Destabilization in Southern Africa; Total Strategy in Total Disarray

By O'Meara, Dan | Monthly Review, April 1986 | Go to article overview

Destabilization in Southern Africa; Total Strategy in Total Disarray


O'Meara, Dan, Monthly Review


DESTABILIZATION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: Total Strategy in Total Disarray

In 1985 South Africa exploded. Dramatic media coverage of a sustained and seemingly uncontrollable urban revolt brought worldwide condemnation of the government and focused international attention squarely on the issue of apartheid. Clearly this was a totally new phase in the national liberation struggle, and almost certainly it heralded the beginning of the end of apartheid. P. W. Botha's government has been paralyzed; its only response has been increased repression. Developments of the past year have shown even Ronald Reagan that the South African government is unwilling and unable to either "reform" or dismantle the apparatus of apartheid.

This is a dramatic turnaround. Barely eighteen months before, Pretoria had been flushed with success. Its "Non-Aggression and Good Neighborliness Pact"--the Nkomati Accord--with socialist Mozambique had stunned friends and foes alike. The regime saw the Accord as a fundamental defeat for the banned African National Congress (ANC), one that would lead to the ANC's eventual isolation from the rest of Africa. On the domestic front, Pretoria's new tricameral parliament had been heralded by the U.S. administration as a positive step forward, and South Africa seemed on the verge of breaking out of twenty-five years of international isolation.

Today this confidence is shattered. The popular revolt inside South Africa has rent the fabric of the domestic and regional strategy underlying Botha's government. The collapse of Pretoria's regional policy has not enjoyed the media coverage given to domestic developments, but it has nevertheless had chilling consequences for the people and governments of the entire southern Africa region. National liberation struggles in southern Africa have always had a crucial regional component, and the regional developments during 1985 will have an important impact on the evolving situation inside South Africa. They have already discredited the Reagan administration's policy of "constructive engagement" and are likely to affect the U.S. policy still further.

The Development of the Total Strategy

From 1978 to 1984 South Africa's domestic and regional policies were consistently oriented around a coherent strategic vision of the conditions necessary to ensure the survival of apartheid. Known as the "Total Strategy," this involved a complex mix of domestic "reform" and regional intervention. The Total Strategy was a response to four developments of the early 1970s: (1) the reemergence, after nearly a decade of political quiescence, of new forms of organized, large-scale black opposition. The bloody suppression of the 1976 Soweto uprising clearly indicated that the apartheid state could not continue in the old way; some form of change was essential to its survival. (2) The onset of a deep recession. All the leading businesspeople insisted that the easing of restrictions on the mobility and training of black labor, in order to permit its more productive employment in more highly capital-intensive forms of production, was essential to any economic recovery. (3) The defeat of Portuguese colonialism and the independence of Angola and Mozambique under socialist governments, followed by the debacle of the first South African invasion of Angola in 1975-76, the humiliating withdrawal of the South African army, and the collapse of Pretoria's "detente" initiative, all showed the need for a new vision of South Africa's regional role. (4) The growing international condemnation of South Africa and its isolation from its major allies--embodied in the U.S. vote for a mandatory arms embargo and demand for "one person, one vote" in 1977, together with the growing threat of sanctions--showed the need for a dramatic improvement in image.

The inability of Prime Minister John Vorster's government to deal with any of these crises forged a new alliance in the white establishment, between big business--both Afrikaner and English--and the military. …

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