by Keith H., published by Workers Power (Britain) and the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), in: South Africa Special: Apartheid: from Resistance to Revolution (Permanent Revolution No. 4), 1986
The uneven and combined development of world capitalism is nowhere more starkly expressed than in the vast continent of Africa. The belt of Sub-Saharan countries, crushed by imperialist exploitation, contains the most impoverished peoples on earth. Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) has the smallest per capita income in the world.
Yet at the southern tip of the continent the South African racist state power presides over a highly developed and monopolised capitalist economy. South Africa produces nearly one quarter of the continent's GOP, accounts for some 40% of its manufacturing output and consumes over 50% of the whole continent's energy.
Alone among the continent's forty-five independent states South Africa has escaped imperialist economic enslavement to become an imperialist power in its own right. Its capital dominates the economies of the surrounding states - even those that emerged out of a powerful anti-colonial liberation struggle like Angola and Mozambique. All of the front-line states are heavily dependent on the economy of the apartheid state. In addition it keeps Namibia in colonial servitude and Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland are semi-colonies whose formal independence is little more than a charade.
South Africa today has taken its place within the modern imperialist world order. An imperialist power in its own right, but one tied to two of the largest powers - USA and Britain. It receives their constant aid and protection and in return performs a vital service for them.
The colonial empires of the European imperialists were replaced after the Second World War by a system of semi-colonies; that is, formally independent states where the local military hierarchy, the state bureaucracy and the black bourgeoisies won or were entrusted with, political power but where imperialist exploitation went on virtually unchecked.
South Africa - and for a short period Rhodesia were exceptions. The South African state acts as a wedge, driven into the post-colonial states, promoting internal rivalries and division, aiding the Balkanisation of Africa.
The South African armed forces intervene to weaken or crush liberation movements in the adjacent states.
Within South Africa no normal national development could take place. Racism became the basis of the state in a way unsurpassed outside of Nazi Germany. However, it aimed not at the genocide of a minority but at the perpetual enslavement of a vast majority of the people of South Africa. Twenty three million blacks are deprived of all political rights. Political power and social wealth is concentrated in the hands of some 4.5 million whites; 60% of who are Afrikaners (descendants of Dutch settlers) and the rest of English extraction. The 'Coloured' (9%) and 'Asian' (3%) population form intermediate oppressed social strata.
The black African population, although they form the overwhelming majority of the proletarian wealth producers and 72% of the SA population, receive only 29% of total personal income. Some 60% flows into the bank accounts of the whites, whether in employment, housing or social and public life, the systematic segregation and discrimination against blacks condemns millions to super exploitation, repression, and poverty. Yet this very system has produced a massive explosive charge of rage that threatens to blow apart not only this brutal racist regime but also monopoly capitalism itself.
From Settle State to Imperialist Power
How has it been possible for a country, which at the beginning of this century was a colony of British Imperialism - in origin a settler state - to be transformed into an imperialist power in the second half of the twentieth century?
The Dutch, a mercantile capitalist power, occupied the Cape to guard the route to their colonies in the East Indies. The excellent agricultural land drew in settlers. When in the last half of the Seventeenth century Britain fought and eventually subordinated the Dutch she began to exert a powerful influence in the region.
By the Nineteenth century commerce was radiating outwards from Cape Town. This commerce and the economic liberalism accompanying modern capitalism began to undermine the traditional master/slave relations of the Boers. This the Boers tolerated as long as they could benefit from this growing commerce, in particular by becoming cash farmers catering for the Cape Town market. Those further inland who could not, saw in urbanisation only a threat to their way of life. Many of these Boers decided to trek into the interior. Once there, having dispossessed local tribes, they founded the two Boer republics.
At first Britain ignored these republics, content to control the vital seaboard. All this changed with the discovery of diamonds, and later gold, in the interior. Their allure proved irresistible, particularly when the Boer' republic of the Transvaal began to move closer to Britain's archrival - Germany. In the Anglo-Boer war that followed (1899- 1902) Britain defeated the goers.
The colonisation of the Boer republics accelerated the penetration of British capital into the region and crippled the economic aspirations of the nascent Afrikaner bourgeoisie. However, despite defeating the Boers in a bitter war, Britain did not treat the Boers as a conquered enemy but rather as potential allies; allies it needed to help maintain the continued oppression of the native African population.
The essence of this alliance was a pact between British mining capital and the large Afrikaner landlords. Afrikaner landlordism acted as a junior partner, providing agricultural produce for the mines and mining-towns. It flourished on the basis of cheap, coerced black labour and state subsidies from taxed mine income. In 1910 manufacturing contributed less than 5% to the economy. Up to the Second World War, mining and agriculture regularly accounted for half of GDP and over half of export earnings.
The modern apartheid system was born during the period 1916-1924 as the result of the development of an indigenous South African capitalism. In this period a cross-class alliance was forged. It was born in a period of unrest for both black and white workers. The post-First World War period saw severe clashes between the mine owners and the white miners. Caught between the competition of the growing black proletariat and the capitalists, the white workers faced mine owners determined to drive down their wages and progressively replace them with cheaper black labour. The white miners' militancy focussed on the defence of their privileges against the black workers. White working class militancy reached its high point in 1922 with the Rand revolt, which led to the defeat of the white mine workers.
The capitalists were therefore faced with an increasingly militant working class, both black and white after the First World War. The militancy of the black workers was progressive, in pursuit of better conditions; that of the white workers became increasingly reactionary, a defence of racial privileges. It was out of this split in the working class that the modern South African state emerged - the apartheid state.
The other major component of the alliance was the Afrikaner petit-bourgeoisie. Despite their military defeat at the turn of the century they had never given up hope of regaining dominance within the South African state. This they badly needed in order to sponsor the growth of fledgling Afrikaner capital and to secure advance in the English dominated state bureaucracy.
Gradually, this alliance was to attract support from the larger farmers. With the growth of urban industry these farmers were more and more interested in imposing greater restrictions on the movement of black labour to halt the drift from the land to the towns. The decimation of the small farmers by the inexorable growth of large-scale farming had created a growing mass of Afrikaner unskilled labour squeezed between the vast reserves of cheap unskilled black labour and skilled white English immigrants.
The conflict between the mine-owners and white labour together with the growing pressure of black labour, presented the Afrikaner nationalists with the opportunity of winning white labour to their side. In 1924 the Labour Party, supported mainly by English-speaking white workers and the Nationalist Party formed an alliance and won the elections. In return for its support, the privileges of white workers were enshrined in law. These included the Miners & Works Act of 1926 barring Africans from skilled mining jobs, the Immorality Act (1927) and the Urban Areas Act, both of which enforced social segregation. As a result of this reactionary alliance, the white workers lost all semblance of class independence; the Labour Party duly withered as the nationalist and liberal bourgeois parties gained at its expense.
The recession in the 1930s rent the alliances that made up the Nationalist Party, allowing the old pro-English United Party back into power. Its return however was to be short lived, for in 1946 there occurred one of the greatest events in the annals of black South African labour history - the 1946 miners' strike. This strike together with rising black working class militancy through out the economy petrified the whites. The war had seen a rapid growth of industry and consequently a rapid growth in the urban black working class. The spectre of black workers using their class strength to shake the racist state and capitalist economy drove the whites into the arms of the re forged Nationalist Party. Most whites saw the Nationalists as the only party capable of suppressing the black working class. The result was the landslide victory of the Nationalist party in 1948 and its subsequent extension and consolidation of the apartheid state.
The role of the apartheid capitalist state was to act as mid-wife for the birth and development of a national Afrikaner economy. The first move to broader national economic development began with the formation of the South African Iron and Steel Corporation (OSCOR) under Herzog’s nationalist government in the late 1920s. This was legislated for in the teeth of opposition from Britain, who saw in South Africa an important market for its own depressed steel industries.
The secret of South Africa's independent economic development, in a world dominated by imperialism, was gold. It was the product of black labour turned golden, thousands of feet underground. To these millions of labourers, working in hellish conditions, whose sweat built South Africa, the mine dumps stand today like pyramids: mute testimony to their efforts as well as to the rapacious drive of capitalism.
The gold mines became the axis around which the national economy developed. In their shadow grew the towns. To service the mines an infrastructural web arose; ports, roads, railway lines, power stations. In addition the mines constituted a huge market for agricultural and Industrial products. Finally, by channelling all gold sales through its hands, and through taxation, the state diverted an increasing share of the profits from gold into national economic development.
Because of the super-profits derived from gold mining, the apartheid state was able to reconcile the antagonism between the emergent national bourgeoisie and the imperialist bourgeoisie of the UK and the USA. This was due to the high rates of exploitation. The powerful apartheid state was able to force the black working class to produce enough profits to attract foreign capital as well as providing for local accumulation. On top of this there were sufficient super-profits to pay for the extensive privileges of the white working class.
The Second World War proved a watershed in the economic development of Afrikaner capitalism. The desperate needs of British imperialism drew South Africa into the war effort. As a result the war saw the rapid expansion of local production. Indeed, many of the large companies in South Africa, such as Premier Milling, date back to this time. By the end of the war industrial employment exceeded mining employment for the first time.
Moreover, British imperialism emerged from the Second World War severely weakened in relation to U.S. imperialism. Its inability to retain its existing domination over the South African economy led it to seek a jointly beneficial accommodation with the newly developing native capitalism; one which safeguarded its position within South Africa and ensured that the apartheid state would take over policing the interests of both British and U.S. Imperialism in the southern part of the continent.
Britain's decline was reflected in South Africa by the erosion of British control over the mining industry during the war. By 1945 only 47% of dividends were transferred abroad, compared to 85% in 1910. The Anglo-American Corporation spearheaded the growth of South African owned mining companies. However, English-speaking South African capitalists still predominated, Afrikaners only owning 1 % of mining shares in 1945.
It was clear that in a world capitalist economy already dominated by giant monopolies, the development of native South African monopolies would have to occur at a rapid pace, and so it was to be. If industrialisation proper began in the Second World War, then within twenty-five years South Africa had become a highly monopolistic economy. The victory of the Nationalists in 1948 accelerated the pace of industrialisation. Import controls and quotas were introduced to protect and extend local industry. The state set up financial institutions such as the National Development Corporation to provide cheap loans to aspiring capitalists.
One of the first tasks of the incoming Nationalist Party government was to centralise credit. In 1949 it set up the National Finance Corporation. In the early 1950s it set up the Discount House and Acceptance bank. Hence by the mid-1950s a money market had come into being in Johannesburg, which, together with the banks and Stock Exchange was able to mop up all the available funds and channel them for investment.
This development reflected the growth of indigenous finance capital in the South African economy. Between 1945 and 1960 internal financing grew from 31 % of total investment to 43%. In the mid-1950s, Anglo-American the largest mining conglomerate- moved into banking. Union Acceptances Ltd is now the largest merchant bank In South Africa.
This process was mirrored within the Afrikaner community itself. The Afrikaner bourgeoisie still constituted the weaker section of the ruling class. They were heavily reliant on state support and their ideological domination, through nationalism, of the white Afrikaner workers, civil servants and small farmers. These were encouraged to deposit their savings in two large Afrikaner financial institutions - Volkskas and Sanlam. In this way Afrikaner credit and investable funds were centralised so as to compete with 'English' capital.
Without the centralisation and development of credit, South African economic development would have been considerably slowed down and the bourgeoisie would have had great difficulty financing new factories. This centralisation, in the context of a small economy, meant that from an early stage each industry was composed of a small number of companies.
The unprecedented world 'long-boom' from the late 1940s to the late 1960s allowed South Africa to grow into the space vacated by a declining British imperialism.
The Second World War was the decisive turning point in this 're-division' of the world. Moreover, the expansion of the world economy in the 1950s and 1960s ensured that there was only marginal friction between South Africa and Britain. In addition, the long boom created a stable, long term demand, both for gold ($35 per oz) and South Africa's mineral wealth, which provided the resources for industrialisation. Finally, the booming world market provided a ready outlet for South Africa's agricultural exports and its growing mineral exports.
The high rates of profit to be earned in these post-war years meant South Africa became a magnet for foreign investment. As a result the I960s witnessed a boom exceeded in scope only by Japan. The economy grew by 76% in this decade. The black working class meanwhile enjoyed none of this. While white workers wages increased by 40%, black workers enjoyed no increases. As a result white mine workers wages grew from seventeen to twenty-one times the level of black workers' wages.
This decade was also a time of increased transference of the ownership of capital from foreign into South African hands. By the late 1960s the mines were predominantly South African owned. Today, only 24% of mining shares (30% of gold mining) are foreign held and this sector has the highest concentration of foreign capital.
In the same time span the South African economy lessened its dependence on mining and agriculture as the big mining monopolies diversified into other areas. Manufacturing grew rapidly - by over 8% per year in the 1960s. In 1950 agriculture contributed 18% of GDP, mining 13% and manufacturing 18%. By 1970 agriculture represented 9% of GDP, mining 10% and manufacturing over 23%.
Anglo-Armenian demonstrates most forcefully the growing monopolisation of the South African economy. It has 831 South African subsidiaries, 186 non-South African subsidiaries and major investments in 506 other foreign companies. One example of what Lenin described as a very important feature of capitalism in its highest stage of development, namely, "the grouping in a single enterprise of different branches of Industry" can be seen in Anglo's move into the related area of metal production.
In the early 1960s it formed the Highveld and Vanadium Corporation to exploit South African vanadium deposits. From there it took over Scaw Metals, a user of specialised steels, which became one of South Africa's leading exporters of manufactured goods.
At the heart of South African monopoly capitalism lay a contradiction. Without apartheid the emergence of a distinct South African imperialism would have been impossible. The super-exploitation of the black masses was a pre-condition of the relatively non-antagonistic development of an independent capitalism in South Africa.
Likewise the stagnation and further development of this capitalism in the 1970's was a combination of the general contradictions that beset all capitalist powers at this stage of development (declining profitability, productivity and investment) and the specific cramping effect that apartheid had on the continued expansion of production.
In particular, apartheid operated to accelerate the inherent tendency towards declining productivity. The specific toll that apartheid policies levied on productivity and profitability performance is difficult to assess. Nevertheless, by the early 1970's it was clear that there was deepening stagnation in the South African economy.
By 1969 GDP growth was down to 2.9% per annum. Under the impact of the 1974-78 recession (the worst in South Africa since the. 1930s) growth was negative in 1977. The declining profitability that lay behind this slowdown was clearly evident also, as the following table indicates:
5 year average - rate of return.
(Source: South African Reserve Bank Quarterly Reviews.)
In other words between the early 1960s and the early 1980s the rate of return halved. The fall in the rate of profit led to a fall in investment. In the first half of the 1960's investment grew at a rate of 20% per annum. This was one of the highest rates in the world and it helped to explain South Africa's rapid growth. During the 1970's the growth rate of investment halved to around 10%. With the recession in the mid-seventies investment actually fell in the second half of the decade. Although this fall was interrupted in 1980/81 due to a dramatic increase in gold prices, since 1982 investment levels have continued to fall. In the three and a half years to 1985 real gross domestic investment had fallen by 18%.
Contributing to this cycle of falling profitability and investment were profound structural changes within South African monopoly capitalism. By the end of the 1960s manufacturing had become the biggest sector in commodity production (27% of GDP). Manufacture relied increasingly upon skilled or semi-skilled labour as mechanisation proceeded. Between 1946-1970 the capital-labour ratio doubled as fixed capital stock more than quadrupled. This technological change created an even further intense shortage of white labour and sharply highlighted the economic costs to the employer of the job bar on blacks.
Although apartheid provided capitalism with cheap unskilled labour, it also deprived it of the productive, semi-skilled labour that export-oriented manufacturing industry needed. While apartheid did not cause the stagnation of monopoly capitalism certain of its features hindered the employers from overcoming it. The job bar above all contributed to the low productivity of labour in industry as it gave the white labour aristocracy no incentive to work harder and it retarded the process of mechanisation because of the shortage of skilled labour.
By the 1970s, with the imperative need for capital to find expanded markets outside South Africa, many bosses realised they would never be competitive in the international markets until they raised productivity.
Yet because of the cross-class alliance that existed at the heart of apartheid capitalism a direct onslaught on the privileges of white workers to improve productivity was out of the question. Consequently, stagnation continued and competition between the monopolies deepened. In the 1970's companies and banks were hard pressed to find new investment opportunities in industry. Hemmed in by exchange controls, confronted by rising competition, companies began to buy up other companies. A wave of mergers in the 1970s swept through the economy. Each industry came to be dominated by a handful of monopolies. By the mid seventies, 5% of manufacturing companies accounted for 63% of turnover, while in distribution 5% of companies controlled 70% of turnover.
In turn these monopolies were themselves gobbled up by eight financial corporations and banks – Anglo American, Barlow Rand, South African Breweries, Rembrandt, Sanlam, South African Mutual, Volkskas and Anglo-Vaal. Since then merger mania has continued apace, and the economy is beginning to be dominated by only five finance-capital conglomerates. Of these, the giant of giants- Anglo-American -controls 56% of shares on the stock exchange.
In fact, South Africa is, next to Japan, the most highly monopolistic country in the world. Increasing stagnation internally also led to an acceleration of the export of capital. Of course, this tendency was not a novel feature of the 1970's. Namibia, in particular, was exploited as a direct colony by South Africa in the decades after the Second World War.
In the 1950's and 1960's a massive export of capital from South Africa and western-based multinationals led Namibia's GDP to grow by 573% between 1946 and 1962 and a further 320% over the next decade. Anglo's subsidiaries, such as the Standard Bank of Angola, Merchant Bank (Zambia) Ltd, Standard Bank of Mozambique and many industrial subsidiaries, spread throughout southern Africa.
Increasingly, South Africa began to dominate the whole region. Today South Africa exports over R2 billion worth of goods to the region. South Africa supplies Botswana with 88% of its imports, Malawi with 36%, Zimbabwe with 22%, Zambia with 16% and even Angola with 13%.
Not only does South Africa provide a large proportion of these countries' imports, but much of the rest passes through South African ports. 70% of Zambia's imports pass through South Africa, 60% of Malawi's, 57% of Zaire's and 50% of Zimbabwe's.
Neither were South African capital exports limited to Africa. MINORCO, another subsidiary of Anglo, invests heavily in the USA, Canada and Latin America. Indeed, in the early 1980's MINORCO was the single biggest Investor in the USA, ahead of such giants as Royal Shell, BP and ICI.
In response to this pressure to export ever more capital, exchange controls were relaxed in the early 1980's. Indeed, in the ten years up to 1984 South Africa's private external assets grew by over 731% compared to a growth in foreign capital inflows of only 449%. Nevertheless, foreign investments in South Africa are still two to three times larger than South African Investments abroad.
This growing economic domination translated itself into an imperialistic foreign policy. In the early 1970's, South Africa attempted to set up a Southern African Constellation of States. When this attempt at detente failed, mainly due to the anti imperialist struggles in the then Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique, South Africa adopted a more interventionist policy. South African foreign policy aims at stifling the economic growth of the region thereby increasing its economic subservience on South Africa, and turning it into a market for South African investments and goods: In this way South African capitalism is attempting to resolve its economic crisis at the expense of the peoples of the whole region.
The major imperialist powers need South Africa and must at all costs prevent the fall of the apartheid state as a result of a revolutionary upsurge of the black masses. Historically, South Africa has provided imperialism with three things.
First it is a source of key minerals for their industries, particularly the metal and defence industries. The US gets 54% of its antimony, 82% of its chrome, 99% of its manganese and 91% of its platinum from South Africa. These sources must be protected.
Secondly, South Africa has been a profitable area for investment. Although US interests there are relatively small ($14 billion in 1982) compared to investment in the rest of the world, they have been extremely lucrative. Rates of return of US manufacturing companies in South Africa in 1967 were 12.6% as compared to the European investments' return of 8.6%. The rate of return on US mining interests were even higher (e.g. 43.3%, 1963-67 as compared to 19.9% in Latin America). British imperialism with £11 billion has been eclipsed by the US during the 1970s as the biggest single investor in South Africa, but Europe as a whole is far more important than the USA.
The EEC accounts for over half of all foreign investment in South Africa. Until 1977 the UK was still South Africa's main trading partner but it now ranks fourth. Nevertheless, due to the historical and political ties and the role of British financial interests in South Africa, British imperialism still exerts enormous influence on the regime. This is the reason why Thatcher refuses to harm South African trade links.
However it has to be remembered that the renewed crisis of the 1980s has drastically reduced the profitability of South Africa for overseas investors. In 1983 the average rate of return to US companies investments slumped to 7% (compared to 31% in 1980 due to the high gold price). This is only likely to accelerate the trend, which has seen a net outflow of over £11 bn of long-term foreign fixed investment in the private sector in the last eight years.
This increased tendency to export capital and decreased tendency to import capital has reduced the foreign stake in the South African economy. From 1965-75 foreign capital accounted for 10.4% (average per annum) of Gross Domestic Fixed Investment. This has fallen in the last ten years to an annual average of less than 1%.
Thirdly, South Africa has acted as the representative of all the imperialist powers against the nationalist movements in the region, attempting to bring them to heel both by direct military attack, by backing reactionary movements (UNITA) and by exerting its economic stranglehold. By these means it has forced humiliating deals on bourgeois-nationalist regimes (Nkomati Accords or the previous Vorster-Kaunda 'detente'). Only with French imperialism do South Africa’s interests occasionally threaten to collide in a region where it is often a keen competitor in the same markets. Hence, Mitterrand’s recent espousal of the need for sanctions. However, imperialist commitment to the apartheid system is far from total. They do not want endemic instability in South Africa. They want South Africa to incorporate representatives of the black masses and that means ones with real nationalist credentials not just puppets like the local councillors or stooges like Buthelezi.
In the last analysis they will do anything to preserve imperialism's interests including even a South African equivalent to' the 'Lancaster House' type settlement getting black nationalists to take direct political responsibility for defending these interests.
Capitalism and Apartheid
Monopoly capitalism was born out of apartheid. Apartheid made possible the most ruthless exploitation of the black working class and earned the monopolies gigantic profits that were the envy of capitalists the world over.
Underpinning the ability of the South African capitalists to take advantage of these factors lay the apartheid system itself, which ensured the masses lived in conditions worse than those of colonial servitude. Denied political rights, the right to organise and turned into a massive reserve army of labour through the residence laws, the South African ruling class was able to deny the black proletariat any share in the growing wealth of the country. Wages remained pitifully low, while migrant labour was used on a massive scale within the mines. In this way a level of 'super-profits' was maintained which would have been impossible outside the system of apartheid capitalism. But to preserve these profits, the monopolies were forced to modify apartheid, beginning in the 1970s. Under pressure of the world capitalist recession and growing black militancy they were forced to begin undermining the privileges of what was the most labour aristocratic section of workers the world has ever seen- the white working class. The modifications all had one purpose; to, again reduce average labour costs. The monopolies could no longer afford all the privileges of the white labour aristocracy. Thus, the reforms did not flow from the softened hearts of the capitalist class; rather, they flowed from the needs of their pockets. Restructuring apartheid, not getting rid of it was their object.
British imperialism in the late Nineteenth century systematically racially oppressed the black workers of the gold mines. This was a common condition of all 'coloured' peoples enslaved by imperialism - deprived of all their tights or possessing merely a mockery of them.
But the absence of political rights for the black majority was only one part of this system of racial oppression. It was used to enforce systematic job discrimination and residential segregation. While in part inherited from the colonial period, apartheid was systematically extended and deepened after the formation of the Union (1910) and developed into a total system by the Nationalist Party governments in the period 1948-70. Apartheid in this post-war form lay at the heart of South Africa's successful growth. Yet through the creation of a modern capitalism and a black working class, it helped to undermine its further continuation.
Apartheid is a system of discrimination designed to benefit the various sections of big capital, the 'new middle class' of the state bureaucracy and the white workers. Consequently, these 'allies' often fall out about which aspects of apartheid need to be defended and which modified or relaxed in order to create conditions favourable to their continued prosperity. But they are all united in denying to the blacks the destruction or dismantling of the system as a whole. The history of apartheid’s development was determined by the conflicting and changing interests of the various elements of the racist alliance.
In the late nineteenth century and up to the Second World War agricultural capital did not insist upon a job bar to blacks nor did white workers seek one as the latter drifted from the land to seek skilled jobs in the towns and mines. Mine owners actually opposed the job bar on blacks since they needed a mass of unskilled, cheap black labour. They fiercely resisted the statutory imposition of the job bar and constantly wrestled with the white unions over the legal ratio of white to black labour.
Nevertheless, mine owners insisted upon severe restrictions on black labour mobility and benefited from the Pass Laws, which prevented black migration to the towns. Both sectors of capital gained directly from the land Acts of the early 1920s, which deprived blacks of the possibility of sufficient land for independent production and so created a mass supply of black labour.
In every area of life after 1948 these measures were extended In order to atomise the growing black proletariat. The Bantu or homeland policies of 'separate development' in the 1950s and 1960s were aimed at this. The Bantustans are the keystone of Grand Apartheid, ensuring the existence of a pool of cheap and insecure black labour, and acting as a dumping ground for the economically inactive. The African reserves, making up 13.7% of the total land area, were given legal sanction In the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936. In post-war apartheid, successive Nationalist governments attempted to construct a myth of 'separate development' and 'self-government'.
By 1970, Vorster had abandoned the idea that the reserves were economically viable. Population density, which is 13.7 per hectare in South Africa as a whole, reaches 89 per hectare in 'independent' Ciskei. By the early 1970's, an estimated 70% of the land in the 'homelands' was unsuitable for cultivation. But forced removals to the 'homelands' continued.
The consequence of these policies on the black masses by the late 1960s was terrible. In manufacturing and construction the wage differential between whites and blacks was 6:1 by 1970. In the gold mines it was 21:1.
An average wage for Africans was R208 per year while for whites it was R4,329. In housing, education and cultural amenities these grotesque disproportionalities were repeated. The 'homelands' policy has resulted in the virtual elimination of the South African peasantry. Instead, it has helped to create a large semi-proletariat. This class is mainly dependent on waged work in industry and partially reliant on what living could be scratched in the 'homelands'. Further, the intensification of the policy has led to a situation where two-thirds of the black population in the Bantustans is landless.
Apartheid threw a massive burden onto the backs of black women. Virtually no element is included in wages for workers families, that is, for the reproduction of the next generation. Procuring subsistence has been left largely to the women. Over 5 million women are expected to survive on tiny plots of land in these areas where they live without their husbands, denied any kind of family support. Some receive tiny remittances from their working husbands, although only 23% of African women are married.
Women suffer also by a complete denial of political and legal rights. Women are almost all considered 'minors' with no rights to hold land, even though in reality they are 70% of the heads of households. Many women seek employment as casual agricultural labourers on white farms, or apply to gain a pass to work in urban areas.
Permission for such a move is required from both the local rural labour bureau and their guardian - husband or father. Any lucky enough to get a job may find that they lose their rights to their plot of land.
The 1970’s were a decade of significant changes within the apartheid system. By the end of the decade many bourgeois commentators had hailed the Vorster regime's reforms (1970-78) and those of his successor P.W. Botha, as heralding a gradual but unstoppable process of the withering away of the apartheid state; as signifying the possibility of a humane liberal capitalism - free from the degrading and stultifying effects of apartheid.
Indeed, those ten years did see a drastic erosion in white economic and social privileges in a number of areas.
For example, although the job bar barely shifted in the gold mines during the period 1971-82 the white/black wage ratio fell from, 21:1 to 5.5:1 as a result of real wages for blacks rising by 400% compared to 3% for whites.
In manufacturing and' construction the respective figures were from 6:1 to 4.4:1.
Many elements of 'petty apartheid' were eroded at this time (e.g. sport, social mixing) as well as the legal removal of the jobs bar in 1973. An attempt was also made to create small businesses and a concomitant black middle class that could be used at a later stage to incorporate the black masses into the system. Finally, there were changes in residency rights for about 2.5 million blacks (Section 10ers and 'commuters').
Some apologists for apartheid have attempted to explain the raising of the living standards of the black proletariat in the 1970s as a recognition by employers that capitalism could only continue to flourish in South Africa by massively raising effective demand in the internal market. This they could only do by raising the purchasing power of the black population. However, this was not the impulse for the change.
Boosting the general level of wages of the black proletariat without improving productivity would have depressed profitability and competitiveness further. The real aim of removing the job bar, of improving training and education of the black masses was to reduce overall labour costs. Only training blacks to do white skilled jobs at lower rates of pay could do this. The relatively large increases in the wages of black workers in the gold mines are explained by three facts.
Firstly, after the end of the fixed gold price in 1971, the price of gold soared, from $35 per ounce in 1971 to $800 in 1980. Hence, real wages improved but so did profits at an even faster rate. Secondly, black workers militancy increased in the 1970s. The 1973 Durban strike frightened the mine owners. Thirdly, after 1974/76 the overwhelming dependence of the mine owners on non-South African black labour changed as several black countries imposed limits on the numbers allowed into South Africa. In order to attract unskilled and skilled labour to the mines -given the attraction of jobs in industry- wages had to rise.
Manufacturers, mine owners and farmers all reacted differently to different aspects of apartheid's labour policies. From the 1960s increased farm mechanisation heightened the farmers need for skilled labour too. As with the mine owners they fiercely opposed changes in labour mobility, that is, the ability of black workers to move freely around the country in search of work.
The most resistance to change came from the huge state bureaucracy itself. This was for two reasons. First, large numbers of Afrikaner workers doing relatively low skilled jobs were threatened by any relaxation in the job bar. Secondly, a vast amount of the bureaucracy existed precisely in order to administer the rules of apartheid.
There were strict limits to the process of 'reforming' (in reality the re-structuring) of apartheid. Although by 1978 most jobs were legally open to blacks, employer discrimination was still the norm. Those blacks who were upgraded found that their white counterparts were 'reclassified' to allow them to retain their wage differentials.
Moreover, the 'separate development' policy of the 1970s and 1980s deepened apartheid. Fearful of the growing tendency of urbanisation among the black proletariat Vorster and Botha extended the homelands system, eventually depriving millions of South African citizenship in an attempt to atomise the growing black working class.
In similar vein the state introduced the 'decentralisation' policy, which aimed to relocate industries near border areas. Intimately connected to this was the continued resistance to 'stabilisation'; that is, the ability of black workers to have their families with them.
It should also be remembered that the 1970s witnessed an intensification of the policy of forced removals of black workers and the permanently unemployed who were illegally settled in the cities and towns. Needless to say, the Pass Laws remained in force.
The massive growth in the security apparatus in the 1970's paralleled the extension of repressive legislation which was used against black activists. Deaths in detention 'increased, including that of Steve Biko in 1976.
All of these policies had the same central aim; to atomise the growing black proletariat - itself a product of the development of industry - and prevent the development of a collective class experience. This involved enforcing the separation between community struggles in the townships and 'homelands' on the one hand and the struggle of workers in the factory and mines on the other. Towering above all other considerations, however, has been opposition to ending political apartheid. Fierce restrictions on the black trade unions’ political activity are one element, but absolute opposition to black political rights remained within Afrikaner nationalism throughout the 1970s.
An attempt (overwhelmingly unsuccessful) was made to incorporate the 'Coloured' and Asian minorities in an attempt to divide the black population. Further proposals to extend some political rights to black Africans since 1983 have met with fierce resistance from most Afrikaners.
The original weakness of Afrikaner capital had forced it to rely heavily on white workers, civil servants and small farmers. By the early 1970s Afrikaner capital had matured .Into monopoly capital. Volkskas, Trust Rank, Rembrandt, Sanlam, Genrale Mynbou, and Federale Mynbou began to stand on their own two feet. The monopolists, regardless of whether they were 'English' or Afrikaner Anglo-American or Generale Mynbou- now shared a unity of interest.
This much became clear with the forced departure of Vorster in the mid-1970s. By then, the stagnating economy had reduced the number of investment opportunities. The monopolists eyed the juicy and profitable companies in the state sector with relish. They demanded privatisation but were opposed by Vorster and his cabinet.
This conflict was brought to a head by the dispute over who should own the new giant SASOL plants. Finding a convenient scandal, the monopolists unceremoniously bundled Vorster out of office and SASOL, together with other state assets, passed into the hands of the private sector. P.W. Botha replaced Vorster. The fact that he was only the second Prime Minister to come from the Cape was not without significance. The Cape had always represented the seat of the most developed Afrikaner capital (SANLAM). P.W. Botha, in fact, was the personification of Afrikaner monopoly capitalism.
P.W. Botha's ascendancy has been accompanied by renewed crises and recession. Offloading this onto the backs of the black workers has meant necessary changes in the South African state. This state combines the features of a brutal police-military dictatorship to the black population with the characteristics of an 'imperialist democracy' for the whites. The crisis has driven the ruling Afrikaner bourgeoisie to increase the powers of the executive and the military, that is, to move in a bonapartist direction. The 1977 Constitution extended the exclusion of 'English' South Africans from political power. P.W. Botha - Minister of Defence since 1968 and head of the military faction within the ruling National Party is a suitable figurehead for these tendencies. In the 1970s alone the armed forces doubled, to stand at 82,000. The state Security Council has become more important than the Cabinet.
The 1983 Constitution deepened this trend, strengthening Presidential powers and removing debate on key policies from Parliament into a Committee of Ministers.
The creation of a pseudo-parliament for 'coloureds' further devalues the white parliament and increases the arbitrating role of the President, who can present himself as above sectional interests of the parliaments.
The underlying economic rationale for these changes has been an attempt to reduce the claims and pressure of the white working class upon the monopoly capitalists.
The latter desperately needed to relax job reservation in industry to boost profitability. Yet there are extreme limitations to the bonapartist tendencies of Botha's executive in its attempts to resist the claims of the white workers, farmers and petty bourgeoisie. The state, forces consist of precisely these classes in uniform and would never willingly dismantle their own bloated privileges. Whenever he has been faced by a 'white backlash' Botha has hastily retreated turning his repression on the black labour movement despite the disappointment this has caused in Washington and London just as it did in 1916 and 1946, the militancy of the black working class has strengthened the alliance between capital and the white working class. Botha recognises his dependency on the white workers. He fears their backlash. He faces increasing pressure from within the hard line (verkrampte) faction in the Nationalist Party. In particular the Conservative Party (a 1982 split from the Nationalist Party) and the neo-fascist HNP and NCP threaten to increase their support among the Afrikaners at the expense of the Nationalist Party. The latter two parties achieved 17% of the votes In the 1981 elections, and in by-elections In late 1985 showed signs of spectacular gains as the challenge of the black workers mounts.
Alienating white workers invites a coup from the right, a move which will undoubtedly strengthen the hand of white workers. On the other hand, granting meaningful power sharing to the black population does not guarantee that the black masses would stop their revolution halfway.
Botha is therefore drawn back into the traditional alliance between capital and white labour. Increasingly Botha turns his guns against the courageously militant black communities. Piet, 'the great reformer', turned out to be 'Piet the skiet' (the shoot). The thousands of deaths since the early 1980s spells out in blood that the apartheid state cannot be reformed away.
Of course, there are those sectors (foreign imperialism, Anglo-American, PFP) who wish that enough concessions could be made to entice black representatives into a set-up that will preserve their investments and profits.
The reactionary mass base of the whites almost wholly, precludes a 'reform from above' perspective - dear as this is to bourgeois liberals within South Africa. Apartheid must and can only be destroyed from the bottom up: it is a task for the millions of black workers.
Of course, this does not mean that given a huge and successful upheaval that 'reform from above' may not be offered as the only way of swindling the black masses out of the full fruits of their own sacrifices and in order to preserve capitalism.