South Africa: An Emphasis on Violence

<i> Tendayi Kumbula, a former Times reporter, is assistant editor of the Herald in Harare, Zimbabwe</i>

Apartheid is dead. Long live apartheid. That seems to be the gist of the message from South Africa, Zimbabwe’s embattled southern neighbor, where President P.W. Botha’s proposed glacial racial reforms have encountered strong black opposition.

Although Botha’s moves peel away some layers of apartheid--by scrapping pass laws (which restrict black movement) and allowing blacks to own homes in their own ghettos--the pillars of legal racism remain virtually untouched. Racial segregation persists in housing, education and health services. And despite talk about power-sharing, effective political and economic power stays in the hands of the white minority.

The banned African National Congress, the country’s major guerrilla organization, has rejected Botha’s reforms and instead bluntly demanded the unconditional dismantlement of apartheid. The ANC has also said it will settle for nothing less than a unitary South Africa with a one-man, one-vote franchise. It is committed to its Freedom Charter claiming the country belongs to all those who live in it, black and white, a non-racial country where citizens are not classified by race or ethnicity.

During a recent two-hour private interview at ANC headquarters-in-exile at Lusaka, Zambia, the movement’s president, Oliver Tambo, was adamant: Violence would continue to escalate until apartheid was destroyed. In 1 1/2 years of black unrest, more than 1,300 people, almost all of them black, have been killed. South Africa faces the prospect of more violence, white vigilantism, labor unrest, consumer and school boycotts--all provoking more violence and counterviolence. It also faces a stubborn president who blithely claims that at least 50% of the blacks support him and that 80% of the whites are behind him.


Arrayed against Botha are a variety of anti-apartheid groups of which the ANC is the most prominent; it has vowed to make apartheid unworkable and South Africa ungovernable. It seeks to turn every corner of South African into a battlefield and to move the struggle from black townships into previously immune white suburbs, towns and farming areas.

Tambo acknowledged that the new strategy and emphasis on Spear of the Nation, the ANC’s military wing, is likely to result in civilian casualties because of people caught in the crossfire. Previously, the ANC had tended to concentrate on military and police targets, avoiding soft targets. Despite the change in strategy and tactics, Tambo denied charges by the Botha regime that he was leading a terrorist organization.

“We could have targeted cinemas, beaches, schools, resort areas or supermarkets,” he said. “We have not done so. If you compare what the ANC has done, action for action, with what the Pretoria regime has done, you will see that it is the apartheid regime that is the terrorist . . . . (it) regularly kills children, old people, defenseless refugees and destabilizes its neighbors.

“Even though we are a people who are fighting for national liberation, for a cause that is supported worldwide, against a regime that is a pariah and are justified in using all methods available to us to bring that regime to an end, we have not resorted to terrorism.”


Tambo declined to say how many guerrillas the ANC has. His aides and diplomats in this area estimate ANC forces at 8,000 to 10,000 at bases in a number of African countries, plus another 2,000 deployed within South Africa. The movement’s new strategy is to discourage young people from leaving the country for military training, to train them internally instead.

The ANC will not have the kind of rear bases that Zimbabwean guerrillas had in Mozambique and Zambia or the Mozambicans had in Tanzania during their freedom struggles. Tambo said South Africans have to take a different tack. They cannot rely on the militarily weak black-ruled front-line states to protect them, nor can they count on suitable guerrilla terrain. And they know they are facing the best-trained and best-equipped conventional army in sub-Saharan Africa, backed up by a heavily armed white populace.

Therefore the ANC and its allies want to form a grand alliance against apartheid, to join with all anti-apartheid groups in an effort to isolate the Pretoria regime. White businessmen, academics and opposition political leaders have flocked to Lusaka to confer with the ANC.

The ANC has also forged links with the United Democratic Front, which claims about 2 million members, and the powerful Confederation of South African Trade Unions and other groups. It is far stronger today than when it was banned more than a quarter of a century ago, evident in the proliferation of its illegal flags and uniforms at funeral services for unrest victims. Its jailed leader Nelson Mandela is easily the most popular political leader in the country. Mandela, Tambo’s close friend and erstwhile law partner, has become an international rallying point for internal and external anti-apartheid groups.

Rumors abound that Mandela could be released by August. Although many in the Botha Cabinet seem agreed that Mandela’s release could partially diffuse international pressure, there are also fears that his freedom could boost the ANC and escalate the unrest. Hence, there are government attempts to force him to agree to renounce violence or go into exile. He has rejected both suggestions. And he had also refused to be released as part of a bizarre swap for a Soviet dissident and a South African commando captured in Angola.

The ANC has said it is willing to talk if--if Mandela and other political prisoners are released, if the ANC is unbanned, if political and treason trials are halted, if all detainees are freed and if there is freedom of political movement and organization. But it will not call a cease-fire.

The feeling among Pretoria’s opponents is that the Botha regime is on the defensive and that maximum political, economic, diplomatic and military pressure should be applied. Only then can real change come about, short of a racial holocaust.

The mood among younger black South Africans is to carry the struggle to white South Africa, regardless of the consequences and casualties.


ANC leaders say their main goal is to create a non-racial and democratic South Africa. They are not interested in petty reforms such as scrapping hotel or restaurant segregation, allowing interracial sex or marriages, scrapping pass laws. They argue that under a democratic government all those laws that legislate apartheid would fall away anyhow. They want political power that recognizes their numbers and their human rights. And they offer a vision of whites not treated as a minority but as part of the majority, without a need for special entrenched clauses to protect them.

It is a vision far away from the reality of present-day South Africa, where a man’s color at birth determines where he can live, work, die, be buried, go to school and with whom he can associate. And in each of these situations whites now have the best homes, cars, schools, cemeteries, jobs, salaries and living standards. Blacks, on the other hand, are condemned by apartheid to remain at the bottom, suffering daily indignities--underpaid, overworked, living in shanties, always waiting for the white man to give them orders about where they can live and work and how they can survive. South Africa is a depressing state of affairs, a racial tragedy waiting to happen.