From International Socialism (1st series), No.65, Mid-December 1973, p.27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The South African Connection
Ruth First, Jonathan Steele, Christabel Gurney
Temple Smith 1972, £3.50 hardback & Penguin, 1973, 60p paperback.
THIS IS a very useful book indeed. It analyses the changes in the patterns of foreign investment in South Africa, takes the argument that increased trade and investment will force a liberalisation of the apartheid system and demolishes it – by showing what has actually happened, and by showing how the economic system props up the political system. Its sanguine conclusion is that ‘the committed search for radical solutions in Britain, in the West and in South Africa is the same search’.
While the relationship with Britain is still of crucial significance-around 10 per cent of direct British investment takes place there, over 500 British companies had subsidiaries or associates there by 1971, Britain absorbs one-third of South African exports, and ‘Sterling Area’ investment in 1970 was 58 per cent of all foreign investment in South Africa – it is clear that two major changes are occurring. Firstly in the direction of investment, which is increasingly in manufacturing industry rather than in mineral extraction; secondly, in the growing involvement of other Western capitalist countries in South Africa. There are, for example, more than 300 American-owned subsidiaries there; Western Europe owned 21 per cent of foreign investment in 1969.
The fairly rapid growth of the South African economy, the high rates of profit which foreign investment finds there, the steadily increasing flow of corporate capital into South Africa have buttressed the apartheid system and in no way threaten it, contrary to some liberal mythology. Real wages of Africans in mining were if anything lower in 1966 than in 1911. Africans in South Africa do not have the highest incomes of all Africans on the continent: at least seven independent black states do better. The shortage of skilled labour and the breaking of the colour bar by allowing Africans to do skilled jobs in some cases is not new: the colour bar is a floating one and as Africans enter semi-skilled and even clerical jobs, so whites float up above them into professional, technical, administrative and managerial grades. The bar itself remains.
Where the book is weak is, firstly, in its unnecessary exaggeration of its cast-iron case, in the way data are sometimes presented. In 1966 762 miners died in accidents (p.49); but is the figure for this year chosen because it is typical or abnormally high? We aren’t told.
‘In 1970 the profit made by Leyland Motor Corporation of South Africa exceeded the total world profit of the Leyland Group.’
True, but not typical since, as the text points out, that was the year in which the profits of the group as a whole slumped from £40 million to £4 million.
Secondly, the book is primarily concerned with external relations between South Africa and other countries. It doesn’t present (and doesn’t claim to present) any analysis of the articulation of the South African ruling class. Yet bold generalisations are made:
‘The Clash between mining capital, both foreign and domestic, and the State-led manufacturing sector is disappearing. Old conflicts have been resolved: new conflicts have yet to appear.’
The implication, that Afrikaner nationalism is a spent force, seems a little premature. The nationalist hegemony, though occasionally a little strained, seems in no danger of cracking in the near future. The old conflicts remain resolved on terms strictly favourable to Afrikaner political domination and conflicts within the white minority can still structure responses to pressures for reform – and liberation.
The fact that South Africa is fully integrated into the western capitalist economy, so well shown in this study, does not solve the problems of capital accumulation and economic expansion. A further study of the internal dynamic of the South African economy would be a valuable complement to this extremely useful beginning. The argument against the liberal solution is driven home. What is now needed is something which can help lay the basis for a revolutionary strategy based upon the self-activity of the African working class. As the conclusion points out, the instruments of liberation are ‘part of another story altogether’: but hoping that ‘this book has produced [only] one more argument for supporting the South African liberation struggle’ can blind one to the failures and debacles which this guerrilla strategy has resulted in, and delay the adoption of a real revolutionary alternative.
Last updated on 21.1.2008