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The Road to Democracy in South Africa. Volume 1 (1960–1970) (review)

From: African Studies Review
Volume 50, Number 3, December 2007
pp. 164-166 | 10.1353/arw.2008.0013

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164 African Studies Review South African Democracy Education Trust. The Road to Democracy in South Africa. Volume 1 (1960–1970). Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2004. xxviii + 756 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. R299.95. Paper. This is the first volume of a series by the South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET), a research organization launched on the fortieth anniversary of the Sharpeville-Langa massacres of March 1961; the series is concerned with the period of intense state repression that followed the massacres. Through trial records, state and liberation movement archives, and interviews with numerous activists, SADET researchers have produced a wide-ranging, well-researched, and engaged survey of political activity in 1960s South Africa, challenging the view that this was a decade of political quiescence (xv). This is a study of political organizations engaged primarily in underground work and armed struggle. Magubane’s introduction provides the context in which these struggles took place, stressing continuities between the pre-apartheid era of racial segregation and the apartheid period launched by the National Party in 1948. If the first decade of apartheid aimed to limit African urbanization, the social engineering of 1960s “high apartheid” was a response to the growing militancy of urban African workers. High apartheid sought to politicize ethnicity by prioritizing the development of the so-called homelands (or bantustans) over urban townships. Foreign investment facilitated economic growth, while the government’s anti-Communist rhetoric fed into the international politics of the Cold War. But while some urban Africans benefited from economic growth, misery in the homelands worsened, and gendered racial laws made African women increasingly dependent on men. The next chapter considers the transition to armed struggle, providing an exhaustive discussion of Umkhonto we Sizwe’s (MK) early years. Its thesis that “urban confrontations were probably less significant than collisions in the countryside in prompting a rethink of attitudes towards violence” marks a break with perspectives stressing the pivotal role of urban activists in the turn to armed struggle (56). The South African Communist Party (SACP) launched military units in July 1961. Composed of SACP and African National Congress (ANC) activists, MK was launched with a sabotage strike on December 16, 1961; on July 11, 1963, most of its top leaders were arrested in a raid at Rivonia. The next two chapters, by Zondi, and Matoti and Ntsebeza, trace the development of rural protest, beginning with local struggles for better conditions and control over livelihoods; they are the only chapters focusing on movements “from below,” as opposed to those led by urban political organizations. But because rural socioeconomic differentiation meant that local interests varied, these activities often lacked coordination; urban activists were not “organic intellectuals” in touch with rural demands (208). Nonetheless, the revolts showed a pattern of development over time: their aims Book Reviews 165 changed to encompass broader economic and political demands; their tactics came to show awareness of the wider world. Yet the ANC and its allies were far more successful than other movements at sustaining armed struggle, developing a broad network of international contacts, and fundraising. Five chapters address the ANC’s activities and relations with MK and the SACP, although the volume examines other organizations as well. Two chapters address the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and its underground wing, Poqo; one considers the National Committee of Liberation/African Resistance Movement; another examines the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa, an offshoot of the Unity Movement; and still other chapters deal with state repression, political prisoners on Robben Island, and aboveground activity. The chapters on the PAC and APDUSA take up the theme of rural protest and highlight the salience of regional and local specificities; Maaba and Mathabatha very effectively demonstrate that PAC’s Janus-faced nature reflected its varied social bases. The focus on armed struggle raises the question of the criteria used for the choice of organizations covered. Particularly striking is the absence of any discussion of the National Liberation Front (NLF), a network formed by individuals in the Yu Chi Chan Club and disenchanted or expelled Unity Movement members, and for which there exists ample primary documentation. Were only those groups who engaged in violent activity or had external bases considered...