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"History and humanity interact vividly in Chan’s easy-to-read brand of academic journalism . . . insightful and incisive."—J. P. Smaldone, Choice
“[An] always readable account . . . Chan is fascinated by the personal foibles of the region’s longstanding leaders and has an eye for telling details.”—Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs
Cecil Rhodes wanted to link Africa, south to north. He wanted a through road to facilitate his expansionism. The road he began ran through South Africa and what is today Zimbabwe and Zambia. Transport links have always bound these three nations together. But South Africa and Zimbabwe, still called Rhodesia until 1980, were bound together as well by the stubborn retention of white minority rule. Although liberation movements from both countries were headquartered in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, it was military victory for nationalist groups in the surrounding Portuguese territories, particularly in Angola, that sparked a wave of battle and struggle, with the active involvement of many non-African countries including the superpowers of the day, that culminated in the diplomatic manoeuvres that gave independence to Zimbabwe. After that, Apartheid South Africa was isolated in the region but far from defeated. With the independence of Zimbabwe, the Apartheid machine prepared to uncoil for one last great offensive against its black neighbours. This conflict defined the political relationships and personalities of much of what was to come, well into the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Cecil Rhodes wanted to build a road from Cape Town to Cairo. It didn't even get halfway but, even now, a Great North Road still snakes out of Lusaka, Zambia promising much and petering out in the Congolese wilderness. It was the old fox, Henry Kissinger, who realised that Africa was too big to be encompassed by a single vision. In the 1970s he thought he could anchor US interests in three, possibly four, major states: South Africa and Egypt were there, so the Cape and Cairo still featured, only without the road; so did Nigeria in the west and, as an afterthought, Nairobi in the east. Nothing in the centre. Everything petered out in the centre. That was the heart of darkness, albeit with a dictatorial ruler friendly to the US. President Mobutu of what was then called Zaire was indulged and left alone.
The US needed rulers and regimes that were friendly. In 1976 the Cold War had become spectacularly hot, but far enough away from the West for it to be fought by proxies. Apartheid South Africa acted as the US proxy in the swathe of the continent that took in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean seaboards from the Cape to the northern tips of Angola and Mozambique, and everything in between. There was talk in Pretoria, London and Washington of forming a SATO, a South Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This never happened but South African warships began to use NATO naval doctrine, signals and contingency planning formulas.
The advent of Cuban troops in Angola in 1976 had alarmed Washington. The South African military, responding to a new Angolan government with Communist leanings, had been driven back by the Cubans. Suddenly, Africa was no longer the continent of low-intensity guerrilla wars but a place where tank columns manoeuvred for position and where air superiority determined strategic planning. As the South Africans fell back, the US prepared to support its Apartheid ally in long wars.
But Kissinger realised that a tide of majority rule, of black rule, was rolling towards South Africa, where the white minority stubbornly clung to power even as it was being steadily surrounded by black states. What he wanted to avoid was majority rule accomplished by military victory; especially Communist-assisted military victory, as had just occurred in Angola. A military fightback was, in his and Pretoria's view, unavoidable. But Kissinger also wanted a buy-out. Military might would keep Communist-aided states at bay and destabilised. Economic might would buy peaceful settlements in troublesome areas such as Rhodesia. The Kissinger plan, highly generalised but striking the centre of the problem, was to compensate white Rhodesian farmers for giving up their land to a black majority. With a key grievance addressed, the black nationalists would negotiate a future rather than go to war for it, and not seek Communist help as they did so. The moderate government that ensued would cooperate with the huge economic might of South Africa.
The South Africans had long dreamed of the surrounding states becoming part of an economic zone. It was a little like the Japanese dream of a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in the years before World War II seeking to benefit economically from the surrounding region while dominating it politically and, if need be, militarily. It was naïve of the Japanese to imagine that their dream would not create resistance. Likewise, the South African dream was never going to work as long as Pretoria was the capital of white racism in a continent casting off the chains of discrimination.
This was a time of tangled history in Southern Africa, as racial divides at home were made into chess-pieces on an international board. West and East clashed over Southern Africa while, within the region, black sought to emancipate itself from white.
Today, giant rainbow-coloured lizards dance on Cecil Rhodes' grave in the Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe. It is an eerie place, rocks balance precariously on top of one another in natural columns, and local people say that ancestral spirits dance and weave in and out of the rocks. The view seems to stretch on for ever and, in the vegetation below, rhinos still roam.
It has been hard to get away from Rhodes. Born in 1853 he lived, by any standards, a great if pernicious life until his death in 1902. He had an unreserved belief in the 'civilising' capacity and destiny of the white European race, and that this sanctioned his expansion into other lands. He founded the state of Rhodesia, later Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe). In the war against Robert Mugabe's guerrillas, the soldiers of the white-ruled Southern Rhodesia would be awarded the General Service Medal, bearing Rhodes' portrait. From 1890 to 1896 he was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in what is now South Africa. Rhodes University in South Africa was named after him. He founded the De Beers Mining Company, whose diamond mines form the bedrock of Botswana's economy. His British South Africa Company had its own police force and, as one of the great multinational corporations of its day, was licensed by the British government to conduct a privatised form of colonialism. His interests stretched as far as the Congo and he tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain mining concessions there. Ironically, a hundred years later, these came to Mugabe's Generals.
But Rhodes wasn't the only man to seek to unite Southern Africa. Shaka, the great Zulu Emperor, in his conquests, made unions out of disparate tribes, incorporated either into the Zulu empire or united against it. I remember in the late 1980s visiting Zambia and dining with the air force high command. Suddenly, all eating and drinking had to stop. It was time for that week's instalment of the South African television epic of Shaka. The General and his colonels sat riveted, for Shaka was their predecessor a black man recognised even by whites as a great warrior and general.
The whole saga of Shaka is now being revisited by historians. The young leader who rose to prominence by the ferocious discipline and loyalty of his impis, he seemed to bring something new to Southern Africa by way of both battle and vision of unity. Certainly his innovation of the short stabbing spear caught his adversaries by surprise. But were his battle tactics that revolutionary? Was he really so ruthless? He was certainly highly successful by the standards of his day. He lived from 1787 to 1828 and united all the Zulu sub-tribes. At his height, he ruled over 250,000 people and fielded regiments, impis, numbering 50,000 soldiers. He did more than unite the Zulus. His military conquests forced many other tribal groups to unite into stronger units, or relocate their homes. Dissident Zulus and Shaka's impis themselves set up homes in the areas they overcame, so that there is a Zulu imprint among the Ndebele people of western Zimbabwe and the Ngoni people of south-eastern Zambia. But, even after he died, Shaka's military legacy made a great impact upon the expansionist white population of Southern Africa. The Boer settlers, marching north on their great Voortrek to establish their own lands away from the British, defeated a Zulu army at the 1838 Battle of Blood River. On the other hand, Zulu regiments wiped out the British at the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana, and both battles entered the folklore of the region.
Until recently the region has been one of battles and confrontations. War only stopped in Angola and Mozambique in the 1990s, both having had significant Apartheid South African interventions although the direct nature of these began to cease after the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola in 1988 where, once again, Cuban forces with Soviet air superiority outmanoeuvred the South African military. But the battles left their mark and gave birth to their own legends. It was an open secret in Lusaka that the young air force commander with whom I dined General Hananiah Lungu the fan of Shaka on television, had disobeyed President Kaunda's orders forbidding any military retaliation against the constant incursions by white Rhodesian forces, including their warplanes, to discourage Zimbabwean guerrillas operating from Zambian soil. One day in the late 1970s, indignant at the taunts of Rhodesian pilots, he took off in his own fighter and crossed the border undetected. He then dropped smoke bombs the length of the main Rhodesian air force base just to indicate he could do it, and that the Zambians could reply more forcefully if they were let off the leash then made it back to Zambia before the astonished Rhodesians could muster a reply. Kaunda lectured the young officer fiercely, then promoted him.
The Rhodesians had been trenchantly supported by South Africa. Rhodes was only the beginning, and the relationship between the two countries developed with ferocity as the twentieth century progressed.
* * *
In 1910 the project begun by Rhodes in South Africa had reached a level of consolidation and maturity. The fierce rebellion by Boer settlers against British encroachment on 'their' lands had been suppressed but not before the Boer fighters had given the British a severe lesson in unconventional warfare. The country was sufficiently at peace in 1910 to be given 'dominion' status: a form of independence, subject to final sanction of the British crown and its organs. It was the same kind of 'independent' status, with variations, given to Canada and New Zealand. Canada only severed its final constitutional links with the British Parliament in 1982 and New Zealand continues to recognise Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. South Africa, however, became a full-fledged republic in 1961, after many years of developing and enforcing Apartheid. It declared itself a republic when it was expelled from the Commonwealth. The increasing number of Third World countries gaining independence and entering the Commonwealth made South Africa's membership untenable. It was the only country without majority rule. The surrounding countries were all slated to receive independence in the near future. The British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, had visited South Africa in 1960 and made his historic 'wind of change' speech, urging the South African Parliament to move with the times and recognise the rights of the black population. It was one of the great eloquent speeches of the twentieth century, but had no effect. From that moment of refusal to listen to Macmillan, it was clear South Africa had to go it alone and, in 1960, the Sharpeville massacre when 69 black protesters were killed and 180 injured declared to the world South Africa's determination to preserve Apartheid at all costs. But, if South Africa had to go it alone in broad international terms, it was determined to undermine its isolation by developing strong links with Western corporations, by becoming the ally of Washington in its war against Communism, and by ensuring that the surrounding African states remained as white, or as compliant, as possible.
South Africa had been working on the surrounding states for some time. The regional protective buffers for Apartheid went hand in hand with the steady development of legalised discrimination at home. Strong links were formed with the white-ruled states and then, as independence began to come, it particularly supported the minority settler government in Rhodesia, suppressed nationalist movements in South West Africa (now Namibia), over which it had assumed disputed control, and sought to condition Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland into becoming compliant, untroublesome states. All the while, South Africa increased the pressure on its own black population.
It was not as if the black population in South Africa took this kneeling down. The ANC (African National Congress) was established in 1912, but in 1913 the Land Acts were passed in Parliament, creating 'native reserves' on 7 per cent of the land. This was increased to 13 per cent in 1936, and such restricted voting rights as black Africans enjoyed were rescinded. It took until 1946, however, before the first mass black protest occurred. That was a strike of 100,000 miners; and, in that year, the first United Nations discussion took place on what was happening in South Africa. Again to no avail. The coming to power in 1948 of the white Nationalist Party under D.F. Malan saw a commitment to full Apartheid. As Prime Minister, Malan embodied the strict Afrikaner ideology of white racial superiority. He declared that the Afrikaners the descendants of Dutch and other Protestant settlers who had fought the British were the creation of God, and that the semi-barbarous blacks had only the Afrikaner standard of civilisation as an appropriate guide to a Christian life. In 1949 the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was passed. In 1950 the Population Registration Act formally divided South Africans into separate racial groups. In international terms, this should have been appalling. It was only five years after the end of the Holocaust, with its own racial groupings and the denigration and genocide associated with that, but now racial grouping and discrimination came to South Africa. In 1955 the ANC with its partners adopted the Freedom Charter. The battle lines internally had begun to be drawn.
Internationally, the first trenchant criticism came with the independence of Ghana in 1957. An African voice entered the UN and the first effort at an international boycott of South African goods began the following year. After the Sharpeville massacre the ANC was banned. In 1964 Nelson Mandela was among eight men sent to prison for treason. They included Govan Mbeki, the father of Thabo Mbeki, the future president. The battle lines were fully drawn, and the ANC went underground in South Africa and established bases in exile as surrounding states gained independence. The ANC went to Zambia, the old Northern Rhodesia. Thabo Mbeki travelled extensively but basically divided his exile between London and Lusaka. But, a year after Zambia gained independence in 1964, Ian Smith and the white Rhodesian Front party in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe unilaterally declared its independence from Britain, with a promise never to allow majority rule for a thousand years. This suited South Africa down to the ground. It had a key buffer state in place, and it thought it could control the other surrounding states.
Even the names in this case were revealing. 'Rhodesia' harked back to Cecil Rhodes, but 'Zimbabwe' referred to a great African civilisation which had built stone cities across the country, probably as urban centres marking a trade route that headed towards the Mozambican coast.
South Africa had an ally in Portugal. Its right-wing government was determined, until its fall in 1975, to hold on to its colonies in Angola and Mozambique. South Africa had annexed South West Africa. It had occupied the territory, then a German colony, during World War I; administered it under a League of Nations mandate between the two wars; then annexed it after World War II. The Germans had killed a significant part of the population when it rose against colonial rule and, although SWAPO (the South West African People's Organization) began a guerrilla war against South African rule, the huge land mass and small population it is the world's most thinly populated country after Mongolia made successful war impossible. SWAPO, like the ANC, set up an exile headquarters in Zambia. But Zambia could be kept at geopolitical distance. With Angola, Mozambique and South West Africa all under white governorship, South Africa faced only the problem of how to control neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
This was accomplished in three ways. Economically, the three states were incorporated into the Southern African Customs Union, controlled by South Africa. This gave them tangible and significant economic benefits. Diplomatically, South Africa worked to isolate these states from the growing UN consensus against Apartheid. Swaziland was forced to sign a secret non-aggression pact as late as 1982. Militarily, South Africa would demonstrate its capacity on selected occasions, and did intervene briefly with its armed forces in both Botswana and Lesotho. By and large, these three states never caused South Africa any major difficulties. The independence of Angola and Mozambique in 1975 however, and the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, all three after vicious military conflict, led South Africa to reformulate and heighten its regional policy into one of coordinated and constant destabilisation.
Excerpted from SOUTHERN AFRICA by STEPHEN CHAN Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Chan. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1 The Great North Road 1
2 The armed trek 30
3 The rainbow bridge 49
4 The formation of Thabo Mbeki 66
5 The degeneration of Zimbabwe 82
6 How Morgan Tsvangirai formed himself 99
7 How can a car go forward with two different speeds on only one gear? 114
8 The long electoral trek 131
9 The return of the Zulu king 147
10 The elections of no election: the prelude to vexed compromise in Zimbabwe 169
11 The legacy of mixed legacy: Mbeki breaks through on Zimbabwe, Zuma breaks through on Mbeki 198
12 A divorce, a forced marriage, and an historic election 224
13 What is the future of it all? 255