South Africa Eye-witness Account: Storm over Natal

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Teri Bach, author of this article, is a trade unionist and member of the Employee Committee for Equal Rights at City Light (CERCL), which fights race and sex discrimination at the Seattle utility. She was the first woman to become a journey-level lineworker in the U.S.

Since she returned from South Africa, Inkatha and hired-thug violence has spread to Johannesburg, Soweto, and other townships, killing hundreds of Blacks in August and September.

Her report is all the more valuable in pinpointing the cause of the violence and in posing the solution that will end it.

Solidarity. Courage. Determination. Heroism. These are the qualities it takes to survive the daily struggle for revolutionary change in apartheid South Africa, as I saw firsthand in the five weeks I spent there in December 1989 and January 1990.

I went to South Africa as a trade unionist and feminist revolutionary, to learn more about the anti-apartheid struggle and meet the people who carry it forward. Meet them and learn I did as I traveled the country from Johannesburg to Natal. My trip was an exhilarating, enlightening, motivating and moralizing experience of a lifetime.

South Africa—its people, its coasts, its mountains, its flowers and wildlife—is a beautiful land. The Black trade unionists there, sisters and brothers, embody what is best and most beautiful about it, and they are preparing to take it back.

They call each other comrades. Many have faced detention, harassment, intimidation, and the murder of families and friends. Yet they are open, warm; they welcomed me as a U.S. comrade, the distance between us immediately wiped out by their unshakeable international class consciousness.

I came away convinced: the Black South African comrades are unstoppable. Let Pretoria do its worst; the anti-apartheid movement will win.

Crucible in Natal. The highlight of my trip was my visit to Natal Province on the east coast. Natal is currently the center of a war being purveyed by Pretoria and Washington as “Black on Black violence” in hopes of arousing fear at the prospect of Black victory over apartheid.

A correct understanding of this strife is essential for the South African and international movements. It is not at all as the government portrays it, but is a Pretoria-instigated and financed assault by Zulu warlord Buthelezi’s Inkatha Party against the African National Congress (ANC), the United Democratic Front (UDF), and the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

Buthelezi is head of government in the Kwazulu bantustan. (Bantustans are the arid “homelands” for Blacks created by the government to ensure they remain a segregated, impoverished and captive workforce.) He has been jockeying for a position on the national political stage as a staunch defender of capitalism. Western propagandists tout him as the last hope for “peaceful change” in South Africa.

Can it surprise anyone that businesses and individuals linked with Inkatha receive money and political favors from Pretoria-for murdering anti-apartheid activists and supporters?

Inkatha violence against COSATU and UDF organizers has skyrocketed since the unbanning of the ANC. And, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Buthelezi barnstormed Europe for an end to economic sanctions against South Africa.

I believe that the entire antiapartheid movement will move forward or fall back depending on whether it is able to stop Inkatha. There’s hope in the fact that, though Mandela remarked against “Black on Black violence” when he was first released, he has since dropped that characterization of the struggle and repudiated the proposed inclusion of Buthelezi in his ongoing negotiations with Prime Minister DeKlerk.

Heroes. It was in Natal that I found the women’s movement, bulwark and inspiration of the South African trade union struggle.

It is a fact that Inkatha’s depredations have sparked a women’s uprising in Natal.

In September 1989, women from Mpophomeni and other townships marched on police stations demanding that the cops leave the areas. When SOO women demonstrated at the Howick magistrates court, they won a permanent order restraining police from assaulting and threatening Mpophomeni residents. In December 1989, 100,000 women gathered in Umlazi township and marched on Kwazulu police headquarters demanding the police get out.

I spoke with a brave woman activist deeply involved in the struggle against apartheid in Natal. She and her friends organized the Umlazi march. She and her sisters were heartened after Mandela had come to Natal, heard from the comrades, and canceled a scheduled public appearance with Buthelezi. Her optimism was infectious. She laughed at the idea that it would take a decade of negotiations to end apartheid. The government, she stated flatly, can’t hold out that long.

Black and white. A major source of strength for the movement is the unbreakable bond between the South African and U.S. Black movements.

The South Africans’ fascination with Black Americans is evident everywhere. The paper New Nation covers any news of the problems faced by Blacks in the U.S. Anytime Black Americans protest or celebrate, South Africa knows about it. Jesse Jackson’s visit after Mandela’s release was an enormously joyous and important occasion.

Most whites, meanwhile—those not in the anti-apartheid movement—live in bunker paranoia, scared to the marrow of losing their property, their privileges, the “help” of their Black maids and gardeners.

Some Afrikaners are joining Nazi death squads and promoting race war, Most others cower behind their walls awaiting the inevitable Black Victory.

Unstoppable. No part of South Africa has been left untouched in the recent revolutionary upsurge. Early this year, the freedom drive reached the bantustans: Ciskie’s people have overthrown their puppet government; Bopuphatswana, Gazankulu, and other homelands are demanding reintegration into South Africa. The resistance in Natal, galvanized by the women trade unionists, is mushrooming.

Pretoria cannot hold.

Blacks, radicals and progressives in the U.S. have a tremendous role to play, especially in ensuring that economic sanctions are maintained. As one woman leader told me, “Without you, how could we show them? The sanctions have made a big difference.”

The question of socialism or capitalism lurks as the core issue: the ANC and South African Communist Party have held to the Stalinist notion that “democratic” capitalism, under a so-called “mixed economy,” is the immediate goal of the movement and that the fight for socialism comes later. But how, when capitalism is structured on apartheid in South Africa, can capitalism and democracy coexist there?

Fortunately, the East bloc upheavals are forcing a re-examination of Stalinist notions in South Africa-and spurring a new look at Trotskyism.

In the February issue of the South African publication Labor Bulletin, a four-column insert titled “Stalinism and Trotskyism” concludes that “a full, honest appraisal of Trotsky’s strengths and weaknesses is needed before the ghost of Stalin can be buried./I That, and coming to terms with Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which clarifies why no democratic movement, including the anti-apartheid struggle, can succeed without a socialist revolution.

The anti-apartheid movement holds aces these days: union women’s leadership, international Black solidarity, and an unshakeable workingclass perspective. These and a dose of Trotskyism are just what the doctor ordered for complete and final success.

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