Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who Killed Apartheid?

Reason has a great interview with South African journalist and former ANC activist turned critic, Howard Barrell. For anyone with a passing interest in South Africa, revolutions, reform, and the politics of liberation it is a must read. There is too much content to dissect in a single post. However, there are a few items that jumped at the werewolf worth mentioning.

The interview focuses on debating the efficacy of the armed component of the ANC struggle versus the more passive protest oriented civil struggles in toppling the white-minority regime in South Africa. It also touches on the insecurities and corruption of the ANC via its communist ties and the implications of that for South Africa's current government. It does a great job of framing the ANC resistance in the context of other revolutionary movements, like those in Vietnam, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, and China. Really good stuff.

However, as a student of the aforementioned subjects, follower of international relations, and amateur Africanist; the werewolf thinks that fascinating discussions like this obscure what really caused Apartheid to collapse. The root of Apartheid's demise can be found in the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. As long as South Africa's Apartheid regime provided a credible bulwark against communist expansion on the African continent (and it most certainly did), the West unconditionally tolerated it existence. When the specter of global communist evaporated, so did the patience the West had for South Africa's hard-line segregation. Forty years of deliberate attempts by communist insurgents and labor strikes certainly impaired South Africa's economy and degraded its reputation, but never proved a credible vehicle to bringing the regime down. It's not a desire to oversimplify(for the sake of brevity this post is exceedingly general), it's just a an example wanting to glorify a movement and give credit where little credit is due. As the article suggests, the ANC had a credible vehicle to move into power via its popular electoral support with the black masses making it the logical negotiating partner for the then ruling National Party to engage once elections had been mandated. However, one only need examine the extreme violence between the Zulu based Inkatha Freedom Party and the Xhosa centric ANC during South Africa's first universal election. Black/white violence wasn't a major factor as South Africa transitioned into a democratic society. It was black-on-black violence that sadly marked the occasion.

The werewolf feels that there is a tension in wanting to glorify the ANC and give it credit, despite how when examined; the timing, facts, and legacies of how history unfolded provide a contrast that challenge these assumptions. While the werewolf could read articles like this one until he was blue-in-the face. They provide more insight into failed insurgencies and the limits of violence against entrenched powers, more than a tale of legitimate liberation and political transformation. While conducting the post-mortum to best understand the anatomy of the transitional miracle that is South Africa, the best indicators are in the macro-trends that defined that era.


  1. I think it's impressive that a communist party took electoral control of a country without turning it into a dictatorship. How many times has that happened? I'm not certain that the fall of the Berlin Wall (i.e., the end of imperialist communism) was the cause, but that's what F.W. de Klerk thinks, and it's consistent with the timimg.

  2. Good point. I think South Africa benefited massively from a combination of ANC incompetence, corruption, and the fact that a world of new markets were opened-up to a post Apartheid South Africa. Those added with the collapse of global communism made for some perfect timing.