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Rivalries Hamper Anti-Apartheid Campaign : Splits Grow Among South Africa Blacks

February 03, 1985|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

Progressive democrats, who trace their political heritage back to the outlawed African National Congress and its 1955 "freedom charter," believe that whites have an important role both now and in the future, and many of their organizations are multiracial, or "nonracial," as they prefer to describe them.

Those in black consciousness groups, however, oppose white participation in the anti-apartheid struggle, except within the white community, and insist that blacks must repossess the land as the basis for a future political and economic system in a country they call Azania.

The black consciousness movement, whose influence is considerably wider than its active supporters, takes its philosophy from the late Steve Biko, who saw a need to develop black pride and self-assertion if the struggle against apartheid were to succeed. It also goes back to the earlier African nationalism of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, which broke from the African National Congress in 1959, saying the group was controlled by whites, Indians and Communists.

Issue Is 'Unjust Policy'

"The question is how to oppose apartheid, and that means we must first answer how we understand the nature of the problem," said Patrick Lekota, a one-time black consciousness adherent who is now publicity secretary of the United Democratic Front. "Is the problem white people, or is it the policy of this minority regime, which is largely made up of white-skinned people? We in the United Democratic Front see the problem not as white people but as unjust policy. For AZAPO (Azanian People's Organization), the problem is white people, and the solution is black people."

Saths Cooper, organizer of the black consciousness coalition, National Forum, and former deputy president of the Azanian People's Organization, said those groups are "not anti-white, but pro-black."

"We need to build an authentic black leadership and black political system," he explained. "We don't want to be patronized with a few top posts while whites make all the decisions. . . ."

So deep are the differences on this fundamental issue that virtually every segment of the urban black community in South Africa has been split.

'A Spent Force'

There are rival groups--representing the split between progressive democrats and black consciousness--of lawyers, businessmen, journalists, theologians, students and women activists, among others. Black consciousness and "non-racial" labor unions compete for members among black workers. The City Press sides with the progressive democrats, and the other black newspaper, the Sowetan, which is also white owned, generally favors black consciousness.

Angry denunciations have become common, deepening the divisions.

Black consciousness is "a spent force," said Trevor Manuel, a top official of the United Democratic Front. Cooper, one of the leading black consciousness theorists now, replies that the liberalism of the progressive democrats is "a prescription for civil war" because it will bring "only surface reforms that leave whites on top and frustrate blacks all the more until their anger explodes."

The Kennedy visit, supported by the United Democratic Front and opposed by the Azanian People's Organization, brought the rivalry into the open and led to subsequent clashes between the groups. Over the past year and a half, there have been at least 16 fights between the groups and their affiliates.

Unity Feeler Spurned

Lekota, the United Democratic Front spokesman, said after the Kennedy visit: "We are not interested in fighting AZAPO. We are not at war with them. That would advance nothing. To AZAPO, we counsel caution and urge that we both use our energy in the struggle against apartheid."

The United Democratic Front recently renewed its suggestion of discussions with the Azanian People's Organization and other black consciousness groups to see whether their differences could be narrowed and perhaps a common strategy developed.

Ishmael Mkhabela, the new Azanian People's Organization president, replies: "Unity with them on their terms would not only be surrender to them but to the (white) oppressor class in the end. Our differences are too fundamental to be reconciled."

In addition to the dispute over the role of whites in South Africa now and in the future, there are major differences over whether the country should remain capitalist or become socialist.

'Unashamedly Socialist'

The Azanian People's Organization, which describes apartheid as "racist capitalism," is "unashamedly socialist," as one AZAPO official put it.

The United Democratic Front believes, however, that this question should be left to the future. "Those who put class struggle first tend to ignore the national struggle, which is more important," said the Rev. Frank Ghikane, a regional vice president of the United Democratic Front. "Blacks are oppressed first as blacks, and economic liberation depends on national liberation."

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