Apartheid, the nakedly inhuman, hellish system of institutionalized white supremacy in every social sphere, is crumbling under a wave of militant protest and virtual war waged by the ruthlessly exploited and disinherited Black Africans.
The mass struggle against apartheid and the necessity for international support were the subjects of a recent Canadian conference, “Southern Africa: A Time of Change,” the first conference on the Pacific Coast where Black Africans were present to describe their struggle. They were eloquent and determined as they demanded more than moral outrage from the 200 participants. Black Africans, they said, need committed political support and international economic boycotts against the racist regimes of southern Africa.
Conference participants responded with commitments to develop public educationals to provide support for the independence struggles, particularly for political prisoners and their dependents and students who face a brutal reaction to their protests. In a move beyond previously empty gestures of sympathy, public campaigns and lobbying to promote economic boycotts of companies which do business with the southern African regimes were promised as a form of direct action against the southern African racists.
The conference, held in Vancouver, B.C. on May 14-15, 1977, was sponsored by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, a coalition of labor, church, and Africa support groups. The event was beautifully and carefully organized and the speakers, scrupulous in sticking to their issues and time limits, provided a thorough briefing on the fast-moving course of recent events in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Namibia and South Africa.
Unfortunately, the spirit of solidarity was not followed to its logical political conclusion. While conference organizers were supportive of armed struggle by Black Africans against their oppressors, they steered clear of indicting the real culprits — U.S. and Canadian capitalism, without whose economic backing apartheid could not survive.
George Johnston, president of the Vancouver Federation of, labor and conference chairperson, read a telegram from Joe Morris, president of the Canadian labor Congress, which affirmed support for the struggle of the oppressed people of southern Africa. Johnston announced the formation of a fund to support the work of African freedom fighters.
Educational workshops played a key role in heightening the impact of the conference. Calistus Ndlovu and Edison Zvobgo, from Zimbabwe, led an illuminating session on their country. Their biting and realistic account of the ruthless colonial exploitation suffered by Zimbabwians reminded conference participants of the takeover of North America from the Native Americans.
Calistus Ndlovu, a representative of the Patriotic Front which is waging war in Zimbabwe, said that the Front rejects “Black rule” as Kissinger and Company see it. “We will not accept any constitutional arrangement that seeks to differentiate the representation of Zimbabwians in the government on the basis of race, color or creed. We are looking for a government in which people are represented as people, not as races. We are not racists, so we cannot accept racist measures to solve a racist problem.”
The effects of apartheid on workers in South Africa were described by James Stuart and Andrew Kaleimbo in a presentation on the working conditions and unions of that country. Black Africans, representing 70% of the South African population, earn only 20% of the country’s wages, condemning them to starvation.
Black workers in South Africa are not recognized as employees and therefore their unions cannot be registered. They are left completely vulnerable, with no organized self-protection as workers.
The South Africans emphasized the vital necessity of international labor support to southern Africans in their liberation struggles.
African Women: A Sharp Debate
The exploitation of Black females as both women and workers was’ presented by Ms. Lee Tutu, formerly a schoolteacher in Johannesburg and wife of a leading church official. She explained that women are only allowed employment as nurses, teachers, typists or domestics and are forbidden to own land or work in the townships unless they are married or live with their fathers, brothers or older sons.
The workshop began to deteriorate with Ms. Tutu’s description of the role of the church in organizing a class for domestics so they would presumably become “better” workers. She sparked lively debate when she launched an attack on the women’s movement in North America, saying “They are only asking for decorations.” Participants responded by sharply pointing out that women — especially minority women — were fighting for sheer survival and that the women’s movement was one means of unifying the battles of all the oppressed through united front action.
Informal socializing was a welcome part of the conference. A delicious dinner was served on Saturday night and La Tropicale Reggae Band provided excellent music for dancing into the night. Discussions among Canadians, Americans, and Africans led to address exchanges and the beginning of new friendships.
Revolutionary Internationalism: The Road to Victory
Friendship and collaboration were the hallmarks of the richly-rewarding weekend. The seeds for a strong African support movement were planted, and their growth could herald a new unity between North American and Black African fighters for freedom.
A viable strategy for ending U.S. involvement in southern Africa is a key ingredient for the success of the liberation fighters. But a single-issue and anti-political civil rights approach of the kind that stripped the Vietnam antiwar protest of its revolutionary potential is a mistake for the African support movement. The magnitude of the tasks and the dangers facing African fighters, as revealed at the conference, demand nothing less than full revolutionary internationalist support. Anything less would be a roadblock to Black victory.