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Patricia Marx interviews Swedish author, poet, and essayist Per Wastberg about his personal involvement in the cause of South Africa. Wastberg explains how prejudice is much worse in South Africa than it is in the United States, as well as the growing guerrilla movement in South Africa. Wastberg also expresses his feelings about intervention from the United Nations and other Western countries, as well as his diminishing beliefs that any end to apartheid can come about peacefully.
WNYC archives id: 56213
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Guerrilla warfare is breaking out in South Africa where millions of black Africans live in subjugation to a small white minority my guest today is the distinguished Swedish novelist poet and so used her West who is considered Sweden's conscience in South Africa Mr Westbury has written three books on our progress has lived and traveled throughout the continent and is a friend of many of the leaders of the African liberation movement Mr Westbury I wonder how you was a Swedish novelist became personally involved in the cause of South Africa when I once got a fellowship to study African literature at the University of salt spray in Southern Rhodesia. Coming there as a kind of neutral in a sense we suddenly got involved in the first emergency state of emergency of that country with all of the African intellectuals Sunday leaders being lined up and sent away to prison camps and that was enough for me. To feel committed because I had already come to know some of these people just ordinary and very nonviolent people asking for nothing else that anybody would ask for here. And after coming back to Europe feeling or remembering the fate and seeing in front of me that faces now. Behind fences in different mosquito infested areas of the country I couldn't quite forgot them forget and I mean and I think it's then it's as much a commitment to people I think as to any kind of ideology or abstract thesis we read about and we hear about concepts like apartheid and that there's extreme prejudice in South Africa and Rhodesia. But I'm not sure we really understand how much worse it is saving the bridges in this country would you describe what it means in concrete and human terrain where life in South Africa between the races is. Danced by innumerable laws I mean for instance I go out with an engine friend of mine or an African friend it doesn't matter our Chinese friends for that matter. We find one of these benches reserved only for whites and I asked my Indian friend anyhow to see it sit down with me and if we all then discovered we are both. Risking a punishment of up to three years of prison and ten strokes of a cane. Also I also as a right probably hate him because the whites are not in that privileged position I mean the tendency is and the intent of the intent of the laws is that always to get whites and Africans and Indians out each other's sight that for I cannot I mean invite anybody or can I callate that Sam mulatto or an African to have tea with me anywhere in South Africa you know no place or in a restaurant and I mean goes down from the smallest things up to the most extraordinary things for instance Africans living in the so-called locations the suburbs of the right big towns they are not allowed except for on official permission to go to the next African suburb for instance to attend the burial of somebody as mother or one's own mother or sister or so on every movement is garnered by the pass pass laws. So they can't go from one community to another one when you know to another that you get a pass for instance which is which allows you to go from from your suburb to your work in the factory in town but that is that you cannot travel from one part of the country to another part and I think this is very successful a done by the government and one of the main reasons why African liberation movements within South Africa have not been very successful because they cannot tie up with each other they cannot communicate from Cape Town to trans Bo to Durban is their great inequality there's no such thing as separate but equal in this case of schools and house no it's not I mean the idea of apartheid I jollity is separate but equal that has not happened and for instance the laws about job preservation see too that if you have been in a town. An electrician that is why it was right and. He's put out a job. There might be an African literature with exactly the same standing or merits or skill and he applies for the job according to the African official salary which is one fourth generally and he's given the job but then do the right electrician could. Apply this law on the job reservation and put the African out of work so this kind or all of your books also against the white employers who tend to prefer skilled Africans rather than skilled white sense. It must be very difficult to become a skilled African If the educational system is so much Piers after nine hundred sixty one could say that there is hardly any possibility at all. In one hundred sixty all the universe to is closed for Africans and even on the lower level there is this so called Bound to education which means that you are if you are an African you are educated in your own native tribal language of which there are seven in South Africa which means that you cannot communicate with other parts of the country and English and Afrikaans. Are only used as a kind of working language and well I mean the difference is the so-called matriculation or university entrance exam. By a bound to education education child is not recognized by any country in the world and furthermore only. Zero point zero zero zero nine percent of the African school starters ever and by taking that you know best entrance exam. What percentage are European and white and what percentage are black Africans in South Africa or about trying to twenty five percent are why it's I mean there are about four million whites to thirteen million Africans and then there are three million mixed people who are for all official purposes law purposes classed as normal white and therefore on of the apartheid laws and the area of the country belongs eighty seven percent to this white minority and thirteen percent belong so to speak to the Africans that is it's set aside as a reserve for the Africans although no African can own land anywhere in their own country it seems amazing that it at this time. A quarter of the country keep the rest of the country in subjugation How do they do it how do they keep you know I think by being very well organized a very efficient bureaucracy that has had time to work for at least twenty years or more and. Every nonwhite person's every move is regulated by different permissions and the military force of South Africa is one of the highest of any country in the world proportionally the military budget of South Africa is said to be the highest of any peace so-called peacekeeping or peaceful country is there a growing defiance at this point among black Africans I think that is. But this all or this ties up with the question of the liberation movement and this movement exists within South Africa and outside South Africa and you could see different faces in the sort of development of the liberation movement up to up to nine hundred sixty it was absolutely nonviolent Then came the shopgirl massacre when about seventy Africans were shot dead from behind in a peaceful demonstration this create an uproar all around the world after that we had a four years of sabotage from the African liberation movement hardly any person was ever hurt and they made went to great extreme in order to avoid any kind of personally that image then a three years of silence preparing for guerrilla warfare and now in sixty seven we have seen the very first in August the very first outbreaks of guerrilla warfare where units from the African National Congress and. From Zambia on their way to South Africa. You know I do you see mostly from outside of South Africa and I think South Africans are they from foreign. Countries they're all South Africans let's say they are South African excellence most of them left South Africa in nineteen sixty or after after the shop for massacre and they formed. A nexus all kind of sister organizations to the main party to the African National Congress which is the main part all over Europe and America even in the USA and African nation and there are also training camps for these people that have been set up especially in Tanzania and also you know. Do you have any idea of how strong they are with their numbers are if they will support no they are very secretive themselves of course and. One has to guess about I think it's a fair guess to say that about two thousand South African blacks are now in training in the world which means that they are also spread out in some of the nation India for instance as I understand it there are about one hundred twenty thousand troops to the South African whites could assemble in few days notice do you feel then that this guerrilla movement is almost hopeless I think it's holding no chance just now in South Africa either except as a kind of. Conscience awakening force in the world and they might I mean I regard him almost as suicidal but I think on the other hand there is a guerrilla movement in Mozambique in the porch beast East Africa which is supported by Tanzania orse has its base in Tanzania to the north and it has about. Fifty thousand troops. And it's supported by different countries in the world through the Organization of African Unity and they get paid and they get weapons we know is it a slightly different game in the two guerrilla movements in Mozambique it would be to end Portuguese colonialism. And in South Africa it would be against the white race within the countries is it very similar or is it is it different because one is Colonial and one is internal you know that is virtually the same thing because the in the structure of the setup whether you call it colonial or apartheid is virtually the same and in those cases I mean you have white people who have made these countries that are home and would be welcome to stay provided they. Obey the majority of the country and work together with that I want is remarkable I think is is that just up till now all the African movements have been so nonviolent after so many decades of oppression do you know some of the leaders of these liberation movements Personally yes I think I almost know I know almost all of them at least I've met them at several locations I go to Africa on the stereo they often go to Europe not Sweden at least what are they like are they very different I mean what is their their background their educational background are they very nationalistic they are certainly all very nationalistic but I think I'm often surprised by the miles ness of these people and I think might be they are just perhaps too weak in the long run but others I mean take it all the leader of the most successful liberation movement is a doctor and apology from Syracuse University here in the state of New York. He's married to an American and is a very well educated and very skilled former administrator I saying. And he has really managed now to invade and control about one fifth of Portuguese Mozambique which is more than any other river kind of liberation movement has done so far and therefore one is bound to regard I think the. Changing Muslim because the first positive sign that guerilla warfare might pay has been a communist influence at this point in the guerrilla warfare as the Cold War entered into this dispute I want to say there has been any kind of decisive communist influence in any of the liberation movements Another thing is that most African leaders turned to the west received very little help and now feel. Betrayed and angry at the kind of two sided morals of the West I mean the West and the US for instance condemning apartheid on the same time investing in South Africa all the time and I think the communist countries. Are also for help for weapons for instance they sometimes give a little but it's rather Nicholas of course. That exists no real revolutionary situation according to the communist according to Russia or China that's to say they cannot control these movements from the outside do the leaders resist control from from the Communists do you feel there's been made in I think they received controlled from from anywhere I mean from the communists or from the west where they like to be neutral. Nationalists you mentioned that they are disappointed in the West in what way what would they have hoped would have happened that hasn't happened. They were saying it's very natural that the West with its kind of professed belief in kind of human history ideals. Would simplices subscribe to the United Nations Charter saying that while trying to work for the notion that everybody is born equal. Opportunities and I think that West's being the main investor in Angola and Mozambique in South Africa Rhodesia is also the force that could act in these countries and trying to influence the small white minority. Is to ask you what are the specific actions that might be taken in terms of influences through the machinery of the U.N. it's rather hopeless situation according to my mind because the Africans have really gotten rather tired of the UN all these recommendations and resolutions with with no force behind them and I think. You and I could always do small things like supporting the political prisoners and families through sounds AIDS. Which is being done a bit already they can provide legal defense for Fall of political prisoners they could especially try to counteract the massive South African and additional propaganda presence in this country and what one could do as well is to try to support or to recognize the liberation movements as. Representing the majority of these countries that would already be a great thing I mean one couldn't ask for the U.N. to support racial movements with weapons the only thing that UN could theoretically do is to invade and intervene in South West Africa which is legally UN trusteeship. What about the question of sanctioned economic boycott why I don't believe in sanctions myself if these sanctions are not absolutely mandatory and full and totally enforced by way of for instance a naval blockade round the coast of South Africa and going to Mozambique which I think is possible provided. England and the United States go along consistently what has been the U.S. position on well they say it's not it's not feasible they have extraordinary large investments in South Africa especially England and what they have done so far is only to. Abide the U.N. Security Council resolution or not shipping arms to South Africa Otherwise I think they will not regard South Africa as an immediate threat to peace and that refrain from any action and therefore I think the kind of. Race War possibility is getting closer so you actually see South Africa as a real threat to stability and peace and I do indeed because it's becoming for the first time a part it is becoming aggressive the former British protectorate like Botswana and the sort of free are in fact to try to economically dependent on South Africa and therefore almost part of South Africa and Rhodesia is being helped by South African police and army and the pressure on Zambia being a very weak country is mounting and you have South African infiltration even that and with the forces in the Congo the so-called the three soldiers as they call them soldiers of fortune. Being mostly South African them to me you have the kind of South African power going up but. No members of South African government have pronounce on goal and most are because as that South Africa's own front towards the north which means that Southern Africa is becoming see the off as a kind of White best and of course no African country could really rest until this extraordinary majority of Africans in these the richest and most industrialized countries are treated the way you describe in South Africa it is becoming aggressive for us and I would have thought that the concern for unrest would be that the liberation movements would really become more openly violent and people cells would revolt which would perhaps would not be sorry to see happen but you're describing it as a kind of imperialism on the part of South Africans as as the real threat I'm doing that yes and I'm using almost the viewpoint of the zombie as President Kennedy was getting very much concerned about this whole movement and I don't see I don't believe in myself in a violent revolution just now within South Africa you see why not well the population is just to control your cannot get simply people so to rise in their own villages and their own towns without any kind of coronation. South Africa's most able leaders are either abroad or confined for life mostly on Robben Island outside Cape Town and I think the very What is worse in thinking for myself. About South Africa is the very picture of these the best land the country have had has. So the withering away or running away on this desolate island breaking stone in chorus. And having nothing to do with their lives Mr West when you say that South Africa is gaining control of the surrounding countries how do you mean this in two are they doing in terms of actual. Military force or how you know except for infiltration by security branches they do it by exerting economic pressure especially on Botswana and the sort of formally protectorates that have gained political freedom but lost what they have had from by economical freedom where for instance the the the main export of low salt is manpower to South African mines South Africa threatens to cut this off and send all the able men back to poverty in the sort of being a very poor country. If you sort of harbors South African refugees for instance and the same thing goes with Botswana that exports meat and textiles and so on to South Africa they will cut that off they say by way of pressure if the Botswana is not regarding itself more or less as a kind of satellite to South Africa and so South Africa has now to the north whole line of buffer states. Really protecting South Africa from liberation movements What do you think would happen if there was such a thing as majority rule if actually the whole system of apartheid did break down what would be the consequences for the white population there. When I think a few years ago I mean I I thought. They were the whites and the Africans would absolutely be able to work together because of the very conciliatory and not bitter attitudes of the Africans but now the atmosphere is becoming much much more bitter and the whites are going to fight it out to the last breath on shore so one has to in the search a kind of international supervision. For for a time before everything gets settled and I think that some of the whites will certainly leave South Africa but they want it more than the other whites who would be happy to come to this country and I can think of no African government in South Africa that would prevent other races to live there and they already have so many Injuns and mixed races and some Chinese and they're use to a kind of integrated society that has been segregated only during the last decades so you see a way of the races working together if the white minority rule were broken Well I hope so but I mean I was I don't see it without some without some bloodshed really Italy enough I saw a much I saw it much lighter some years ago but now I think mainly because of the passive and you neutral attitudes of the West I think the. Fate of South Africa is going to be more and more sinister. How do you see this evolving sinister from what side what is going to happen from anybody's point to be all really because I mean we would all wish for a peaceful South Africa this is the richest country in Africa one of the very richest in the world with a very high standard of living that could be equally divided already now between whites and other races and it's such a sad thing to think of the. One of the most beautiful countries in the world to my mind even from the point of your nature to go to pieces or to be threatened by something so unnecessary as the difference in skin I mean you see guerrilla warfare increasing and militancy of the South African white government becoming much more rigorous and so oppressive I see a confrontation coming along and while the South African regime has a military power much stronger than the rest of Africa I see the other African states coming to the assistance of their guerillas sooner or later with our small armies and by the whole of Africa then being involved in a fight against South Africa the rest of the world will also be involved because this will imply the whole Cold War scheme the Russians or the Chinese will step in the Americans will be forced to step in and I'm afraid they will do so on the wrong side and then just just because of this cone bore. Some sort of ghost would be entered into the play Mr WEST What is it specifically that the liberation movements in Africa would like to see the West do. Well no liberation movement has ever asked either the West or the East for that matter to intervene but force what they ask from the West is only that the West should disengage itself as they often say that means stop trading stop interfering stop investments in southern Africa and rather transfer this trade on these investments to the independent states of Africa the part of the Third World War world that needs to be developed and what effect with this disengagement have in South Africa would what would happen I think the whole apartheid structure would crumble because it wouldn't be an economic gain and by that I mean slowly the whites would think in some other direction so in a way it's not done any active intervention that is demanded or are needed to support it simply not supporting the government yes I think so a true neutrality what true pursuit is not the kind of force you're credited that is being taken up now as the favorite attitude of the best Mr Westbury thank you for this interview my guest has been a distinguished Swedish author pair Westbury who has written many books on Africa thank you and goodbye for now.