Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts was forced to cancel the final speech of his week-long tour of South Africa yesterday when black demonstrators opposed to his visit disrupted the meeting in Soweto. Kennedy has faced black protestors throughout his visit. The chaotic end to Senator Kennedy's tour of this country may have contained an important message to an outside world increasingly anxious about its role in promoting change in South Africa.
The message seems to be that blacks themselves are sharply divided about what role the outside world should play. And overlaying this is a common skepticism among blacks about the intentions and the ability of outsiders to encourage meaningful change here anyway.
The era when Western liberals could count on broad black support in South Africa -- as Kennedy's brother, the late Robert Kennedy, encountered on his visit here in 1966 -- is over.
Even respected black leader Bishop Desmond Tutu was unable to restore order yesterday at the Regina Mundi Church so Kennedy could speak. About 200 blacks waving anti-Kennedy and anti-American placards forced Mr. Tutu to call off the meeting, which had drawn a crowd of about 4,000. Tutu said he was ``saddened to the point of tears'' that blacks were so divided among themselves.
The protesters at yesterday's meeting were adherents of the so-called black consciousness political movement that began in the late 1960s and featured prominently in the Soweto disturbance of 1976.
``We see [Kennedy] as an agent of imperialism and a capitalist,'' says George Wauchobe of the ``black consciousness'' Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO). ``We feel he should concentrate his energies on the oppressed people of America.''
The US senator was invited to South Africa by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak, both patrons of the United Democratic Front. The UDF follows in the tradition of the outlawed African National Congress, which permits white involvement in the black struggle. AZAPO and the UDF have a common enemy in the South African government, but are otherwise at odds.
``The [Kennedy] visit will definitely benefit our struggle against apartheid,'' said UDF general secretary Popo Molefe. Still, even the UDF was uncomfortable about certain aspects of Kennedy's tour, principally his meetings with government officials and with Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi. Many in the UDF regard Buthelezi as a collaborator with Pretoria because he is a homeland leader. ``We have some hang-ups'' about Kennedy's agenda, Mr. Molefe conceded.
While Tutu and Boesak urged Kennedy to use his influence in the US to increase economic and political pressure on the South African government, Buthelezi told Kennedy that most blacks did not support disinvestment. In a somewhat acrimonious meeting with Kennedy, Mr. Buthelezi also questioned the depth of political support of Tutu. Although blacks were divided about the wisdom the visit -- and the policy Kennedy should adopt toward South Africa -- there was a common feeling that change here must to be initiated internally.
``We are weary of paternalism from outside. The people inside South Africa must determine the pace of the struggle,'' said AZAPO's Mr. Wauchobe. Mr. Molefe agreed: ``The role of people abroad is that they can only assist the work of the people inside the country.''
White reaction to Kennedy was surprising only in its degree of hostility. There was suspicion that Kennedy was here only to serve his own political interests. But the whites' sharp criticism of Kennedy also seemed a lashing out at developments in general in the United States. The apparently accelerating drive in the US for disinvestment or restrictions on economic ties with South Africa has sparked angry reactions among whites here.