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Stability in South Africa

December 24, 1985

In his apologia for South Africa ("Why South Africa Doesn't Fall;" (Editorial Pages, Dec. 3), Hermann Giliomee misses the point in seeking to refute the conventional wisdom about when a government will fall, rather than looking at the realities that underlie the Nationalist Party's undeniable grip on the country.

Giliomee points to three factors as signs of stability. First, he states that the police and army are still effective in "controlling the population." Despite the U.N. Security Council's 1977 embargo on arms sales to South Africa, the country has amassed an impressive array of weaponry, thanks to the U.S. and other countries that have side-stepped the embargo. The blacks, for their part, know they are out-gunned; this is why they have gradually increased their dependence on guerrilla attacks on sensitive "Key Points," particularly the mammoth SASOL oil-from-coal plant, where they know they can strike crippling blows to the economy and the infrastructure without risking face-to-face battle.

Second, Giliomee notes that the police and armed forces are still able to recruit blacks, and that resistance to compulsory service by whites is still insignificant. While it is true that the Defense Force as a whole has been forced to integrate to gain enough strength to meet the demands of repression both at home and abroad (Namibia, Angola, and, previously, Rhodesia), the blacks who join are still a very small minority, and are viewed as traitors by nearly all other blacks. White resistance to compulsory service (punishable by six years in a South African prison) is growing, but is discouraged by the lack of refuge offered by Western countries, including the U.S.

Third, Giliomee states that South Africa has had no trouble collecting tax revenue, and that government expenditures are rising. Since taxes are mainly paid by whites, who increasingly see the government as their only protection against the swart gevaar, it's no surprise that collection is easy. And why are expenditures rising? Again, the rapid expansion of the Defense Force is the main reason.

Giliomee's most outrageous claim is that one of the little crises that give the appearance of trouble is a constitutional one--that a "black majority" is thwarting government initiatives. Given the fact that Africans have no representation in government at all, and Coloreds and Asians are shunted aside to a basically powerless position in the tricameral parliament, it is difficult to see how this is possible. Not one major piece of Nationalist Party legislation has been blocked in 37 years in power, and, in fact, the parliament only exists now to rubber-stamp the legislation already adopted by the Party's caucus. Even the Supreme Court no longer has any power to review the legality of Nationalist Party initiatives.

Blacks in South Africa realize that time is on their side; South Africa is the only post-colonialist white-rule state left in Africa, and the possibility of peaceful change by a ruling party pressured only by even more extreme right-wing opposition is nil. The blacks will take whatever support is offered, and they will not stop until they have won the right to live and be treated as free human beings inside their own country.


Sherman Oaks

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