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Chapter One— Introduction
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Chapter One—
Introduction

The present work constitutes an attempt to analyse South African society in its entirety, from a broad sociological perspective. This is by no means an easy task, for few countries exhibit as many complexities. South Africa is a highly pluralistic society wherein coexist several political systems, economies, and linguistic, religious, and "racial" groups which overlap only partly with one another. Every society is, of course, unique in some respects, but South Africa is, so to speak, more unique than others. Indeed, South Africa is not only internally compartmentalized into semiautonomous structures which complexly interact; it is also a society characterized by an extraordinarily high level of internal conflict, contradiction, and dysfunction. In some respects, notably in the system of production, South Africa has undergone rapid change, whereas, politically, and in its ascriptive system of stratification, the country has remained largely static. The very discrepancy between rapid change in some segments of the society accompanied by rigidity and inadaptability in others has greatly increased internal tensions and disequilibrium.

Conflict is certainty the most important characteristic of South African society, and, hence, the dominant theme of this book. At the most overt level, there is conflict over the distribution of social rewards between the four major groups which the


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dominant Whites have defined in racial terms, as well as between the two main European ethnic groups (English and Afrikaners). More abstractly, South Africa is ridden with almost total lack of consensus on values, i.e., on what its people consider desirable goals to achieve. At another level of analysis yet, South African society is pervaded by contradictory imperatives and principles regulating the main aspects of its social structure. The Government and the White population which it represents endeavour to maintain a rigidly ascriptive and particularistic system of racial segregation and stratification based on a paternalistic, master-servant model of social relations. While such a system was workable in an agrarian, isolated society such as South Africa was in the nineteenth century, it is clearly incompatible with a complex industrial economy. Consequently, conflicts and contradictions, far from resolving themselves, have become increasingly acute over the years.

We shall postpone a discussion of some of the theoretical problems raised by the present analysis until the last chapter, but we may anticipate the inadequacy of a conventional functionalist approach, and the necessity, or, at least, the heuristic value, of introducing Hegelian dialectical concepts in dealing with South Africa.[1] The present work is clearly not a theoretical treatise, and I shall endeavour to avoid burdening the text with abstruse jargon. Yet, equally obviously, the empirical case under study has important theoretical implications to which we shall return at the end of the book.

What, then, is the major emphasis of this study, and at what audience is it directed? I have endeavoured to steer a middle course between purely empirical description and grand theory, and to remain at the level that some sociologists have somewhat pretentiously termed "total social system analysis." First and foremost, the present work represents an attempt to analyse


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systematically a highly complex and unusual society which has not yet been subjected to this kind of treatment. Thus, I address myself both to my fellow sociologists and anthropologists who have an intrinsic interest in analysis of this nature, and to my fellow Africanists from other disciplines who, without specifically specializing in South Africa, want to gain a better understanding of it. The South African specialist will probably not find much here that is factually new to him, though, hopefully, some of the interpretations might cast a new light on familiar facts. This book is not primarily aimed at the "educated laymen" (in the broad sense of the word) who is looking for the one book that will give him most information on South Africa.[2] Although I have tried to write digestible prose, my analysis is already once-removed from the factual raw data (to which I do not claim to contribute significantly), and assumes some modicum of prior familiarity with South African conditions.

It is, of course, a truism that present conditions are a product of the past, and must be understood in terms of it. I shall deal quickly with the historical background in Chapter Two, but this work is by no means a history of South Africa. Past events and their significance will merely be referred to, rather than described at any length. Accepting the importance of history does not imply a denial of the reality of social structure, nor, conversely, does the structural approach imply an assumption that reality is either static or in equilibrium. A structural approach rather takes history for granted, and assumes that aside from diachronic determinism there also exists a synchronic determinism inherent in the structure of a society at any given time. The choice of emphasis is, or at least should be, heuristic and not dogmatic, and the two approaches should be complementary and not mutually exclusive.

In Chapters Three and Four we shall turn to a broad descrip-


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tion of the social structure of South Africa. These chapters, like the preceding one, do not aim to give a complete picture of the society, but rather to sketch the skeleton of it and give the necessary background to the core of the work. Many existing books deal with special aspects of South Africa, and detailed descriptions would be redundant here.[3] The major aim of this study is to analyse the various sources of conflict and disequilibrium which are ever more ominously threatening the existing order of South African society. In studying strain and conflict, I hope to suggest answers to such questions as how South African society manages to hold together at all, how it has achieved a stage of "static disequilibrium," at least politically, how much more strain the system can take, and in what direction the system can be expected to change.

Three chapters will be devoted to the power conflict around which ethnic-group antagonisms have crystallized in South Africa. This power conflict has traditionally taken two forms: first, the struggle for Afrikaner versus English supremacy within the superordinate White group; and, secondly, the conflict between Whites and non-Whites, more particularly between Whites and Africans. This second form of power struggle constitutes the core of the so-called "race problem," and will entail an examination of the "Native policy" of successive governments, and of the various forms of reaction to that policy on the part of the oppressed groups.

In dealing with the South African economy, I shall try to show to what extent the political system is at odds with the principles of a supposedly "free" economy, and how economic forces inevitably erode the social structure which successive governments have endeavoured to preserve. Disequilibria resulting from value conflicts and centring on such institutions as the universities and churches will make the subject of Chapter Nine.


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In the same chapter the disruptive consequences of acculturation in a society like South Africa will be examined. An analysis of external pressures and their effect on the internal structure of the country will close the empirical part of the book, which I shall conclude by drawing theoretical implications from our case study.

The reader who is not intrinsically interested in South Africa may well ask why that country should be the subject of our study. Several factors make South Africa particularly crucial for sociological analysis. In a world of rapid "decolonization," the anachronism of its governmental policies and racial attitudes gives South Africa the value of a museum piece, of a living political dinosaur, all the more implausible in that the country also has a thriving and dynamic industrial economy. Furthermore, the extreme complexity of the country and the extraordinary virulence of its conflicts present a challenge to structural and functional analysis. From the practical point of view of improving race relations, South Africa is an ideal negative case showing what must be avoided, and confirming in inverted fashion the principles of "racial therapy" developed elsewhere. Finally, the virtual certainty that South Africa will not escape the transformations taking place in the rest of the continent will provide social scientists with an opportunity to study rapid and drastic change.

It is perhaps appropriate to include some remarks here about methodology and the problem of objectivity. My interest in, and research on, South Africa date back to the summer of 1958 when I began to collect material for a study of race relations in that country.[4] This work was followed by a stay of nearly two years in South Africa, devoted partly to a community study,[5] and partly to a more general sociological study of the country as a


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whole. The present book is thus the product of a wide variety of methods of investigation. As primary sources for the documentation of social life and race relations in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, I have relied mostly on the memoirs and travelogues left by early travellers at the Cape. These documents are surprisingly rich in detailed descriptions of day-to-day life. The works of Percival, Damberger, Lichtenstein, Sparrman, Mentzel, Barrow, Vaillant, Chapman, Latrobe, Wright, Campbell, Kolben, Thunberg, and Patterson are particularly vivid.[6]

This historical research has, of course, been supplemented by secondary sources,[7] and by the visit of old farms, museums, churches, painting galleries, plantations, town houses, and public buildings in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Tulbagh, Swellendam, and other settlements of the old Cape Colony, and, for the


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post-Great Trek era, the towns of Natal, the Eastern Cape, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State.

For the contemporary period, aside from the extensive bibliography on many different aspects of South African society, including works of fiction, my knowledge of the country has been complemented by numerous other sources of information. The most important of them have been an intensive study of a small Natal community where I have used standard anthropological methods of field work; hundreds of formal and informal interviews with persons from all walks of life and from all major ethnic groups; close contact with numerous South African academics in both Afrikaans- and English-speaking universities, extensive travels and visits of schools, police stations, hospitals, mining companies, slums and "model" housing, urban "locations" and "Native Reserves"; direct observation of day-to-day racial interaction, including police behaviour during and after the 1960 emergency; more detailed questionnaire studies of racial attitudes, miscegenation, the Hindu caste system, and social distance; a close study of South African dailies and periodicals during my period of residence in the country; and attendance at political rallies, meetings, protest marches, and the like.

The problem of objectivity is, of course, especially crucial and difficult when one deals with a country like South Africa, where the central conflict impinges so directly on one's own values. To pretend Olympian detachment would be both foolish and dishonest on my part. It would be foolish because my writing would quickly reveal my position, and dishonest because I am anything but detached. Obviously, I am writing from the colourblind viewpoint of a universalistic ethos of equality of opportunity and legal rights, of freedom, and of self-determination. While I shall endeavour to present the facts as objectively as possible, I cannot help but find the policies of the government and the attitudes of most South African Whites distasteful in the extreme. It is for the reader to decide to what extent my


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own values have coloured my interpretations. My only claims are that my account is factually correct in every major respect (though minor inaccuracies may have slipped in inadvertently), and that most sociologists would have reached substantially the same conclusions as I did.

To most White South Africans, and, indeed, to other White supremacists, this book will necessarily, and, from their point of view, rightly, appear biased. It may even seem slanted to many Western scholars who, without being racists, still accept implicitly the ethnocentric myths of European colonialism concerning Africa, such as those of the "civilizing mission of the West" and African "primitivism." I have consciously tried to avoid any invidious value judgments concerning the various cultures present in South Africa, as well as the usual condescending vocabulary of much Western scholarship dealing with Africa. E.g., such terms as "primitivism," "native," "punitive expeditions," "disturbances," "tribe," "pacification," "exploration," "civilization," and "paganism" have all been discarded as far as possible because of their ethnocentric connotations. A similar problem arises concerning the choice of words in speaking of South Africa's indigenous black inhabitants. The country's Whites almost always refer to their black fellow citizens as "Bantu" or "Native." Sometimes they also use the word "Kaffir" (an Arabic word meaning "heathen") which is now regarded as most insulting. The terms "Bantu" and "Native," while not directly insulting, have a derogatory connotation, and are resented by many Africans. The word "Bantu" is also used by anthropologists to designate a large group of peoples speaking related languages. Except in quotations, official titles, and documents, or in the linguistic context, I shall only use the term "African" in this work. The term "South African," when used by Whites, refers almost invariably to Whites only. The non-Whites are by implication denied common citizenship with the Whites. I shall always use the term "South African" in the generic, and only meaningful sense, except when otherwise indicated by quotation marks.


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I have also avoided a presentation of South Africa as a White man's country with a colourful backdrop of "savages" who occasionally intrude into the foreground during "Kaffir Wars" and more recently during "disturbances." Since the seventeenth century, South Africa is a region torn in bitter strife between conquering Europeans and numerous indigenous groups, not to mention other immigrant communities and the people of mixed descent.

Finally, a fallacious impression which some readers might get from this book must be dispelled at the outset. Nowhere do I mean to suggest that White South Africans are peculiarly perverse, or that their colour attitudes and policies are unique. On the contrary, my argument is that South African racialism is a product of a historical tradition constantly reinforced by the social environment. In retrospect, the development of racism seems completely understandable, and, conversely, it becomes difficult to explain why not all Whites are prejudiced. Furthermore, racialism is by no means a South African monopoly, although its presence in the United States, Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere does not justify it in South Africa.[8] Lastly, the policies of South African governments have paralleled rather closely those of other European powers in Africa during most of colonial history. Only during the last two decades have they grown increasingly at variance with the policies of all but


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the most archaic and obdurate of colonial powers, namely Portugal. It is thus essential that the reader keep South Africa in the broader perspective of Western imperialism, although it would take us too far afield to do so explicitly at any length here.

To conclude these considerations about the problem of objectivity in South Africa, I should like to quote at some length Danziger's perceptive remarks:

In the South African case it would require an extraordinary intellectual feat to arrive at some synthetic perspective which combines the partial historical insights of Afrikaner nationalists, English liberals and African revolutionaries. Such a synthesis would simply constitute the philosophy of the bystander, the cognitive style of the socially uncommitted. But where the ubiquity of social conflict excludes the possibility of non-commitment the intellectual stance corresponding to it would simply become another version of status quo ideology.

The fallacy of according greater truth value to the synthetic world view is based upon a failure to recognize the active role played by cognitive patterns in the historical process. Subjective views of the social process do not merely lead to meditation, they also lead to social action. Conservative or revolutionary ideology is not merely a matter of "intellectual position," but of practical policies and social movements which seek to impose a certain image on the world. Under these conditions social truth is created, not contemplatively interpreted, and he is nearest to the truth whose situationally transcendent ideas represent the interests of social forces which are favoured by the historical process.[9]


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Chapter One— Introduction
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