The survival of capitalism may well be at stake in South Africa as the black rebellion against apartheid intensifies. Black opposition movements here bristle with anticapitalist sentiment. There is growing hostility toward capitalism among black youth.
The reason is simple: Capitalism, despite recent calls by big business for reforms, is seen as the driving force behind apartheid, the nation's policy of strict racial segregation.
``There has developed [among blacks] a profound and widespread antipathy to capitalism . . . ,'' says Tom Lodge, a political scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Recent criticism of President Pieter W. Botha by leading members of the South African business community has done little to mollify black hostility.
The criticism is seen as an attempt to chide President Botha for bad management of the present crisis and to salvage capitalism by belatedly dissociating it from the cruder aspects of apartheid. Blacks do not see the criticism as a genuine call for the complete abolition of apartheid.
``They [businessmen] are trying to boost their own interests. . . . They are not really against apartheid. . ,'' says Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, an official of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front.
``They still want to maintain capitalism within the framework of apartheid, which provides them with cheap labor,'' said George Wauchope, vice-president of the black Azanian People's Organization.
The rising cost of apartheid has been a major factor in the emergence of a more critical attitude by businessmen, say analysts. The huge sums required to prop up the ``homelands'' and pay salaries of an army of bureaucrats who try to enforce apartheid laws -- such as those that restrict the movement of blacks -- are obvious examples.
Also, criticism of apartheid by big business is likely to stem from the past year of unrest and its byproducts: a growing threat of sanctions, and the reluctance by foreign banks to extend short-term loans to South Africa.
The manifesto of the black-consciousness National Forum Committee, an umbrella organization with 200 affililates, reflects blacks' anti-capitalist feelings. ``Our struggle for national liberation is directed against the system of racial capitalism which hold the people of Azania [the black radical term for South Africa] in bondage for the benefit of the small minority of white capitalists and their allies,'' the manifesto declares.
The anti-government United Democratic Front also has a strong anti-capitalist flavor. Many of its more than 600 affiliates support a document called the Freedom Charter, approved by a number of anti-government groups in 1955. It states that ``the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks, and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.''
The outlawed African National Congress, the main guerrilla group fighting to overthrow the Pretoria government, backsthe Freedom Charter.
The South African government claims that communism is the main force behind the black rebellion. But analysts here say that there is a strong black nationalist component to the unrest. Still, the failure of South African capitalists as a whole to dissociate themselves from apartheid -- as distinct from criticizing it in times of crisis -- has strengthened the socialist element in black nationalism.
Mr. Botha wooed big business after he came to power by promising reform. But the kinds of reforms he instituted were vastly inadequate in the eyes of many blacks. The support that big business gave the Botha-style reforms helped consolidate the black view that apartheid and capitalism are two sides of the same coin.
Since then, big business has become increasingly critical of Botha.
Criticism has come from Gavin Relly, chairman of Anglo-American mining corporation, Raymond Ackerman, managing director of a supermarket chain, and, to a lesser extent, from Anton Rupert, chairman of the large tobacco and alcohol conglomerate, Rembrandt.
For decades big business was the beneficiary of laws which ensured a docile labor force. The denial of trade union bargaining rights to blacks until 1979 helped keep worker interests subservient to those of big business.
The growing disillusionment of business with Botha was expressed this week when the Financial Mail implied that Botha should be replaced. But even Botha's departure would be unlikely, on its own, to alter the view from the black townships -- that capitalism is in alliance with apartheid. CHART: The rand: a fraction of its former self Measured against US dollar Measured against US dollar 1981: $1.00 1982: $.85 1983: $.84 1984: $.76 Start of January 1985: $.51 July 21: $.52 (S. Africa declares state of emergency) Aug. 15: $.44 (Botha speech in Natal) Aug. 19: $.41 (Monday following speech) Aug. 28: $.35 (trading on stock and currency markets suspended) Sept. 3: $.41 (trading resumed, S. Africa's Central Bank intervenes to support rand) Sept. 4: $.38 (Central Bank intervention continues) July 21: $.52 (S. Africa declares state of emergency) Aug. 15: $.44 (Botha speech in Natal) Aug. 19: $.41 (Monday following speech) Aug. 28: $.35 (trading on stock and currency markets suspended) Sept. 3: $.41 (trading resumed, S. Africa's Central Bank intervenes to support rand) Source: International Financial Statistics, April, 1985; Foreign Currency Exchange Rates