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By Gavin Cawthra. (Atlantic Highways, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1993. 226 pp. $55.00; $19.95, paper.
For years now, South Africa has been seen by many as a pariah state of a special sort, an evil unto itself, an unreconstructured example of a Western civilization twisted by racism and geographical isolation. However true such an image may or may not have been, South Africa is better described as a microcosm of the world at large, containing within its borders problems that confront many of the world's countries.
It is, for example, a land where many races and ethnic groups live together without fusing in a common melting pot. It is a country where the First and the Third World coexist within the borders of a single state. And, until recently, South Africa had been ruled by a minority (white in this case) who imposed their rule on the majority (black in this case) through a complex and contradictory system known as apartheid. Apartheid was unique, but minority oppression of majorities is not. Perhaps, then, we can learn something more general from South Africa's past that applies to the futures of many lands.
Apartheid and the State
All three books under review deal in some measure with apartheid--how it arose, how it was enforced, how it was opposed, and how it can be transformed. One book looks broadly at the institutionalization of apartheid, a second at the specific function of the police, a third at legal issues.
The essays edited by Philip Bonner, Peter Delius, and Deborah Posel in Apartheid's Genesis look at South Africa's recent history from the perspective of the ruled. These essays deal with particular themes of social and economic history, centering on the first phase of apartheid, National Party-style. (Apartheid was not invented by the National Party, but was rigidly formalized starting in 1948. Most of the essays focus on the Witwatersrand (where most of the contributors happen to live) and deal with specialized subjects, such as local African revolts, gang warfare in urban areas, African trade unionism, officially sponsored "removal schemes," African political organizations, "Bantu education," "influx control," and other aspects of social engineering attempted by the dominant state and its intellectual supporters (particularly those within the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs).
A book so varied in content defies simple review, but certain points are worth stressing. Unlike traditional South African leftists, the editors do not see the state simply as an instrument of either Afrikaner exploitation in particular or capitalist exploitation in general. Rather, they argued that the state was an "internally differentiated . . . site of conflict, and ... an important locus of power in its own right which both grappled with, and was influenced by wider contradictions and conflicts?" (p. 21).
In short, the editors stress, correctly, that the South African state was an instrument for social engineering. But the engineers worked at cross purposes as white farmers, workers, industrialists, intellectuals, and bureaucrats fought for conflicting and often mutually exclusive objects. Apartheid had many fathers. These included, as the authors might have better stressed, missionaries, secular humanists, academics, and more enlightened white politicians, such as Jacobus Wilhelmus Sauer. Odd though it may sound now, missionaries, in particular, once dreaded that Africans would be "corrupted" by permanently settling among white miners and their kind. In a more general sense, humanitarians feared the operation of a free and unrestrained land market in which tribal communities would …