The demand for Britain and the outside world to take action against apartheid in Southern Africa can be justified on grounds of selfinterest as well as of morality. As the likelihood of any internal solution has receded in the six years since Sharpeville, so the chances of nonracial co-operation have withered: each year that passes fortifies the extremists of both races, and is likely to add to the exacerbation of the inevitable crisis. Temporizing by the United Nations will not only mean its risking the fate of the League of Nations over Abyssinia, but may also lead to racial confrontations across the world. Nor could the western countries present a communist propagandist with a more potent spectacle than that of them obstructing un resolutions for the sake of their capitalist investments in South Africa (though at present the communist countries are increasing trade with South Africa).
Dennis Austin’s bookfootnote1 sets out all the relevant data—economic, strategic, and political—for and against intervention. His standpoint is sober and realistic, and while his facts are essential material for anybody concerned about apartheid, his conclusions are depressing. Sanctions, quite apart from the knell they would sound for the uk economy, might require a blockade costing some £120 millions a year and an estimated 19,000–38,000 casualties, besides an unlimited commitment towards reconstruction. Better, some Europeans answer, to wait for apartheid (which is closely allied with economic motives) to wither away through economic progress. No doubt similar arguments were advanced for doing nothing to hasten the abolition of the slave trade.
Austin makes clear that, since the Organization of African Unity is not only ineffectual militarily but is also economically unable to exert any counter-pressure on Europe during a time when primary products’ prices arc falling, any significant initiative must come from Britain and the us. America has taken an increasingly firmer line as more of her negroes are enrolled as voters and as more Afro-Asian members join the un. Although she is at present obsessed with self-immolation in
The book includes a useful chapter on the positions of the likely hostages Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, although Dennis Austin omits to mention that the Basiito chiefs’ control of the land-tenure system discourages any outside investment which might lessen that country’s dependence on South Africa. A more serious omission is any discussion of the liberation prospects in Angola and Mozambique or Portugal’s likely response to action on Southern Africa under Article 41 or 42 of the un Charter.
If one accepts that racial discrimination on this scale justifies outside intervention in a country’s internal state, there is every reason for first trying wholeheartedly mandatory sanctions under Article 41. The resulting economic suffering would count as nothing compared with the evolution in the world’s social civilization if international opinion for the first time succeeded in resolving such a major crisis without warfare. Here the economic price the nation of shopkeepers puts upon morality becomes painfully apparent. The uk provides two-thirds of South Africa’s foreign investment, and this share is still rising. But in fact the figures show that South Africa is far more dependent on Britain than vice versa. Thirty per cent of South Africa’s exports go to Britain, where they form no more than 3 per cent of our imports; while our exports to South Africa represent only one-twentieth of our total, yet constitute a third of the total volume of goods entering the Republic. British scruples against mandatory sanctions could be assuaged by an international agreement to share their burden between all the members of the United Nations. It is also possible that the embargo need only be selective, since South Africa at present (though prospecting feverishly) lacks any indigenous oil supply. With the co-operation of the relatively limited number of oil-producing countries, backed up with the threat of mandatory retaliation, bulk tankers are so conspicuous that a complex blockade would hardly be necessary. The only South African product that cannot easily be produced elsewhere is gold: but the opportunity of its absence might well be taken to make a long overdue major reform of the international monetary system. If one views South Africa as a boil which will have to be lanced one day, there is a strong argument for our prohibiting any further investment in the Republic, and switching such investment to underdeveloped areas instead. It is a major scandal, of which too few people are aware, that South Africa is still continuing to enjoy from us the benefits of Imperial Preference terms of trade.
There are two other ancillary factors which Dennis Austin might have included. One is how far apartheid may be vulnerable to organized African strike-action; the other is how soon the Republic’s weapons might become obsolete if the present replenishment by the French could be stopped. For the lesson of Rhodesia, which forms a dressrehearsal, is that physical intervention will be necessary as well as sanctions. If the latter have not changed the political outlook of 200,000 white Rhodesians, how long will it take for them to affect 3½ million whites in the far richer Republic?