King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa

King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa

King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa

King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa

Excerpt

"APARTHEID IS REPUGNANT," or, alternatively, "abhorrent." So runs the ritual condemnation of South Africa's racial system now favored even by conservative Western politicians. Pretoria's own leaders have repeatedly proclaimed apartheid dead or outdated. Conservatives in the West say it can best be abolished by trusting South Africa's rulers, now doing their best to reform. Liberals propose a variety of measures to accelerate change. A growing movement calls for comprehensive economic sanctions to hasten the downfall of the South African regime. Virtually no one, it seems, wants this institutionalized racism to survive.

Yet the vehemence of the debate reveals significant disagreements behind the apparent moral consensus. These disagreements, while predictably correlated with the debaters' general political inclinations, often rest as well on unexamined assumptions defining the terms of debate. If "apartheid" is only the explicit ideology and rigid system tagged in newsroom shorthand as "introduced in 1948 by Afrikaner nationalists," its defenders are now largely confined to the far-right opposition to Pretoria's ruling nationalists. But if one means instead the South African system that has reserved political power and economic privilege for whites for over a century, that is still in place, albeit challenged as never before. And it is bolstered by a multitude of ties to many of its nominal opponents overseas.

The image of South Africa as moral outcast, isolated before the bar of world opinion, is of real but limited usefulness in understanding the outside forces affecting the southern African system, either in its origins or in its present crisis. To treat South Africa as a unique creation of the exotic "white tribe of Africa," disconnected from the broader process of Western conquest and economic domination in the region, is to propagate a misleading partial image. To see the persistence of white-minority rule into the 1980s as unrelated to Western policies and practices of the last three decades is equally short-sighted. In understanding why apartheid still lives, blaming the Afrikaner is too narrow an approach.

My personal contact with southern African issues began in 1961, when I was an American exchange student in Nigeria. A fellow student, a black South African, had arrived only after an extended detour: taken off a ship in Angola by Portuguese authorities, he had been sent to Lisbon and held . . .

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