All Commentary
Thursday, August 1, 1985

The Anti-Apartheid Threat

John A. Davenport is a former editor of Barton’s and former member of the board of editors of Fortune.

According to Lenin the road to the communization of Europe lay through the heart of Africa. Today this dictum could be amended and sharpened. The road to destabilizing Africa’s major economy, namely South Africa itself, and cutting it off from the West lies straight through the financial markets of Wall Street, the American universities, and the halls of Congress.

The spearhead of this attack on South Africa is the anti-apartheid lobby which aims to strike down all customs and laws making for the separation of the races. To this end liberals and communists demonstrate outside the South African Embassy in Washington and its consulates throughout America. Excited students parade across our campuses to force trustees to sell off South African securities. Meanwhile, Congress strongly favors legislation which strikes at the heart of South African sovereignty not to mention constitutional rights of American citizens.

The thrust of this Draconian legislation is to bludgeon South Africa into changing her racial ways by limiting U.S. bank loans to her government, prohibiting purchase of gold Krugerrands, and, worst of all, snuffing out new direct corporate investment in the country. Paradoxically, it has been black South African leaders who have seen the dangers of this approach. When Senator Kennedy visited South Africa he found to his astonishment that it was blacks who hooted him down. In a powerful article in The Wall Street Journal, Chief of the Zulus, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, warned against this disinvestment policy. The cutting edge for social change, he argued, has been the presence of American corporations. Anything which decreases U.S. investment in South Africa, now running to two and a half billion dollars, must drag down the living standards of blacks no less than whites.

But as matters have turned out the anti-apartheid lobby is not much interested in raising black living standards. The attack on South Africa has been programmed by such outfits as TransAfrica and by radicals who have again and again favored Soviet interests in Cuba, Central America, and the Middle East. But this claque never could have achieved overwhelming influence in the House and strong support in the Senate had not Liberals succumbed to a perverse delusion. This delusion is that the United States has a right to impose its social ideals on South Africa by intimidation and ostracism.

Yet American experience, starting from the priceless inheritance of a common language and law but entailing long years of slavery and bloody civil war, offers a poor guide as to the road South Africa can or should travel. South Africa is not America. It is a sovereign state but one that embraces 4.5 million whites, nearly one million Indians from India who would not return if paid to do so; some three million Coloureds, product of early mixed marriages, who most closely resemble our American blacks, and finally seventeen million Bantu speaking a variety of tongues who retain strong tribal affiliations. Perhaps half of these live in the increasingly autonomous homelands; the other half in close association with whites in the country’s urban areas.

In this strange mixture of cultures and subcultures the weeds of apartheid, an ugly word for separateness, took early root though its outward manifestations have changed over the years. Americans visiting South Africa no longer encounter those degrading signs of petty apartheid that used to disfigure Jan Smuts Airport. Job reservation for whites in the mines and factories has been undermined by that very investment which our American legislators are seeking to snuff out. What remains is a complex system of laws determining where each race can live. These surely do conflict with personal liberty. In the good society legislation ought to be color blind.

Yet even the most sanctimonious Congressman should have exhibited a measure of prudence before trying to tear up the country’s social fabric. The people of Soweto, the sprawling black township in the shadow of Johannesburg’s skyscrapers, may rightly resent the fact that while by day they can mix freely with the whites, they must return to Soweto by nightfall. Yet these same residents would be even more resentful if tribes from the hinterland invaded their township in search of better housing.

It is fatuous to believe that if all past laws were torn up tomorrow, peace and harmony would prevail. The result might well be wars between black and black such as have swept other areas of Africa. Time, education, and the kneading forces of a market economy may make forced apartheid obsolete. Bellows from Washington will not contribute to this desired end.

Similar reflections concern the broadening of the franchise where the world owes South Africa a debt for refusing to go along with the mania of majority rule and “one man one vote once.” Admittedly the color bar is an offensive and clumsy way to limit the follies of doctrinaire democracy. Far better to knit minimal educational or property requirements into the franchise as obtained in the infancy of the United States.

This approach was embodied in the Rhodesian Constitution of the sixties. Perversely the West turned its back on this hopeful experiment and today Rhodesia, renamed Zimbabwe, languishes under the one-party tribal rule of Mugabe.

South Africa has watched this denouement with increasing cynicism. It has given Indians and Coloureds a place in its Parliamentary structure and is now reaching out toward some kind of power-sharing with the Bantu, while avoiding majority rule. Bishop Tutu regards these moves as mere “crumbs from the white man’s table.” Others may see them as windows of opportunity.

The critical question however for Americans is a simpler one. It is whether at 9,000 miles remove the U.S. has the wisdom or indeed the will to manage and dictate South African affairs. This the more so because in the case of most other nations we have learned to curb our innate idealism.

Americans have not forgiven China for slaughtering millions in its “cultural revolution,” but we nonetheless are doing big business with China. We do not seek to tear down India’s caste system, though it may be a palpable cause of much misery. The very banks which under proposed legislation would be prevented from lending money to South Africa are today pouring money into East Germany which is fomenting discord in Southwest Africa (Nam-bia). Why single out South Africa for special treatment when she has remained loyal to the West and resisted Communist subversion and Soviet dictation?

The truth is that in the name of morality America is waging an immoral war of aggression on South Africa. The President has a Constitutional duty to veto sanctions or threat of sanctions against that country and should powerfully reassert America’s enduring strategic interest. That interest lies in seeing to it that South Africa’s vast store of mineral wealth remains in friendly hands. It is also to see to it that the sea routes around the Cape of Good Hope are properly defended. In the furor over apartheid it is easy to forget these imperatives. We may be sure the Soviets are making no such miscalculation.