woods’ talk, a man said that in a recent debate, Falwell had asked Jackson to name one elected black official who supported divestiture. The man said Jackson had not been able to name one.
“That’s because there are no elected black officials in South Africa,” Woods said. The elections in black “homelands areas” are, for the most part, boycotted by blacks, he maintained. “For instance, 90% of the people in the Soweto election refused to take part (in) a recent election. The fact that (Falwell) is so ill-informed speaks to the superficiality of his trip (to South Africa recently).”
The U.S. media give black South African elected officials and men such as Buthelezi more credibility than they deserve, Woods said, adding that Buthelezi has no real support in the black community. “Young blacks see him driving around in a big black car, being paid a salary by the South African government” and come to doubt that he represents their interests, Woods said.
“If you want to know who speaks for the people look for the most imprisoned leaders,” Woods said, explaining that in his view that principle applies to men such as Lech Walensa in Poland as well as to such men as Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress who’s been in a South African prison since 1964.”
To support this belief, Woods pointed to a poll of black South Africans taken by the Sunday Times of London last month. Woods said that the poll showed that by a wide margin, the people questioned chose Nelson Mandela as the man they considered their true leader. Bishop Tutu also ranked high, Woods said, adding: “Even Buthelezi’s own constituency preferred Mandela. Buthelezi only polled 6%.”
Woods said the demise of apartheid is inevitable, and possibly imminent. And the speed with which change comes may depend, to a large extent, on the government’s handling of Mandela, he said. As Woods sees it, if the government releases Mandela, black Africans will rally behind him. If they don’t release him, black anger over his imprisonment will continue to grow.
“Either way the government has a terrible problem,” Woods said. He paused, then added with a smile: “It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.”