Home | About Us | News Feeds RSS | Subscribe | Support Us | User Login | Search

Southern Africa Report Archive

AIDS, ARMS, MIGRANT LABOUR... : CAN THE REGION RESPOND? THIRTY SOMETHING: Between 1960 and 1990 southern Africa was a theatre of war, a war waged, in the first instance, by African liberation movements against intransigent white-minority regimes. Think of this as a period bounded, in its beginnings, by the 1960 banning of the ANC and PAC (thus setting the stage for armed struggle in South Africa), by that year's further build-up in Angola of the pressures that would erupt so dramatically into violent confrontation early in 1961, and by the gradual emergence of Dar es Salaam as the crucial staging ground for struggles further south. ... And think of it as being bounded, thirty years later, in 1990, by both the achievement of independence by Africa's last colony, Namibia, and the release of Nelson Mandela, the latter event then setting the stage for a new phase of developments - negotiations and subsequent elections - in South Africa itself. It is this period of three decades that John Saul has recently labelled "the Thirty Years' War for southern African liberation" and chosen to treat as a distinctive (and important) historical "moment," one characterized by the same kind of claim to the historian's attention as such previously labelled moments as (say) "the English revolution" or "the French revolution."

vol 12 no 1

Editorial and contents for Vol 12 No 1
the SAR editorial collective


Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 12 No 1, November 1996
Page 1
"Editorial"

THIRTY SOMETHING

Between 1960 and 1990 southern Africa was a theatre of war, a war waged, in the first instance, by African liberation movements against intransigent white-minority regimes. Think of this as a period bounded, in its beginnings, by the 1960 banning of the ANC and PAC (thus setting the stage for armed struggle in South Africa), by that year's further build-up in Angola of the pressures that would erupt so dramatically into violent confrontation early in 1961, and by the gradual emergence of Dar es Salaam as the crucial staging ground for struggles further south.

And think of it as being bounded, thirty years later, in 1990, by both the achievement of independence by Africa's last colony, Namibia, and the release of Nelson Mandela, the latter event then setting the stage for a new phase of developments - negotiations and subsequent elections - in South Africa itself. It is this period of three decades that John Saul has recently labelled "the Thirty Years' War for southern African liberation" and chosen to treat as a distinctive (and important) historical "moment," one characterized by the same kind of claim to the historian's attention as such previously labelled moments as (say) "the English revolution" or "the French revolution."

The costs of such a war were high, of course, not least because apartheid South Africa, in its death throes, was prepared to impose a deadly regional war of its own on those neighbouring states who, once liberated, chose to continue to contribute to apartheid's overthrow. At the same time, the fact that the liberation movements of the region were themselves prepared to take up the war in regional terms and to make an active choice to assume some of the burden of each other's struggles was one of the more ennobling aspects of the thirty year-long campaign.

Moreover, as Saul notes in one of his recent writings, "the realities of common struggle that struck sparks across colonially-defined frontiers were not confined merely to the dealings amongst liberation movements or between liberation movements and host governments." For there was also a popular culture of perceived linkage between different fronts of a united campaign that became quite visible during the thirty years' war. Recall, for example, the resonance in the South African townships, during the run-up to the Soweto events in the mid1970s, of recent achievements by the forces of liberation in Angola and Mozambique. Such examples could be multiplied many times over.

Why is this history important? As Saul concludes, if southern Africans are now to build a more equitable regional economy in the post-apartheid era, a sense of shared historical purpose and of shared sacrifice could make some contribution to the realization of that goal. Might we also add that, at the very least, it can do no harm for South Africans to be reminded of the price paid by their neighbours in order that they might be free in South Africa itself!

Are these kinds of possible - and positive - residues of the thirty years too much to hope for? The evidence is still mixed, of course. Yet so one might begin to fear as, a half decade or so after the formal ending of hostilities, the southern African region begins to settle into its own freshly-minted territorial grooves of "politics as usual" - with any pan-regional sensibilities correspondingly dulled. Unfortunately, cases in all too sombre point are to be found in several of the articles in the current issue of SAR.

Take our lead piece by Jonathan Crush for example, documenting as it does the lack of any very progressive stance on the part of the new South African government regarding the matter of intra-regional migrant labour - despite the historical centrality of that issue to the exploitative patterns that have characterized the region's economic history. Or consider the apparent lack of concern on the part of the post-apartheid state for the impact of its own negotiations (negotiations painstakingly documented in this issue by Dot Keet) with the European Union on the economies of its neighbours. Or consider the note struck by South African Defense Minister Joe Modise, earnest advocate of an expanded arms industry for his country, in stoking the arms race within the region that informs the escalating border tensions between Namibia and Botswana: thus Alex Vines, in his informative article on the latter hostilities, finds Modise advocating that SADC member states should build up their armies because "no right-thinking person would invest in a country that cannot protect itself"!

It is difficult not to be judgmental concerning these kinds of developments, although we must remind ourselves that the terrain upon which such seemingly uncomradely choices are being made is stern indeed. After all, the presumed imperatives of the global economy have already gone a long way towards breaking the ANC's will to battle for humane outcomes even at home. Or such at least would seem to be the testimony of Martin Murray, the widely-published commentator on South African developments whose latest balance-sheet on the situation there appears in this present issue. Then, too, there is the spectre of (amongst other scourges) disease - AIDS first and foremost, as Richard Lee recounts below - that has begun to stalk the region.

Some perspective is necessary, then. Moreover, we need not assume that the picture across the region is merely one of unrelieved gloom. There is, for example, the case of the recent "Women's Budget," a promising step forward in South Africa chronicled here by Deborah Budlender. There are the stirrings of effective democratic opposition in Botswana documented by Happy Siphambe. And there is even the promise of a progressive role for chiefs in some parts of Mozambique, the rather startling claim made by Ann Pitcher elsewhere in these pages.

Still, even these latter developments are not quite what one would have hoped for by way of denouement to the heroics of the thirty years war. Clearly, southern Africans are not to be spared the long hard grind to find a place in the sun that also confronts their counterparts in other regions of a beleaguered continent. What the latter examples do suggest, however, is that there is resilience in the region. And there is also, naggingly, the question of the legacy of all those years of common regional struggle. Recall Chairman Mao's response when asked to assess the impact of the French Revolution: "It is too soon to tell." Can we at least cherish the hope that it is too soon to tell with any real certainty just what, in regional terms, the lasting impact of the thirty years' war is likely to be?

- 30 -

---------------

Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 12 No 1
"AIDS, Arms, Migrant Labour:
Can the region respond?"

Editorial: Thirty Something - 1

A Bad Neighbour Policy? Migrant Labour and the New South Africa - 3
by Jonathan Crush

Of Arms and Islands: The Botswana Namibia Cold War - 6
by Alex Vines

AIDS: Conspiracy of Silence - 8
by Richard B Lee

Cap in Hand? South Africa and the European Union - 12
by Dot Keet

South Africa: The Woman's Budget - 16
by Debbie Budlender

The South African Transition: More Trouble than it Looks - 20
by Martin J Murray

Botswana: Diamonds Aren't Forever - 23
by Happy Siphambe

Chiefs, Companies and Cotton: Observations from Rural Nampula - 26
by M Anne Pitcher

Promise/Practice: Reviewing Township Politics - 31
a review by David Pottie

Printable Version

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

     top of page