The Revolution in South Africa:An Analysis

(As noted below, this pamphlet was written by the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective (M-L), from Raleigh, NC, and other independent M-Ls from New York, NY. The AC/PRC(ML) long ago dissolved into the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The independent M-Ls in New York are now in the Marxist-Leninist Organizer.

Besides the valuable historical material, we think the section titled: “The possibility of a Neo-Colonial Alternative” is very relevant for the post-apartheid period in South Africa. )

A Tribute to Soweto Youth, 1976-1986

This pamphlet is published by the Azanian Research Project, a temporary study group organized to analyze the history and current developments of the Black South African struggle for self-determination. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective (M-L) and other independent Marxist-Leninists have formed this project. We anticipate updating this pamphlet as events continue to unfold in the struggle for a liberated Azania.

The Azanian Research Project would like to thank all those who, through their contributions, comments and criticisms, helped make this pamphlet possible.

May, 1986


The heroic upsurge of the Azanian (South African) people against the racist South African regime has been going on for well over a year and a half. We have witnessed mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, etc. These have been subject to violent repression by the regime, which has led to the deaths of some 1,500 people, according to the regime’s own count. But even these killings have led to new mass demonstrations, as thousands have attended the funerals, to mourn the casualties as well as to organize for further actions. This movement shows the determination of the Azanian people to be masters in their own land, an independent Black republic. The struggle will necessarily continue on to a higher stage, a revolutionary people’s war. For it is clear that the only way the settler regime can be defeated is militarily.

We have seen the hypocrisy of the U.S. government’s condemnation of apartheid in words, while it is one of the main backers of the racist regime in deeds. The Reagan administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” opposes any form of sanctions against the regime, while it praises every meaningless reform that the regime makes. The liberals, on the other hand, would like to see a negotiated compromise between “responsible” Black leaders and more flexible elements among the settlers, a compromise that would lead to some form of “power sharing.” Given the strength of the current upsurge, even the Reagan administration is considering this possibility. Both tactics are designed to keep South Africa friendly to the U.S., and particularly to allow the U.S. corporations to continue to enjoy super-profits from the exploitation of the cheap labor and natural resources of the Azanian people.

We in the U.S. need to deepen our understanding of the situation in South Africa. We must understand the origins, history and tasks of the struggle of the Azanian people, and the organizations leading this struggle. We must particularly understand the ties between the South African regime and the imperialist (monopoly capitalist) countries, especially U.S. imperialism. This is necessary to be able to give genuine political and material support to the Azanian liberation movement. The present U.S. movement to support the people’s struggle in South Africa has been a broad one, including workers, students, artists, sports figures and others. It has been protracted, has often involved large numbers of people, and in certain cases, especially among students and their supporters, it has been militant. However, its fundamental weakness is that it is led by liberals and reformists, who want to confine its aims and outlook to what is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie. Revolutionaries in the U.S., as proletarian internationalists, must win over the masses to giving support to the revolutionary movement in Azania. We must also encourage working class participation and leadership of the support movement here, as well as rallying other forces. We should learn from the experience, both positive and negative, of the work of the African Liberation Support Committee during the early 1970s, in which revolutionaries took the lead, mobilizing people for the first mass African Liberation Day demonstration in 1972.

The revolutionary movement in the U.S., particularly the Afro-American liberation movement, can learn many lessons from the Azanian revolutionary movement, and vice-versa. The Afro-American movement can learn what the Azanian people well know, that the struggle against oppression is a revolutionary one. And the Azanian movement can see that getting rid of the apartheid legal system is just the beginning. For we in the U.S. have learned that overturning the Jim Crow laws in the South, which in many respects were similar to the apartheid laws, was not sufficient to end national oppression. These are some of the questions we would like to take up in this pamphlet.

The information and views expressed in this pamphlet are by no means the final word on any of these questions. We realize that it may not represent a full picture of the South African revolution. As our research continues and more information becomes available, we will strengthen or revise our analysis.

As we go to press, the struggle in Azania intensifies. The masses have just conducted a general strike for May Day, in which half a million workers demonstrated; and they are preparing to commemorate the fallen martyrs of the 1976 Soweto rebellion. In New York City, thousands are expected to march and rally in Central Park in commemoration of this rebellion. In Greensboro, North Carolina, as well, Azanian and Namibian students, along with community people and workers, will hold a small commemoration. This effort on our part is a tribute to the youth of Soweto.

History of Colonization and Formation of the Settler State

The history of South Africa and its peoples, like that of all peoples, does not begin or end with contacts with other nations, states and peoples. More precisely, the tendency to begin the history of African peoples at the point of contact with Europeans is both ahistorical and racist.

The history of any society is based on how its people fashion a living for themselves, how they contend with the forces of nature and consequently how the relations between people develop. These production relations give rise to the development of classes within a given society, and the resulting struggle between them. However, the internal developments of a particular society are not isolated from other societies. In particular, the histories of the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have been profoundly shaped by the rise of capitalism in Europe. For this led to the European exploration and colonization in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, and later, imperialist plunder of the colonial world it created. In fact, all of the various struggles that rage today in the former colonies and semi-colonies have their roots in this colonial legacy. This is certainly true in the case of South Africa.

European exploration began in earnest towards the end of the 15th century. At that time, merchants had begun to accumulate large amounts of wealth, in the form of commercial capital, through trade. To provide Europe with more and different products, many of which were only available in Asia, and eventually to expand their markets, new sailing routes had to be found. Large trading companies in Spain, Portugal, Holland and England financed expeditions to the East (India, China, etc.), sometimes with the aid of the monarchy or royal families.

The route around the southern tip of Africa on the journey to the “riches of the East” brought Europeans in contact with Africa. Initially, European interest in Africa was related to natural ports in which they could rest and take on provisions. These ports became trading posts, and later centers for slaving expeditions. With the development of industrial capitalism and later of monopoly capitalism (imperialism), the coastal centers became beachheads for the colonization of the interior, with the resulting expropriation of the land, natural resources and labor of the African peoples. In most of Africa, the colonists simply set up administrative control, as in Nigeria or Senegal, but in some areas they also attracted settlers, as in Kenya and Zimbabwe (Rhodesia).

Colonization was rarely openly justified in economic terms. Instead, the colonizers said they were in Africa because of the “white man’s burden”, that is, to bring Christianity to the “heathens”, introduce “civilization” and facilitate progress.

The southern tip of Africa, in the area around the Cape, was originally inhabited by two groups of people. They were the Khoikhoi (Hottentot is the derisive name used by the Dutch) and the San (Bushmen), sometimes collectively called the Khoisan people. They are said to have migrated from the north 3,000 years ago. The Khoikhoi developed a society based on hunting and the gathering of wild fruit and grains. The San were cattle raisers. Also in the area were various Black peoples from the north known as the “bantu”. This name comes from a number of languages spoken throughout eastern and southern Africa. These migrants from the north were made up of various tribal groups who reached the south approximately 2,000 years ago. They developed an agricultural and pastoral society and worked iron and other metals. They settled all over the region and as far south as the eastern Cape. They are the ancestors of the Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Tswana, among others.

There were peaceful relations between the Khoisan and the iron-age Blacks, with many intermarriages recorded. They engaged in trade with one another as well. The history reveals no major antagonisms that were reflected in military actions.

The Afrikaner rulers grossly distort this history to justify the settler regime they created and maintain today. They claim that they, a European people, found land in southern Africa that was not inhabited by anyone, and that therefore they have just claims to it. They further state that the ancestors of today’s 25 million Black majority arrived in the area at about the same time or maybe after they did. These historical distortions are the basis for modern Afrikaner claims that South Africa is a country of many nations, including the white Afrikaner nation, with equal claims on the wealth and political control.


The Portuguese were the first Europeans to make contact with southern Africa in 1488 when Bartolomeu Dias, the explorer, sighted the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497, Vasco da Gama erected a landmark on the Cape and continued to sail east.

There are some reports of conflict with the indigenous peoples, in particular that the Khoikhoi killed some Portuguese sailors during a battle in 1510. On the other hand, later contacts with the Portuguese were often more friendly. Shipwrecked Portuguese were assisted in their livelihood by the indigenous people through trade and other means. There are also reports that some stranded sailors married African women, became part of African society and refused to be “rescued” by later voyages.

The Portuguese focused their exploration of Africa on Mozambique. It became their main provision port and later the center of their colonial exploitation.


The struggle among the European powers over Africa began early. In the late 16th century the Dutch began to challenge Portuguese hegemony over sea routes and trade. They attempted to penetrate Mozambique, but were repulsed by the Portuguese, who were well established there. They then selected the Cape because of its climate and agricultural land. The Dutch East India Company was the leader in the spice trade with Asia. On April 7, 1652, the company founded the first Dutch settlement at Table Bay under the leadership of Jan Van Rebeeck. South African revolutionaries cite this date as the beginning of national oppression in South Africa.

Slaves were imported within a few years after the founding of the Cape settlement. By 1682, there were 700 Europeans living in the area, producing wine, growing wheat and resupplying ships. They moved out from the settlements, pursuing an agricultural and pastoral life style which called for large numbers of African laborers. By 1707, there were almost 1,800 settlers, owning over 1,100 slaves.

In the western Cape, the well-armed Dutch encountered sparse groups of Khoisan, who were militarily overwhelmed. Many were exterminated, while others were forced to flee north to the Kalahari Desert. Khoisan women were taken as house slaves, and there were numerous sexual liaisons. The forced and voluntary mating served as the basis for the mixed-race (“coloured”) population. They were expanded by mixtures with Asians, Malagasies and other African peoples. Today, most of the mixed-race people still live in the Cape area. It should also be noted that many leading Afrikaner families today knowingly or unknowingly have some mixed-race ancestry.


The British first settled in the Cape in 1795. Permanent settlement did not begin until 1806. As a result of the Napoleonic wars in Europe, Holland was forced to give up the Cape Colony to the British. British administration commenced in 1814.

Besides a continuing conflict with Dutch settlers, the British carried out wars against the African peoples, particularly the Xhosa, who were driven back from their lands. Most of the early British settlers ended up in towns such as Port Elizabeth, but those who stayed on the land set up large farms, producing wool for export to England.

The British were the most developed capitalist country in Europe. For this reason, they preferred to make use of the African peoples as wage laborers, rather than as slaves. They gradually restricted slavery in their South African colony, declaring all slaves to be freed by 1838 and paying 20 million British pounds in “compensation” to their owners.

The “Great Trek”

The Boers, as the Dutch settlers were known, were afraid of losing their source of labor and were opposed to British rule. Beginning in 1835 they undertook what became known as the “Great Trek”. They moved 10,000 settlers and their slaves over 500 miles north-east to avoid British domination. Along the way they met resistance from many African leaders, whom they were able to defeat. They created the “independent republics” of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. In this process, they stole more African land and subjugated the people. They developed an intense nationalism based on white supremacy.

British settlers arrived in the Natal area during the following period. They set up farms and sugar plantations in the region. The plantation owners were short of workers and brought in Indians as contract laborers beginning in 1860. Most remained in the country and are the ancestors of the present Indian population in South Africa, most of whom now live in and around Durban.

Diamond and Gold Monopolies

British settlement increased after diamonds and gold were discovered in 1870 and 1886, respectively. Thousands of British citizens seeking wealth flooded South Africa and settled in the urban areas. When Kimberly and the Transvaal revealed their diamond and gold riches, the British could not be held back. They left the Cape under Cecil Rhodes’ leadership and seized this additional source of abundant wealth from the Boers, pushing out the African peoples in their way. These riches were to make South Africa a significant part of the world economy, producing about one-third of the world’s gold and over half of its diamonds. These resources were soon concentrated in a few hands. Rhodes himself became head of De Beers Consolidated Mines, which controlled the country’s whole diamond industry, and of Consolidated Gold Fields, one of the largest gold mining companies. The gold and diamond industries were the initial foundation of the South African monopoly capitalists, who since that time have consisted overwhelmingly of English-speaking settlers.

These industries also mark the development of the super-exploitation of African laborers on a “modern” basis. Earlier, they had often been low-paid farm workers. Now, they became the unskilled, low-wage mine workers, while a much smaller number of whites held the skilled positions. For example, the Witwatersrand gold mines in 1898 employed under 10,000 white workers, but almost 70,000 African workers, who earned about one-tenth of the white workers’ wages.

Anglo-Boer War

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the European colonial powers’ scramble for Africa reached its peak. While by 1876 only 10% of Africa’s territory had been seized, this figure reached 90% by 1900. Britain was in the lead. It pushed north from its South African colony and south from Egypt, trying to gain a continuous chain of possessions through the continent.

British imperialism’s attempt to consolidate its control over all of South Africa led to repeated conflict with the various Boer “republics.” This competition and antagonism finally precipitated the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902. The Boers fought fiercely, using cunning and skills and driven by fervent Boer nationalism. They were defeated by the might of British imperialism and became British colonies. Thus, one of the earliest imperialist wars was fought on the African continent. Meanwhile, at almost the same time, the U.S. fought its first imperialist war with Spain, over possession of colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific: Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam.

Britain’s victory brought no relief to the subjugated peoples. They were no longer kept in chattel slavery. But they were, under Rhodes and even before, mostly confined to reserves, which at that time made up less than 8% of the area of the country, and were not allowed to mix with whites. This policy was at first to keep Africans off the best land. But it soon became the source of the migrant labor system still in use today. Unable to subsist on the reserves, many Africans were forced to migrate from the reserves as well as from other colonies in southern Africa to work, on the fields, and particularly in the mines for fixed periods. There they were confined to isolated compounds, until it was time for them to return to the reserves.

The “modern” forms of political oppression also have their origin in this period. Pass laws restricting the movement of Africans outside the reserves were instituted. Breaking a labor contract became a crime under the Masters and Servants laws. Africans were subjected to special taxes. The vast majority of non-whites were deprived of the vote: whites in 1910 formed less than 22% of the population but had 93% of the votes. Thus, although the formal proclamation of apartheid was not until 1948, its foundations were well in place much earlier.

The massive numbers of Africans compared to all whites forced the British and Boers into an accommodation. The separate Dutch and British settler colonies were first brought into a customs union, and the railways were consolidated. In 1910, British imperialism granted internal self-government to the Boer minority and created the Union of South Africa as a dominion of the British empire.

Early Resistance

African resistance to the settlers not only created a fine tradition of struggle that serves as examples for today, but also illuminates certain important political points. First, the Afrikaner lie that the land was unoccupied is shattered when one looks at the resistance. For one, the Khoisan people were there and resisted Dutch encroachments from the beginning. Moreover, when the settlers tried to advance to the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape in the early 1700s, they met fierce resistance from the better organized Black tribes in that area. The land was clearly occupied.

The “Great Trek” also met with massive resistance from various African tribes, who occupied the land from the Cape through the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and Natal. African leaders like Chaka, Dingaan and Moshoeshoe rallied their people in an attempt to beat back the invaders. They knew that this was the last hope for maintaining their independence. They fought valiantly with spears. Their efforts, although intense and sustained, could not overcome the rifle and the more powerful social organization of the settlers. They were soundly defeated.

The last armed resistance in the early period took place in 1906. Called the Bambata rebellion after the Zulu chief who led it, thousands of Africans in the Natal rose up against the expropriation of their land and against high taxes. 4,000 Africans, including Bambata, made the supreme sacrifice, while only 25 whites were killed. Even though this ended a certain historical phase of struggle, Bambata and the others still serve as a rallying point for today’s revolutionary masses.

The second political point highlighted by these wars has to do with the formation of nations. Imperialism generally leads to national oppression, the subjugation of nations and the distortion of their development. However, it also introduces capitalist elements, creates a national market, and breaks down the isolation of peoples. In this way, separate peoples are often welded into one nation, a process which is intensified through the struggle against imperialism. Much of Central and South America, the Afro-American nation and most of Africa present clear examples of this.

In South Africa the process can be seen in the resistance. Runaway slaves from the Cape Colony and mixed-race descendants of the Khoi and San moved north in search of independence. They settled along the Orange River and evolved into a national grouping called the Griqua. They became a powerful force capable of creating serious problems for the enemy but were manipulated by missionaries into refraining from attacking the Dutch.

The resistance movement in Zululand, of which Chaka was a part, sought to bring into being a central authority in place of the clans, which were responsible for military weaknesses. Africans who left their homes were welded into the Basotho under King Moshoeshoe. There are many examples of victims and warriors being taken in by others. This shows that tribal boundaries were broken down or realigned based on an embryonic national resistance.

The apartheid labor system, which forces Blacks to locate in urban areas for employment, and to struggle in the workplace and in the townships outside the cities, has eliminated the essentials of traditional tribal life and relationships. The Afrikaner “homelands” scheme attempts to reinstitute a tribal basis for relocation and phony independence, but the hands of time can not be turned back on this question. True, some degree of tribal identity and customs remain, and will for some time. However, the various African peoples, including the mixed-race people, have been historically welded into one nation, exclusive of the white settler-colonialists.

From here on we will look at the history of South Africa from the view of the organizations that have been leading the struggle of the African people against the settler regime.

South Africa and the Communist International

Over the last fifty years, communist revolutionaries around the world have consistently taken up the South African question. As early as 1927, under the leadership of the Communist International (Comintern), revolutionaries and class conscious workers began to develop a position on the South African question. The Comintern was an organization of all the world’s communist parties that functioned as the party of the international working class. It was headquartered in Moscow and used democratic centralism to carry out its work.

In 1928, at the 6th Congress of the Comintern, the organization adopted resolutions on the situation in South Africa and the tasks of communists.

The Comintern leadership formed a committee to study the South African question and the Black question in the United States as well. The task and general outline were laid out by the leadership and assignments were made. Comrades from those countries were given primary responsibility but additional members came from other countries.

James La Guma, a mixed-race South African comrade, and Harry Haywood, an Afro-American communist, developed the positions on these two burning questions. They did the research, held the discussions and drafted a resolution. These positions were adopted by the Comintern and became the policy of the Comintern and all of its parties. This reflected the democratic and internationalist practice of this body.

The resolution put forward the need to establish an independent Black South African Republic. It called for the return of the land to the Black South Africans, and equal rights for all races, as a stage to developing a workers and peasants republic. Because of the large number of Black South African peasants it saw the agrarian question as the key link to a successful revolutionary struggle.

The Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) characterized the South African situation by the following features:

  1. South Africa belongs to the Black South African population, which constitutes the majority.
  2. The British and white South African exploiting class dominate South Africa politically and economically. British imperialism controls the major share of the economy.
  3. The Black South Africans are almost landless. Their land was stolen by the white South Africans.
  4. There is a great difference in wages and material conditions of the white and Black proletariat.

The Comintern noted several shortcomings of the South African struggle at that time. The weaknesses of the South African movement could be directly linked to the chauvinist ideas of the white communists who objectively liquidated the national question, and the nationalism of the Black communists who opposed multi-racial organizations on principle.

Sidney Bunting, a British lawyer and a founder of the South African Communist Party, described the South African revolution as a direct struggle for socialism. He and other members of the South African Communist Party denied the revolutionary potential of the Black South African movement.

Haywood and others on the commission supported the slogan “Return the Land to the Natives.” They urged that the South African Communist Party put forward and conduct work for an independent Black South African Republic.

The South African Communist Party’s delegation rejected the above resolution and argued that the South African revolution should be seen as a socialist revolution rather than one for national liberation and then socialism. However, at its next congress, in 1929, the Party adopted the Comintern resolution and also brought Black cadre into the leadership. In this period it led some mass struggles, such as the 1930 pass-burning campaign, as a reflection of this line.

La Guma and Haywood were able to draw parallels between the Afro-American and South African situations once the commission had arrived at the conclusion that the Afro-American people in the Black Belt South of the United States constituted an oppressed nation with the right to self-determination, including secession from the imperialist U.S. state. They found that racial oppression was only an instrument used to maintain what was the economic, political, social and cultural bondage of Black people in the U.S.

Later on, the leaderships of the CPUSA and the SACP again underestimated the revolutionary potential of the South African and Afro-American liberation struggles. Both parties liquidated the national question as a result of their chauvinism and white supremacist tendencies. This liquidation went hand in hand with the gradual abandonment of the proletarian revolution by these parties in their respective countries.

The Comintern’s main resolution of 1928 to establish an independent Black South African Republic remains valid today. The 22 million Africans compared to 4.5 million whites still constitute the vast majority. Therefore, the slogan “Land back to the Azanian People” is correct.

The agrarian question is no longer the key link or the cutting edge to the South African revolution. South Africa has become the most industrialized country on the continent of Africa. The African masses are largely proletarian. However, the agrarian and land questions are still important and must be answered and dealt with correctly.

Today, the conquest of political and economic power must be seen as the main task of the South African revolution. The independence and victory of the South African masses can be assured by its vanguard being organized into a revolutionary communist party. Such a party’s program must contain theoretical and practical work to ensure national liberation as well as the ultimate goal — the establishment of a socialist republic.

African National Congress (ANC)

The African National Congress (ANC) is the most enduring and widely celebrated of all the liberation organizations in South Africa. During its 74 years of existence it has reflected the various approaches to fighting for freedom in South Africa that have been embraced by the oppressed, as well as international political developments and changes.

The organization was founded at a conference on January 8, 1912 by lawyers, clergymen and teachers from all over South Africa as the South African Native National Congress. It very much resembled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the U.S. Its membership and leadership were generally elite elements, reformists committed to improving African economic, political and social conditions within the existing social system through the use of legal, non-violent methods. It was spearheaded by Dr. Pixley Ka Izah Seme, an African who had attended school in the U.S. and Britain and had been greatly influenced by the Black “self-help” groups of the period. With a program very similar to Afro-American reformism of the time, it aimed to educate workers and farmers and to gain respect from Europeans in order to get their support.

Most of its early political efforts were devoted to a campaign against the Land Bill that restricted Africans from buying land in all but 7.3% of the country. It appealed to the British government for help. With a weak campaign at home and nothing forthcoming from the British, the bill passed.

After World War I, the organization began to decline. In 1925 its changed its name to the African National Congress. During this period, the South African Communist Party (SACP) attempted to exert influence on the ANC. James Gumede was elected President-General of the ANC in 1927. He was sympathetic to communism, and had visited the Soviet Union en route from an international conference against imperialism sponsored by the Communist International. For this reason, the petty-bourgeois reformists opposed him and the SACP, eventually driving Gumede from leadership. The SACP momentarily left the ANC to its own activities.

The next test for the ANC came in 1935. The government proposed to eliminate African voters from the rolls and develop a Natives’ Representatives Council (NRC) as an advisory group to be made up only of whites. This measure was introduced alongside of one that would restrict Africans from buying land outside of the “reserve” areas. The ANC leadership did not mount an adequate challenge and, after widespread criticism, called for a conference of African organizations.

The resultant All-African Convention (AAC), as it became known, was an ideological and political mixture of all non-white South Africans. The more militant sections called for strikes and demonstrations. Others advocated petitioning the government for a limited African vote and sending appeals to the British king and parliament. The government offered a compromise by way of the NRC. Many leaders of the AAC, the ANC and the SACP, which was already profoundly reformist, supported acceptance of this, while the militants opposed it. The NRC proved to be ineffective and most support fell away. The ANC remained idle.

Youth League of the African National Congress

The formation of the Youth League pushed the ANC into a new period in its history. Under the leadership, at least philosophically, of Anton Lembede, a young African lawyer, several young intellectuals developed what they called the “Africanist” outlook. In 1944, Oliver Tambo, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Peter Roboroko, among others, formed the Youth League. They struggled over whether to form a new organization or to try to revive the ANC. The latter view prevailed. In staying, however, they launched the African nationalist critique that is part of the thinking of many ANC rank and filers today, as well as of the Pan Africanist Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement. They opposed ANC’s collaboration with the oppressors. They rejected any forms of collaboration with the white ruling class in segregated councils or other bodies, such as the NRC.

They raised the ANC’s weakness on African nationalism. By this they meant the support for Africa-wide struggle against European colonialism. They rejected not just white domination but foreign domination and leadership of the struggle. They were also critical of SACP influence over the ANC.

The Africanists put forth a program calling for national freedom: freedom from white domination and the attainment of political independence. In most ways, this was not inconsistent with the call for a Black Republic in South Africa.

In 1950 the government passed the Suppression of Communism Act. This had a major impact on the ANC in two ways. First, the act was aimed not only at the SACP but at all opposition that advocated political, social and economic change, including the ANC. Second, the SACP, in a cowardly retreat before bourgeois law, dissolved itself as a party. Members began to build the Congress Movement (Indian, Colored, South African Congress of Trade Unions and ANC). This new situation had them devoting much time to the ANC and providing a great deal of influence.

Freedom Charter

The Congress movement, broadly defined, produced the now famous Freedom Charter. It was adopted at a Congress of the People near Johannesburg in June of 1955 by nearly 3,000 delegates, two thirds of them African. Considering the nature of the Charter and the watchful eye of the South African fascist police, this was an historic and important gathering. However, the ANC did not embrace this document until later and only after bitter struggle which led to splits and expulsions.

The Freedom Charter is a generally democratic and progressive instrument. It includes a call for free medical care and education, and the public ownership of the mineral wealth, banks and monopoly industries. It has other good provisions in line with the national democratic revolution, such as those concerning land ownership, labor rights and the protection of languages and culture. Yet the opening sections reveal a serious flaw that in effect eliminates the national revolutionary aspects of the South African revolution. It says:

“We the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”

And later:

“And therefore, we the people of South Africa, black and white together — equals, countrymen, brothers — adopt this Freedom Charter.”

And finally:

“All National Groups shall have equal rights! There shall be equal status in the bodies of the state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups.”

While sounding like the utmost in democracy, these passages overlook the entire colonial legacy of South African oppression. The racism and white supremacy, and the capitalist exploitation of African workers, have their roots in the seizure of African territory by Europeans. It was and continues to be a colonial-settler state. Yes, it is also a fascist/racist state and a capitalist/exploitative economy. But these contradictions, intertwined as they are with settler-colonialism and imperialism, cannot be genuinely resolved without national independence for the African majority.

If the colonial question were absent, the idea that the land belongs to all of the people would be correct. The idea of equal rights and representation in the Freedom Charter, as well as the ANC’s concept of multi-racialism, is problematic. It puts the white rulers and settlers of all classes on par with the African and oppressed masses. “National” minorities, meaning whites, Indians, etc., are given equal status with Africans. If this means equal rights of citizenship for all individuals regardless of nationality, such as one person, one vote, then it is fine. But if it means equal representation for whites as a national minority (as in Zimbabwe, where certain seats in Parliament are set aside for whites), then it is a further muddling of the national question and tends towards privileges for national groups.

There are two other points that relate to nationality, alliances and rights. First, besides the Afrikaner and English-speaking bourgeoisie in South Africa, there are white workers. The great majority of them have historically cast their lot with the white rulers in exchange for significant social, economic and political benefits. They basically form a highly privileged labor aristocracy, with most of them having a supervisory role over Black workers. A national revolutionary government would not be able to expropriate capitalist property from them, because they have none, and would grant them citizenship rights if they accepted a Black government. Otherwise, they would be suppressed like their present ruling class allies.

The other issue related to nationality concerns the mixed-race people. As we have said, the nationality question has evolved in such a way, socially, politically and ideologically, that they have become part of the African or Azanian people and constitute a part of the broad masses that will exercise majority political rule over South Africa.

The Africanists who opposed the “Charterists” took up some of these points. They also objected to the absence of references to cooperation with other African states and African liberation in general. References were only made to what were then “protectorates” of Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Swaziland, all within the South African-British orbit. This was considered an unpardonable attack on African nationalism.

The Freedom Charter did not pass at the ANC convention in 1955. It was not ratified until a special conference in April, 1956. The Charterists were accused of packing the conference with non-ANC members who voted without a roll call of actual ANC members. Differences over these tactics and a stay-at-home strike in 1958 led to the expulsions and splits. Nelson Mandela administered, on behalf of the Charterists, a purge of Africanist elements, in some cases entire branches. This led to the formation, in 1959, of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) by Africanists who had been expelled or resigned.

In 1960, following the thrust of the new PAC, the ANC participated in activity to protest the pass laws. This campaign was ended by the massacres in Sharpeville and Langa, in which South African police fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing 74 of them. Shortly thereafter the two organizations were banned. With many of their leaders still involved in treason trials that lasted from 1956 to 1961 and with their organization held to be illegal, many ANC leaders and cadre left South Africa.

Armed Struggle

The crisis of 1960 and 1961 convinced many elements in the ANC that non-violent struggle could not cope with the vicious violence of the apartheid regime. Despite reluctance on the part of many, particularly the “communists” in and around the Congress movement, a limited program of sabotage was undertaken. Its stated purpose was to bring the government and its supporters to its senses before it was too late and civil war could not be averted. To a large degree, this is the same line as the ANC pursues today, through its armed force Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). It sees using armed struggle (bombings, sabotage, land mines, etc.) to pressure the government into talks and/or concessions, maybe even the transfer of power. It is unclear whether the ANC sees armed struggle as a means of · state power from the apartheid regime as a result of its military defeat. This is in spite of the fact that in 1969 Umkhonto was described as the “nucleus of the future national army.”

The first military action took place on December 16, 1961, Dingaan’s Day, which celebrated the Dutch victory over the Zulu Chief Dingaan at the Battle of Blood River. Ten bombs in Johannesburg and five in Port Elizabeth damaged electrical equipment and government offices. Since then, for almost 25 years, ANC forces have conducted sporadic sabotage operations.

As more and more militants left South Africa the need for military training became a major issue. Thousands of African guerrillas were trained in camps in Zambia and Tanzania, as well as in Soviet bloc countries and China. They then had to deal with the serious problem of how to reach their targets in South Africa. The neighboring countries at that time could not allow access across their borders. Mozambique and Angola were still Portuguese colonies, and Zimbabwe was still the settler state of Rhodesia. The ANC placed its hopes on the future victories of the national liberation movements in these countries.

The ANC formed alliances with guerrilla groups in these countries. The victories of the independence movements there allowed for the formation of the Frontline states to aid in the fight against the South African regime. However, today, ANC’s military strategy is still hindered by its inability to gain easy access to the national territory. Operations from Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe have been rendered almost impossible because of South African military invasions into these states and the damage they cause to civilians and the economy. Moreover, treaties with South Africa signed by Mozambique and Angola (the latter relating to SWAPO in Namibia) prohibit operational forces from establishing or maintaining bases in those countries. While Angola and Mozambique have maintained their ends of these agreements, South Africa continues to support UNITA and MNR in their counterrevolutionary activities.

This setback has forced ANC, and PAC as well, to concentrate more on the political struggle within South Africa. This is significant, because for nearly a decade both organizations have not had a major impact on events in South Africa. This has clearly been changing over the last three years as it relates to the ANC.

Militarily, the ANC still clings to the idea of armed struggle as a pressure device. In the current upsurge, thousands have left South Africa to seek military training under the ANC’s leadership. Apparently, the organization is attempting to provide it. On the other hand, it seems to be reluctant to arm the masses in the country, in the urban areas and in the mass organizations. The ANC has stressed the danger of people having weapons but no training. However, this begs the question of all-round armed revolution. In the South African context this probably should include guerrilla warfare forces in the countryside, establishing control over territory whenever possible, retaliatory strikes in the urban areas and eventually armed insurrection. The Azanian people will have to determine their own military strategy and tactics. However, the ANC’s views on this seem unclear.

Popular Support

The ANC continues to receive fairly massive support, although this has fluctuated in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s due to various political developments in the country.

Its enduring popularity among the masses can probably be attributed to four factors. First, the ANC represents, in spite of changes in outlook and approach, three quarters of a century of struggle, or the entire period of the contemporary struggle against white domination. History and longevity are not lost on the masses, regardless of other factors. Second, even with the questionable overall effectiveness of Umkhonto We Sizwe, it has always been able to respond militarily. This demonstrates to many an important capability, if not simply a willingness, to deal in kind with the most fundamental aspect of apartheid rule, its naked violence against the oppressed.

Third, the ANC has received financial support from a variety of sources. These range from the Soviet Union and other Soviet bloc countries to the World Council of Churches, philanthropic organizations, the OAU and some of the Scandinavian governments. Therefore, the ANC has been able to get its message out broadly and maintain high visibility.

And last, with Nelson Mandela and others in jail, there is the constant reminder of heroes and the role they have played. After the heat of several upsurges has cooled down, there has been the continued image of ANC leadership still incarcerated but making bold and courageous statements. They have become heroes and martyrs of the South African freedom movement.

The degree of popularity has gone up and down depending on the circumstances. The PAC had much of the initiative and support after its formation in 1959 and into the 1960s, due to its Africanist line and its aggressive organizing and military actions. After the Soweto rebellion, support was shared among the PAC, ANC and the Black Consciousness groups. During the current upsurge, majority support has gone to the ANC. This probably stems mainly from its role in the United Democratic Front and the broadening of the campaign to free Nelson Mandela.

Today, many in South Africa follow the general leadership of the ANC but within it there are different views on what the outcome of the liberation struggle should be. It functions as a political party in some instances and as a national liberation front in others, in terms of the different class forces within its ranks. With the mass resistance to the regime’s “constitutional reforms” of 1983, the ANC saw an opportunity to broaden its base of support through work within the United Democratic Front.

The imperialists, faced with the danger of a revolution that would remove South Africa completely from their sphere of influence, would be willing, if necessary, to concede some form of Black political control. Their main concern is that they can maintain their investments and reap super-profits from the labor of the Azanian people. They want to be sure of a continued supply of gold and strategic minerals, such as platinum, manganese, chrome and uranium. And they want to prevent a Black government from tilting completely towards the Soviet Union. The ANC’s position on these questions is unclear. This is behind the recent meeting between South African business representatives and the ANC.

In the U.S., newcomers to the anti-apartheid movement often give exclusive support to the ANC because of international media focus on that organization. However, the revisionist CPUSA, the Socialist Workers Party and other groups have attempted to obscure the existence of other significant forces. The Line of March and the Guardian newspaper also take this opportunist position. While we do not discourage general support for the ANC, progressive and revolutionary forces must grasp the breadth of the Azanian liberation movement and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the various organizations. It will of course be up to the Azanian people to determine their own leadership.

Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC)

The PAC’s ideological roots were laid in the ANC Youth League and the Africanist views of Anton Lembede. The two trends that attempted to coexist within the ANC from the 1940s through the 1950s finally parted company when Potlako Leballo, Robert Sobukwe and others formed the PAC on April 6-7, 1959.

Sobukwe assumed the major leadership role until his death in 1978. He was greatly influenced by George Padmore, the West Indian former communist, who had been expelled from the international communist movement. His writings and speeches reflected the Pan-Africanist views current at the time calling for a united Africa made up of free and independent states, of which South Africa would be one. He sought an ideological path that was neither communist nor tribal. His rejection of communism was based mainly on bad experiences with the chauvinist South African Communist Party. (Unfortunately, there have been similar developments in many countries.) However, from the outset he showed the highest respect for the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its role in fighting imperialism. This admiration later developed into recognition and material aid from the CPC, and the adoption of the Chinese view of protracted guerrilla war by the PAC.

The PAC made it clear that, contrary to the views expressed in attacks from the ANC and SACP, it was not chauvinist. It rejected multi-racialism, considering this a concession to European bigotry and a safeguarding of white privileges. The PAC held that the struggle in South Africa was for the repossession of African land from the foreign settlers. Anyone who expressed loyalty to Africa and was prepared to accept the democratic rule of the African majority was welcomed to be a part of the independent African state.

The Pan-Africanists insisted that white supremacy had to be destroyed if apartheid was to end. To them, part of this process included destroying the idea that Blacks could not lead themselves and that it was alright to have white leadership as long as it was “left” or liberal. While standing on this principle, they recruited Indians and some white militants to join their ranks.

The PAC was the first to put forward the name Azania for a free and independent Black republic in South Africa. The name was further popularized by the Black Consciousness groups during the 1970s. There is no evidence that this name was ever used historically to refer to any specific area. It was rather derived from Bantu languages, Arabic and the history of East Africa and the migration south of its people. The people of South Africa will ultimately determine what they will call their country. Until that time, we uphold the name Azania because of its implication of self-determination and national liberation.

The PAC was catapulted into the forefront by its role in organizing a non-violent campaign against the pass laws. It planned for massive civil disobedience and mass arrests. The ANC united with the campaign, but called for separate actions. On March 21, 1960, 69 protestors were killed in Sharpeville and 5 at Langa. Sobukwe and other leaders were arrested. Mass funerals, protests, pass burnings and strikes followed. The apartheid state responded by severe repression and mass arrests. The PAC and ANC were banned shortly afterward. With popular support and momentum on their side, the PAC moved to another phase of the struggle, the armed struggle.

The first efforts were carried out by Poqo, an armed unit of the PAC. The initial action took place on November 21, 1962, when an attacked was launched on a police station in Paarl. On February 2, 1963, 50 Africans attacked a road camp in the Transkei and killed 5 Europeans. On February 8, a white businessman was killed in Langa. There were attacks in other communities. These attacks were viewed as preparation for a major uprising.

The PAC had a view of a massive uprising that would allow it to seize power. This would include a general strike by Black workers which would be accompanied by an insurrection. However, the rapid and brutal response of the South African state changed the PAC’s general approach to the armed struggle. Under P. K. Leballo’s leadership, the PAC formulated a strategy for protracted guerrilla war, which was adopted from the China’s experience. Leballo’s proposed adoption of this strategy recognized the proletarian and urban character of the South African masses. Therefore, he called for armed struggle in the countryside as well as in the cities. The city was viewed as a second front that had to be opened. He looked very carefully at the armed rebellions by Blacks in the U.S. He paid tribute to the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and related forces. He declared that “the cities and the towns must belong by night to the Black masses, who will harass the white enemy with bombs and sniper fire, as many Afro-American communities have done in similar conditions.” This analogy referred to the major urban rebellions in the U.S.

The view of protracted war was given greater meaning as the state responded to the activity of many PAC cadre who remained in the country or managed to enter from neighboring Lesotho. By 1970, more than 13,000 PAC militants were reported to be in South African prisons. Ninety-seven had been hanged for the stand they took against the racist regime.

Support from the U.S. Movement

From the very beginning, the PAC found a great deal of support in the U.S. The oppressed nationality movements, especially the Afro-American movement, naturally gravitated to the PAC. Many because of their own perspectives were attracted to its Pan-Africanist. These forces built support for the PAC in the U.S. and established important links, some of which continue today.

Forces from the “New Left” and later the revolutionary communist movement came to support the PAC because of their own relationship to China and the CPC. They rejected the leadership or involvement of the Communist Party USA and the Soviet Union. Much of the mass and revolutionary movements of that period rejected the Soviet Union and its allies, particularly because of their lack of genuine support for the national liberation movements.

As much as anything else, U.S. forces could see that the PAC was heavily involved in mass and armed struggle at that time and had to be supported for that if for no other reason. In other words, PAC had objectively earned this support.


In spite of the wholesale government attack on its forces, the PAC remained active up through the Soweto period (1976). In fact, the Black Consciousness forces who led the struggles of the 1970s acknowledged that the roots of their movement came from the PAC. However, the students and youth did not swell the ranks of the PAC, even though they went into exile in large numbers.

Repression at home and internal problems abroad apparently contributed to the decline of the organization during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Press coverage from the period of the struggle against the “constitutional reforms” revealed no significant, if any, PAC activity. The South African press, from time to time, includes items on the arrest of PAC cadre for arms possession, etc. And one of the defendants in the recent “treason trials” was a PAC member, although they were all generally identified with the United Democratic Front (UDF). PAC leadership attributed this news blackout to a long standing feud with the liberal press in South Africa.

However, the group’s lack of visibility has raised serious questions about its present role in the Azanian struggle and its potential for leadership in the future. Apart from recognition by the U.N. and the Organization of African Unity, the PAC did not appear to have broad international support. Still, its diplomatic representatives maintained some good relations with solidarity forces in the U.S. This was especially true of David Sibeko, the PAC representative to the U.N., who had warm relations with many in the Black liberation movement. But several years ago, some U.S. activists who had formerly supported the PAC declared that the organization had declined, and that the ANC had assumed the leading role. This led to mutual polemics between the PAC and its former supporters.

Since the death of its former chairperson, John Nyati Pokela, in July of 1985, the PAC has attempted to reassert itself internationally. Johnson Mlambo was elected to follow him and the leadership was reorganized.

Several tours have been organized throughout the U.S. Elizabeth Sibeko, Minister for Labor and wife of the slain David Sibeko, among others, has been speaking to many groups, particularly Afro-American formations. The PAC is hoping to renew old ties and get an opportunity to put forward its views to the growing anti-apartheid movement, which in many cases is unfamiliar with the PAC.

It is possible, as PAC members claim, that they are inside the community struggles, the trade union movement and the military actions. And if this is the case, they may emerge in a more public leadership position in a future period.

The PAC’s position on armed struggle remains consistent. It continues to explain that the South African masses were forced into armed struggle and that this cannot be replaced with other tactics, though it does encourage other tactics to complement the necessary revolutionary violence. It feels that the subjective and objective factors are in existence and that all the people need is arms. It also asserts that the people need guns to defend themselves rather than just rocks and sticks. We have not seen any recent position of the PAC on how armed struggle should proceed. Presumably it is grappling with the same questions that the ANC is confronted with.

As in the past, the PAC is agitating for a united front of all forces fighting the apartheid regime. This fight against sectarianism is good, although some attribute it to the necessities of its weak position in the movement. It hints at spontaneous cooperation of military forces in the field and suggests formalizing this activity.

The PAC’s political program calls for a return of the land to the Black people, political rule by the Black majority and socialism. Although the organization seems to conceive of socialism as meaning nationalization of certain key industries and a mixed economy, its overall views on national liberation and democracy are basically sound. And historically the PAC has played an important role in the revolutionary struggle. It should be supported as one of the groups in the Azanian liberation movement.

Black Consciousness Organizations

Black Consciousness as a political outlook and trend emerged out of the student struggles of the 1970s. Both high school and university students began challenging apartheid policies in education. One of the notable struggles that took place during that time was Black opposition to instruction in the Afrikaans language, the language of the Dutch settlers.

The students took up other questions relating to apartheid and developed views on how to end it. In that period, thousands were killed, or beaten and jailed, by the police and army. Steve Biko, a leading force in this movement, was killed by the racist authorities while he was being held in jail for his anti-apartheid activities.

The Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCM(A)) was formed in April, 1980, as a body to coordinate the work of those living in exile who were members of some of the Black Consciousness organizations that were banned after the Soweto rebellion of 1976.

The BCM(A) declares its goal to be a free, socialist, democratic Azania, and seeks to overthrow the system of apartheid through a revolution led by the Black workers and masses. It is not clear exactly what its conception of socialism is, although it clearly opposes the private ownership of the wealth of Azania. However, it is not a Marxist-Leninist organization that uses scientific socialism as an analytical tool and methodology.

BCM is an organization with a revolutionary nationalist orientation which correctly sees that the Black masses make up the majority of the working class in Azania. To the extent that it can, it has committed itself to sending material aid to the struggles occurring at home, and has stated that it also seeks to train cadres politically and militarily to aid in the development of a people’s army for liberation.

BCM is opposed to a multi-national strategy for ending apartheid and moving to socialism. Whites in South Africa, in its view, are essentially labor aristocrats, a privileged stratum of the working class. Therefore, it does not call for any of the white workers or masses to come over to the side of the Azanian people in the fight for liberation. It has called for more “racist settlers” to be attacked by the masses in rebellion, and has sought to reduce the number of Blacks dying at the hands of other Blacks. In this effort, it is attempting to end the government inspired clashes between liberation groups that have developed. BCM has stated categorically that it opposes physical conflicts between the United Democratic Front, the Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) and the Azanian Students Movement. BCM recognizes that bad feelings between groups may have been the basis for earlier skirmishes, but that the South African regime has created criminal bands to attack the groups and incite them to intensify attacks on each other. This is similar to the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program that was used against the Black liberation movement, creating conflicts between different revolutionary groups.

Along with most other groups, BCM appears to be clear on how to deal with Black collaborators. Its overall military strategy, however, is not clear. Its call for more “racist settlers” to be attacked by the masses in rebellion suggests random targets of armed struggle, something that can set a struggle back.

With its roots in the Black Consciousness movement, the BCM(A) view on the national question is consistent with that advocated by PAC. It too sees the return of the land to the Azanian people as the primary question for the revolution and the basis on which they would create a socialist, democratic Azania. This is in line with the goal of an independent Black republic as a step towards a workers and peasants republic.

The BCM(A) understands that there are other patriotic forces outside of its stream that express the “diversity in which political consciousness among our people has developed historically.” It has not cited specific organizations or opinions of them, but has called for negotiations, discussions, mediations, etc. “towards the achievement of the broadest unity of all patriotic forces.” It insists, however, that this unity be in the furtherance of the objective of total liberation and not compromise basic principles and ideology.

While preparing to play a more vital role in the Azanian struggle, BCM(A) upholds the current struggle inside Azania as essential rather than inflating their importance in exile. From its documents, it appears that it has very close ties with AZAPO. We have not seen an official articulation of the need for a revolutionary Marxist party. Yet comrades have met individuals who hold the view that this is necessary. It may be that from the BCM(A) the impetus for forming such a party may come. On the other hand, it may join together with proponents of a new party that are found in other trends and in the trade unions.

Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO)

The Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) is a mass organization within South Africa that evolved out of the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s. It is a national organization but seems to be strongest in the Transvaal.

AZAPO thinks that the basic tenets of Black Consciousness are still important for the struggle. These are that: 1) the struggle for liberation has to include the psychological liberation of people from a slave mentality, 2) it is necessary to define what role, if any, whites can have in the liberation struggle of Black people and 3) the struggle is one for land.

AZAPO is a revolutionary nationalist group that has moved, ideologically and politically, beyond the earlier views of its trend. It is opposed to imperialism, sexism, collaboration with the ruling class, and supports independent working class organizations “free from bourgeois influence.”

AZAPO focuses on the social composition of the liberation movement and the ultimate economic and political goals. It holds the view that the working class must lead in the revolutionary struggle in Azania. Moreover, it thinks that the goal of this struggle must be socialism. In this struggle it calls for an alliance of the Black working class with the Black “middle class,” led by the workers.

The fight against apartheid, in its estimation, cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. In this struggle, it rejects alliances with whites. It has said that “white workers have objectively thrown their weight behind the capitalist class.”

From all appearances, AZAPO’s work is broad and its activities are numerous. Besides publishing the journal Frank Talk, it has established labor clinics, health programs, youth programs and other activities. At its Fifth Congress in December, 1984, it issued guidelines on how to best support the many work stoppages that are occurring around South Africa. And recently, it has established a trade union grouping, the Azanian Congress of Trade Unions, which at this point does not appear to be affiliated with either the COSATU or CUSA trade union federations.

On a broader scale, AZAPO belongs to the National Forum Committee, a coalition of groups that was initiated by Black Consciousness forces and supports the Manifesto of the Azanian People. It supported this effort in opposition to those conciliators who were considering a national convention with the regime to negotiate and draw up a new constitution. AZAPO rejected this, advancing the view that political power and land must be transferred to the indigenous owners.

AZAPO received international recognition when it led opposition to the January, 1985, visit to South Africa by U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Its aim in these actions was to expose the liberal capitalist essence of Kennedy and his opposition to real Black political power in South Africa.

Apparently, AZAPO sees a one stage revolution in Azania, that is, a socialist revolution that would sweep away apartheid. This is a view held by revolutionary nationalists in other struggles. In rejecting a two stage revolution, that is, national democratic as a transition to socialist revolution, many movements end up calling socialist the initial stage of their victory against imperialism (independence), while it really is not socialist.

National Forum Committee

The National Forum Committee was formed in June, 1983. Representing 170 organizations, the committee was designed primarily to “map out a closer working relationship of all organizations notwithstanding their ideological orientation … providing a forum to bring together in discussion, a broad spectrum of groups and individuals opposed to the apartheid regime.”

In many respects the National Forum is a united front formation of the Black Consciousness trend just as the United Democratic Front (UDF) is a united front of the various Freedom Charter supporters. While the committee clearly has views close to those of the Black Consciousness organizations, it reportedly has members who are supporters of the ANC and UDF, both of which oppose Black Consciousness. This illustrates how complex the situation is and how fluid things remain. Certainly, the people are struggling for a united front. The various united front organizations and trade union federations, and the crossovers from different trends within them, demonstrate this.

One product of the founding of the National Forum Committee is a document entitled “Manifesto of the Azanian People.” The statement pinpoints racial capitalism as the cause of the oppression faced by the Black masses in South Africa, and adds that the struggle against apartheid “is no more than the point of departure for our liberation efforts.”

The central principles of the Manifesto are “anti-racism, anti-imperialism, non-collaboration with the oppressor and its political instruments, independent, working-class organization, and opposition to all alliances with ruling class parties.” Other important areas of the struggle mentioned in the Manifesto include the central role of Black workers, support for the liberation of Namibia, the need for a people’s culture, and the relationship between the working masses and the land in a liberated Azania.

The Manifesto may be the first document to put forward goals for the struggle that is fundamentally different from the Freedom Charter of 1955. It will be important for us to see how many people in the coming months and years rally around this document and the organizations that support it.

United Democratic Front (UDF)

During this current upsurge the UDF has emerged as a fairly powerful mass organization. It came together in response to the Botha regime’s sham constitutional reforms. These reforms called, in part, for the creation of two additional houses of the South African parliament. One was to be for the Indian population and the other for the so-called Coloreds, neither being more than a consultative body, with power remaining with the white body. The proposed “tricameral” system excluded the Black majority. A call was issued for community organizations to come together to oppose the changes and boycott the phony election. Rev. Allen Boesak, a reformist minister of mixed race, was one of the initiators of the call.

Over 400 civic, religious and other groups were represented at the founding conference on August 20, 1983. The organizations ranged from highly developed ones like the Natal Indian Congress to small tenants and sports groups, etc. It is not a highly organized, disciplined body and is held together by the immediacy of their current work. Altogether, the organizations that make up the Front represent over one million people.

The work of the UDF was very successful in opposing the elections and they have become very visible in funerals and other protests against apartheid in general and the state of emergency in particular. The Botha regime has attempted to crush this formation, although it has not been banned. Many of the leadership were held for trial under the bogus treason laws. The government was subsequently forced to drop the charges.

The UDF’s program is threefold. One, to bring together all the forces opposing apartheid and to promote Black unity. Two, to oppose the constitutional reforms. And three, to “continue the struggle for a South Africa which will be undivided; to work for a country in which we will have a process of democracy from which no single South African will be excluded.” The UDF’s founding declaration says:

“We the freedom loving people of South Africa say with one voice to the whole world that we cherish the vision of a united, democratic South Africa based on the will of the people through united action against the evils of apartheid, economic and all other forms of exploitation.

“We stand for a single, non-racial unfragmented South Africa. A South Africa free of Bantustans and Group Areas; We say, all forms of oppression and exploitation must end.”

This program is fairly close to the Freedom Charter, although it would not be accurate to claim, as the Botha regime has, that the UDF is merely the internal wing of the ANC. ANC forces and sympathizers clearly play leading roles in the organization. And Boesak, who is not a functioning leader but a patron, expresses unity with the Freedom Charter.

Various political forces have come around the UDF. There are indications within it of a left wing, which does not dominate the decisions or the tactical line. The trade unions have not joined, except for the South African Allied Workers Union and the Council of Unions of South Africa. The newly formed trade union federation COSATU is still studying its future relationship to the UDF.

The UDF has come into conflict with the Black consciousness forces because it allows whites in its ranks. There is also a conflict, internally as well as with AZAPO and others, over the question of class in South Africa and economic policies. There have been physical clashes and a few deaths as a result, but both sides are seeking to eliminate such conflicts and have no doubts that these things have been instigated by the police and their Black collaborators. Because of its willingness to challenge the apartheid rulers on one level or another, the UDF has won mass support and will continue to be a factor during the rest of this period in the South African revolution, not as a revolutionary organization but as a mass group, helping to intensify the instability of the racist government.

Trade Unions

The pivotal role of workers in the South African liberation struggle is more apparent than in most. While in its early stages, as in most other colonized nations, the agrarian features of the movement for self-determination were primary, they have been replaced by the working class character of the Azanian masses. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa, the peasant masses have been transformed into a massive industrial work force.

Owing to the settler nature of the South African state, the resources were not simply extracted from the earth and sent off to the oppressor nation for processing. Rather, large portions of this wealth were invested in the development of industry. These steps helped to free South Africa from dependence on European manufacturers. With this aggressive build up of industry, in the last 100 years South Africa has evolved into the most advanced industrial country in Africa and equivalent in economic power to many of the lesser imperialist nations of Europe.

In addition to the wealth taken from the African soil, the industrial base was built firmly and exclusively on African labor. It could not have been built without it nor can it continue without it. The South African government has always been clear on this and has responded swiftly and brutally to almost every attempt by African workers to flex their powerful muscles.

Even in its infancy the Black working class demonstrated its revolutionary potential by leading the mass struggles of the first part of this century, even before the ANC became a significant factor in the resistance movement.

After World War I, almost parallel to the Afro-American movement in the U.S., the degree of militancy among African workers increased. In the period after the war, dock workers and municipal workers struck. These were followed by a massive mine workers strike in 1920 by some 50,000 to 70,000 Blacks. It was crushed by the police and a number of Africans were killed.

It was in this atmosphere that the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) was founded by Clements Kedalie, a school teacher and clerk from Malawi (then known as Nyasaland) in 1919. It started as a dock workers union in Capetown and grew rapidly in numbers across southern Africa. As the first mass organization of the Black proletariat, it grew to 100,000 workers by 1927. Farm workers as well as industrial workers flocked to the ICU. It began to take on the character of a mass organization rather than a trade union.

Kedalie was charismatic and a great orator. But he was weak organizationally and never developed a clear cut and long range program. With these weaknesses the union could not sustain the rapid growth it experienced. Kedalie would tolerate no criticism of his work style and suggestions for improvements by way of reorganization. Because much of the criticism came from Black communists in the ICU, who held leadership positions, he launched an anti-communist campaign as a cover for his shortcomings. The flames were fanned by British Social Democrats and Liberals who wanted to see the ICU free of communist influence. The structural and programmatic weaknesses and the internal struggles helped the formation to crumble by 1929.

The problems with the SACP, however, were real. They generally stemmed from the vacillation of the party on the national liberation aspects of the South African question. The SACP supported the 1922 strike of white mine workers, which was based on opposition to Black workers making gains in the mines. The white mine workers formulated the slogan “Workers of the World Unite and Fight for a White South Africa.” This chauvinist concession to white privilege is related to the question of privilege which has placed the white proletariat overall outside the ranks of the forces for national liberation and socialism.

The beginning of the consolidation of white privilege took place during the depression years, when almost 1/2 million whites were in poverty. The government decided to resolve this problem by replacing Black workers with white workers. The general outlook was that no white worker should be out of work if a Black worker had a job. Part of insuring this was a more determined effort to smash the organizations of Black workers. As the economy came to rely more heavily on Black workers, the struggle of white workers to make sure that they were not replaced by Blacks intensified. White trade unions and the rank and file of the Nationalist Party are the institutionalization of this thrust. All of this not withstanding, white workers in general continue to exercise some type of boss or supervisory relationship over Black workers.

The years of World War II brought more Black workers into industry to replace whites who had gone off to war. This enhanced the position of Black workers. There were strikes in 1942, 1943, and 1946. In August of 1946, the African Mine workers Union called a strike of between 60,000 and 70,000 miners. The strike had the support of the Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU), which called a general strike. The state responded by crushing the week-long walkout. Living compounds of the mine workers were surrounded, union officers arrested and underground sit-down strikers were forced to the surface with brutality. Twelve workers were killed and 1,200 wounded. The mine workers union and the CNETU were just about destroyed by this defeat.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). It was formed in 1955 by unions that broke away from a racist trade union federation (the predecessor of today’s Trade Union Council of South Africa – TUCSA) and the remnants of the CNETU. Clandestine members of the banned SACP were involved, of course. SACTU was aligned with the “Congress Movement”, which included the ANC and worked very closely with them. It took a militant stand politically but never lost a trade union thrust. By 1961, the non-racial federation had 35 unions with 53,000 members, of whom nearly 39,000 were African. It organized around better conditions for workers and wage increases. It was also involved in the stay-at-home campaigns of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

When the PAC forces split from the ANC in 1959, their forces formed the Federation of Free Trade Unions of South Africa from five breakaway SACTU unions. It had little impact. Its main affiliate was the Garment Workers Union, led by Luchy Mvubelo, a former SACTU leader.

SACTU was the voice of labor in the Congress alliance and as a result, when state repression came down in 1961, many of its members were banned (although the organization was not officially banned), forcing its leaders into exile. Only the Food and Canning Workers remain today from that period. Trade unions of various political tendencies acknowledge the critical and historical role played by SACTU.

As part of the upsurges of the 1970s, from 1973 to 1979 there were nearly 1,600 labor disputes with approximately 254,000 Black workers going on strike. As a result, and as a concession to Black workers, the government finally allowed the legal organization of Black unions. The ability of unions to now represent and negotiate for workers, even with unacceptable limitations, boosted the development of Black unions or what became known as the Independent Union Movement. Many are Black unions and others are non-racial. Most belong to independent trade union federations. Others, some of which are very influential and powerful, remain unaffiliated. As of 1984, over 800,000 workers belonged to these labor organizations. There are vast differences in terms of their organizational structure and their tactics. Yet there is a commonality in their opposition to the exploitation of the employers and the apartheid system. They all seem to grasp the interrelationship between the two enemies.

Many of the differences and debate inside the trade union movement revolve around the question of how much to emphasize the overall struggle against the regime, and how much to emphasize trade union issues. How can workers best oppose and topple apartheid, and how should the trade unions relate to organizations of other classes that are also opposed to apartheid. These are some of the key questions. A related and crucial debate has to do with who should lead the workers movement, the role of whites in Black trade unions, and how to deal with white supremacy. To a large extent, the trade unions represent the different trends in the South African mass movement as a whole.

One trend, represented, for example, by the National Automobile and Allied Workers Union (NAAWU), emphasizes strong shop floor organization and industry-wide strength. It maintains strong relationships with the auto workers unions in the U.S. and Europe. It has supported and influenced other unions in its industry, finally in 1983 being able to pull of a strike by workers in different cities working for the same company around common demands. The union holds that this is the most effective way to challenge the apartheid regime. It belonged to the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU). FOSATU was an independent union federation formed in 1979, which had a membership of over 100,000 workers in nearly 500 factories. It had nine affiliated unions and was predominantly Black. As part of FOSATU, NAAWU joined the recently established Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

The other trend, represented in the same industry, is the Motor Assembly Components Workers Union (MACWUSA). This union has won some struggles for auto workers but at the same time has been heavily engaged in community struggles against apartheid. One of its leaders, Thozamile Botha, was fired from his job because of his activities in Port Elizabeth. He was later forced to go into exile. The union was unaffiliated but also joined COSATU in 1985.

There is perhaps a third trend. This is represented by the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU). It broke away from the Black Allied Workers Union, which was part of the Black Consciousness trend. It is extremely militant and openly and defiantly political. It is of the opinion that “there can be no normal unionism in an abnormal society.” It is viewed by some as being as much a mass movement as a union. In regard to this the group says that it represents workers who have to deal with transportation costs and rents as well. Therefore, it has to deal with the total worker, inside and outside the workplace. It is a strong opponent of the so-called “homelands” policy and has come into sharp conflict with the puppet leaders in the Ciskei, where many of its members are from. Ciskei maintains separate labor laws. The SAAWU also agitates against the group areas act and the pass laws. Its leader has been detained many times, thrown in a psychiatric hospital and escaped assassination when his house was destroyed by arson.

The SAAWU was very cautious towards other trends and the talks of unity. It underwent some splits in 1984, apparently over whether or not the union was run on a professional basis. There have been personality conflicts as well. Surprisingly, it too joined COSATU.


The formation of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU) during November and December of 1985 is a major development on the labor front. It was the culmination of years of unity talks combined with the recognition by trade unionists that the time could not be better for such a merger. Under the slogan “one country, one federation”, COSATU has brought together the FOSATU, many unaffiliated unions and at least one union from the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA). CUSA was formed in 1980 because of differences with the FOSATU leadership. It is generally seen as part of the Black Consciousness trend and promotes Black leadership of the unions. However, although all of its affiliates are Black unions, it is open to unions of all races.

The founding convention of COSATU was attended by 870 delegates, representing nearly 450,000 dues paying members. It represents workers in all the major industrial sections and has plans for an organizing drive in agriculture. Member unions come from every industrial region of South Africa and even Namibia.

COSATU represents an advance because it was built on clearly political grounds. In this regard the initial congress said “we finally commit ourselves to a united democratic South Africa free of oppression and exploitation.” It is the federation’s intent to “put the stamp of the working class on South African politics more firmly than ever before.” What is notable about the merger is the fact that unions with different approaches have come together under one banner.

The COSATU program appears to be one of revolutionary trade unionism, although some of its formulations are fuzzy. On trade union questions it is sound in its democratic structures and projections. It addresses the women’s question head on and without hesitancy. One of the immediate tasks is to work on mergers in order to develop one national union for each industry. This is one of its priorities.

The program takes up all the political questions as well. It opposes the pass laws, bantustans and the state of emergency, and it supports divestment. It expresses the need for alliances with other organizations that are progressive or represent other classes but only if the activity is in the interest of the workers.

On the question of systems, economic and political, COSATU seeks a “restructuring of the economy which will allow the creation of wealth to be democratically controlled and fairly shared.” And in reference to political rights it supports “one person, one vote in a unitary state.” Moreover, it holds that South Africa’s bitter history of industrialization and exploitation has forged one nation.

Much of this sounds like ANC formulations on these questions. Who is part of this nation that was forged? Who is to share this wealth? It can be assumed that “controlled and shared” are veiled references to socialism. The program speaks to all workers on various questions but there is no explanation of the role of white workers and the privileges they receive under the apartheid system.

The programs and demands are sharp enough and comprehensive enough to demonstrate that the leadership are not just militant trade unionists, but come from various political tendencies. Likewise, it shows that the spontaneous movement of the workers, after years of struggle and repression, is gravitating to a program based on its own interests. It remains to be seen how much the workers embrace this program and fight to carry it out. It is positive that trade unions that actually represent workers are organized on this basis.

Congress documents and interviews also reflect some syndicalist views, although these do not reflect the position of the federation as a whole. That is, it consistently puts forward the need for working class leadership and working class control of society but neglect discussion of the forms of organization necessary to achieve it and the forms of state required to maintain it. This kind of thinking suggests that the trade unions can lead the revolutionary struggle of the workers and that no party is necessary. This is probably a reflection of different views in the organization and certain compromises.

After the Congress the federation began developing views on how it would work with organizations like the UDF, ANC, etc., and how it will participate in the intensifying struggle in the country as a whole. Life itself brought some early decisions on these questions. COSATU participated in the National Parents Crisis Committee, which raised a number of demands in relation to apartheid education and as a tactic called on students not to boycott schools this year. Additionally, the Committee and the coalition around it called for a work stoppage on May Day. This successful call, which kept one and a half million workers home on this holiday of the international working class, was obviously influenced by COSATU.

The formation of COSATU has highlighted other problems and contradictions. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is one of the largest (over 100,000) and most militant in the country, organized the conference and joined. What is significant about this is that this union was part of CUSA and squarely in the Black Consciousness trend. The other Black Consciousness unions, representing over 50,000 workers, CUSA included, did not join. We have not seen their positions on the merger or their perspective on the road forward. The decisions they make are important given their relationship to the broader liberation movement. Much more attention must be given to the CUSA unions and their activity in the workplace and in other struggles.

The Revolutionary and Progressive Organizations and the Importance of a Communist Party

In any struggle of the oppressed masses against imperialism, or of the working class against capitalism, the question of what organization can rally the masses and carry the struggle through its various stages to victory and socialism is crucial. As we have seen, the situation of the revolutionary and progressive movement within South Africa is not a simple one. There are a number of revolutionary anti-imperialist groups and several mass organizations fighting against the South African regime. But there is as yet no genuine Marxist-Leninist party or a united front led by such a party to provide consistent leadership to the Azanian revolution. In order to evaluate the organizations that exist today, we must view them in the context of our understanding of the different tasks in the stages of the revolution.

We see the first stage of the revolutionary movement in South Africa as one that would smash the racist settler regime and set up an independent Black Republic. This republic would immediately abolish all the apartheid laws, system of reserves (“homelands”) and the whole legal structure that has been designed to oppress the Azanian people. It would give equal rights to all people. But it would have to go much farther than that. It would have to expropriate without compensation all the mines, factories and plantations of the foreign imperialists and the settler bourgeoisie. It would have to deal with the land question in a revolutionary way. Anything less than this would lead to freedom only in form, not in content. The second stage would be one of socialism, in which the Azanian proletariat would exercise political and economic power.

The revolutionary anti-imperialist organizations fall into two main trends with regard to these tasks. The ANC puts forth a revolutionary democratic position. It calls for the end of the apartheid regime, and equal rights for all people in a multi-racial South Africa. But it does not have a correct position on national liberation, which would lead it to call for a Black Republic. The organization’s position on confiscation of property of the settler and imperialist bourgeoisie is not clear, and it would not be able to lead the struggle to the stage of socialist transformation of Azanian society. However, the ANC is one of the major organizations in the liberation movement, with a long history of struggle. It has been challenging the apartheid regime militarily, and agitating and organizing in the townships. It has taken a firm position against Black collaborators with the regime. Leaders like Nelson Mandela have been consistent in refusing to renounce the armed struggle in exchange for their freedom.

The PAC as well as the Black Consciousness organizations put forth a revolutionary nationalist position. The PAC calls for national liberation leading to socialism. It emphasizes the need for armed struggle to overthrow the settler regime, and has had an exemplary history in the struggle. Despite the strengths of many of its views, the PAC’s current organizational state leaves it playing a much reduced role in the struggle.

The Black Consciousness organizations, such as AZAPO, call for the abolition of apartheid and the return of the land to the Azanian masses. They also uphold the need for armed struggle. They have consistently opposed U.S. imperialism and its role in South Africa. The Black Consciousness philosophy has forced Blacks to challenge white supremacy and views of their own inferiority. The organizations are not playing the major part that they did in the period following the Soweto uprising. But they still have a very important role in the townships and schools, and maintain ideological, political and organizational influence. They have advanced the central position of the Azanian workers in the revolution and see socialism as leading to a society free from exploitation. Although their views on socialism are not completely scientific, this trend may provide some of the seeds for a future revolutionary workers party.

The mass organizations, such as the UDF and the trade unions, play a different role in the struggle. They encompass groups with different political positions and, in the case of the UDF, different class forces. As such, they can not lead the revolutionary struggle. However, they have played a major role in mobilizing the masses against the regime.

The UDF has been important in many of the mass anti-apartheid protests, such as the boycotts, stay-at-home campaigns, and funerals for those killed in the struggle. At the same time, the reformist politicians and ministers have considerable influence, and also leadership in many of its sections. They try to steer the masses away from revolutionary actions against the regime and its collaborators.

The growth of the trade union movement is one of the most significant aspects of the current revolutionary upsurge. The formation of COSATU marks the entrance of the working class as a major force in the anti-apartheid struggle. This reflects the fact that South Africa has the largest and most concentrated working class on the African continent, which will help in the eventual formation of a revolutionary proletarian party. The petty bourgeois reformists in the U.S. anti-apartheid movement generally fail to emphasize the role of the working class. We must put forward the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” in the struggle in South Africa.

We have said that there is no genuine communist party in South Africa today. Such a party is necessary to give consistent leadership to the national liberation struggle and to continue the struggle for socialism and ultimately a classless society. Only a communist party can provide such leadership because it is based on the working class, the most consistently revolutionary class in modern society. It uses Marxism-Leninism, that is, scientific socialism, as its ideology, which is a guide to the twists and turns in the class struggle. The historical experience of national liberation wars led by revolutionary communist parties, as in Albania, China and Vietnam, for example, have led to the decisive defeat of imperialism and have opened the way for socialism. National liberation wars that have been led by other class forces have made heroic advances and led to significant victories. But at the same time, without a renewed revolutionary struggle, they have not led to a qualitative break with imperialism, much less an advance on the road to socialism. This may be seen in the Algerian war of independence, for example, or the war in Zimbabwe against the racist Smith regime. In both, while there have been certain gains in equality and democratic rights for the masses, the countries have again settled in to new forms of dependence on imperialism.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) has long ago demonstrated that it is neither communist nor revolutionary. Its earlier tendency towards chauvinism and the downplaying of national liberation in Azania has led it to follow the general revisionist formula of peaceful transition to socialism. It has rendered itself incapable of providing vanguard leadership to the revolutionary movement, although it still has a certain influence, especially through its relations with the ANC. Although it undoubtedly still has revolutionary elements within its ranks, the SACP has been dismissed by most revolutionary activists as well as large sections of the people.

There are various forces that have called for the formation of a revolutionary communist party in South Africa. As far as we know, most of these forces are small, and are mainly in exile. They also have strong differences over ideological and political views. We hope that they are able to involve themselves in the current upsurge, where they can learn from as well as give guidance to the mass movement. For a genuine party can only be built in the heat of class and national struggle. Among the main anti-imperialist organizations, there has been talk among supporters of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania about the need for a party. However, this is not part of the organization’s program, and we do not know whether there is internal debate on this question within the BCM(A) or within the Black Consciousness groups inside South Africa, such as AZAPO.

In our view, we should encourage South African revolutionaries to struggle for the establishment of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, and give whatever support we can to that effort. We can also help by sharing the many positive and negative lessons we have learned in our continuing fight to construct such a party in the U.S.

But the struggle against oppression proceeds with or without the leadership of a communist party. The different anti-imperialist organizations, that is, ANC, PAC, and the Black Consciousness groups, although they are led overall by petty bourgeois and national bourgeois class forces, all have a history of revolutionary struggle against apartheid, national oppression and the South African regime. The mass organizations, such as the UDF and the trade unions, also have a significant role to play. They should all be supported by everyone in the U.S. who wishes to give genuine aid to the revolutionary struggle in South Africa.

Imperialist Relations with South Africa

The liberals and reformists, in calling for divestment, act as if the U.S. corporations that invest in South Africa were merely getting their hands dirty by investing in apartheid. But the real relations between the multinational corporations and South Africa are much deeper than that. These corporations are joint partners with the South African monopolies and government in the exploitation of the natural and human resources of the Azanian people.

The development of South Africa as a modern settler colonial state coincides with the transition to imperialism, i.e. monopoly capitalism, by the major European powers and the U.S. One of the features of imperialism is the export of capital in search of maximum profits. These profits are gained through cheap labor, raw materials and markets for the goods produced. South Africa provided all of these. In South Africa we also see other features of imperialism, such as the division of the world among monopoly capitalist corporations, and the division of the world among competing imperialist powers.

After Britain defeated the Boers around the turn of the century, South Africa became a dominion of the British empire. The main monopoly corporations involved in South Africa were British, and this is still true today. However, U.S. corporations have been rapidly increasing their investment in South Africa, especially since World War II. This follows a pattern seen all over the world. The U.S., the dominant imperialist country after the war, edged out Britain, France and the other colonial powers from their former colonies, bringing these areas into its sphere of influence. All the major Western imperialist powers, Britain, the U.S., West Germany, Japan, France and others, shared in the super-profits to be made off of Black labor in South Africa. By 1976, investment by all the imperialist powers amounted to almost 1/4 of all investment in South Africa.


Mining was one of the chief attractions of South Africa for the British settler colonialists. It became the first area of monopoly investment. South Africa has vast mineral resources, including huge reserves of gold, diamonds, uranium, chrome, etc. Gold in South Africa, which has almost half of the world’s known reserves, has been mined since the end of the 19th century. The mining companies’ profits are based on the cheap labor of the African migrant workers. What is now the largest gold mining monopoly in South Africa, the Anglo-American Corporation, was formed after World War I by a South Africa diamond monopolist, Ernest Oppenheimer, in partnership with the U.S. Morgan Guaranty Bank and other U.S. and British capital. Anglo-American and its affiliated companies now have investments in mining throughout southern Africa (including Zambia’s huge copper mines), as well as in manufacturing, trade, finance and real estate. The Anglo-American Group is the largest monopoly capitalist company in South Africa, with over $10 billion in assets. One U.S. multinational closely linked to Anglo-American is Engelhard Minerals and Chemicals. Its founder, Charles Engelhard, was an open supporter of the South African regime. He was also a large contributor to the Democratic Party and a good friend of former presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Another affiliate of Anglo-American, De Beers, controls 85% of the international diamond market, through mines in South Africa and other countries in the region. De Beers ships many of its diamonds to the Israeli settler state, which is the world’s largest diamond cutter and polisher.

The Union Carbide corporation mines and smelts chrome in Zimbabwe. In the mid-1970s it opened a chrome refinery in South Africa, and it produces about 20% of South Africa’s chrome. Its former president, Kenneth Rush, was Deputy Secretary in both the Defense and State Departments in the early 1970s.

The Soviet social-imperialists (“socialist” in words, imperialists in deeds) also have connections to South Africa in the area of minerals. After the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s and its appearance on the world market, the Soviet Union began marketing its diamonds through De Beers’ international cartel. While this was at first done directly and openly, after the Sharpsville massacre the Soviet Union dealt with De Beers through intermediaries. More recently, the Soviet Union has been holding “unofficial” discussions with South African monopolists to determine pricing policies of gold and platinum as well. These discussions are quite significant because South Africa and the Soviet Union are by far the largest producers of these two minerals and could easily control the market between them.


But mining, the first area of exploitation in Azania, is no longer the only one or even the main one. Especially since World War II, multinational corporations from the U.S. and other countries have joined with South African monopolists and the regime to build up a strong manufacturing industry. The South African regime, with financial and technological aid from the imperialists, set up companies that were partly state owned to produce key materials for this industry, such as iron and steel, chemicals and electricity.

Britain is still the imperialist power with the largest share in South Africa’s steel industry, through the British Steel Corporation and others. It also dominates the chemical industry, through British Petroleum and Imperial Chemical Industries. U.S. corporations, however, are heavily involved in other sectors, such as motor vehicles. All of the three main U.S. auto monopolies have heavy investments in South Africa. GM, with $220 million in fixed investments there by the late 1970s, owned three plants in the Port Elizabeth area. The majority of its 3,675 employees were of mixed race, while only 10% were Black. The reformist minister, Leon Sullivan, who introduced the “Sullivan Principles”, is a member of GM’s Board of Directors. These principles justify U.S. monopoly investment in South Africa under the guise of providing “equal pay” for Blacks and whites in the same job categories. This is basically meaningless, however, since very few Blacks work in the same jobs as whites. This is similar to the “separate but equal” education that Blacks were legally confined to in the U.S. before 1954. Ford owns a manufacturing and assembly plant, with about 4,000 workers. Chrysler set up a factory near the Bophutatswana labor reserve to make use of the large pool of cheap unskilled labor; although it was sold to an Anglo American subsidiary in 1976, Chrysler still retains a major interest. Overall, U.S. companies control 23% of the South African auto industry. West German auto monopolies such as Volkswagen and Daimler-Benz, and Japanese companies such as Toyota and Datsun-Nissan, also control a large section of the South African auto industry.

Mining, May 1983Manufacturing, May 1983
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The Japanese government, in an effort to avoid the protests that other imperialist countries have encountered for their support of the racist South African regime, prohibits direct investment in South Africa by Japanese companies. This, however, has not prevented these companies from involvement in South Africa. Toyota, for example, set up Toyota South Africa as a South African franchise holder, while Datsun-Nissan exported capital to set up its South African plant through its U.S. subsidiary.

The multinational motor vehicle companies, as well as other corporations, all provide supplies to the South African military and police, despite a mandatory UN embargo on arms sales. Some of this is done by direct sales from their South African subsidiaries, some by sales of equipment and parts that have both civilian and military use, such as trucks, locomotives, jet engines, etc. The Israeli settler state has also been used, since it has licenses to produce certain jet engines and electronic equipment, which it then supplies to the South African regime.

Oil Refining

The one important natural resource that seems to be totally lacking in South Africa is oil. However, that did not prevent the multinational oil companies from making South Africa the center for their oil refineries for the whole southern African region. These companies import crude oil from their wells in other parts of Africa, sometimes even from other oppressed nations in Asia or Latin America, refine it in South Africa, and sell the refined oil throughout the region. The main monopoly capitalist corporations involved are the U.S. companies Mobil and Caltex (a combination of Standard Oil of California and Texaco), and Shell and British Petroleum. Together, these four supply about 75% of the petrochemical products for the southern African region. The U.S. oil monopolies alone control about 1/2 of South Africa’s oil refining and petrochemical industry. In 1973, the main U.S. oil companies had $274 million invested in South Africa. Since then, the U.S. Department of Commerce has refused to release figures on U.S. petroleum investments in South Africa to protect the companies. Also, though South Africa has no oil, it has large coal reserves. The South African regime therefore built up a state corporation, SASOL, to produce coal from oil. This was done with technology provided mainly by U.S. and West German monopolies. The main U.S. companies involved were the engineering firm Fluor, Raytheon and Honeywell. Fluor’s South African business made up 13% of its sales around the world in 1978.

Unlike mining and manufacturing, the oil refining and petrochemicals industries are relatively capital-intensive. That is, their investments in machinery, raw materials, etc. are high while the amount of labor needed is low. Therefore, the monopolies benefit only indirectly from low-paid Black labor. In these industries, whose workers are mostly skilled, Blacks form less than half the labor force. However, the expanding manufacturing industry in South Africa provides a large market for these products. Also, these monopolies were able to use South Africa as a base to expand their sales throughout the region. The growing South African military is another major customer for oil. Finally, it benefited the oil monopolies to have their refining capacity separated from their production of crude oil, providing protection from any threat of expropriation.

High Technology Industries

U.S. monopolies play a particularly important role in the development of the high technology industries in South Africa. General Electric’s South African subsidiary is the largest electric company in the country. An ITT affiliate, Standard Telephone and Cable (STC), is one of South Africa’s largest manufacturing companies; although most of its shares were sold to a South African firm in 1977, ITT still has 36% ownership. IBM is a major supplier of computers to South Africa. Its subsidiary, IBM South Africa, employs 2,600 sales and service people, most of whom are white. The racist regime itself is one of IBM’s main customers. Companies from the U.S. and other imperialist countries, mainly West Germany, have also sold nuclear reactors and provide technology for the construction of nuclear power plants in South Africa. South Africa, together with its colony Namibia, possesses the fourth largest known uranium reserves in the world. It sells uranium to Britain, West Germany, France and Belgium. It has an installation in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia which is apparently a testing facility for nuclear weapons. The surreptitious explosion of a nuclear device in 1979 in the South Atlantic was probably a product of the South African nuclear industry. Fluor and Raytheon, who are involved in South Africa’s coal-to-oil conversion plants, both do nuclear construction in the U.S. and may have been involved in developing the nuclear facilities in South Africa.


During the colonial period, British companies set up plantations in the best agricultural areas in South Africa and other parts of the region. These plantations concentrated on cash crops such as sugar and tobacco, to sell in the region and for export to Europe and later the U.S. These plantations thrived on cheap African labor, as well as imported Indian contract workers. In the post-World War II period, these plantations became multinational agribusinesses, with mainly British but also U.S. capital. They not only expanded and mechanized the plantation system, but also developed associated processing industries. They continued to sell their products in South Africa, the rest of the region and abroad.

The wages of the non-white agricultural laborers were even lower than those of the mining and manufacturing workers. Also, the mechanization of agriculture led to increasing unemployment, pushing many of these workers back into the already overcrowded labor reserves. Still, in the mid-’70s, the number of agricultural workers (regular and seasonal) was about 870,000. The main multinational agribusinesses involved in South Africa included the British firm Unilever, the Swiss based Nestles and the British American Tobacco company.


Another feature of imperialism generally is the creation of finance capital through the merging of bank and industrial capital. The role of finance capital can be clearly seen in South Africa as well. The banks of the imperialist countries played a crucial role in financing the industrial development of the South African economy and developing its economic power throughout the region. At the same time they tied South Africa ever more closely to the economies of the imperialist countries.

Of the 20 largest banks in South Africa, 12 are primarily foreign owned, holding about 2/3 of the assets of the top 20. The largest are the British banks Barclays and Standard, together with their affiliates. Both these banks originally became involved in South Africa by exporting capital to develop the Transvaal gold mines in the 1800s. The largest, Barclays, helped set up the Anglo-American Corporation, which is still its largest shareholder. Barclays also set up subsidiaries in other countries throughout the region, as well as in other parts of Africa. Since World War II, U.S. banks have also penetrated South Africa. As with the British banks, their primary role was to finance investment by the industrial capitalists of their home countries. The main U.S. bank in South Africa, Citibank, has branches in the key industrial centers. Its Board of Directors includes members from almost all of the major U.S. monopolies with investments in South Africa. Chase Manhattan, controlled by the Rockefeller family, is the second most important U.S. bank in South Africa; it has now merged its interests there with the British bank, Standard. The largest bank in the U.S., Bank of America, is indirectly involved in South Africa through a British partner. French, and more recently West German, banks are also increasingly becoming involved in South Africa.

Besides mobilizing capital for the monopolies of their home countries, the multinational banks also provide loans to South African monopolies and the regime itself, including for military purposes. South African law requires foreign banks to buy South African Defense Bonds. The banks also provide the foreign exchange needed by South Africa to import heavy industrial equipment. As the world overproduction crisis hit South Africa in the late 1970s, South Africa’s foreign debt increased greatly, to $11.5 billion by 1978. The International Monetary Fund, which also provides loans for South Africa, generally imposes austerity measures to ensure that the banks are repaid. In the case of South Africa, the IMF apparently felt that the super-exploitation of the Azanian people served this purpose. One of the major guarantees for South Africa’s debt is its gold reserves. South Africa’s gold is brokered through banks in Zurich, Switzerland, as well as London, England, and also through the sale of Kruggerrands. The U.S. is now the largest market for these, with West Germany second. Sales of Kruggerrands brought South Africa $650 million in 1978 alone. Thus the banks, besides aiding in the exploitation of the Azanian people by the imperialist monopolies, also profit directly from the labor of the gold miners.

So we see that South Africa has become a developed monopoly capitalist country, whose political economy is intertwined with and dependent upon the imperialist countries. All the key sectors, mining, manufacturing, finance, etc., have grown up and developed tied to the monopoly corporations of Britain and the U.S., as well as West Germany, France, Japan and others. South Africa has also become the dominant power in the region, serving as a base from which its own monopolies and those of the imperialists branch out into the surrounding countries.

The development of the South African economy takes place side by side with, and based upon, the tremendous super-exploitation and impoverishment of the Azanian people. In the shantytowns that surround the major industrial centers, the Blacks and other oppressed peoples provide the cheap labor force on which the South African economy is based. The labor reserves (“homelands”) provide a bare means of subsistence for some of the families of the migrant laborers. This allows the mine and factory owners to pay the workers only the minimum needed for the workers’ own livelihood, without their having to be able to provide for their families.

Apartheid is simply the legal framework for this system of exploitation. It is this system which provides the super-profits not only for the South African bourgeoisie, but especially for the monopoly capitalists of the imperialist countries who are part and parcel in the exploitation of the oppressed peoples of South Africa and the whole region.

South Africa’s Relations with the Surrounding States

South Africa has also become the center from which it and the imperialist countries dominate the entire southern African region. South Africa’s industrial growth demanded an increasing supply of cheap labor, which was met not only from within the country, but also by the use of migrant contract laborers from the surrounding states. The multinational corporations used South Africa as their regional headquarters. The neighboring countries served as markets for products manufactured by the South African and multinational monopolies within South Africa. And these countries were used as sources of cheap raw materials for the industries in South Africa. Mineral resources mined in these countries were usually sent either to South Africa or to the multinational’s home country for processing. Also, as a legacy of colonial rule, almost all the railroads in the region were designed for transportation of raw materials to South Africa. Two other rail lines ran to ports in Mozambique and Angola, which were Portuguese colonies until 1975 (see map). We will now look more closely at South Africa’s relations with the neighboring countries.

Namibia (South West Africa) was colonized by Germany in the imperialist scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th century. When Germany was defeated in World War I, its colonial possessions were divided up by the victorious imperialist powers at the Versailles Conference. Namibia was turned over to South Africa under a League of Nations mandate, thus giving Britain effective control over it. Its extensive mineral resources, including diamonds, copper, uranium, lead and tin, have been exploited jointly by British and South African monopolies, with U.S. capital playing a major and growing role since World War II. South Africa has extended its apartheid system to Namibia, setting up labor reserves there from which Africans must migrate to work in the mines and on the farms.

The British mining company, Rio Tinto Zinc, with close ties to the Anglo-American Corporation, set up the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia in the 1970s. It is the largest uranium mine in the world, providing material for the nuclear power industries of Britain, France, and Japan as well as South Africa.

The U.S. mining company American Metal Climax (AMAX), also closely tied to Anglo-American (as well as to Standard Oil of California), has major mining interests throughout the southern African region. It developed the Tsumeb copper mine in Namibia jointly with another U.S. corporation, Newport Mining, and with Anglo-American. It also participated in developing Zambia’s huge copper mines, together with Anglo-American and later with the Zambian government. It is also involved in mining in Botswana. Like many monopoly capitalist corporations, it has direct connections with the U.S. government. One of its directors, William Burden, worked for years in various important defense and diplomatic posts, in the 1970s becoming a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, a major advisory group for the State Department.

South Africa, and through it the imperialist monopolies, maintains particularly close economic control over the smaller countries in the region. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, as members of the South African Customs Union, conduct most of their trade through South Africa. The main British banks that dominate South African finance, Barclays and Standard, also dominate the banking industry in these countries and throughout the region. De Beers, the diamond monopoly, also mines diamonds in Namibia and Botswana. Anglo-American is involved in copper and nickel mining in Botswana, as well as mining iron ore in Swaziland for export to Japan. The British conglomerate, Lonrho, has major agricultural, mining and industrial holdings in Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe, as well as in many other countries throughout Africa. The West German steel monopoly, Krupp, shipped iron ore to its mills in Europe from southern Angola before Angola’s independence. Gulf Oil Company continues to pump oil, Angola’s chief export, from that country.

The South African regime, together with the Portuguese colonialists and imperialist monopolies, built up huge hydro-electric projects in what were then Portuguese colonies: the Cabora Basa Dam in Mozambique and the Kunene project in Angola. These were planned to furnish electricity to power South Africa’s continued industrial and mining expansion.

The most productive agricultural areas in much of the region are still dominated by white settlers and foreign agricultural monopolies. This is most evident in Zimbabwe. When this country, then called Rhodesia, was still ruled by the racist Smith regime, 70% of the population was crowded into infertile “Tribal Trust Lands”, the equivalent of the South African “homelands”. At the same time, large sections of the most fertile land was used by imperialist agricultural monopolies to produce cash crops for export. Tobacco, the largest agricultural export, was grown and processed by corporations such as the British American Tobacco company. Sugar, the next largest agricultural export, was produced on large foreign-owned estates, mainly controlled through South Africa. The Anglo American Corporation owned shares in several of these. The agricultural monopolies made super-profits off of the low-paid wage laborers, who earned less than those employed in any other area except domestic service.

Zimbabwe was the one country in the region, except for South Africa itself, where the monopolies, besides investing in mining and agriculture, built up a limited manufacturing base. This was, however, mainly limited to light industries and processing of agricultural goods. When it was still Rhodesia, in 1975, foreign monopolies controlled about 70% of all capital in mining and manufacturing. These monopolies were almost all from South Africa, Britain and the U.S., the latter two countries generally investing through South African subsidiaries. Despite its heroic guerrilla war for independence, Zimbabwe remains tied to the imperialist and South African monopolies. Also, white farmers still own a sizable share of the arable land. This was ensured by the neo-colonial Lancaster agreement ending the war, which ensured the monopolies and settlers against expropriation.

One of the most direct forms of exploitation of workers from the neighboring dependent countries is in the mines of South Africa. Prompted by high unemployment at home, workers migrate to South Africa for jobs in the mines and farms. In 1974, foreign workers made up a record of almost 80% of South Africa’s mine workers. With increased unemployment during the economic crisis of the late ’70s, many of these migrants were dismissed, and more Blacks from South Africa itself took jobs in the mines. The independence of Mozambique and Angola from Portuguese colonialism in 1975 also reduced the number of migrants. Mozambique, however, still had over 30,000 workers in South African mines as of 1978, making up 8% of the work force there. By 1978, migrant workers from the neighboring countries fell to just under half the work force.

Besides its economic role, the South African regime uses the fact that it is the main military power in the region to keep its neighbors in a subservient position. In particular, the regime tries to prevent these countries from providing sanctuary to refugees and access to South Africa for Azanian revolutionaries. South Africa continues to hold Namibia as a direct colony, and uses it as a base to launch armed aggression against Angola. It also arms and finances the reactionary UNITA forces (which the U.S. also supplies indirectly) as a means to keep the Angolan government off balance. It has invaded Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland to harass and kill refugees and to intimidate them from supporting the guerrilla movement. It also aids the reactionary MNR forces to destabilize the government of Mozambique. In this way it has been able to force Mozambique to sign a treaty with South Africa promising that neither side will allow its territory to be used as a base for armed actions against the other — a treaty that South Africa has consistently violated. (This is a good example illustrating the maxim that war is a continuation of politics by other means.)

South Africa’s military relationship towards the states surrounding it has a parallel in Israel’s role towards its neighbors. Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza as South Africa occupies Namibia. Israel has also attacked and invaded every one of its surrounding states, as South Africa has done. And Israel gives military and financial support to reactionary forces in neighboring states, such as the fascist Phalange and the South Lebanon Army in Lebanon, the way South Africa supports UNITA in Angola and the MNR in Mozambique. It is characteristic of settler regimes like South Africa and Israel that they must regularly try to undermine their neighbors in an attempt to preserve their own stability, as this is based on the oppression of the native peoples of these countries, the Azanians and the Palestinians.

Resistance and Repression

In the last year and one half of resistance, the struggle of the Azanian people has reached new heights. The masses have drawn on tactics that have been used at different stages in the last twenty-five years, as well as new, more militant forms of struggle. Strikes, stay-at-home campaigns and boycotts have been combined with mass marches, small skirmishes with the police, armed attacks on the police, whites and industrial targets, and significantly, retaliation against Black informants and collaborators with the apartheid regime.

This is not the first time that the mass struggle has risen to a high level. In the period after Sharpeville, it was the people themselves, not the leadership, who asked for guns. This happened again after Soweto. And it has happened again in this period, where many are convinced that the only effective response to the violence of the oppressors is the justified violence of the oppressed. Over and over again, people have demonstrated their willingness to make innumerable sacrifices, including death, to bring to a halt the unbearable machinery of apartheid and national oppression.

The repression witnessed up to now has been severe. The loss of life as reported by the government exceeds 1,500. It is certainly many more than that. For months, the Western imperialist press reported deaths at the hands of the police and military in major cities and townships. At the same time, liberation support groups, through their extensive network of contacts within South Africa, report even more deaths, as well as resistance, in rural areas, bantustans and places not frequented by the press, and which therefore go unreported. The murder of protestors, including babies, school children, women and the elderly has become commonplace. On top of the poverty and starvation that is commonplace for Blacks under apartheid, these atrocities have driven the people to the brink.

While most of the fatalities and injuries have been inflicted on the masses, the regime, its agents in the Black community and whites in their own areas are more and more having to bear their share of the war. Black collaborators can no longer function in the townships. They are being run out or assassinated. The people’s position has become “no collaboration with the regime.” These Black officials have, in some cases, been replaced with individuals elected by the local people. This is a positive forerunner of zones of power and people’s mass democracy in future liberated zones of Azania.

Black police have been shot, stabbed and had their homes firebombed for their role in supporting the racist regime. It is no longer safe for them to reside in the townships. Their pistols and shotguns are no match for the masses organized to punish them.

The hidden traitors and collaborators are being dealt with as well. After the Sharpsville period, the government established a broad network of informants that would report to the police on those involved in anti-apartheid activities. These elements in turn received money and privileges from the government. In this period the people are flushing them out and dealing with them summarily. Most are doused with gasoline or some other flammable material and turned into human torches. The “hot necklace” refers to an old tire placed around the neck of a collaborator, filled with gasoline and then ignited. The press has reported incidents where Boesak and Tutu have rescued these elements from angry crowds, but they cannot and will not be able to intercede all the time. This response is not the so-called Black-on-Black violence that we see in urban areas all over the world in response to joblessness, poor self-esteem and other capitalist-based social problems. It is a political act. The same tactic has been used by the masses in Haiti against elements of the Tonton Macoute, Duvalier’s former secret police.

There are also many factors behind the “tribal” or ethnic conflicts that have occurred. Some of them stem from old problems between groups that are exacerbated by the rulers (who sometimes use this to justify the bantustans, or phony republics). Other times, in form the conflicts are “tribal” but may in fact be related to other causes that trigger quarrels among any social gathering, group of workers or communities. But the case of Inkatha, the massive Zulu organization, is different. Its leader, Chief Buthulezi, who has always compromised with the regime, uses it to attack mass organizations that will not cooperate with the racists. Their historically combative role has cast them in some pitched battles with others. There is a danger that this will create anti-Zulu sentiment among other groups, but the politically advanced people understand the source of this conflict and attempt to explain it and deal with it on a political level.

The last one and one half years have been very “heady” for the masses, the revolutionary forces and their supporters around the world. For many, the end already seems to be in sight. The historical conditions, the balance of forces and the subjective factor may in fact be more favorable than they were after Sharpeville. However, a longer view is necessary. It is becoming clear to all that mass protests alone, no matter how prolonged and militant, are not by themselves enough to overthrow the regime. And the execution of Black collaborators also shows that the revolutionaries have not yet been able to strike at the regime’s main power base, the army. The regime must be defeated militarily. A prolonged period of guerrilla warfare combined with armed uprisings in the townships around the main cities will be necessary. The present struggle is paving the way for this and will objectively put the Azanian masses much closer to victory than they have ever been before.

Reagan, Falwell and the Open Reactionaries

The apartheid rulers have substantial open support among the U.S. bourgeoisie and its allies. They include the administration, mainstream Republicans, religious fundamentalists, the Klan/Nazis, and now, sections of the Afro-American petty bourgeoisie and comprador bourgeoisie.

Under Reagan’s leadership, the administration trumpets the line of constructive engagement. It counsels patience and praises every mock reform that the regime put in place. It maintains that divestment will harm the Black masses. Reagan has the gall to liken the situation to the U.S. where, he says, it took several hundred years to “solve our race problem.” Be patient with them as the world was with us, he says.

Outside the administration, the reactionary ideologues raise a hue and cry about the possibility of a Soviet takeover if the “democrats” do not win. To them, the “democrats” are pro-U.S. elements like Buthulezi, who believes in “free enterprise” and is also a close friend of Israel. These reactionaries place the struggle in the context of East-West relations and justify the continued sacrifice of the Black masses to white supremacy by the need to hold the Soviet Union or “communism” in check.

The popular support for apartheid is being led by Jerry Falwell on behalf of Reagan. Falwell is not constrained by the diplomatic niceties of political office and so he does not even have to give lip-service to opposition to the apartheid regime. He also makes false or distorted statements about the South African situation. After his recent trip to South Africa, he attacked Tutu as a phony and asserted that Blacks in South Africa opposed divestment. Both were obvious distortions: Tutu does have a following and is even respected by those who oppose his line; and a survey by a reputable polling organization indicated that Blacks overwhelmingly (75%) support divestment. Also, less than 1% of the Black work force is employed by U.S. corporations. Despite these realities, Falwell continues to promote his lies and to claim ties to the Black churches in South Africa.

Using these distortions combined with anti-communism, Falwell tries to rally mass support for apartheid and raise money. He pledged to raise one million dollars to stop the divestment forces and to support the Botha government. His historical ability to do this is enhanced by his creation of the “non-religious” Liberty Foundation for his reactionary political activities.

The Anglo section of this pro-apartheid coalition is rounded out by the Klan and Nazis. Their role has been to openly support the racist aims of the apartheid ideology and practice. They champion white supremacy in South Africa and link it to their program of white supremacy in the U.S. The White Patriot Party, led by Glen Miller in North Carolina, has held press conferences in defense of apartheid. The Klan’s membership and the thousands they influence are part of the pro-apartheid forces in the U.S.

It is no surprise that these forces were receptive to the Angolan counterrevolutionary Jonas Savimbi. They have supported direct U.S. government aid to UNITA as well as developing the links for massive private funding for these reactionaries. They see that by supporting UNITA they are strengthening South Africa through removing a frontline state that is sympathetic to the Azanian liberation fighters.

A grouping of reactionary Afro-Americans is also coming out against the anti-apartheid forces. These include the Rev. Leon Sullivan, long known for his ineffective “Sullivan principles”, and Franklin Thomas, long time most favored Negro of the Ford Foundation and involved with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in an Afro-American community in Brooklyn, New York. Others are holding workshops on Black college campuses, challenging the divestment forces and encouraging U.S. capitalist ventures in Africa.

In December of 1985, Secretary of State Shultz appointed a commission to study the situation in South Africa and to report back with policy recommendations. According to Shultz, they have no restrictions on what they examine and no pre-drawn conclusions. It is clearly a panel of the bourgeoisie and its allies. It is headed by a former chairman of I.B.M., Frank Cary, and includes the chairman of General Motors, Roger Smith, a former Attorney General, Griffin Bell and a former Undersecretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger. Of the 12 members, 4 are Black (Franklin Thomas, Leon Sullivan, Vernon Jordan, the former head of the National Urban League, and William Coleman, former Secretary of Transportation). UAW President Owen Bieber is also a member. Thus, as with the President’s Commission on Central America, we see the monopoly capitalists being joined by their key supporters, the labor bureaucrats and the Black bourgeoisie.

Exploitation without Apartheid; The Possibility of a Neo-Colonial Alternative

For years, the U.S. government has pursued a policy of open support for and collaboration with the racist South African regime, with a few hypocritical words of “opposition” to apartheid. The government calls this policy “constructive engagement”, which it claims will convince the South African regime to “reform” apartheid. The U.S. has seen South Africa not only as a tremendous source of super-profits for capital investment, but as a bulwark against liberation movements throughout southern Africa and as a strategic ally against any Soviet threat to its domination of the region and the sea lanes around the Cape. But recently, the U.S. has been forced to look for possible alternatives to this policy.

The heroic struggle of the Azanian people over the last year and a half has led U.S. imperialism to reconsider its view of the South African regime as a “bulwark of stability” on the continent. The U.S. is desperately afraid that the present mass movement will turn into a full-blown revolution that will, through armed struggle, overthrow the racist regime. It fears that this would lead to the setting up of a Black Republic that would be hostile to imperialism and confiscate the property of the monopoly corporations. A Black Republic would be a base of support for the revolutionary movements in the dependent countries of Africa, and would be the first step towards socialism, the creation of a workers and peasants republic in Azania. Therefore, the U.S. and other western imperialist countries, as well as the South African monopoly capitalists, are looking for a possible compromise, neo-colonial alternative, a form of exploitation without apartheid. Recent events in Haiti and the Philippines show that the U.S. is willing, when necessary, to dump its puppets of long standing, such as Duvalier and Marcos, in favor of rulers who are less exposed in the eyes of the masses, when it is threatened with a revolutionary alternative. Let us look at some examples of such maneuvering in South Africa.

In January of 1985, Senator Edward Kennedy, a chief liberal imperialist spokesperson, went to South Africa. He tried to convince the regime that it should carry out certain reforms, such as a peaceful transition to majority rule, that would leave the relations of exploitation intact. He also tried, in a number of speeches around the country, to get the Azanian people to support Bishop Tutu’s calls for non-violent reforms instead of genuine liberation. For this he was righteously denounced by AZAPO, which forced the cancellation of his last appearance, at Tutu’s church in Soweto. AZAPO promised the same reception to Jesse Jackson if he should go there.

The main representatives of the monopoly corporations, both South African and imperialist subsidiaries, have been holding talks with leaders of the African National Congress while calling on the South African regime to end apartheid. The chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, the largest South African monopoly capitalist group, led a delegation of white businessmen to Zambia to meet with Oliver Tambo, the exiled leader of the ANC last September. And at the end of the same month, a large group of monopolists placed an ad in major South African newspapers calling for an end to apartheid and negotiations with “acknowledged Black leaders” about sharing power. The signers of the ad included the heads of the Anglo-American Corporation, De Beers Consolidated Mines, the South African subsidiaries of Toyota, Volkswagen, Mobil Oil, General Electric, General Motors, Citibank and others. These are the very same corporations that have for years made their super-profits from the exploitation of the Azanian people! They are now looking for an alternative climate to continue their domination, based on a “rejection of violence” and negotiations. The advertisements were significantly titled: “There is a better way”! IBM, in a separate statement last September, said that the mass upsurge was “having a significant impact on IBM’s South African business” and that it was “reducing the chances of meeting” its objectives.

As a final example, U.S. Secretary of State Shultz made a significant speech last October in which he called apartheid doomed. He said: “the present system is doomed, and the only alternative to a radical, violent outcome is a political accommodation now, before it is too late.” In related comments the next day, he said that the South African regime should release Nelson Mandela and deal with the African National Congress. Clearly, the imperialists know that if they want to reach an “accommodation”, it can only be with forces that have genuine credibility among the masses.

The U.S. is not going to force the South African regime to end apartheid. What it would most like to see would be certain gradual reforms that would lead to “power sharing”. This would mean that certain Blacks, who can be guaranteed to defend the interests of imperialism, would govern together with liberal representatives of the South African monopolists. For this reason the liberals want to encourage the growth of a Black petty-bourgeois stratum as future administrators. However, the imperialists also want to be prepared in case a more radical regime comes to power, so that as much of its interests as possible would be preserved. It wants to leave open the possibility of a neo-colonial alternative, as in other African countries, where independence did not bring an end to imperialist domination. We have seen this not only in such openly dependent countries as Kenya and the Ivory Coast, which remain tied to their former colonial powers, Britain and France. It is also true in Zimbabwe, which, since independence, has left untouched the white settler domination of commercial farming and the western monopolist domination of industry. It is equally true in countries like Angola, which, despite its political links with the Soviet Union, is still economically dependent on the western imperialists.

We certainly support genuine reforms, such as majority rule based on one person, one vote and the end of the apartheid legal structure. These would remove some of the most outrageous forms of oppression from the backs of the Azanian people, and would allow them some bourgeois democratic legality in which to further their struggle. But such reforms alone are not sufficient for genuine liberation. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. brought about the end of the Jim Crow laws in the South and the expansion of voting rights for Blacks. While these were also important reforms, they have not by any means ended the oppression of the Afro-American nation in the Black Belt or the oppression of the Afro-American national minority in the rest of the country, for imperialist rule still continues.

The Azanian and Afro-American Liberation Struggles

The South African struggle for national liberation, socialism and an end to apartheid has often been compared to the Afro-American liberation struggle. What are the real similarities and the main differences? And what lessons can they share?

One striking similarity between the two struggles is that both of the peoples are Black, of African ancestry, living in two countries founded by settlers. This is significant because both peoples’ histories are rooted in the period of the exploration of the Western Hemisphere and the early colonization of Africa by European capitalists, as well as the development of chattel slavery supported by the ideology of racism. The resulting capitalism in Europe and America has played a historically backward and retarding role in the development of the Black masses worldwide.

While different classes have developed among both peoples, most are super-exploited laboring masses. Apartheid, discrimination and the dual job market (those jobs that are almost always reserved for Black workers) is evidence of the ways that super-exploitation occurs.

In response to this oppression, both reformist and revolutionary movements have developed, a rule of history expressed in all national movements.

In South Africa and in the U.S., the role of the reformists has been extremely important to the imperialists, and extremely harmful to the revolutionary movements and to the masses.

Martin Luther King in the U.S., and Bishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Allan Boesak in South Africa are examples. King, Tutu and Boesak’s reformism has been endorsed by the imperialists worldwide. King and Tutu, for example, both received the Nobel Peace Prize specifically because of their efforts to restrict the liberation movements to non-violent methods. Although these men have been subject to political and military attacks (King was assassinated by U.S. reactionaries), their political activity can only patch up some of the more glaring inequities of the two societies.

While Tutu challenges the tenets of apartheid and King was a steadfast spokesperson against Southern segregation, even criticizing the unequal division of wealth that is fundamental to capitalism, their perspectives do not call for its overthrow, the only way to change it. All this in spite of the fact that they, in some ways, encouraged the masses to rise up against oppression.

The reformist leaders have been the proponents of non-violence as a reformist political strategy against the liberation movements of the oppressed. They have used the existence of the armed struggle to put themselves in a more favorable bargaining position with the imperialists. When the armed struggle is at a low level and without mass support, they condemn it outright. When the revolutionary military activity intensifies and the masses begin to support it, they use it to sell their program as the only acceptable alternative. “Negotiate with us, or face them,” they say.

The rulers of South Africa and the U.S. have also acted similarly on the question of self-determination. Self-determination is the right of an oppressed nation to freely decide its political relationship to the oppressor nation. But the South African government and the U.S. government have their own meaning for self-determination. Essentially they call it the right to “determine ones destiny” while under the control of the oppressor, something that is impossible to do.

In the South African context, this means some Blacks sharing power with the rulers, opening up economic and social opportunities for a small middle class strata, and dropping the more blatant aspects of apartheid. In the U.S. it meant dropping Jim Crow restrictions, expanding the middle class vis-a-vis jobs, housing and education and the election of Black politicians. Neither represents true self-determination or national freedom.

From the point of view of international affairs, in the U.S. all national or colonial questions are, as in South Africa, considered civil matters, “internal affairs” of the country. But when they seek to destabilize and overthrow the government of another country, that country’s internal affairs become an issue of “human rights” or part of the “fight against communism.”

In South Africa, the government has stripped South African citizenship from the oppressed African masses. By making everyone a member of an “ethnic group”, South Africa’s “homelands”, which are barren wastelands, similar to some reservations in the U.S., have become phony nations such as Transkei and Bophutatswana.

For the U.S. government, no Black Nation exists. The Native Americans have been issued parcels of the most barren land as their “reservations”. Puerto Rico, a colony, is a “commonwealth” of the U.S., and the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific are part of an “association” with the U.S.

Both the struggle for Black liberation in the U.S. and the South African revolution ultimately must be aimed at the elimination of monopoly capitalist rule. The struggle against the particular way that national oppression manifests itself, including the struggle for and maintenance of democratic rights, will provide opportunities for the national liberation struggle and socialist revolution to develop.

In the U.S., the Afro-American national liberation movement is aimed at fighting for the right to self-determination, which means Black political rule over the Black Belt territory in the South, and an end to all forms of national oppression throughout the U.S. As such, this movement can play an important part in the U.S. movement for socialism. In fact, the oppressed nationalities are the strategic allies of the U.S. working class in the fight for socialism. The ability of this struggle to go forward and the ability of the Black masses to aid in the fight for socialism, will both be determined by the consciousness and political strength of the working class and the national movements. The Afro-American working class must become class conscious, and the Afro-American people as a whole must develop national consciousness. That is, it must see itself as an oppressed nation with the right to national freedom. Developing the two and putting them in an organizational form are urgent tasks.

The main lesson from both struggles is that the fight for freedom is not merely directed against a legal form (that is, apartheid and Jim Crow laws) but against the domination and subjugation of a nation, against national oppression.

In the U.S., although gains were made by the victories of the masses, these did not change the basic conditions or fundamental character of the oppression. In fact, after these victories were won, the turning point in the movement came with the change from Freedom Rides, voter registration, etc. to the formation of revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party and the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) in Detroit.

In Azania, an end to apartheid may accelerate the movement for revolutionary change. Or, it may be that the revolutionary struggle itself will sweep away the regime, and with it the legal forms of oppression. It is mandatory for the U.S. working class and oppressed nationalities to become internationalist in our outlook and support the Azanian struggle. This is especially true of the Afro-American liberation movement. The common history, similar situations and lessons to be learned make this important.

The Afro-American movement, although currently on the defensive, cannot neglect this responsibility. Maintaining and developing consistent, principled international relations is also a part of winning freedom. This freedom struggle is part of the struggle worldwide to end the system of bosses and workers, of slaves and masters. The Black liberation movement is living up to its responsibilities in this regard but must do much more.

Our internationalism requires that we support other struggles against imperialism and neo-colonialism. In this period, the Philippines, Haiti, El Salvador, Lebanon, Palestine and other nations are sites of important struggles. Afro-American workers and other strata must support these courageous peoples. By supporting them, the Afro-American people help to weaken the grip of imperialism domestically and internationally.

Support of these struggles is an integral part of the work to develop a liberation movement with strategy and tactics that will win victory, and play a critical and perhaps decisive role in the U.S. socialist revolution. One of the other beneficial aspects of support for the Azanian struggle is the actual lessons we can learn from the development and evolution of their struggle. How Black workers are being organized in the independent trade union movement, the building of the national liberation front, working under the conditions of fascism, how to deal with the reformists, united front work, etc. are all paramount questions for the Black liberation movement in particular and the working class movement in general. Supporting the Azanian revolution and grasping the applicable tactical and strategic examples are obvious necessities.

For the Afro-American masses, a lack of support for the Azanian freedom movement, and any hesitation to take up the burning issues of democratic rights, national liberation and socialism, will give the U.S. monopoly capitalist rulers a green light to intensify their horrors on the masses.

If the Afro-American movement, led by Black workers, fails to develop support for the Azanian freedom fighters, who else will lead the anti-apartheid movement? The national reformists and the liberals, the same forces who are leading it today. These politicians and organizers are totally opposed to self-determination and socialism, be it in Azania or anywhere else, but especially in the U.S.

Limitations of Divestment and the Present Anti-Apartheid Movement in the U.S.

We have seen that the Azanian people are suffering from the brutal exploitation and oppression of the South African regime. This regime represents the interests, not only of the white settler-colonial monopolists, but of the monopolists of the main imperialist countries as well. The workers in the gold and diamond mines and in the growing manufacturing industries, the agricultural laborers in the large commercial farms, are producing super-profits not only for the South African capitalists, but also for the U.S., British and other imperialists. The “homelands,” to which all Azanians legally belong, serve as labor reserves for workers in the nearby cities, who can be immediately returned there as soon as there are no jobs for them. Apartheid, with its pass laws, restrictions on residence, racial segregation and enforced citizenship in the “homelands”, forms the legal superstructure.

The liberal leaders of the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) try to separate the apartheid laws from the whole system of racist super-exploitation that these laws are designed to support. Their calls for divestment are designed to pressure corporations to “wash their hands” of the “dirty apartheid system.” But these corporations have no interest in “washing their hands” of the super-profits that are made from the exploitation of the labor and resources of the Azanian people. In fact, the search for maximum profits is the economic basis of the monopoly capitalist system.

Moreover, the U.S. corporations that invest in South Africa are not minor companies. They are among the largest monopolies in the U.S. As we have seen, they include General Motors, Mobil Oil, Union Carbide, Honeywell, General Electric, Citibank and many more. They are among the major exploiters of workers in the U.S. as well as around the world. As the major manufacturers of automobiles, etc., and as chief extractors and processors of raw materials in this country, these companies employ hundreds of thousands of workers. These workers are the subject of massive layoffs, speed-ups and unsafe working conditions as the owners seek maximum profits. Or when the system is in a crisis, the workers are forced to absorb any losses that an enterprise or industry is subject to. This shows up as wage freezes or reductions, two-tier wage systems and many other concessions to the employer that the workers have been forced to make.

General Motors is notorious for its abuse of its workers. Union Carbide consistently endangers workers and whole communities, such as Bhopal, India and Institute, West Virginia, in search of profits. And R. J. Reynolds, one of the tobacco giants with significant holdings in Azania, has broken two attempts of Southern workers to organize a union. The company has used firings, intimidation and fear to prevent workers from having a union. This is all a part of how capitalist enterprises function and, like their operations abroad, it is inseparable from a system based on collective, social labor but private ownership.

The liberals in the anti-apartheid movement like to portray the role of U.S. monopoly capitalism as an aberration, a mistake of an overall just system. They say that U.S. involvement in South Africa is contrary to basic American values of “freedom” and “democracy”. But in reality it is just one of the most outrageous examples of the fundamental features of the imperialist system. It is because of their liberal outlook that the leadership of groups like the Free South Africa Movement have usually engaged only in weak, passive tactics of protest against the South African regime. They prefer symbolic actions, such as the peaceful, arranged arrests in front of the South African embassy and consulates. They generally do not try to draw large numbers of workers and Afro-Americans to their demonstrations, unless they can guarantee that these demonstrations will be of the Sunday picnic kind. And they most definitely refuse to draw connections between oppression in South Africa and oppression in the United States. They serve the tactics of the liberal bourgeoisie that seeks exploitation without apartheid.

This does not mean that people should not take part in actions led by the Free South Africa Movement or that they should not in certain circumstances work within affiliated groups. There have been times when local groups linked to the FSAM have carried out militant or broad based actions. The Columbia University blockade in the spring of 1985 and the August, 1985, demonstration in New York have been examples of these. But we must put forward our own analysis. We must show how U.S. imperialism as a whole benefits from the oppression of the masses in South Africa as well as the rest of the dependent countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. And we must drive home the connection to the workers, Afro-Americans and other oppressed nationalities within the U.S.

We need to build a mass movement that gives support to the revolutionary movement of the Azanian people. Such a movement would see demands for divestment as just one tactic to expose the role of certain U.S. institutions (universities, union pension funds, local government organs) in South Africa. Divestment also plays some small role as a form of material aid to the struggle in South Africa through a weakening of the South African regime. A revolutionary support movement would be based on the workers and the masses of Afro-Americans and other oppressed nationalities in the U.S. And it would help to develop the revolutionary movement within the U.S. itself.

Lessons of the African Liberation Support Committee

One of the reasons the FSAM has been able to play a major role in the anti-apartheid movement has to do with the recent history of the Afro-American revolutionary movement and some of the errors made by certain forces in it. In 1972, Black revolutionaries and radicals (mostly intellectuals and students) formed the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC). They were the organizers of the historic African Liberation Day March and Rally in Washington, D.C. during May of that year.

Their calls for opposition to colonialism brought out hundreds of thousands of people around the country as well as in other parts of the world (Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement held demonstrations in Grenada) to show support for the liberation struggles raging in Africa, particularly those in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe and Azania. The coalition around the first two marches included Afro-American reformist politicians and members of the Afro-American national bourgeoisie. They came out because of their own interests at that time, and because of the powerful motion created by the leadership; they were forced to participate under the leadership of revolutionaries because these radicals had developed somewhat of a base.

During its four years of real functioning, the ALSC accomplished much. Good research was done and a great deal of educational material was disseminated to the Afro-American masses and to others. There were material aid campaigns that collected money, clothing, medical supplies, etc. And very importantly, direct links were established with African revolutionaries.

By 1975, many of the ALSC forces had moved from the views of Pan-Africanism to Marxism. As infantile, or immature, leftists, however, they made the error of withdrawing from African liberation support work. They reasoned that the main task was to organize the U.S. working class, with the immediate task being the creation of a Marxist-Leninist party. They incorrectly posed these necessary tasks against the maintenance of the ALSC. This occurred because they did not grasp the revolutionary potential of the Afro-American struggle and its relationship to the proletarian revolution in the U.S. Nor did they understand the dynamics of the Black liberation movement as a movement for national liberation and the importance of the ALSC to that movement.

As a result, the U.S. movement against imperialism in Africa has been without revolutionary leadership for a decade. When criticizing the general leadership of the FSAM, revolutionaries must be critical of their own history in this development. Additionally, young anti-apartheid activists need to know that 1984 was not the beginning of the U.S. struggle against South African apartheid. This may help them to see that they, like the previous generation, can and must move to a revolutionary outlook and practice if they in fact want real and permanent change in Azania or anywhere else in the world.

U.S. Imperialism Out of South Africa

Down with the Racist South African Regime

Victory to the Azanian Revolution

Free the Afro-American Nation

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