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The Contradictions of Apartheid

The Contradictions of Apartheid

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Published by: st on Apr 01, 2012
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09/16/2013

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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.
 
 At least four-fifths of the homeland dwellers lived in poverty.Yet the South African government persisted in arguing that Africans werereally rural dwellers and that they should exercise political rights only inthe homelands. In 1976 the government proclaimed the Transkei anindependent nation-state and followed this move by grantingindependence to Bophuthatswana in 1977, to Venda in 1979, and toCiskei in 1981. Citizens of these states, including the half who livedoutside their borders, were then deemed aliens in South Africa. Anothersix ethnically based homelands were granted limited self-government inpreparation for eventual independence: they were KwaZulu, Lebowa,Gazankulu, QwaQwa, KaNgwane, and KwaNdebele. None of these statesreceived international recognition.Within South Africa, there was great opposition. Blacks viewed thehomelands as a way for whites to perpetuate a form of "divide and rule."Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi, the government-appointed head of theKwaZulu homeland, while building up an ethnically oriented power basewith his Inkatha Freedom Party, argued that independence should not beaccepted on the government's terms because that would mean Africanswould be giving up claims to the bulk of South Africa forever. Heproposed instead the development of a unified multiracial South Africanstate.South Africa's international borders also became much less secure. Until1974 South Africa had been part of a largely white-ruled subcontinent,with the Portuguese still governing their empire in Angola andMozambique, and Ian Smith and his white-settler regime controllingSouthern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). Botswana had achievedindependence soon after Lesotho in 1966 and Swaziland in 1968;however, they were surrounded by white-ruled areas, and theireconomies depended on that of South Africa.The 1974 overthrow of the government of Premier Marcello Caetano inPortugal dramatically changed matters. Portugal withdrew from Angolaand Mozambique in 1975, and both countries gained independence withgovernments that were avowedly Marxist and that strongly denouncedapartheid. These events directly threatened South African control of South-West Africa (called Namibia by the United Nations [UN], which in1969 had terminated South Africa's trusteeship over the territory andhad demanded its return to the international organization). South Africanforces invaded Angola in 1975 but were forced to pull back by the arrival
 
 of Cuban troops. Seeking both to destabilize the Angolan governmentand to prevent infiltration of guerrilla fighters into Namibia where theSouth-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) was fighting activelyagainst South African forces, South Africa maintained a military force insouthern Angola.In Rhodesia, Africans fighting against Ian Smith's government began toturn the tide, and by 1979 Smith was forced to the negotiating table. In1980 Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-PatrioticFront (ZANU-PF) party won a landslide election victory and formed agovernment that, like those in Angola and Mozambique, was Marxist andantiapartheid. The South African government thereafter pursued a policyof occasional armed intervention in Zimbabwe and other frontline statesand sent in strike teams periodically to destroy what it considered to bebases for guerrillas planning to infiltrate South Africa. South Africa alsoexpanded military support for the Mozambican National Resistancemovement (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana--MNR or Renamo), anorganization originally formed by Ian Smith's security forces todestabilize the MozambiqueCrackdowns on opposition groups in South Africa and the country'sreadiness to invade neighboring states led to increasing internationalcondemnation of the apartheid regime. The administrations of UnitedStates presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, including United Statessecretary of state Henry Kissinger, had favored working with the NationalParty government. They saw South Africa as a key strategic ally in theCold War and had both encouraged the invasion of Angola and promisedUnited States military support. President Jimmy Carter, however,considered South Africa a liability for the West. His vice president, WalterMondale, told John Vorster that the United States wanted South Africa toadopt a policy of one person, one vote, a principle that the ANC upheldbut that no white group in South Africa, not even those opposed toapartheid, supported. Antiapartheid sentiments also grew in Britain andin Europe, while the UN, composed of a majority of Third World states,had in 1973 declared apartheid "a crime against humanity" and in 1977had declared mandatory the existing embargo on the sale of arms toSouth Africa.Such criticism had a considerable material impact. South Africa had toinvest large sums in the development of its own armaments industryBecause of an embargo by the Organization of the Petroleum ExportingCountries (OPEC), it also had to pay more for oil and purchased most of its supplies from the shah of Iran until his overthrow in 1979. Foreign

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