Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 3. 14th March 1973
"The South African Connection" — Western Aid to Aparthed
"The South African Connection"
Western Aid to Aparthed
Written by Ruth First, Jonathan Steele and Christabel Gurney. Published in Great Britain 1972 by Maurice Temple Smith, in New Zealand by Alister Taylor, and available for $2.95 from Hart News, Box 2359, Wellington.
The debate over South Africa and apartheid is often a confused one. Both here in New Zealand and internationally the real issues at stake are often lost sight of in a sea of rhetoric about "separate development", the need to preserve "civilisation" (i.e. white minority rule) in South Africa, and references to the "inability of the African to rule himself. Groups like the "Stop the Seventy Tour Campaign" in Britain and H.A.R.T. and C.A.R.E. in New Zealand are accused of "self-righteousness", "arrogance" and of setting themselves up as moral judges of other people. The critics of South Africa and apartheid are further downgraded for using; South Africa as a convenient "whipping boy" — a country which one can criticise and feel good in doing so, at the same time as one ignores the social, particularly racial problems in one's own country. And at the very worst such critics may even be accused of never having lived in South Africa,
In all of this, the job of sorting out fact from fiction becomes harder and harder, not the least for the members of the anti-apartheid organisations themselves. This is where the immense value of "The South African Connection" lies. In two hundred and ninety seven pages of thoroughly researched and documented argument, it tears the veils off the face of apartheid and western investment in it, conveying an understanding of apartheid's true meaning, which, in my reading at least, has not previously been equalled. It is a book which is more like a kick in the guts. And it is this way because the word in the title, "Connection", is the one that repeats itself in your head as you read. Not that New Zealand's actual investment in South Africa in any way compares with that of Britain (two thirds of all foreign investment in South Africa is British), the EEC countries, the US and increasingly Japan. But it does not follow on account of this that we in this country are not involved and caught up in the web of exploitation which the book details. For their own part. First, Steele and Gurney are quite precise in their conclusion. "Trade with apartheid, investment in apartheid, have wide-ranging consequences for deepening British and western complicity in all apartheid's schemes. The defeat of the apartheid system will in turn have profound consequences for the liberation, not only of the South African people, but of the African continent as a whole. It will have an equally profound significance for those in Britain and the West generally who have come to understand how inextricably corporations and politics interwine and who consequently realise that the committed search for radical solutions-in Britain, in the West and in South Africa is the same search". (My italics - P.W.) (p.296) This is not simply an opinion which they are encouraging the reader to accept. It is the central thread of the "connection" itself. The logic of the argument is inescapable: the kind of economic system we live under and which links us to the rest of the white western world, has its need for profits fulfilled, in the case of South Africa, at the cost of the misery and degradation of the vast bulk of people in that country. First, Steele and Gurney provide abundant evidence of this fact and in doing so they present the reader with a simple yet profound message — if you wish to express genuine solidarity with the black people of South Africa, then you must recognise that their suffering and poverty are caused by economic and political structures. Therefore an attack on this suffering and poverty means an attack on these structures and those classes and groups in whose interests they have been devised and whose interests they continue to serve. In this context the fact that Rio Tinto-Zinc (R.T.Z.), the huge international, British run mining corporation extracted 43 per cent of its profits in 1970 from its South African subsidary, Palabora Mining, must be set against the fact that the wages of African miners have not increased in real terms since 1911. Sir Val Duncan, Chairman of Rio Tinto Zinc, at the company's annual general meeting in 1971, said it was his conviction that "all mankind is the same but different peoples are at different stages of development. It is our privilege to better the lot of everyone who works with us". (151-2) There is no question, of course, that black African workers are at a different stage of development than the barons of Rio Tinto Zinc — that is precisely what apartheid is designed to ensure. As the authors point out:. "From the economic point of view, South Africa offers advantages to the investor which few other countries do. Only Malaysia offers higher returns on capital. South Africa has also been relatively free — except in the case of the white minority — of the problem of wages rising faster than productivity. This is exactly what apartheid is all about". (15) The idea that the activities of companies such as Rio Tinto Zinc by promoting economic growth are in some way contributing towards the economic betterment of the African people is one of the particular points examined — and refuted — by First, Steele and Gurney. In their chapter "The Black Poor Get Poorer" we find this summary of their findings: "The truth is that South Africa must be one of the few countries in the world — perhaps the only one — where the majority of the population has become poorer during the last decade. Africans in South Africa are not only worse off now, by comparison with whites, than they were ten years ago: they are worse off by comparison with their own standard of living ten years ago. And this development has occurred in spite of boom conditions in the economy and a growth rate at constant prices of roughly six per cent per annum" (57). The gap between what firms like Rio Tinto Zinc, General Electric Company, General Motors, and I.C.I. claim to be doing in South Africa and what they are actually doing is focused on in greater detail in Chapter 8, entitled "The Companies: Image and Reality. The gap, of course, is of just as much concern to the industrialists and manufacturers who derive their profits from apart held, which functions as a device to ensure that labour is available to them in constant supply and total subjection. It was the coming together of interests like those which led to the formation of powerful business propaganda groups such as the South Africa Foundation which in its own words, aims to propagate " the strategic, political and economic importance of South Africa for the non-communist world". It began in 1960, a few months before the Sharpeville massacre and announced its intention of "stemming the tide of ignorance, criticism and misrepresentation against the Republic". As the authors point out, the Foundation has proven to be one of the most efficient propaganda organisations in the western world. "The most effective of the Foundation's techniques are its lavish invitations to influential foreign politicians and industrialists to come to South Africa 'to see for themselves'. Known within the Foundation as 'the treatment', these generous junketings have produced some of the very best propaganda for South Africa. In the last few years, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr Anthony Barber and the Speaker, Mr Selwyn Lloyd, have alt been out to South Africa as Foundation guests. Recently the Foundation has been expanding into western Europe and North America. In 1971 it invited M. Pierre Sudreau, a former Gaullist Minister who was at one time tipped as a future contender for the French Presidency and the Dutch Editor-in-Chief of the official NATO publication. Fifteen Nations. In March 1971 it organised a five day seminar in Johannesburg, under the aegis of the American Management Association, at which industrialists from the United States, Canada, Britain, and Western Europe were invited 'to make a first hand assessment of business opportunities in South Africa'". (224-5)
From the propaganda activities of the Foundation, through the repressive police apparatus existing in South Africa, and down to the UNESCO report which, by 1960, was quoting surveys showing that 60 - 70% of African children suffered from malnutrition: the thread which pulls these things together is that they are all part of an economic system whose essence consists in the drive to maximise profits and to extract the highest possible yield from capital invested in South Africa. If the coffers of firms such as R.T.Z., Ford, General Motors and I.C.I, are to be kept full, then the African working class and the dependent wives and children must be kept in their totally depressed condition. The needs of the one are an absolute contradiction to the needs of the other. In the South African context it is of course apartheid, apartheid in education, law, religion, culture and in every field of social activity, which ensures that the interests of international and national capitalists are upheld by the systematic channeling of non-whites into a condition of subservience.
Yet First, Steele and Gurney do not underestimate the ability of the apartheid mechanism to adapt and change — as much that is as is necessary to stay the same and to leave the basic distribution of power and wealth intact. Here then are two considerations. Firstly, to continue its growth rate, the South African economy requires that some non-white labour be introduced into levels of the work force from which it has previously been excluded. Hence, sophisticated apartheid profiteers such as multi-millionnaire Harry M. Oppenheimer see the apartheid structure of the future as pyramid shaped, with non whites occupying the many bottom positions and fewer positions the higher up the pyramid one goes. This scheme, however, allows for a more mobile 'floating' middle which can accommodate non-whites when needed.
White capital, of course, remains firmly entrenched at the top. This view is contrasted with the traditions al Afrikaaner view of apartheid as being representable as a cross section, of two steps — a tall dominant white step existing side by side with a small subservient non-white one. Needless to say, neither alternative can be expected to win the support of the South African masses. Secondly, however, in a more flexible scheme such as Oppenheimer's there is a recognition that certain concessions will have to be made in the attempt to preserve apartheid in the long run Apartheid because of the way it deprives the South African masses, is ceaselessly pushing them towards revolt. It generates the very conditions that lead to revolution. And though there can be no escaping this fact, though revolution in South Africa is inevitable, it is equally possible that the Oppenheimer-type manoeuvering can postpone the destruction of apartheid for some time and at great human cost. It is important therefore to understand the role of reforms such as Oppenheimer is proposing. Now, as First, Steele and Gurney clearly show, the actual effect of such reforms would not be the erosion of apartheid, but its preservation. Indeed, one of the clearest messages in the book as a whole, is the impracticability of any reformist solution to the South African situation, the impossibility of breaking down apartheid by piecemeal measures. For example, after considering how deeply British and western investment are grafted into the politics and economics of apartheid, the authors state; "It is not a matter of amputating a leg or an arm from business; the whole body of economic involvement is corrupt."
In planning future strategies, this is what all those involved in the anti-aprtheid movement have to consider that in the words of the authors,".......it is not racialism as such that is the oppressor but a system of South African capitalism incorporating a particularly virulent strain of racial oppression and one that is increasingly part of a world economic system." (296). Implicit here is the recognition that the glaring disparity between white affluence and black poverty, so evident within South Africa, is simply a mirror of the global condition existing between the white, western societies and the countries of the so-called Third World. In this global system the affluence of the former is obtained at the cost of the poverty of the latter, just as is the case within South Africa. In combatting this system, the anti-apartheid movement must build more and more into its forces those whose class interests are directly opposed to the interests of people like Sir Val Duncan and firms like I.C.I., General Motors and Ford. It must turn, out of necessity, to the working class.
First, Steele and Gurney have shown the way in The South African Connection. The critical question for us in New Zealand is wheather the antiapartheid movement can be successful in assisting the oppressed masses of South Africa find their natural ally in the working people of New Zealand.