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New Left Review I/160, November-December 1986


John Saul

South Africa: The Question of Strategy

In June 1976 the students of Soweto forced South Africa back onto the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Subsequently there has been a certain ebb and flow to the resistance in that country, but such has been the growth and consolidation of the forces pressing for change that it is now virtually impossible to keep the issue off those front pages. In this momentous decade, one particularly significant advance has taken place on the trade union front. Of course, the spontaneous resurgence of an increasingly organized working class had already made itself felt several years prior to the ‘Soweto uprising’, in the dramatic Durban strikes of 1973–74. The launching, in late 1985, of a new trade union central, cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions), representing over half-a-million workers, is merely the most recent milestone in this continuing forward thrust. Considerable gains have also occurred on the terrain of political struggle more broadly defined. Not only have South African students remained a potent political force, but a whole panoply of additional organizations have surfaced in the black townships and elsewhere (the numerous ‘civic associations’, for example). Moreover, such tendencies have begun to find nation-wide, above-ground expression—above all, in the United Democratic Front (udf), which first emerged in 1983 to become an umbrella organization for well over five hundred diverse, more localized groupings and a crucial actor in a range of national campaigns. But perhaps the most dramatic development of all has been the revitalization of the African National Congress of South Africa. Never entirely moribund after being driven underground and into exile in the early 1960s, the anc was nonetheless fairly marginal to the events of 1976. Today, thousands more South Africans are identifying with the anc at each turn of the wheel, and nervous would-be power-brokers (from the business community and elsewhere) are beating a path to its Lusaka headquarters. In fact, the anc has reestablished itself as far and away the single most important force within the South African resistance movement.

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