Page 5, 28th October 1977

28th October 1977
Page 5
Page 5, 28th October 1977 — Tragedy impending in South TFHROEM Africa unless something is done FILES

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Locations: Johannesburg, Capetown


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Tragedy impending in South TFHROEM Africa unless something is done FILES

SPONSORED by a Christian group concerned with international understanding, I was recently lucky enough to be able to spend some seven weeks in the Republic of South Africa with a few additional days in Swaziland and Rhodesia.

It was a marvellous experience indeed. I am most grateful to those who thought it worth while to send me, and to those many people who gave me such a generous welcome in so many parts of the country from the "homeland" of I.ebowa in the north to Capetown in the south,

How many people I spoke to in so many different contexts is probably beyond my power to count. With the exception of the Indian community I had close contact with members of all race groups and with a variety of opinions within each group.

Day after day (and night after night for that matter) I was involved in student groups, clergy gatherings, social workers' meetings, with nuns, journalists, doctors and at times politicians.

But perhaps there is nothing more boring than tales of other people's wanderings. Enough to say, by way of travelogue, that South Africa is a country of great beauty and sunshine, of vast, often empty land, of great mineral wealth and yet also of fast impending tragedy.

Perhaps the outlines of the apartheid system arewell enough known to us in theory in Europe. The practical details of its operation are another matter.

I do not refer to the kind of nonsense which requires railway stations to have white ticket areas and non-white ticket areas, or which hasto maintain separate white municipal buses, or. which makes it impossible for black and white friends to go into an ordinary restaurant for a meal together.

These hurtful symptoms continue, and they cause pain. But they are trivial items in a system of separation which has been so successful that many whites — no more than a sixth of the population — do not need to know and often do not know how the majority of the population actually lives.

Whites need permits to visit the 'homelands' and permits to visit the "townships" where the urban black labour force lives. The only normal contact between white and black is in a job situation, and then almost always in a master and servant relationship.

Pathetic tin shanties

One priest in his forties took me round a vast "township" of identical four-roomed houses (often with two or three families inside), most of them without electricity, with unpaved roads, aid water taps and no main drainage, deteriorating at the far end into the pathetic tin shanties of the so-called squatters. The most modern buildings were the smart, almost fortified, government

owned "bottle stalls" where today's version of the opium of the people, alcohol, is for sale.

The priest frankly admitted that though he had grown up and gone to school in the white city four miles away, where the black labour goes every day to work, never had he, until the age of 40, visited the place where the Africans he saw every day lived, were "educated" and tried to bring up their families.

It is not really surprising, I suppose. Not many middle-class Londoners have visited Brixton or the South Bank dockland areas, and fewer still would do so if they had to have police permission and a justifying reason for going there.

But this is not so much an essay on the apartheid system as on the impending tragedy which, unless someone does something, is certainly on the way. On the list of subjects which I had offered for discussion or lecture was one which I think to be critical: "Alternatives to Violence Today".

Violence from police

I had in mind Christian commitment to non-violent social change at personal sacrifice a la Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Danilo Dolci, Cesar Chavez and so many others. For an incarnate Christianity, such Christian non-violence, to free men from "what sin has done to our society" (to quote the Rome Synod of 1971) is a vital imperative.

But to the many black groups that I met, even the subject was like a red rag to a bull. Who could blame them?

Hemmed in by a network of repressive legislation, brutalised by the police, unable to strike, detained in prison for indefinite periods without charge (a YCW worker vanished from a presbytery a week before I was there), tortured and sometimes killed in prison, with no politiacl rights except in the white-devised "homeland" areas, economically dependent on the Republic, the Africans have the bitterness of despair.

"Don't talk to us about nonviolence" they would say with attitudes ranging from impotence to indignation. "We have tried non-violence over many years and it does not work."

The least activity is met with the greatest violence from the police, who last summer shot down hundreds of children and only recently behaved with great brutality to the busloads of mourners from Soweto who were trying, in vain, to attend the funeral of Steve Biko, their dead hero.

No wonder that there is a steady flow of young blacks over the borders to the north for military training. The impending tragedy is going to take the form of a murderous guerrilla war within the country. No outside threat or ideology is required to fuel that war. South Africa is its own school for violent revolution.

Nevertheless, even now I do believe that there are some nonviolent options open to Africans and that they are in fact being pursued. The rejection of the fourth-rate education called "Bantu" is a profound embarrassment to the government.

So also is the virtual UDI of an area like Soweto, the vast African "township" outside Johannesburg ruled in practice by a Committee of Ten led by an African general practitioner. Were it possible to organise the unity necessary for a general strike, then that tactic alone would certainly bring the present government policies to an end.

But with much unemployment, with unemployment benefits only for the few, and that depending on the cooperation of the employers, with the fear of being "endossed out" to the "homelands" ever present, strikes are certainly a difficult business. "If I go to the 'homeland', Father," said one African woman to me, "I cannot eat sand."

But nonviolent options for Africans continually decrease. As this article is being written, the most effective black newspaper is being silenced and all the leaders of the most active black movements detained.

The Christian Institute, a voice of Christian sanity in a racialist world, has been dissolved. The Soweto doctor is in prison. The savage actions of the South African government on October 19 have made guerrilla war almost inevitable.

Excellent lead by bishops

But are there non-violent options open for others? The white Catholic community in particular, for instance? That there are options open for them even within the law I am quite certain.

The lead given by the Catholic Bishops themselves activated by Archbishop Hurley over many years, is now excellent. Their statement of last February is first-class: "We again profess our conviction, so often repeated, that the only solution of our racial tensions consists in conceding full citizen and human rights to all persons in the Republic, not by choice on the fake grounds of colour, but on the grounds of

the common humanity of all men taught by our Lord Jesus Christ."

But to be frank, and admitting the exceptions, many of whom I had the privilege to meet, on the whole white Catholics and especially white laity are as far from the sense of urgency of the black Africans as it is possible to be. One priest said: "The wagon is now rolling down the hill and at the last moment we are trying to jump on."

Investment issue muddled

Another priest said: "If I did what I would like to do in this parish (in terms of the messages of justice) I would lose half my white congregation." But I do not think it right only to examine the consciences of other people.

It is we especially in the United Kingdom who have substantial beams to remove from our own eyes if we are to use our potential for non-violent change. Investment is one condiserable lever. Apart from the deplorably poor wages paid to blacks, no British company — bar one, and that only for three years — has ever recognised a black African trade union.

These companies enjoy now a situation as ripe for exploitation as it was for any 19th century industrialists, Yet they could be far more concerned with a just social order (not paternalistic welfare schemes) and less concerned with profit. In the present situation the Government of the Republic needs them as capital begins to flow away.

Unhappily the investment issue has now been muddled among Christians in the United Kingdom. The issue is how to bring the greatest influence to bear as a shareholder on the policy of companies — not simply to sell or not to sell. To exercise effective influence by selling out may be an inevitable last step. It is certainly not the first step, yet so it has been presented.

Another lever is that of employment. To keep the job reservation system going the Republic needs a flow of skilled people (of the "right" colour) coming to South Africa for jobs. It would be a constructive step forward were we, as a Church, to point out the moral significance of seeking jobs, and indeed in going for holidays, in the existing situation, Lastly — and the list could be so much longer — the concerned groups in this country could think a little more openly and constructively about the future society that, one way or another, there will be in South Africa.

We, in history, have contributed our share of cruelty and exploitation to the present mess. The fears of the Nationalist Afrikaaner are in some part of our making.

Mr Harry Oppenheimer has recently said that "peaceful change is . . . not possible unless the white A frikaaner can be brought to believe that their identity would not be threatened should they cease to hold their present monopoly of political power."

Every act of cruelty by the upholders of South African "law and order" makes it more difficult to give such an assurance.

But, in imitation of the Society of Friends, it is not beyond our power as a Church and with other Churches to promote publicly, or in private, discussion about the future of the white minorities of South Africa. It is, after all, also our problem. There are too many ties of religion, money, culture and scholarship for us to wash our hands.

The only way to avert a horrible civil war is for all those of us with any potential for bringing influence to bear for peaceful change to wake from our "peaceful" slumbers. Having now been woken up myself I hope I may be able in some small way to perform a similar function for others.

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