The Real Challenges Black South Africans Face

Editor’s Note: Prince Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi is the elected leader of South Africa’s KwaZulu tribe, which, with a population of almost 6 million, is South Africa’s largest. In 1975 he helped found Inkatha, a mass organization of Blacks committed to the abolition of apartheid. Prince Euthelezi presently serves as the elected leader of Inkatha. 

The article which we print here is adapted from two ad­dresses Prince Buthelezi gave in Israel in August, 1985, and which were subsequently published in the September 1985 issue of Policy Forum, a monthly publication of the National Forum Foundation (214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002). Reprinted by permission.

Wherever I go in Africa, North America, or Europe I come across people with attitudes towards South Africa and Africans, which indicate a total misconception about the real challenges all South Africans face. There is an anti-South African syndrome in the make-up of so many which expresses itself in loaded questions, in insinuations and sometimes even in outright accusations of being contaminated, and somehow almost inhuman, because you are free to travel and to discuss issues and you are not incarcerated in jail or an inmate of some military training camp in Africa or elsewhere prepar­ing for violent revolution. For these people apartheid is so abhorrent that only those with the credentials of having been banned, or having been jailed, or having been forced into ex­ile, salvage you from being regarded as subhuman. They labor under the misconception that unless you bear the scars of police brutality, or unless you are being hunted down by jack­booted police, there is something wrong with you.

The vast majority of observers of the South African situa­tion in the outside world are blind to the fact that the real brutality of apartheid batters and maims millions of people who are to them nameless and faceless and are mere statistics. There are hundreds of thousands of Black South Africans who are jailed every year because they have infringed pass of­fenses. There are millions of Black South Africans whose lives are brutalized by apartheid which results in them living in desperate poverty. Millions of South Africans live in shanty towns, covered with bits of cardboard and old pieces of iron to protect themselves from the elements. Millions of Black South Africans are denied ordinary minimal standards of housing and even the most rudimentary social services and amenities necessary for life. Millions of Black South African families are broken up by the country’s apartheid laws and influx control regulations. Hundreds upon hundreds of communities are demoralized by poverty and the normal crime rates and lack of security, which always accompanies mass poverty. Millions of Black South Africans have each day to fend for each day’s food and have no prospects of tomorrow being different. Millions of Black South Africans suffer the indignity of apar­theid society in which their humanity is downgraded and onslaughts are made against their worth as creatures of God. For me, the real challenge of being a South African is being meaningful to these people on the ground in the circumstances in which they suffer such terrible deprivation….

I come from warrior stock. I trace my ancestry back through my mother to the founding Kings of KwaZulu, and through my father I trace my ancestry back to successive prime ministers and army commanders who served as leaders in KwaZulu from the early nineteenth century when the Zulus were forged into a nation by the mighty King Shaka. There throbs in my veins the blood of a warrior nation which forged a vast African empire and which in the end could only be beaten by the full might of the British army because it enjoyed a vast superiority in the technology of war. The whole history of my people and everything I have learned from my mother’s knee onwards has taught me to despise political showmanship and has taught me to be pragmatic in that which can and cannot be done….

Everything I have ever learned about warfare and valor teaches me that in our circumstances rabble-rousing produces marauding mobs. Black South African political history teaches me that it is noble ideals, which mobilize massive forces, and true patriotism must necessarily express values, which have and will stand the test of time. Everything in the history of the liberation struggle in South Africa tells me that it is necessary to be flexible in tactics and strategies, but that it is dangerous to skip and hop from one final objective to another. The strug­gle for liberation in South Africa has always been centered around Black determination to take its full and rightful place in South Africa. The struggle in South Africa has always been constructive, seeking to reform society without destroying it, and this for me remains the real challenge every Black South African should be facing.

Up to 1960, there was unity of purpose in the struggle and there was no disagreement that the parliamentary system we had, and the economic institutions we had, did not have to be changed. We struggled for Black inclusion in the Westminster- type parliamentary system we had, and we struggled for inclu­sion in the free enterprise system. In the sixties, the old ANC gathered momentum but in the end the truth of the matter is that the confrontationist tactics they increasingly turned to failed and the movement was thrashed by police and government brutality. Instead of re-adjusting tactics and strategies to meet the new circumstances, the ANC’s [African National Con­gress] Mission-in-Exile abandoned everything they had always struggled for and assumed the right to dictate to Black South Africa what it should and should not do, and assumed the right to lead Black South Africa into a classical Marxist revolution relying on violence.

The old ANC was top heavy in structure and insufficient attention was paid to grass-root mobilization and grass-root development. Ever increasingly they sought the dramatic in politics, and avoided the backbreaking labor of organizing people and building power bases in the hearts and minds of people. Because they failed at the grass-root level, police and government brutality which smashed the organization left Black South Africa in a political vacuum for over a decade. Prior to the final destruction of the old ANC, it had sent a Mis­sion into exile with a mandate to seek international support for the struggle. It was this Mission which abandoned the time- honored traditions of Black South Africa. Their ability to make headway in the Western industrial world and their inability to solicit really meaningful support in Africa, led them to aban­don their objectives and led them to seek communist aid for the armed struggle, which they unilaterally declared. They were not sent into the world to raise an army; they were sent into the world to mobilize diplomatic support for that which we had always been struggling for.

In the early seventies it became apparent to me and to millions of other Black South Africans that there would be no salvation by marching armies from across our borders. It became apparent to me and to millions of other Black South Africans that allies such as they found in the Kremlin, or such as Arafat or Castro, were allies who despised that which we had always struggled for and that which a long string of mar­tyrs bore testimony to. I had to face the challenge of calling a halt to this downward spiral into political ignominy. I met this challenge by establishing Inkatha on the principles, which we had always upheld in our struggle. I began to mobilize people around noble ideals and thousands upon thousands of Black South Africans, many of whom had been staunch members of the ANC and PAC, joined Inkatha. It was Inkatha’s aims and objectives and it was Inkatha’s commitment to tactics and strategies, which made sense to the people, but more than anything else it was Inkatha’s true commitment to internal democracy, which led to the massive growth of Inkatha. In­katha provides ordinary Black South Africans with the oppor­tunity of each adding their strength to the other in ongoing pragmatic politics, which accumulates benefits.

I am a very proud South African and every member of In­katha walks tall in the knowledge that we are committed to that which is worthwhile, and when I travel in the Western world or in Africa, and I meet people who look askance at me because I have not committed political suicide or ended up in exile, I am saddened because they simply do not understand the nature of the South African struggle. Ours is the task of establishing a race-free open democracy in South Africa, and we will only do this if we pursue the politics of negotiation and employ non-violent tactics and strategies which while they mobilize Black political power and which while they strengthen Black bargaining bases, and which while they op­pose apartheid fiercely in every arena possible, remain recon­ciliatory. Inkatha does not seek victory for itself as a political party. Inkatha seeks change for South Africa and it seeks only those changes, which every race group in the country will in the end be able to support. The challenge Black South Africans face is not simply the challenge of overthrowing apartheid and establishing an alternative government. The challenge we face is the challenge of making it possible for good government one day to emerge. Bloody Marxist revolutions inevitably replace bad governments with worse governments. Violence breeds violence and a violent revolutionary take-over of the South African government will necessitate the continued employ­ment of violence by the state in a post-liberation era.

The noble warrior does not rush around proving his strength by thrashing in sight whatever can be thrashed. True power is patient; it is long-suffering because [it has] con­fidence [that] setbacks and lost skirmishes do not amount to defeat. The power of Inkatha enables me to pursue medium and long-term objectives and it enables me to avoid expedien­cy today, which will destroy the prospects of tomorrow.

I say all I have said with the full knowledge that there are just wars, and there are circumstances in which a people must take up arms. But for me those circumstances have not yet arisen in South Africa. We have not yet reached the point in history where we have to have a bloody civil war to make the country ungovernable. Should that time come, the resilient strength of Inkatha will be demonstrated, but it has not come, and we are month by month and year by year demonstrating that the ANC’s Mission-in-Exile has prematurely abandoned Black South African ideals. We are showing that what they said could not be done, can be done.

Those who are attempting to alienate South Africa from the international community are gravely mistaken. The more South Africa is alienated from the Western industrial democracies of the world, the more immune it will be to the kind of pressures that we need in the Black struggle. The total economic and political isolation of South Africa is sought by those who have declared their commitment to the armed struggle, and by those who seek to make the country ungovernable through the employment of violence. White South Africans cannot be punished into submission and the interna­tional community must realize that the need is not to punish White South Africa, but to strengthen Black South Africa in its democratic, non-violent demands for change.

Apartheid has excluded the majority of Blacks from any meaningful participation in the country’s free enterprise system. The massive industrial development that has taken place in the country has primarily benefited Whites, and it is this fact which makes people blind to the reality that Black South Africans do not want the wealth now monopolized by Whites to be destroyed, they want rather to share the benefits of the wealth that is produced by the country. All those who lobby to support disinvestment as a tactic and strategy ignore the fact that Black South Africans are fighting for their portion of what is already a thin slice of bread. A redistribution of the total wealth of South Africa would only destroy any prospects of progress. We need the redistribution of opportunity to create wealth, and we need the redistribution of opportunity to benefit from wealth, but to take away the slice of bread, which Whites are claiming as their own because they refuse to share it, is to take away from both Black and White.

Black South Africans are entitled to a fair share of the wealth of the country because they contribute their share in the production of that wealth. But to destroy the prospects of creating wealth is to destroy all prospects of ever having the future we are striving for.

The South African economy is indivisible. You cannot damage one portion of it without it having repercussions throughout the whole economy. Disinvestment, whether it be selective disinvestment or blanket disinvestment, will damage the prospects of the growth of the economy. Every government of Western industrialized countries knows the extent to which economies are only minimally controllable. They can­not be switched on or off at will. The pace of economic development cannot be regulated at will. Economic growth is accumulative and Western observers should understand that while there may be a limited utility in the threat of economic sanctions against South Africa, the actual implementation of the disinvestment campaign would be useless unless it hurt the economy, and if it hurt the economy, Blacks now would suffer far more than Whites.

The divide between Black South African leaders who champion the disinvestment cause and [those] who reject it is a fundamental divide between protest politicians and politicians urging the use of violence for political purposes, and politi­cians working for non-violent means for bringing about radical change. I know of no mass meeting of Black South Africans, which has given any Black leader a mandate to work for the economic downfall of the country. No Black grass-root organization of any magnitude has ever supported disinvest­ment, as a strategy Black South Africa would endorse. Thousands of thousands of Blacks wait outside factory gates for vacancies they hope to fill. Blacks already in employment do not abandon their employment to support the disinvestment lobby. Unquestionably, disinvestment will lead to ever- heightening levels of Black unemployment.

The African National Congress’ Mission-in-Exile is working to destroy the country’s economy. They are advising Black South Africans to sabotage the machinery of production, and they are seeking to create the kind of chaos in which the country will become ungovernable. If they succeed, they will not make it ungovernable for the National Party only. They will make the country ungovernable for subsequent govern­ments for a long time to come….

Black States bordering on South Africa which have strug­gled for and achieved political emancipation are poverty- stricken and if leaders in South Africa destroy the country’s foundations of the future, they will not only be failing every South African, but they will be failing millions of people across a whole sub-continent. As a democrat I have a deep respect for a people’s choice and I have always respected the Mozambican choice to pursue Marxist ideals in the reforma­tion of their state. On the sub-continent of Southern Africa, every State must respect the national choices of other States, but unless there is a symbiotic relationship between all the States of Southern African, the sub-continent is headed towards a very austere future, to say the least. The wealth- generating capacity of South Africa needs to be enhanced in every possible way to make this symbiotic relationship be­tween Southern Africa States a reality in the future.

Inkatha’s commitment to the politics of reconciliation does not rest on some kind of wish-washy idealism. Inkatha mushroomed into existence in circumstances in which political violence was sweeping across the land, and it now continues its existence in circumstances characterized by violence reaching unprecedented levels being employed for political purposes. Inkatha’s members stand up to be counted in Black townships in which Blacks kill Blacks for political reasons. The ANC’s Mission-in-Exile has declared war on Inkatha and in radio broadcasts beamed to South Africa every night, Blacks are being urged to murder people who pursue the kind of politics Inkatha pursues. Inkatha members are being brutal­ly slain and their houses are being burnt to the ground. We live in a violent situation; we know the meaning of violence, and not only must we have the intentions of angels, but we must at times have the wisdom of the serpent. Inkatha’s vision is in­fused with a bloody-minded determination to succeed, or to die in the attempt to do so. We not only survive but also continue to grow in what is in fact the first phases of a civil war. We have to gird our loins as warriors and we have to equip ourselves to defend our right to remain committed to noble objectives, and to remain committed to non-violent tactics and strategies and to pursuing the politics of negotiation because we remain deep­ly convinced that we can only achieve our objectives by doing so….

It is quite clear to me that political victories which have as their aftermath mass poverty and which have destroyed the means of production, result in post-victory governments at­tempting to govern what is ultimately ungovernable. Whether governments are Marxist-based, socialist based or capitalist based, they cannot govern effectively if there is mass starva­tion and growing deprivation at every level in post-liberation periods. It is in South Africa’s interests so to conduct our struggle for liberation that we do not destroy the prospects of governability.

South Africa is unique on the continent of Africa in hav­ing a really sophisticated central economy and it is unique in the sense that the foundations for future industrial expansion in South Africa are incomparably better than anywhere else on the continent. It is rank foolishness to ignore this fact and to pattern tactics and strategies in our struggle for liberation on models which have successfully led to the overthrow of col­onialism elsewhere in Africa. I deny emphatically that South Africa is unique in the sense that the South African Govern­ment claims it is unique. The South African Government claims our country to be unique in defense of their refusal to implement the wisdom that has evolved over centuries in Western industrial democracies. There is no reason why an one­ man-one-vote system of government in a unitary State cannot succeed in South Africa. There are no reasons why a federal solution, which is color-blind, cannot succeed in South Africa. The point I make about South Africa’s uniqueness is made on an altogether different plane. There is no prospect, for as far as anyone can see into the future, of an externally based armed struggle against apartheid succeeding and leading to the establishment of a revolutionary government returned from exile. We cannot repeat President Machel’s success in South Africa. We cannot repeat Prime Minister Mugabe’s success in South Africa. The tactics and strategies we evolve must be South African tactics and strategies, which will serve South African realities.

Apartheid has polarized Black and White South Africa and the escalation of violence will inevitably lead to a Black/White confrontation in which both sides will adopt scorched earth policies, and establish circumstances in which there can be no possible victors. The chasm, which has been created by apartheid between Black and White in South Africa, needs to be bridged and the tactics and strategies we employ in the struggle for liberation must constantly take cognizance of this vital need.

The politics of confrontation and violence inside the country which is working in tandem with those committed to using the armed struggle as a primary means of liberating South Africa, can only further polarize society and reduce the prospects of any kind of worthwhile victory. Tactics and strategies in our struggle for liberation must be woven around the reality of interdependence between all the races of South Africa.

Having seen what has happened across the length and breadth of Africa during the last 20 years, it is absolutely clear to me that unless Black South Africans accept the fact that history has locked our country into a global north/south axis, and unless they accept that our natural position in the interna­tional community is a position in which we are allied to global Western industrial democracies, there are no prospects of political victories resulting in anything but a vast increase in what is already desperate poverty and suffering.

The Black South African population constitutes something like 72 percent of the total population. Roughly half of the country’s Black population is already urbanized. There is a dramatic increase in the Black migration from rural areas to urban areas. Around every major town in the country vast squatter areas are developing. There are no prospects of rural areas becoming self-contained as far as the production of food and other necessities of life are concerned. The vast ghettoes housing millions of poverty-ridden Blacks demand a phenomenal rate of industrial development in South Africa. This will never take place if we do not do everything we can each day, each week, each month and each year from now on­wards to benefit from South Africa’s location in the north/south global axis.

It is not in the interests of South Africa to ignore history and to ignore realities around us. The politics of reconciliation must always begin with a recognition of that which is real. If there is going to be no overnight leap into a Utopian future; if there is still a long, hard, uphill road ahead of us; and if the politics of violence will destroy the future, the politics of negotiation must necessarily begin by accepting the need to make compromises in the here and now. I am totally convinced that if Blacks try to ram down White throats the cherished ideal of one-man-one-vote in a unitary state in the here and now, they will succeed only in exploding a racial time-bomb which is already very sensitively set. It is not in the national in­terests of South Africa for Blacks and Whites to confront each other with totally prohibitive non-negotiables. The politics of compromise is vitally necessary in the interests of the whole country….

I, like millions of Black South Africans, cherish the ideal of one-man-one-vote in a unitary state, but I have said to the State President that I can shelve that ideal while we negotiate to see whether there is a compromise solution open to us. The ruling National Party must shelve the Afrikaner ideal, and to some extent the White South African ideal, of exercising ex­clusive political control in 87 percent of the country. I have taken the necessary bold step forward. The State President needs to do the same. I know that I can sell a compromise solu­tion to Black South Africa, if that solution recognizes that South Africa is one country with one people, whom history has already dictated will share one destiny. The State President must move away from wanting only to divide power. He must take the necessary step towards making possible negotiations aimed at sharing power. I would shed overnight the vast Black support I now enjoy if I agreed to the fragmentation of South Africa along the lines envisaged by the State President. The politics of negotiation can only commence if Black and White leaders clearly state what they are prepared to negotiate about….

For the sake of the future, we need now to begin on fostering self-help development schemes. For the sake of the future we need now to make a massive endeavor to make com­munity development projects work. We need desperately to stimulate formal and informal educational programs. We need desperately to grapple with poverty, ignorance and disease right now. Inkatha desperately needs humanitarian aid for the sake of millions of suffering Black South Africans. The West cannot fight our battles for us, but we do need support for the things we do on the ground, which we are doing both out of humanitarian concerns and to prepare Black South Africa to meet the rigors of the future once apartheid has been abolished for the scourge that it is.


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