Anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of South Africa should pay careful attention to a speech made by President Mbeki at an official funeral in the Eastern Cape on 22 June. Surrounded by powerful black leaders of the new, liberated South Africa, Mbeki gave a eulogy for the departed man and urged the nation to rally behind his dream and to carry on his work. The deceased was the leading black supporter of apartheid, Kaiser Matanzima, the former president of the Transkei ‘homeland’, Pretoria’s ultimate stooge in the days of white minority rule.
The two key figures in the formation of ‘Grand Apartheid’ were Hendrik Verwoerd and Kaiser Matanzima. Grand Apartheid was a piece of socialist engineering which shoved people around like earth in front of a bulldozer, much in the same way as the schemes of Stalin in the USSR, Pol Pot in Cambodia and Nyerere in Tanzania. The main idea was to push the blacks, who accounted for more than 70 per cent of the South African population, into ‘homelands’ or ‘Bantustans’, which made up 13 per cent of the land area. It depended on having compliant black leaders. Chief Buthelezi was not such a man: he bravely and unwaveringly refused ‘independence’ for the KwaZulu homeland. But Kaiser Matanzima in the Transkei was just such a man, and became a founding father of Grand Apartheid.
Matanzima was not a bloody tyrant on the scale of Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe, but he was a cruel and corrupt despot. Under him, the Transkei gained ‘self-government’ in 1963, whereupon he gave himself emergency powers of detention without trial and control of public meetings. In 1976 he accepted ‘independence’ for the Transkei. He oppressed and impoverished his black population while living in luxury himself.
The apartheid government was delighted with him. The Transkei was always Pretoria’s prize Bantustan, the jewel of ‘separate development’. When I used to argue with apartheid supporters for civil rights for blacks, their answer would invariably be, ‘But they’ve got their own countries. Look at the Transkei!’ This fiction was curiously potent for apologists of apartheid, much in the same way as ‘There is no unemployment in the USSR’ was for communists.
Now the ANC government at its highest level has honoured the supreme black stooge of apartheid. It is as if the liberated Norwegian government had honoured Quisling as a hero of the people.
The praise for Matanzima comes when all the ills in the country are being blamed on ‘the legacy of apartheid’. Everyone who criticises or opposes the ANC is accused of being a ‘racist’ and a closet supporter of apartheid. Chief Buthelezi, despite his record of opposition to apartheid and despite his now being in the ANC government, is still being sniped at for his alleged collusion with apartheid. Above all, the hated white ‘liberals’, who fought apartheid from beginning to end, are despised. Helen Suzman probably did more to end apartheid than any other single person. For 13 years she stood alone in the South African parliament, taking on the whole apartheid government, forcing it to answer questions about its repression and showing its cruelty to all the world. She is now denounced for having ‘legitimised’ the apartheid parliament. Helen Suzman, the most effective opponent of apartheid, is reviled. Kaiser Matanzima, its strongest supporter, is praised. What is going on?
There are two answers, ancestral and ideological. The former is more deep-rooted. Beneath the official patterns of power in South Africa are tribal patterns, invisible to most white people. Matanzima is a Xhosa. The Xhosas, about 18 per cent of the South African population, are part of the Nguni grouping which includes Zulus, Swazis and Ndbele. Their traditional home is the Eastern Cape, which incorporates the former Transkei. The Xhosas completely dominate the ANC and account for most of the ministers in the government. They contain a powerful network of ruling families – the ‘Xhosa Nostra’. Matanzima, Mandela and Mbeki all belong to this extended aristocracy. Kaiser Matanzima was Nelson Mandela’s ‘nephew’. (In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela gently explains the relationship. The two look rather alike. Mandela, a transcending figure, has never attacked the liberals and gives honest praise to Helen Suzman.)
It is a racist myth, beloved by anti-apartheid film-makers, that we whites are devious and convoluted, whereas the blacks are innocent and simple. In fact, the intrigues and complications of European royal families, which caused centuries of wars, are simpler than those of African royal families. This is because of the myriad extra permutations caused by polygamous marriage. An African Henry VIII would not have had to chop off his wife’s head to marry another; he could have been married to all six wives at the same time, a kinder arrangement but a more complex one. These intricate relations of kinship and power are understood by both President Mbeki and the black man who removes your rubbish on Monday afternoons. Few whites understand – and most of these are Afrikaners.
So one reason Matanzima is revered is that he belongs to Xhosa royalty. There is a general election next year, and the ANC will need the Transkei chiefs, who regard Matanzima as a king, to instruct the rural people to vote in the correct way. When Lukas Mangope, former president of the Bophuthatswana homeland, dies, I should be very surprised if there were an official funeral with a eulogy by President Mbeki. This is because Mangope is a Tswana not a Xhosa and is not an ANC supporter or ally. (Bophuthatswana was the best-run homeland. Its capital was Mafeking, now called ‘Mafikeng’. On the collapse of apartheid, Mangope formed his own Christian Democratic party and prepared to stand in South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. However, two of his senior party officials were murdered by ‘necklacing’ and he withdrew from the election so as not to risk the lives of the others.)
The other reason is ideological. South Africa is a full democracy, but the ANC has authoritarian tendencies, a blend of traditional African autocracy and Western totalitarianism, notably communism. The apartheid regime and the ANC resemble each other in thought. Both are obsessed by racial ideology and state control. The ANC government has allowed more free enterprise than apartheid ever did but without ever relinquishing a tight commanding grip. South Africa today is not so much capitalist as corporatist or fascist, along the lines Mussolini wanted for Italy, with the masters of big business, the trade unions and the government doing coercive deals among themselves to control the whole economy. (One result is highly restrictive labour laws and 40 per cent unemployment.) Both the apartheid regime and the ANC hated ‘liberals’ more than they hated each other. Liberal philosophy – that there must be no racial discrimination, that the centre of society must be the free individual working in voluntary co-operation with his fellows, and that the state must serve the people, not the other way round – is anathema to both. According to his testimony, Eugene de Kock, the most notorious killer of the apartheid regime, was approached by the ANC in 1994 and invited to work for them. But the official opposition in parliament, the Democratic Alliance, a liberal party with an impeccable history of opposing apartheid, is constantly denigrated.
South African history is being rewritten so as to erase the part played by white liberals in the fight against apartheid. The only anti-apartheid whites we must remember are the communists. In the new ‘Apartheid Museum’ in Johannesburg, you are hard put to find any pictures or mention of Helen Suzman, Alan Paton, the Liberal party, the Progressive party or the Black Sash. But th
ere are large pictures of South African communists, such as Joe Slovo, who adored Stalin and cheered when the USSR invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
When the ANC looks beyond our borders, it brings together two themes: support for black allies, however brutal, and dislike of liberal ideas. Mbeki shows consistency in his treatment of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Kaiser Matanzima in the Transkei. There are no tribal affinities between the ANC and Robert Mugabe, but they see him as an ally and this solidarity is strengthened by liberal criticism of Mugabe’s tyranny. Mugabe’s slaughter of more than 10,000 blacks in the 1980s, his torture and killing of black people in recent years, and his gang rape of black women – none of this has received a peep of public protest from the ANC. Neither President Mbeki nor any other senior ANC minister has ever condemned the massive violation of human rights in Zimbabwe under Mugabe. Instead they denounce any liberal who does so.
During the apartheid years, Afrikaners used to jeer at English-speaking liberals, saying that they (the Afrikaners) understood the blacks better than we did. In many ways this was true. For one thing, they were much more likely to speak an African language. When I worked at a mill in Zululand, I found that many of my Afrikaner colleagues – apartheid supporters – were fluent in Zulu and understood black tribal culture quite well.
One Afrikaans supervisor in particular used to laugh at my notion of equal treatment for whites and blacks. He was tall, humorous, even swarthier than I, and got on very well with his black staff, whom he bossed about in a jovial sort of way. He had business dealings with Zulus in the countryside. He told me that the only thing the black man understood was authority, either from his chief or from a white baas, and that apartheid recognised that fact. He died unfortunately, hacked to death by Zulu pangas, the result of a liaison with a Zulu maiden. The passions of her father and brothers had spilled over, not because of the sex but on account of the amount of money they wanted from him so that he could extricate himself from the affair. From the next world, if he could witness President Mbeki’s oration at the funeral of Kaiser Matanzima, he would grin from ear to ear and say, ‘See what I mean, Andrew?’
Well, yes, I do. But I hold to my liberal views because they are decent and rational and they will prevail. Their histories might differ, but there is no innate political difference between blacks and whites. Matanzima and Mugabe need to be condemned, not praised, and as a matter of fact the majority of black people in Zimbabwe agree with me.
Andrew Kenny is an engineer and a freelance journalist.