MOST visitors take the bus from Jan Smuts airport to downtown Johannesburg. The smooth transition from eight-lane highway through surburban sprawl to the tight cluster of skyscrapers is reminiscent of the same journey in New York or London And the ratio of black to white on the city streets does not, at first, seem strikingly different either. You must remind yourself that 84% of South Africans are black.
This is the miracle of apartheid: it tricks the casual visitor into seeing an affluent, smooth-functioning, white society. The reality of black poverty and oppression is hidden: by zoning and pass-laws that keep blacks out of white areas except when they are working; and by ‘apartheid’ (separate development) that confines the bulk of the black population to fragments of isolated, barren ‘homeland’ occupying only 13 per cent of South Africa’s land area.
South Africa is the remarkable product of three centuries of relentless colonialism. Since the first Dutch settlers— the Boers or Afrikaaners— drove the indigenous hunter-gatherers from the lush farmlands of the Cape, blacks have been viciously discriminated against in every aspect of life. The British who took over government from the Dutch East India Company in 1806 defeated the Afrikaaners in the Boer War of 1899-1902 with gold and diamonds as the glittering prizes. Then they set about recruiting a black workforce for the mines.
The Afrikaaners clung to their austere farming communities and fiercely resisted British concessions to the blacks in the mines. In the twenties and thirties a fast-growing Afrikaaner population led to a succession of coalition governments with stricter racial policies.
When the British relinquished power, Afrikaaner nationalism flourished and apartheid as a co-ordinated ideological tool was born Since 1948 the National Party has consolidated and refined the system.
Blacks have no votes and no rights of residence outside their ‘homelands’, migrant workers must live alone in squalid, single-sex hostels.
Detention without trial, the ‘banning’ of dissident individuals and groups, and routine police brutality have all held black militancy in check.
Nevertheless, there are splits in the National Party. Since the Soweto uprisings of 1976, business interests have been arguing for the growth of a black middle class with a stake in the system.
But Prime Minister Botha has had little success with anything other than cosmetic changes. Most blacks suspect his motives, and right-wing Afrikaaners despise the very idea of a democratic South Africa.
‘Only a dying nation is prepared to discard its political power’ insists Dr Andries Treurnicht, leader of the newly formed Conservative Party. ‘Only a dying nation is prepared to integrate’. As far as the Afrikaaner nation is concerned he is probably right it is dying.