The US and the South African civil war, Part 1
PRESIDENT Reagan has correctly identified what is happening in South Africa as ``an outright civil war.'' This poses an immediate and urgent question. What is the United States going to do about it? But first, before coming to that question, let us review how this condition of civil war came about and the nature of the actual situation today.Skip to next paragraph
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The story begins on June 16, 1976, 10 years ago this week.There had been tension and outbreaks of violence between blacks and whites in South Africa from the time Dutch settlers and black bushmen first met each other there in the early 1600s. But not until 10 years ago was there a general outburst of black resentment and resistance leading to massive repression.
The storm center was Soweto, a black township just south of Johannesburg. Some 10,000 black students demonstrated against a white order to use the Afrikaans language in their schools. A thousand police went in to quell the demonstration. Rioting spread to other townships. When it was over, 575 people had been killed.
Soweto made everyone concerned realize that the existing situation in South Africa would have to change. The dominant white minority debated within itself what changes were to be. The conclusion of the debate produced the second major milestone. In 1983, the white government announced a constitutional change that granted power sharing to Asians and ``Coloreds'' (people of mixed race). There was no provision for blacks.
Black-white relations in South Africa have deteriorated steadily since then. Elections were held. Asians and Coloreds were given their own chambers in the otherwise all-white legislature. Riots and killings have become an almost daily occurrence. The total number killed in the 21 months since the new Constitution is put at over 1,600.
The steadily rising rate of killing and the lack of any substantive dialogue between blacks and whites has led to a hardening of positions on both sides. The conservative whites are agitating against any concessions pointing toward power sharing with blacks. The younger generation of blacks is demanding total and absolute black rule. The time when the blacks could have been pacified with limited power sharing is past.
It is a reasonable assumption (this has to be the assumption upon which the US shapes its policy toward South Africa) that within 10 years, and probably much sooner, the black majority will take over the dominant power in South Africa, as it has taken it over in other African countries where the whites not so long ago expected to hold on to white power -- and failed.
Kenya and Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, are examples.
In all of Africa, the Republic of South Africa is today the only country where a white minority still rules.
No one can know how long it will take until the blacks overthrow white power in South Africa. Guessing about these matters is guessing. A month before the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, the CIA in Washington was unable to identify a ``pre-revolutionary'' condition. A year before China broke with the Soviet Union, a top British Foreign Office official was disciplined for daring to say in public that a break might occur -- in 25 years.
Once great revolutionary movements get under way, they tend to move with remarkable speed.
The ultimate outcome in South Africa can hardly be in doubt. The whites still have decisive military power, but this is changing. The blacks are beginning to get arms and are beginning to use them against whites. Over the last weekend 8 blacks were killed on Friday, 4 on Saturday, and 8 on Sunday, and 3 white women were killed on Saturday by a car bombing in Durban.
Blacks outnumber whites in South Africa by roughly 5 to 1.
The black population is growing. The white population is stagnant and may be declining. Many whites have gone away ``on holiday.'' Some 10,000 young white males are said to be living in the US and Great Britain. The white community is split on policy toward the blacks. All whites are subject to military conscription. It is reported that 7,859 failed to report for induction in 1985, up from 1,800 in 1984.
The outside white world is not prepared to help the whites retain dominant power. All black Africa is on the side of the South African blacks. The US and the major European countries are still resisting the idea of sanctions, but they are being pushed in that direction. To be continued