Apartheid under attack. Black dissent on the rise, though violence eases
`OUR race laws were like a series of outer barriers which we Afrikaners built,'' reflects a prominent South African politician. ``One by one, they have been coming down. Now, we are left with the core, the central issue: political power.'' The year 1986 will be remembered as a time in which South Africa's political conflict was reduced to this essential. Thrown off balance for some 18 months by the worst period of racial unrest since the birth of the apartheid system of racial segregation, and by unprecedented pressure from the West, the Pretoria government has hit back hard on both fronts.Skip to next paragraph
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To black insurgents, the message is: ```Liberation' is not around the corner.''
To the outside world: ``Only we, the South African government, can resolve our problems. Neither disinvestment nor sanctions will force us to accept outsiders' formulas for change.''
To a considerable extent, the government's counterthrust has succeeded in the nine months since President Pieter Botha imposed a nationwide state of emergency to crush black unrest. This victory has come at a political price. Abroad, it has embarrassed and angered a United States administration more sympathetic to Pretoria's predicament than any since the ruling National Party came to power on a platform of apartheid in 1948. At home, it has sown new bitterness among even moderate black political leaders, notably Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi.
Yet at least for now, there can be no denying that the crackdown has broken the momentum of the antigovernment unrest.
Many of the unrest's leaders and supporters - somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 depending on whose figures are used - have been jailed. Some 2,400 other people, almost all black, have been killed - by the police, Army, or rival blacks. Antigovernment rallies or funeral protests, a major feature of the political landscape a year ago, have all but disappeared under tightened restrictions. A long black school boycott, by an odd consensus between the government and agonizing black community leaders, has been halted, at least for now.
`WE are winning the struggle,'' the anti-apartheid Archbishop Desmond Tutu told foreign journalists recently. Indeed, some forms of boycotting rumble on. Black unrest goes on, if at a reduced level. Mr. Botha has yet to win visible black support for his vision of racial ``power sharing.''
But other antigovernment activists, in Monitor interviews, add an important postscript: This ``struggle'' will be longer, more fiercely fought, more difficult, than they had come to assume.
The nature of the conflict here has changed. Until the 1980s, much of the controversy surrounding South Africa involved overt racial discrimination. There were laws to bar mixed marriages; to segregate hotels, buses, toilets, sports facilities, and just about everything else. There were laws, also, to jail accumulated millions of blacks for living or working in ``white'' cities without government approval.
Botha, in changes unthinkable only a few years ago, set about repealing those statutes one by one. ``Adapt or die,'' he told an Afrikaans-speaking white power base to whom his predecessors had preached apartheid as the only alternative to community suicide.
Some apartheid laws remain - such as the Group Areas Act, which carves up South Africa's residential areas by race. Some public facilities have yet to be desegregated. Still, the trend seems irreversible. ``Petty apartheid'' - as such overt discrimination is locally termed - is on its way out.
Yet despite - perhaps because of - such reforms, the focus of South Africa's political conflict has shifted to the issue of power. Who will rule South Africa - its roughly 4.5 million whites, the nearly 25 million blacks, or some compromise combination?
Senior officials here complain they have fallen victim to an unfair ``moving of goal posts.'' Even as many race laws have been repealed, the outcry against apartheid has reached a new, more violent pitch. Even as Pretoria has legalized black labor unions and loosened curbs on the influx of black workers into the cities, Western governments have imposed sanctions and Western companies have rushed for the exit gates. Even as Botha aired the idea of freeing Nelson Mandela, the jailed patriarch of the outlawed African National Congress, if he forswore the use of violence, a US secretary of state for the first time held talks with ANC president Oliver Tambo.
A slice of Afrikaner gallows humor best sums up the predicament. Botha, the story goes, wakes up one morning in 1995, strides to the podium in Parliament, and announces, ``I've decided that the game is up. I am hereby resigning and turning over my job to President Nelson Mandela.'' At which point, a voice breaks in: ``Too little! Too late!''