As white South Africans go to the polls, Dillon Woods listens to the voices of those denied a say in their country's future
IT is estimated that around ten per cent of South Africans expressed a view on the future of their country in Wednesday's whites-only election. A much larger percentage of the population backed the mass campaign of defiance against the apartheid state's poll. Organised across the country to protest against the elitist nature of the would-be "general" election, the protest was backed by churchmen, trade unionists and virtually all bodies denied a say in Wednesday's poll.
Speaking in London on the eve of the election, the General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Moses Mayekiso, predicted protests in the factories each day throughout election week along with a boycott of all white shops, and peaceful protests in schools.
The South African Council of Churches has given unequivocal advice on the election. "To the white voters of South Africa we must say ... you are being deceived by the government. Apartheid is a heresy. You cannot reform a heresy. If you are to assure your future you must pull out of 'white politics' and join the real struggle for democracy."
Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban has left the decision of who to vote for or whether to vote at all, to the conscience of his congregation; but he too has reminded white Catholics of the pros and cons of such a decision.
After visiting Canada and Australia recently, Moses Mayekiso came to London to hammer home the message about the undemocratic nature of the September 6 vote. He was the guest speaker at the launch of the Southern Africa Coalition which is made up of more than 60 church groups, aid agencies, trade unions and other organisations.
In calling for a tougher British line on South Africa, the Coalition hopes to persuade Mrs Thatcher and the British people of the need to strengthen existing sanctions against South Africa and impose new ones — most notably an embargo on oil, new investments, credit, coal and airlinks. It will focus on the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malaysia in October, and will attempt to stop the rescheduling of South Africa's foreign debts which amount to cover $21 billion (US).
Speaking at Church House, London, the chair of the coalition, Dr Simon BarringtonWard, Anglican Bishop of Coventry, said; "this is the biggest and widest group ever to come together to call for effective action against apartheid. The situation in South Africa is growing worse, not better, and the time has come for Britain to play its part."
This message was strongly backed by Moses Mayekiso on behalf of South Africa's black majority. He stressed the importance of Britain's role in changing South Africa — "the crucial role in bringing the South African regime to the negotiating table will be 'sanctions and disinvestment'. Some have said sanctions will hurt the poor, but those like Mrs Thatcher have never asked the poor in South Africa how sanctions would and are affecting them. Unemployment is already over five million."
"International sanctions have been very successful in Angola where the arms embargo on South Africa prevented the Defence Force from repairing their oudated Mirage lighter jets. As a result the superior Angolan airforce regained control in the air allowing their ground forces to drive the South Africans out of Angola and eventually Namibia."
Mayekiso spoke also of the apartheid regime's campaign of mass detention of whole layers of leadership from organisations involved in this week's defiance. Such action "has merely strengthened the will of the people to resist".
Mayekiso has himself recently been released unconditionally after two years in detention. Along with three others he was charged with treason, subversion and sedition. Showing unusual independence from the white judiciary, Judge Van der Walt ruled that black people in South Africa had no normal means of opposing the government, and therefore were justified in attempting to organise themselves through extra-parliamentary action to encourage change and abolish apartheid. He also ruled that there was no evidence of conspiracy.
The state of emergency in South Africa is now in its fourth year. The government continues to use the death penalty against political opponents. Infant mortality amongst blacks is still seven times higher than amongst whites. At the London coalition launch the Revd Michael Taylor of Christian Aid maintained that such a combination of poverty and oppression was the real agenda in South Africa, whatever the poll results. "I was in South Africa in July, and conditions have not improved, they have got worse. Not even petty apartheid has been removed. The reforms have been negligible."
The General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, the Revd Frank Chikane, has echoed such sentiments. "Fundamentally, the South African government has no intention of changing their politics . . Their strategy for negotiating peace is to exchange one form of apartheid for another," he wrote.
This is the message the Southern Africa Coalition will be driving home to the British government. Until Mrs Thatcher shows a willingness to listen to the voices of black South Africans her concern to be a mediator will find an audience only in the corridors of power in Pretoria.