THE TRAGIC STRENGTH OF APARTHEID
BLAIR FRASER REPORTS FROM AFRICA
The distressing truth about South Africa is this: its geography and military strength make revolt from inside and invasion from outside impossible dreams
A SIGN in the African farmer’s field said. “We use Twiga fertilizer," and my companion, a white Kenyan farmer, pointed it out to our African guide. Half in joke, he said: “You know. David. Twiga fertilizer is made in South Africa. If you put a total boycott on South African goods, where are you going to get your fertilizer?”
Quite soberly David replied: “I think we may not be able to stop this apartheid policy without using force. When we have invaded South Africa we will capture these fertilizer factories, and then we can make it for ourselves.”
David is a junior official in every sense of the word — not much older than twenty, and though “educated" enough to be a field officer in Kenya’s agriculture department he didn’t actually finish secondary school. His naïve remark would not be worth quoting if it were not typical of a widely prevalent attitude. one that almost amounts to a mental disease in the free nations of Africa.
Hardly less fatuous statements have been made by political leaders of the highest rank. Speaking for bankrupt and helpless Algeria, Premier Ahmed Ben Bella has offered ten thousand Algerian troops to help liberate Portuguese Angola. Speaking for poverty-stricken Tanganyika. which looks to foreign aid for three-quarters of its development budget. President Julius Nyerere has proclaimed the necessity of “bleeding a little” to set South Africa free. Twice since May the nine-nation “Liberation Committee” has met in African capitals to
plan action against Portugal and South Africa, and among other things has urged every African chief of state to come to New York and help argue the case at the UN.
Arguing against apartheid is easy, but in free Africa it is a bad habit for several reasons. It provides a weakening distraction from the terrible domestic problems of want
and misery that beset every African state. More important, it creates an illusion that harsh words can overthrow apartheid if only
they are harsh enough, an illusion that anything morally indefensible must also be physically indefensible. Nothing could be farther
from the facts. White South Afri-
ca’s position may be morally weak, but physically it is impregnable.
Against invasion from without, geography would protect South Africa even if her enemies were as strong as herself on their home ground. The nearest hostile force is several hundred miles away. But even if it could make contact, no black African state is anything like as strong as South Africa. Ghana, the strongest of them, has nine rifle battalions, an air force consisting of a few transports and trainers, four guns for firing salutes and no other artillery. No black African state has any air or sea power, any weapons larger than mortars and machine guns, any weapons or ammunition at all of its own manufacture, or enough transport to move its troops toward South Africa — even if it had roads to move them on. which most of them have not. The ones within reach by road are among the weakest.
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South Africa's aim: 250,000 men in the field on short notice to meet the threat of invasion
Privately, of course. African leaders admit all this and agree that military invasion of South Africa is out of the question. Insofar as their threats of violence mean anything, they mean a threat of internal revolt in South Africa with support and supplies from the free black African states to the northward.
Statistics make this threat look grave indeed. More than two hundred million black Africans appear to beseige and inevitably to overwhelm the three and a half million whites at the continent's southern tip. How' can they possibly hope to survive such odds against them?
But on examination it turns out that the odds are not quite as long as this. Most of the two hundred-odd million blacks are anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand miles away. Effectively, blacks outnumber whites in South Africa by a little less than four to one — eleven million to three million. If the million and a half “colored" (people of mixed blood) and the half million Asians were to side with the Africans, the odds would rise to a little more than four to one, but there is no evidence that this in fact would happen. They would be just as likely to side with the whites, and reduce the odds to below three to one.
Three or four to one may sound
like heavy odds, but they are not—not when the o íe man is well armed and the three or four are not. South African blacks and browns are completely disarmed. South African whites are very well armed indeed.
Their regular army numbers only ten thousand men, but those ten thousand are highly trained and competent professionals. In addition, there is a reserve militia of eight thousand undergoing nine months of compulsory training. The intention is that within a very few' years South Africa will be able to put two hundred and fifty thousand men, all with some military training, into the field on a few days’ notice, just as Israel can do now.
Bigger than the regular army is the police force — fourteen thousand white men. There are also fourteen thousand non-white police, but they are not as well armed, not as well trained, have authority only over other non-whites and are directed by white senior officers. The white police on the other hand are fully armed, fully mobile and work in close collaboration with the other armed services.
South Africa’s air force, the only one on the continent that amounts to anything, has Sabre jets and Mirage Mark Ills as well as Harvard trainers, helicopters and troop carriers. South Africa's navy, also the only significant force of its kind anywhere in Africa, has just bought three new frigates to add to the modest but substantial fleet it has already: it would certainly be more than equal to defending South Africa's shores against sea-borne attack from any combination of black African states.
No arms embargo of the United
Nations, even if it could be enforced, would seriously weaken South Africa’s local defenses. The nation is self-sufficient in all locally necessary weapons and ammunition. FN rifles and machine guns arc made in South Africa, and all ammunition up to 25pounders. Two of the largest explosive plants in the world are located there, serving the mining industry in peacetime but capable of swift conversion to arms manufacture. South Africa also makes most of its own signals equipment, gear such as walkie-talkie radios, and its automobile assembly plants could probably make military vehicles with a little effort and expense (there is a shortage of vehicles, even though it isn’t severe).
All this is costly, and some black Africans hopefully infer that the financial burden may prove insupportable. Another illusion. Even including the police. South African expenditure on national security is only about $300 million, twenty percent of government revenue. Even C anada spends more than twenty-five percent and the major powers much more. There is no reason to suppose that South Africa cannot maintain the present outlay indefinitely.
More to the point is the objection that regular military forces are not necessarily a protection against an enemy within — the irresistible black majority working among the whites, and capable of surprise attack that would prevail by sheer weight of numbers. The example of Algeria is often cited. It is misleading for several reasons — the Algerian Moslems outnumbered the French colons by nine to one, not three or four; the French colons had no army of their own, but were protected by French soldiers who were mostly conscripts with no desire to be there at all; the French abandonment of the struggle was more a withdrawal than a defeat, whereas the white South Africans cannot withdraw because they’ve nowhere to go. But the biggest difference of all is that the French did not attempt a thoroughgoing apartheid policy. South Africa’s apartheid policy may be absurd intellectually and morally, but from the viewpoint of physical security it’s extremely effective.
The old African slum of Sophiatown on the edge of Johannesburg was not only an eyesore, it was a threat. The police could not contain the population reliably, situated as it was on the very edge of town. When Sophiatown was demolished and replaced by more hygienic suburbs, this tactical menace was quietly removed.
The new “locations” around Johannesburg, and presumably around other cities where “black spot” slums have been destroyed, are all remote. The nearest is five miles from the outskirts of Johannesburg and the farthest about twelve miles. Express buses and electric trains carry the black workers to their jobs each day, and few have to travel more than half an hour either way, but when they are not at work they are effectively segregated. In an emergency they could be cut off by the simple means of stopping the train and bus services.
Domestic servants still live in town, of course, and in theory could provide approximately a one-to-one force against the whites. In fact, since many
are women, many more are “colored” and then" is no evidence of organization among them, the danger of a black St. Bartholomew's Eve is obviously remote. However, it is not being ignored by white South African authorities. They are considering new regulations that would banish even servants to the outlying “locations” from dusk to dawn and provide extra transit facilities to bring them to work in the mornings. Strict curfew laws already keep blacks off the streets at night — any found wandering about without authority are arrested.
There would still remain the two million blacks who work on white men's farms in South Africa. Almost half of these arc female, and of course the total includes children of both sexes, but probably something approaching half a million able-bodied black men are employed in small groups around the country — small groups, but each outnumbering the white employer and his family. The proportions vary from sixteen to one in Natal down to only two to one in the Cape Province, but the whites are outnumbered in all.
Keeping tabs on the labor foree
Again the danger is theoretical, not real. The white farmer may be isolated, but so is his black labor force. African farm workers tend to be the least educated, least sophisticated, least aware of what rights and privileges a man may reasonably expect in the twentieth century. But no matter how ignorant they are, they know what harsh retribution would follow if they, unorganized and unsupported, were to turn on the local whites whom they outnumber.
Every black African in the labor force is known by name to the police. He must be, for every black South African must carry at all times a 95page document called a reference book. The reference book is long and complex enough to require an index at the front. It includes the bearer’s name and photograph, his registration at the Labor Bureau, his employer’s signature renewed every month, receipts to prove he has paid all his taxes, and finally any special concession he may enjoy (such as a permit, sparingly given, to be out after the curfew). Irregularity in his reference hook is enough to send a man, if not to jail, at least back to a “tribal reserve” which he may never in his life have seen, but which is legally his “homeland.”
One-third of all black South Africans live in these tribal areas and carry on subsistence farming in the traditional African way. The reserves are not self-supporting — the government has to give them food subsidies. Since they occupy only fourteen percent of South Africa's land area, they don't provide employment even in subsistence agriculture for all the people who live there, and a fraction of the male population is always away working for wages in cities or on white men’s farms. Thus they are a "reserve” in more senses than one, a constantly available pool of replacements for the industrial labor force.
The tribal reserves protect the white minority against the blacks in two ways. One, they remove and pen up
in remote areas about a third of the black population (less than a third of the able-bodied men, it’s true, but still a considerable number) and thus reduce the numerical odds against the whites to less than three to one in the areas jointly occupied. Two, they hang the constant threat of banishment over every black worker’s head, which is a powerful deterrent to militant action by unorganized and largely unskilled labor.
Beset by so many hazards and obstacles, black South Africans would need almost miraculously inspired leadership to revolt successfully. Their final misfortune is that all of their known leaders, and several hundred previously unknown, are now in jail for indefinite periods.
Early in July the police descended on a house in a suburb of Johannesburg and arrested eighteen people, six whites and twelve Africans. They were members of two political parties, both now banned — the African National Congress and its militant saboteur wing called “Spear of the Nation;” the Pan-African Congress and its terrorist group Poqo, which means “Ourselves Alone.” Previously, about a hundred people had been arrested under the new “no-charge” law, which permits detention for ninety days without trial or stated charge; since then, perhaps another hundred have been arrested. The head of criminal investigation, Major General R. J. van der Bergh, said, “With these arrests we have smashed the various organizations that threaten our security. All that are now left are remnants which will be rounded up in due course.”
Africans can’t afford a boycott
This boast is confirmed, in glum rather than triumphant tones, by South African liberals. They know the African underground movement was organized in layers, with secret leaders standing in reserve behind those whose names were known to the public, so that when the front men were arrested the substitutes carried on. But this time, the known names are only a small fraction of the men arrested. Evidently the police have broken through to a new layer of the African leadership.
If the arrests ran to thousands, it might be possible to hope that the police were merely rounding up suspects at random — but they don't. The total is only hundreds, and not many hundreds at that. The police seem to know exactly whom they want, and have had little trouble finding him. At least for the time being, the black South African underground is smashed.
In the circumstances, revolt from within is a hope as forlorn as invasion from without. Confronted with these facts, African officials in the free countries fall back on the assertion that they are opposed to violence in any case, internal or external. The thing to do, they say, is apply economic coercion to make white South Africans change their ways. Boycott South African exports, embargo South African supplies.
The trouble with this policy is that the African states themselves cannot afford it. South Africa is the principal market for some of their most im-
portant exports — Kenya’s coffee, Tanganyika’s sisal, many others. South Africa has other easy sources of supply for all these things, and South African sales to other African states are negligible.
Negligible to South Africa, that is. To some of the buyers they are much more important. Even Ghana, among the most vocal of South Africa's enemies, continued to buy South African mining machinery at least until this year because it was cheaper and better suited to Ghana’s needs than any other. The foreign minister of Ghana told me, with some embarrassment, that he thinks these purchases have now been discontinued — “I’m sure we’ve bought nothing since the African summit meeting at Addis Ababa, anyway.” The Addis Ababa meeting took place three months ago.
Nigerian officials, at least, are keenly aware of all this. I talked to one who is as sober, as sensible, as coldly realistic a man as I've ever met, but he said: “We can’t stop now. We feel we have a certain momentum going against South Africa and we have to maintain it. We have to keep the pressure on, or lose everything we have gained.”
Even he didn’t seem to realize that in fact South Africa’s enemies have gained little or nothing, and that their threats of violence and of economic blockade are having exactly the op>site of the intended effect. They do South Africa no harm physically; morally, they help to allay the misgivings and doubts that might otherwise trouble even the most self-righteous Afrikaners.
No attempt is made in South Africa to ignore or to play down these threats from abroad — quite the contrary. South Africa’s isolation in the UN is the most recurrent big story in the press and on the government-controlled broadcasting system. Authorities seem to welcome every suggestion that their country is threatened, beleaguered, besieged.
it’s not hard to understand why. Nobody is liberal enough to fret about civil liberties if he thinks his wife and children and his own life arc in danger. Nobody objects in wartime to measures that in peacetime would be denounced as tyrannical. Anything that helps to maintain a wartime psychology in South Africa does a valuable service to the white authorities and the apartheid policy. And so far, this is the only effect of the vain boasts and empty threats that resound in debates before the UN General Assembly.
At the moment there is only one thing in sight that couid weaken South Africa’s position, by destroying the intellectual and moral pretensions of apartheid beyond repair, and that is the unqualified success of some other African nation in establishing a multiracial state with a black majority. The whole case for apartheid depends on its assumption that black men are an inferior race and that the races cannot mix on a footing of equality.
Only the free states of Africa can prove that notion wrong, prove it beyond all possibility of argument. Perhaps they will be able to do so. But for reasons to be elaborated in another article, the prospect at the moment is not altogether hopeful. ★