Apartheid: Bringing the struggle home

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The war against apartheid raged in 1985 as South African freedom fighters stepped up their strikes, demonstrations and assaults against the white police state and utterly defied the government to stop them. With blow upon blow, South African Blacks hammered home their unconditional demands for racial and political equality-demands that can only be won through the revolutionary overthrow and dismantling of the South African state.

Meanwhile, the anti-apartheid struggle has rekindled radicalism in the U.S. Black community as no other issue since the 1960s. Blacks in the U.S. readily identify with the South African people in their own daily confrontations with repressive inequalities and injustice at home.

They see that the distance is not that great between Pretoria and the “democratic” U.S., where Reaganite reaction has just about gutted the civil rights gains of the ’60s; where police and vigilante violence against Blacks and other people of color is rampant; where neo-nazi groups such as The Order air their plans for extermination of “non-whites,” gays, and Jews in the daily press of the nation; where poverty, unemployment, job and housing segregation, and all the other unsolved ills of U.S. society have produced hopelessness, violence, cynicism, and despair — especially among Black youth — on a scale hauntingly reflective of past eras before the victories of the Civil Rights movement.

The similarities of life for Blacks and other oppressed people in South Africa and the U.S. is no accident. How could it be when the profiteers of apartheid are equally the beneficiaries of U.S. racism and oppression in every form? The interests of the South African and U.S. regimes are inextricably interlinked: both countries, cornerstones of world capitalism, depend economically on the super-exploitation of Black labor for profit. Mineral-rich South Africa, moreover, is literally a gold mine for U.S. investors, who have plunked down $15 billion inside that country, and a strategic spearhead for imperialist repression in the rest of southern Africa. The U.S., in turn, has been “constructively engaged” in the economic, political, and military defense of the Pretoria government via weapons sales and some $4.5 billion in loans.

U.S. anti-apartheid activists have done a good job of exposing the cushy relations maintained by Pretoria and Washington. The focus on divestment in particular has shed needed light on the profits reaped from apartheid by business, the government, and hallowed institutions. Fierce pressure by students, staff and faculty has in fact forced universities to divest over $250 million since 1977.

However, while some movement leaders, especially in the Black community, have pointed out that those who grow fat off apartheid feed equally well off U.S. racism, the movement as a whole has been inconsistent in getting to the root of the problem. Movement liberals and reformists attempt to paint U.S. support for South Africa as merely “misguided” and something that can be legislated away. They say much the same thing about racism in the U .S. “democracy.”

Black and other movement radicals must fight these misguided notions, first by making U.S. Black concerns an inseparable priority of the anti-apartheid movement and demanding recognition of Black leadership. The rebuilding of massive and militant Black community protest is key to liberation both at home and abroad. .

The anti-apartheid leadership must show why government and corporate investors in South Africa are investing in wholesale attacks on Blacks and all the oppressed in this country; why repression is the government’s response to demands for social and economic equality; why racist exploitation is essential to capitalist profits. They must show clearly thereby that socialist revolution is the only road to equality, in the U.S. as well as South Africa, and wed this understanding to action.

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