How the West came to support South Africa

King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa, by William Minter. New York: Basic Books. 401 pp. $21.95. William Minter's book is a finely woven tale of the trade and political interests in southern Africa that led Western leaders and businessmen into an unholy alliance with Pretoria. South Africa, backed by Western technology, arms, and investments - especially from the US, Britain, and West Germany - built a powerful nation by exploiting cheap black labor, dominating its neighbors, and claiming all the while to be a friend of democracy.

Readers who seek an understanding of how the present regime, condemned by world opinion and surrounded by hostile neighbors, has managed to survive and even flourish will find the key in Minter's book. In his analysis, the author draws upon Western foreign policy throughout Africa, the effects of cold war fervor, the history of Western sanctions, and the news media.

Minter argues that apartheid was not a brainchild of the National Party but a carryover from the systems established by colonial officials and the English-speaking mine owners. But, Minter says, since 1948 Pretoria has adjusted apartheid's justification to fit the foreign pressures of the day. In the last decade, South Africa has milked the West's political shift to the right for all it's worth Minter argues. ``By the mid-1980s,'' he notes, ``the anticommunist appeal had virtually replaced explicit racism as the ideological glue of the apartheid regime.''

A political sociologist, Minter leaves no stone unturned in showing how generations of South African and Western officials, both public and private, consistently chose to `` a more viable system [in South Africa] without abandoning the advantages of the old.'' Of their actions and the future Minter says: ``More than window dressing, but far short of structural rehabilitation, these measures might most appropriately be compared to rearranging the furniture on the Titanic.''

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