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CONTEMPORARY REVIEW 1985, 247 (1435), 82-85.

PRESENT AND FUTURE CHANGES IN SOUTH AFRICA: A COMMENT ON VALE



by John J. Ray

LIKE many white South Africans, Colin Vale (Contemporary Review, No. 1431, Vol. 246) feels an acute sense of injustice in the fact that the white South African community is not left alone by the rest of the 'West' to live the sort of life that others in the 'West' take for granted. Why can the whites not be left to run a modern developed state just because there are a lot of blacks around too? After all, the blacks, too, benefit greatly in that economy. Black living standards in South Africa are much higher than black living standards elsewhere in the continent.

Vale's solution ('Quo Vadis South Africa'?) to this perceived injustice is that the South African whites should tell their government to sit fast and resist pressures for 'change'. He rightly perceives that the opponents of the present arrangements in South Africa will settle for nothing less than the complete abolition of the South African state as we now know it, so he points out that nothing good can come of change anyway. Compromise will be insufficient so why attempt it?

I think we must reject Vale's solution as far too pessimistic. I think on the one hand he underestimates the strength of the South African State and on the other he underestimates the value of the on-going change that is taking place in South Africa today.

South Africa's strength is not only military. Perhaps because of his own fundamental decency, Vale has completely left out of the reckoning the occasional Afrikaner boast that 'after all, we have 20 million hostages'. This is no idle boast. The residential segregation of the races in South Africa would make it all too easy for the white rulers to put a few pounds of botulinum toxin in the water supply one night and within 24 hours there would be only whites left in South Africa. No Western regime could afford to be seen as the one that put so much pressure on the whites that they had to adopt that recourse. Just the threat of genocide would be enough to cause the West to back off. And I am sure that in private briefings Western leaders have learnt of that threat. Nobody who knows the Afrikaners would doubt their ability to carry out the threat. Soweto got piped water before it got electricity.

So I dispute that South Africa is seriously threatened and I dispute that it ever can be seriously threatened from the West. The Russian bear is another matter, but South Africa is not alone with that problem. Even the internal threat is minor. A few million members of the Communist party can keep the vast populations of the USSR under subjection, so why should South African whites be less successful at keeping the blacks in check? A dismal comparison, perhaps, but a realistic one.

I think, therefore, that the present liberalising changes at present going on in South Africa represent the best hope for a better life for all South Africans, Vale questions the direction these changes are taking and seems generally uncomfortable with the prospect of indefinite, piecemeal changes that have no clear objective or end-point. This, however, is the fate of all humanity. Life is change. Nothing is ever fixed and attempts to prevent change always ultimately fail. None of us really knows where we are going. All we know is that continual adaptation to circumstances will be necessary. The present moves in South Africa are simply another example of that. Perhaps a few random examples of some of the processes that are at present going on in South Africa will help to illustrate why there is hope that the evils of apartheid are at least waning!

The policies of the South African government have a lot of internal contradictions (to use a Marxist term). In fact one of the most basic of these that seems to pass almost universally unnoticed is why racists would want to bother about any such policy as apartheid at all. If the whites really believe that the blacks are inferior, where is the need for laws to keep them down? Should not an inferior race quite naturally and inevitably find 'its proper place' at the bottom of the heap? The fact that white South Africans seem to think that laws are needed to ensure the subjection of the blacks could at one level be taken as suggesting that South African whites are not racist enough! If they were sincere racists, Apartheid might be abolished!

This is, however, only one of the contradictions in the Apartheid policy. There are other ways in which the Apartheid policy actually loosens the grip of the South African government on its people. The linchpin of Apartheid is, of course, the attempt to deny citizenship to South Africa's blacks. This is intended to be done by showing that the blacks are all citizens of some country other than South Africa. In some cases this is of course obviously true. The South African border police spend a lot more time keeping blacks out than keeping them in. There are huge contingents of Swazis, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, etc. among South Africa's blacks. They come in search of the high rates of pay (by African standards) that prevail among South African blacks. For blacks with more historic ties to South Africa, however, the 'homelands' policy exists. This is a policy of granting political independence to the old tribal homelands that were set up by the British in the last century. Brand-new mini-States such as Transkei, Ciskei and Bophutatswana have been created and members of the tribes rooted in these areas are henceforth regarded as merely 'guest-workers' in South Africa proper. They have their normal civic and voting rights only in their homelands. But let us now look at what these pesky homelands have been doing!

For a start, even the internationally recognised homelands (the former British protectorates of Swaziland and Basutoland) have always put a dent in the South African 'immorality' laws. It is an open secret that one of the few reasons why white South African tourists go to Lesotho (the former Basutoland) is for 'black sex'. That which is forbidden is all the more exciting and Lesotho, of course, has no laws forbidding cross-racial sex. This breach in Apartheid may seem trivial to us but to the dour Dutch Reformed Church types who run South Africa, it is anything but. It puts them in the position of encouraging prostitution!

A better-known example of how Apartheid undermines other dearly held South African puritan beliefs is the setting up of gambling casinos in the newly independent homelands. Gambling is anathema to the Dutch Reformed Church as it is to most fundamentalist Christian churches and there can be no doubt that there would never be any casinos available to white South Africans if the South African government could prevent it. But what can they do? They could 'lean on' the governments of the new homelands to close down the casinos but to do so would be to prove to all the world that the independence of the homelands is a sham. So white South Africans flock to the casinos that their government would dearly like to deny them.

One thing that makes the casinos slightly more tolerable than they otherwise would be is the fact that one does after all have to go on something of a journey to get to them. Not so with the latest challenge emanating from the homelands: the so-called 'Bop-TV'. The Southern border of the Bophutatswana homeland comes quite close to two of South Africa's three major cities -- Pretoria and Johannesburg. Know also that the South African government jealously guards its monopoly of TV broadcasting in the country. Only 'constructive' programmes are allowed to be shown -- making South African TV nearly as boring as that of India and China. So where did Bophutatswana set up its TV station? Near enough to the border, so that it blankets the whole of Johannesburg and Pretoria! Apartheid suddenly gave white South Africans a choice in TV viewing. The South African government responded by running low power 'jamming' stations aimed at weakening the 'Bop-TV' signal in white areas only but whites now simply buy signal boosters to overcome this. All-out jamming of another country's TV would, of course, lead to 'an international incident'.

Perhaps the most serious challenge of the homelands, however, is yet to come. At an international conference in London in August 1984, Leon Louw, chairman of the Louw Commission of the Ciskei, told of plans to turn that homeland into a new Hong Kong. Of course, lots of governments talk of 'new Hong Kongs'. Countries as diverse as Sri Lanka and Britain have supposedly set them up. All the 'new Hong Kongs', however, have suffered from the unwillingness of their founding governments actually to let go the strings of regulation. The Ciskei has no such problems. It inherited all its laws from South Africa and abolishing them has intrinsic appeal. The Apartheid regulations were the first to be repealed, of course. Additionally, the Ciskei is abjectly poor and desolate. It has to grasp at any straw. Therefore, more than a thousand laws regulating business have now been abolished. Even such sacred cows as laws regulating the use of child labour have gone. Needless to say, the enquiries from Hong Kong have already begun. As an independent country, Ciskei has complete control of its own immigration programme. What would a million Hong Kong Chinese pouring into the Ciskei do for it? What would it do to Apartheid? Could a policy designed to exclude non-whites actually lead to a huge new influx of them? The possibilities are hilarious!

Even if the Ciskei government does not decide to permit large-scale immigration, its low to zero taxes and almost totally deregulated environment are going to be a powerful magnet to existing South African businesses. Like all the mini-states of Southern Africa, Ciskei is joined with white South Africa in a sort of Southern African Common Market. There is complete freedom to cross borders for people, goods and money. So if a South African business can halve its costs by setting up in the Ciskei, why shouldn't it? White South Africa has a very heavily regulated economy so the attraction of a Hong Kong-type government so readily to hand as an alternative is going to be very powerful indeed. The very real threat hanging over South Africa today is that the future holds a bustling multi-racial industrial state (Ciskei) set amidst a white South South Africa denuded of industry, which is just one of the many thoughts prompted by Colin Vale's 'Quo Vadis South Africa?'. Perhaps ultimately, Apartheid will have shot itself through the heart!




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