The fight against racial discrimination in South Africa was led by Leftist organisations and socialist political parties. For example, Peter Hain played a prominent role in Blair’s Labour administration, but cut his political teeth in the 1970s campaigning against apartheid urging sports boycotts against the country from which his family had been forced to leave. South Africa’s apartheid system suppressed criticism even among whites by use of draconian police state mechanisms such as the Suppression of Communism Act which used ‘communist’ to describe anyone who citicised racial segregation and discrimination. In fighting apartheid the membership of the African National Congress often overlapped with that of the South African Communist Party and the former was to gain political and financial support from the USSR and its allies. Mandela himself confessed that in contrast to the paternalism of the white dominated liberal parties and organisations, it was the communists who were the first to accept blacks on an equal footing in South Africa. The reluctance of western democracies to impose full sanctions to isolate South Africa and their vast investment in the country in areas such as mining only added to the now rarely challenged myth that capitalism was the logical partner and ideological twin of apartheid. Socialism was fighting both racial discrimination and a class war of inequitable distribution of wealth.
This neatly packaged cosy tale unfortunately does raise some rather embarrassing facts even for such a well respected figure such as Mandela because the SACP was by no means racially innocent. During the 1922 Rand Rebellion it lambasted the use of blacks in the mines with the now notorious slogan “Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa”. Fears of non-white labour depressing wages led to the Rand Rebellion in the Witwatersrand mining region of South Africa in February 1922 which was crushed when Field Marshal Smuts called in the army and air force to bomb rebellious white miners into submission. Four of the leaders went to the gallows singing The Red Flag. Indeed the white miners had been armed and encouraged into rebellion by what was known as the Action Group, some of whom were actually communists, members of the Third International. Incredulous as it may seem, the South African Labour Party saw nothing hypocritical in communists calling upon workers of the world to unite in order to protect the privileges and higher wages of whites over blacks. Colonel FH Cresswell, leader of the Labour Party said it was a principle of protecting the rights of ‘civilised men’, that is white men, to earn a living. The result was an election pact in 1924 which overthrew the government of Smuts and his South African Party, with an alliance between the republican National Party of JB Herzog and the Labour Party. The former took its support mainly from the rural Afrikaans-speaking whites, while Labour drew sustenance from English-speaking socialist white urban working-class. The protection of poor whites, in rural areas and industry, overrode any class fraternity with impoverished blacks . The African had to be kept in his place and barred from rising up from the level of cheap, unskilled manual worker. Under a ‘civilised labour’ policy, whites were given preference in jobs. This was most evident in state employment such as railways where even menial jobs were reserved for whites. Private industry was encouraged to follow the same racist line and without affirmative action for whites, they would not receive any government help. In 1926 Herzog introduced the Mines and Works Amendment Act or Colour Bar Act which gave legal support for skilled and semi-skilled jobs for whites. The 1927 Immorality Act made extra-marital sex between Africans and whites a criminal offence. Further measures were passed to enforce white control over South Africa’s black majority. In 1929 Herzog fought and won the election on a platform of ‘Black Peril’. However one section of his allied Labour Party had begun to supporting the rights of all workers. This led to Labour’s demise as a force in South African politics as white working-class voters deserted it in favour of hardline racial segregation and white supremacy. The alienation of rural poor and proletariat Afrikaners, who formed the mass of whites suffering appalling poverty, from what they saw as British capitalism and imperialism as epitomised by Smuts, was to be the core support for DF Malan’s National Party. In 1944 they sponsored the formation of the Blanke Werkers se Beskermingsbond or White Workers Protection Society after the discovery of Coloured women working in the same textile factory as whites. Often decried as a tool of capitalism, apartheid in fact was based upon white fears of black competition. Designated ‘blackspots’ such as Charleston and Sophiatown not only represented an affront by being black towns in what was supposed to be land reserved for whites, they also were an affront to apartheid because they clearly demonstrated black entrepreneurship and the successful adaptation by supposedly backward and racially inferior Africans to western civilisation, which was supposed to be white.
South Africa was far from unique in this respect; both in terms of racial collectivism and its active propagation by the Left. In Southern Rhodesia a similar form of racial segregation was introduced by the white settlers. The 1934 Industrial Conciliation Act ensured that only whites could join trade unions and had the higher paid work reserved for them. From the 1850s gold rush an emerging labour movement in Australia worked for the exclusion of Chinese immigrants as well as the indigenous people. The former were said to depress the wages of whites. No surprise then that in 1905 the Labor Party offered its firm commitment to a White Australia policy. It continues this policy after 1945 when restricting much needed immigration to prevent creating what deputy Labor leader Arthur Chifley called a “mongrel Australia”. This racist immigration policy only changed in 1966. In the imperial mother country the Left was also far from being an anti-imperialist and anti-racist idealist collective. . Secret cabinet and government papers from the 1950s expressed a distinct racial preference for white migrant labour over darker Commonwealth immigrants by Attlee’s Labour government. Conservative MP Sir Cyril Osborne spearheaded concerns that Britain would no longer be a white man’s country. But his views were also echoed by Labour MP George Rogers following race riots against blacks in 1958 in Notting Hill. Fellow Labour Party MP Frank Tomney went further predicting an extinction of the white race. At the grassroots level trade union officials often refused to enroll non-white members and even threatened strike action if “coloureds” were employed.
When the National Party was elected in South Africa in 1948 its plans for apartheid were therefore hardly out of step with policies enacted in other dominions of the British Empire and Commonwealth, or even mainstream socialist thought in Britain. Of course at this time African-Americans chaffed under Jim Crow and other forms of segregation, both legal and customary. America in the early twentieth century was horrifically racist with the traditional Left hardly being immune, and in fact being actively engaged in it. In Cleveland, Ohio, blacks were shut out of much of the labour market by hostility of white unions. Hence by the 1920s blacks were confined to work in the lower rungs of public service and private firms such as the Ohio Bell Telegraph Company and the East Ohio Gas Company. Blacks were barred from unions which prevented them form gaining necessary work experience. In 1917 the Greek dominated Waiters Union organised strikes in order to have hotels ethnically cleansed of all African-American waiting staff. In 1930 blacks were used to break strikes but then having done the dirty work were always replaced by whites. Hence blacks in this era were very anti-union. The Left meanwhile was infatuated with fascism. This was reciprocated. Mussolini admired the President Franklin D Roosevelt, regarding him as a fellow dictator, something echoed in 1934 with the Nazi official newspaper Völkischer Beobachter praising Roosevelt for adopting national socialist strains of thought. Hitler personally sent a letter congratulating him for his heroic efforts. The National Recovery Administration from 1933 did indeed enforce corporate cooperation with the New Deal by use of wartime rhetoric. It turned out to be the “raw deal” for African-Americans by allowing racist white unions with now greater collective bargaining powers to lock blacks out of the labour market. As late as the 1950s a Democratic politician used his position as Senate majority leader to dilute the civil rights legislation of President Dwight Eisenhower. That figure was Lyndon B Johnson, who is now championed of the very same civil rights for blacks which he opposed in the decade before he became president.
While segregation had existed, some would say ever since Jan van Riebeek planted hedges to segregate the original Dutch settlers from the indigenous Khoi-khoi in 1652, apartheid brought a new utilitarian dimension to the system. Jan Smuts by modern standards would not be classified as a liberal believing as he did in white superiority and expressing unambiguous relief when Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa. His United Party was seen as the organisation of English-speaking whites and Smuts himself a turncoat who had kow-towed to British imperialism. Smuts never envisioned equal rights for blacks and whites. The key difference was that the National Party was seen as the party for Afrikaners, which often coincided with it being the vehicle for the poor and rural whites. Self-confessed “extreme Afrikaner” (even though he was in fact a Dutch immigrant) Hendrik Verwoerd is recognised as the architect of the uncompromising apartheid edifice during his tenure as prime minister between 1958 and 1966. No doubt gaining a doctorate in psychology helped him to defend the vile system to Commonwealth heads of state as a misunderstood “policy of good neighbourliness”. But Verwoerd’s unshakable faith and the idealisation of its utopian vision was very much grounded in the very socialist thought which stood at the very foundations of apartheid itself. The creation of black homelands with their passports recognised only by South Africa and the use of pass books bore a disturbing revelation to the use of internal passports in the USSR which permanently marked the bearer’s ethnic nationality. While the latter did not prohibit cross-ethnic marriage this was of little mitigation to Jews who were forever tainted with inferior status by the Soviet government. The official anti-racism was of even less use to the many unfortunate victims of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing such as the Crimean Tatars, Poles and Koreans. As with Sophiatown these forced removals led to resettlement by the ‘correct’ ethnic group.
Yet even Verwoerd moved away from this supposedly unswerving position. In his autobiographical The Last Trek FW de Klerk makes the startling revelation that Grand Apartheid’s very architect confessed that at some stage the white minority would have to come to some agreement with the Indians and mixed race coloureds. By accepting Indians as a permanent feature of South African demographics, Verwoerd had not only gone against the official policy of his own party which saw “koolies” as an alien element to be sent back to India, he had also gone further than Smuts who had reneged on his promises to Gandhi. While capitalism was seen as a tool of apartheid in oppressing black labour, cheaply available and desperate to find work in the mines, as domestics or farm labourers in order to leave the dire poverty of the black homelands, it was the free market system which was in fact to challenge white supremacy. Right from the days of the Rand Rebellion market forces were on the defensive against the collectivist nature which wished to allocate jobs on the basis of a racial collective which of course was the diametric opposite of a meritocracy. While at one level Vorster and Botha continued the forced removals advocated by Verwoerd’s utopian vision for separate black states and a white majority South Africa, even the former made tentative reforms by allowing African diplomats to live in white areas. Botha of course went further in political reforms that gave greater rights to Coloureds and Indians with his famous refrain that “We must adapt or die”. Apartheid had in fact become a victim of its ideological cul-de-sac. In a little known comment buried in the pages of his autobiographical The Great Betrayal, the former leader of the that other white minority ruled African state called Rhodesia castigates the National Party not just for alienating Indians and Coloureds, but also stopping immigration of whites. Ian Smith’s state in fact built up its power after declaring independence from Britain by encouraging white immigration which in fact reached a peak under his rule. The National Party by contrast had its roots in Afrikaner nationalism and an anti-imperialism which while it could make an axis with the Labour Party, it was as much worried about the swamping of Afrikaan-speakers by English-speaking whites, as it was by Swart Gevaar or the “black peril”, of whites being demographically swamped by the natives. The devastation caused by war had led to the mass emigration of whites from all over Europe to Australia, sponsored by Canberra itself. Smith laments that South Africa did not avail itself of this opportunity, seduced instead by the short-term fear that these immigrants would speak English and vote for the United Party. The result was that whites only amounted to five million at most under apartheid. Ironically under the plans afoot under Smuts, an Australia style immigration policy would have meant that the white population would have stood at fifteen million. It would have been more confident than it became under the laager mentality induced by apartheid which only increased friction as it subsumed the rights of the individual under the predetermined racial collective. The bottom line we have then is that while apartheid ultimately put South Africa’s whites in an ever precarious position, it would have been Smuts that would have been the saviour of the white race had he won the election in 1948.
Now an important reason for stating the above is that during apartheid South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking whites moved from being largely impoverished and rural to urban and cosmopolitan. South Africa liked to portray itself as a democratic country, part of European civilisation and a western nation. That was hard to do when race determined everything. The victory of civil rights in America and the demise of the White Australia policy made the country look like an anachronism. It had its own ‘dissidents’ stifled by the dystopian racist claustrophobia. The writer and painter Breyten Breytenbach did not just break laws against mixed relationships by marrying a French Vietnamese. His creative mind was already stifled by the apartheid environment by the 1960s. Remaining in South Africa, fellow anti-apartheid activist and literary figure JM Coetzee lamented the limitations of art and a literature that was in bondage deformed by the apartheid system as he accepted the 1987 Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society. Two years later on his return from exile (having refused to join the army) Rian Malan confessed My Traitor’s Heart as he explored the racial frictions of his native land and his identity as an Afrikaner uncomfortable with apartheid. Nadine Gordimer however stayed throughout those darkest years as her works suffered censorship and banning by the government.
More than the inclusion of Indians and Coloureds in the political process it was perhaps Botha’s reforms which removed elements of petty apartheid which ‘Whites Only’ signs which demonstrated that apartheid could not keep the modern world at bay. Pass laws were abolished, black trade unions were recognised and laws banning interracial relationships were rescinded. Whites felt frustrated by sporting boycotts which left them unable to test their prowess at international levels – quite a reversal from when Vorster had banned England’s cricket team touring if it included Basil D’Oliveira, or having Maoris in New Zealand’s rugby team. The violent insurrections in black townships, internecine violence between ANC and Inkatha, as well as the increasing police repression are given as reasons why apartheid ended. The boycott by major companies is also cited. But this latter element was only possible because South Africa had become in many ways a modern state, at least among its white population. It was very easy for a laager mentality to exist when the majority of whites were rural and self-sufficient farmers. It was a very different situation when the state became modernised and integrated into the world economy and whites wished to emulate lifestyles they saw in Beverley Hills as television (banned under the puritanical Verwoerd) beamed a different and more tantalising world into their homes. In many ways Botha’s reforms was only recognising that apartheid had been a laughable failure and there is nothing like getting information from this at the ground level. Stellenbosch University has always been held in high regard as a central pillar of Afrikaner intellectual life. Yet although the student residences remained segregated, by 1985 the classes were already well mixed. The National Party youth openly admitted that apartheid was not a workable system. In the film Blood Diamond Leanardo DiCaprio’s central character of South African Danny Archer candidly admits that there was “no apartheid in the trenches” and that “blacks and whites fought side by side”. While national service was compulsory for all whites (hence explaining Rian Malan’s exile to the USA) Coloureds and Indians volunteered to serve with the armed forces. From 1974 the SADF actively worked to create a Bushmen Battalion. By 1990, that is before it was certain that apartheid would finally be officially dismantled, sports teams had become integrated and private companies were enacting their own affirmative action policies. In other words capitalism was actively getting rid of apartheid before De Klerk dismantled it. In December 1988 the Transvaal town of Boksburg reimposed petty apartheid in a backlash against Botha’s reforms which swept the hardline Conservative Party into power. The newly elected white council voted to exclude blacks from its parks, sports areas and public toilets. Unsurprisingly blacks and Coloureds began a consumer boycott of the town. But in a sign as to how far things had moved from the Voerwerdian dystopia there was an outcry even from whites. The Boksburg Chamber of Commerce denounced what it called ”financial sabotage” by the Conservative council and feared the loss of millions as companies divested. The emotional satisfaction of reimposing petty apartheid did indeed become very expensive as companies including Colgate Palmolive decided to relocate to a more business friendly environment. In the face of the massive consumer boycott the attempts to turn back the clock failed. Boksburg relied massively on spending power of Couloureds and blacks; as much as eighty percent of its income derived from those which it wished to segregate. As with the whites, even the black population had become more urbanised since 1948, as well as integrated into a modern market economy which simply could not work under apartheid.
This explains why the socialist orientation of the ANC wishes to retain racial quotas under the new apartheid of the benign sounding Black Economic Empowerment. The result is inevitable. In even small towns in England one finds a proliferation of South African accented English as people flee crime and economic uncertainty. Demagogues like Malema may be black but their stoking of racial resentment shows disturbing similarity to the National Party of 1948. It is important to note that the mass exodus of whites is happening after apartheid has been abolished as the stifling environment encompasses more than just a creative and artistic fringe movement. In 2006 the ANC’s Charles Nqakula outraged opposition MP’s by smugly gloating that people who whine about the rampant rape and murder should just leave the country. As with apartheid ideological dogma and racial collective solidarity are running rampant over meritocracy, economic pragmatism, the creating of healthy civil society and above all respect for individual freedom. Through BEE the ANC government uses direct intervention by the state to determine the redistribution of jobs, assets and opportunities based on race. Just as it was under apartheid. This time however with the exodus of the best minds and skills, irrespective of race, the consequences are not exactly going to be positive for the majority; again irrespective of race. Meanwhile rape, murder and other forms of violent crime affect all, irrespective of race.
The ANC therefore has built upon the socialist foundations which apartheid has left as its true legacy. Indeed in a macabre mirror image of the Afrikaner nationalists and the unholy axis so inescapably overt in the Rand Rebellion and mining unions between them and the Left, Marxism and pan-Africanism were not always mutually exclusive. This was particularly the case in South Africa under apartheid, where the African National Congress and Pan African Congress advocated a struggle based on class and race, respectively. After the South African government banned the ANC and South African Communist Party in 1960, it was the SACP which dictated ANC strategy. The PAC reacted to white racism of apartheid by internalising the race paradigm, but in favour of blacks. Richard Dowden, in his 2008 book Africa:
“These two strands often crossed over or became indistinguishable. The Africanists sometimes used even more virulent Marxist language than the Communists. The Communists were happy to play the African race card when Marxist class concepts meant nothing to poor black Africans. And with a discreet presence well established in neighbouring coutries, the Communist-supported ANC was ready to receive young black South Africans who had left the country. After 1976 thousands of angry black South Africans crossed the borders of Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland to seek military training to fight back. They were met by ANC activists and passed onto Angola and Mozambique, then run by liberation movements allied to the Soviet Union. To compete with the Soviet Union, the Chinese also provided help, but, although also Marxist, they usually backed Africanist groups.”
Criticising BEE leads to accusations of racism. Yet the uncomfortable truth is that along with using the apartheid system as a basis for a policy of racial quotas, in 1994 ANC’s Thomas Nkobi, treasurer of the ANC, looked to Malaysia. With its official entrenched racial discrimination against minority Indians and Chinese, that Asian tiger provided a viable model for post-apartheid South Africa. BEE would therefore benefit the country’s very own bumiputra, those deemed indigenous and black. In 2008 South Africa’s minister of safety and security, Charles Nqakula, castigated whites as “whingers” for complaining about the horrendous levels of violent crime. President Mbeki joined the fray when he dismissed crime levels as being exaggerated, simply evidence of white prejudice. In foreign policy also the parallels are disturbing. In August 1989 the government bulldozed slums around Khartoum which were inhabited by black refugees from the south. The analogy with apartheid South Africa and its actions against black squatter camps could not be missed. While Arab elites and pan-Arabist politics supported the genocide and enslavement of black Muslims in Darfur by Sudan’s Arab rulers, and the Arab League has stood by in silence, more shockingly so has South Africa’s ruling African National Congress. During the 1970s and 80s, Marxists had forged an axis with pan-Arabists in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Gaddafi, Nimeiri, Bashir, Nasser and Algeria’s FLN. Hence once in power the ANC ignored such inconvenient events, notably the genocide and slavery of blacks in Sudan. When the Cold War ended the jihadi apartheid of Sudan’s Arabisation policies became too obvious to ignore. So a new stratagem was employed to prevent leadership of African liberation struggles being alienated from jihadi racism by simply averting attention from reality. At the 2001 UN sponsored conference on racism held in Durban, the enduring axis of Marxists and Salafists blamed all instances of racism on America and equated Zionism with racism. By doing so they not only insulted the memory of those who had struggled against apartheid, racism and Nazism but also ignored the advice of Gandhi’s intellectual disciple Dr. Martin Luther King. Back in 1967 he had warned that such use of ‘Zionism’ as a swear word was nothing less than unambiguous anti-Semitism.
The problem with the rainbow nation is that a real rainbow has colours that merging into each other; unlike a child’s drawing of this meteorological phenomenon which has nice neatly demarcated hues filled in with the corresponding crayon. BEE, like apartheid, resembles that child’s rendition with its nice neat lines which do not correspond to the reality. Earlier on I mentioned various dissidents and now I return to them. Coatzee confessed that his relocation to Australia was motivated by the meteoric rise in crime, leading to a well known spat with Thabo Mbeki because the novel Disgrace exposed the country’s rape epidemic. But above all when faced with accusations of racism or glorifying racism just for pointing out the racial quotas, increasing corruption, endemic violent crime and the exodus of the country’s most skilled people we must remember that great parliamentarian Helen Suzman. For years Suzman was the lone voice against apartheid who remained true to her unswerving liberal principles. When accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa she replied:
“It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers”.
We must always remember that when discussing politically incorrect and taboo subjects, especially when breaking down unchallenged mythological political discourse such as that surrounding apartheid. Towards the end of her life Suzman admitted that liberal politicians in South Africa had let Zimbabwe down by not criticising Mugabe in the 1980s. At her home in Johannesburg she told journalist Geoff Hill that it was not fashionable to criticise black governments, but more should have been done. Now Hill has not only worked for the Washington Times, he grew up in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, so has first hand knowledge of the continent. In his 2003 book The Battle for Zimbabwe, he explains that Donald Woods and others were so dedicated to their cause that this fixation with battling apartheid meant that they were willing to overlook despots such as Obote, Mengistu, Amin and Mugabe.
“If independence in Africa had not been such a shambles, the history of southern Africa might have been very different. As it was, the backlash against political against political opponents in virtually every former colony served only to harden resolve in Salisbury and Pretoria – and, for that matter, in Lisbon until 1974 – against black majority rule.”
It is the elephant in the china room which politically correct commentators simply wish to avert their gaze from. Hill asked anti-apartheid activist and later Swedish amabassador to Zimbabwe, Kristina Svensson, on why she had remained silent on human rights abuses in Africa, except for apartheid. She said dictatorships had been needed as decolonisation brought a period of consolidation. However this argument, relying heavily on subjectivity which qualifies the rights of some people as more important than others, makes a mockery of the very idea of universal human rights. I will therefore conclude with his words to give us all final food for thought:
“Perhaps the greatest horror of apartheid is that, if a black tribe that made up only 15 per cent of South Africa’s population had perpetrated it, the policy would have raised the ire of no one in the international community. Radical as that statement may be, one has only to look at ethnic cleansing in Indonesia or the murder of millions of people in Burundi and Rwanda, the dreaded Idi Amin and Milton Obote – who was almost as ruthless as Amin – or General Mengistu Haile Mariam, who starved thousands to death in Ethiopia, and at the lack of world condemnation for Third World dictatorships in general”