The Contradictions of Apartheid
By the middle of the 1970s, apartheid was clearly under strain. Thepopularity of black consciousness and the massive levels of participationin the Soweto demonstrations illustrated profound discontent among theblack population, particularly the young, and an increasing readiness tochallenge the system physically. Indeed, hundreds of young Africansslipped across South Africa's northern borders in the aftermath of Sowetoand volunteered to fight as guerrilla soldiers for the ANC and the PAC. Inthe late 1970s, some of these people began to reenter South Africasecretly and to carry out sabotage attacks on various targets that wereseen as symbols of apartheid.Labor discontent had also grown. The combination of discriminatorylegislation and employer reliance on the use of inexpensive labor meantthat African workers were poorly paid and were subjected to anenormous number of restrictions (see Legal Restrictions, ch. 3).Economic recession in the early 1970s, followed by inflation and acontraction in the job market, resulted in a dramatic upsurge in laborunrest. In the first three months of 1973, some 160 strikes involvingmore than 60,000 workers took place in Durban; in the early 1970s, nomore than 5,000 African workers had struck annually, and in the 1960sthe average had been closer to 2,000. Labor unrest spread to EastLondon and the Rand and continued. In addition to the high level of participation they engendered, the strikes were also noteworthy for otherfeatures. Fearing that the police would arrest any person who organizeda strike, the workers chose not to form representative bodies or to electa leadership. Rather than entering protracted negotiations, they alsoengaged in sudden "wildcat" strikes, thereby limiting the ability of employers and police to take preventive measures. Over time, an Africanunion movement developed out of these strikes, but it did so on afactory-by-factory basis rather than through the establishment of amass-based industrial movement as had been the case in the 1940s.Urban-based African strikes drew attention to the fact that, despite thesegregationist ambitions of apartheid, the South African economydepended on blacks living and working in supposedly white areas. Nearlythree-quarters of South Africa's urban population in 1980 was black. Onlyhalf of the African population lived in the homelands, and even then therural land available was so inadequate that population densities were fargreater than they were in the rest of the country.