previous chapter
Chapter Nine— Value Conflicts
next chapter

Chapter Nine—
Value Conflicts

One of the main interests of South Africa for the development of sociological theory is the absence of consensus about values in that society. It should not be surprising that the many sources of conflict and contradiction arising from the South African social structure should also be reflected in lack of agreement about what is socially desirable. Yet several "structure-function" theorists, notably Talcott Parsons, postulate value consensus as a necessary condition to the existence of a society.[1] Unless most members of a society broadly agree on and internalize a common set of values, the most important and basic condition for social integration is lacking, according to many functionalist analysts.

We shall return in the final chapter to the problem raised by the consensus assumption. Meanwhile, let us provisionally accept, in minimum form, the functionalist postulates that a certain amount of integration is essential to the existence of a society, and that value consensus is an important source of integration in most social systems. We may even go one step further and accept that absence of consensus is at once a symptom and a cause of malintegration. However, the postulate that value consensus is a functional prerequisite of any society is patently


contradicted by the existence of numerous culturally pluralistic societies wherein several groups have radically different values. One can, of course, stretch the concept of consensus to the point of meaninglessness, or deny that such social systems constitute societies; but either of these ways of evading the difficulty is unsatisfactory. Societies can be integrated on bases other than value consensus, e.g., through economic interdependence and political coercion, as is the case in South Africa.

What are the main sources of value conflict and dissension in South Africa? Basically they are reducible to two. First, since South Africa is a culturally pluralistic society, each culture represented in that country has its own idiosyncratic value system. In this respect South Africa is far from unique. Indeed, almost all of the world has experienced, at one time or another, the coexistence of widely different cultural traditions within broader social structures. Secondly, the value system of the dominant White group contains within itself crucial contradictions. Here, also, South Africa is not unique, but it certainly represents an extreme case. Both of these sources of value conflict will now be examined in greater detail.[2]

The different value orientations represented in the various ethnic groups, while not always conflicting, have nevertheless entailed tensions, misunderstandings, and mutually unfavourable stereotypes. A complete account of this source of value conflicts would involve a depth study of the value systems of all the cultural groups represented in South Africa. This is obviously beyond the scope of this study. We shall therefore confine


ourselves to a few salient aspects of the problem. Different notions of property, and more particularly of land ownership, have often led to conflict in European-African contacts. In South Africa, as elsewhere, the Europeans have introduced the alien notion that land could be individually owned and sold like any other commodity. On the other hand, the indigenous African groups shared a totally different conception of land, generally described as "communal tenure." In traditional African culture, land is a natural resource; land occupation by a certain group gives that group the right to exploit the land, but no individual may lay a property claim on any part of it. Within the group, land may be redistributed for use, according to the needs of the extended families which compose the larger group. As in many other parts of Africa, such widely different notions of property have led to misunderstandings and violent conflicts, especially in the period following the Great Trek, when land-cession "treaties" were signed between the Boers and the African nations.

Incompatible attitudes concerning cattle still play an important role in cultural clashes. The Europeans view cattle as consumption goods, whereas the traditional African outlook is to consider cattle primarily as capital goods. Heads of cattle are accumulated mainly for prestige reasons, and because cattle is the main medium of exchange in payment of the bride-wealth (lobola ). The consumption of meat, milk, and hides is only a secondary by-product of livestock ownership. As cattle is convertible into women (and, hence, even more importantly into children), the entire network of matrimonial exchanges, and, indeed, the whole kinship structure, and much of the legal system revolve around it. In terms of the role of cattle in traditional rural African society, it becomes perfectly rational to maximize the size of one's herd, irrespective of meat quality and milk production, and beyond the point of what Europeans consider economically sensible. To say that Africans are indifferent to stock quality is, however, completely untrue. One should rather


say that the African sense of quality in cattle is more aesthetic than economic.

When the government, therefore, attempts to limit the size of herds, and to improve stock quality at the expense of quantity, it meets with stubborn (and understandable) opposition. Cattle culling not only means a destruction of capital (in much the same way as burning of banknotes would to a European), but also undermines the entire social structure of traditional African society. Not only do the Whites attempt to impose their view of cattle as the only valid and rational one, but they also disregard the fact that they have themselves contributed greatly to the economic vicious circle of overgrazing and erosion, by depriving Africans of most of their land. As a Zulu told a White official who inveighed against overgrazing, "It is not that we have too many cattle for our land, we have too little land for our cattle."[3]

A similar ethnocentrism and cultural misunderstanding characterize the entire government-imposed programme of "land betterment" which is so bitterly opposed by many rural Africans. There is increasing evidence that traditional African techniques of agriculture and animal husbandry were well adapted to soil and climatic conditions, and much less wasteful of natural resources than many of the European techniques of intensive exploitation. Yet, after having been confined to overpopulated Native Reserves which cannot possibly support their population, Africans are accused of being backward, conservative, and wasteful of land resources, and are expected to turn into intensive cash farmers without the capital necessary for such development, and without any consideration for the socially disruptive implications of technological innovations. For example, the introduction of the oxen-drawn plow has revolutionized the sexual division of labour in many African societies, where agriculture has traditionally been the task of women, and animal husbandry that of men.


In short, Europeans have uncritically assumed that economic rationality and materialism are universally valid concepts, and have more or less forcibly imposed these values on African populations in total disregard of indigenous values. In many cases, new techniques were introduced without any proof that they were adaptable to the African environment, and that they would, in the long run, be more productive than traditional methods. On the whole, it appears that Europeans are responsible for a much more wasteful exploitation of African resources than the Africans themselves. One needs only to think of wanton destruction of game; large-scale deforestation; and soil exhaustion through intensive planting of such crops as cotton, and through large-scale sheep grazing; not to mention the colossal waste of human resources, first through the slave trade (which cost Africa at least fifty million lives), and then through various forms of compulsory labour conscription and "contracting" on mines, plantations, railway and road construction projects, etc. These considerations apply not only to South Africa, but to the continent as a whole.

Other incompatible values have led to friction and conflict between Whites and non-Whites in South Africa. A classical example is the European (or, more generally, industrial) notion of time as a valuable and rigorously measurable commodity. While insistence on punctuality and speed is obviously functional in an urban, industrial society, it is much less important in a rural context, and, hence, alien to traditional African values. Also related to industrialization, and alien to African culture, is the "Protestant Ethic" concerning work and the accumulation of material goods as morally desirable ends in themselves. The absence of such values in indigenous cultures has led to the European stereotypes of the African as "lazy," "indolent," "improvident," "irresponsible," etc.[4] In terms of practical policy, the


Western outlook on work has led to the introduction of such measures as "poll taxes," and more or less compulsory "recruitment" schemes to force Africans into the wage economy and "teach the Natives habits of industriousness."

These measures have been bitterly opposed by Africans, not so much at first because they were discriminatory and reduced them to industrial wage slavery, but rather because they were utterly senseless in terms of traditional values. Failing any incentive to accumulate wealth for its own sake (and, for that matter, any opportunity to do so to any significant extent), and viewing work as a necessary evil to sustain life, rather than as a rewarding and morally laudable end in itself, the traditional rural African has little motivation to participate in the wage economy, other than the sheer necessity of survival.[5] This lack of motivation is interpreted by the Whites as "laziness," and used as a rationalization for low wages. Since rural Africans do not want to earn as much as possible, but rather earn enough in a few months of work to be able to live from the savings for the rest of the year, many Whites argue, a rise in wages leads to a


decrease in the labour supply. Therefore, wages must be kept low. That this rationalization is based on less than a half-truth does not concern us here. Even when the African becomes Westernized enough to accept the "Protestant Ethic" on work, productivity, and wealth accumulation, he finds himself caught in an exploitative and grossly discriminatory system of production from which there is no escape, and which makes his newly acquired values a source of frustration and bitterness rather than an incentive to work. We shall return to that point later, as it belongs more to the second major source of value conflict.

African and Indian values regarding marriage, sex, and the family are also a common source of European stereotypes and misunderstandings. For example, the more permissive standards of premarital sexuality found in many African cultures, and the payment of fines in cases of adultery, lead to the European stereotypes of Africans as being "lascivious," "oversexed," and as prostituting their wives.[6] The custom of lobola is viewed by most Europeans as a degrading trade in women, whereas, in fact, the payment of lobola gives status and security to the wife in traditional African society. The African and Indian desire for a large number of children is interpreted as improvidence, irresponsibility, and animal-like behaviour. ("They multiply like rabbits.") In fact, traditional African techniques of birth control and prohibitions favouring the spacing of pregnancies (such as the postpartum sex taboo) have fallen into disuse largely because of disruptive Western influences.

Polygyny is also completely misunderstood, and accepted as evidence of African lasciviousness. Clear deviations from traditional standards of morality and behaviour, such as high rates


of illegitimacy, delinquency, prostitution, alcoholism, and divorce in urban centres, are interpreted, not as the consequences of social disorganization brought about by industrialization and racial discrimination, but as reflecting the "aggressive," "violent," or "immoral" nature of Africans, for which the only cure is police repression.

Of course, misinterpretation of behaviour based on misunderstanding of underlying values is mutual. Many Africans and Indians regard White bathing costumes and heterosexual dancing as immoral, to cite only two examples. However, as many Africans and Indians have become largely Westernized, and have themselves internalized European values, the stereotypes and distorted views are stronger on the White side of the colour fence. This is particularly true of those Europeans who claim to "know the Native" because they have spent much time in close physical contact with Africans (e.g., farmers, administrators, plantation and mine supervisors). In fact, as these whites have only had highly segmental and utilitarian relations with Africans, and as these relations have been defined by a rigorous strait jacket of master-servant etiquette, such Europeans generally exhibit in strongest form all the prevalent stereotypes about Africans.

In summary, South Africa, as a culturally pluralistic society, represents a wide variety of value systems. The racial situation, by discouraging contact between members of different ethnic groups, and indeed by making completely uninhibited relationships across the colour line virtually impossible, perpetuates cultural misunderstandings and reinforces stereotypes. If the consequences of value pluralism were to stop at misunderstandings, stereotypes, and invidious comparisons, such pluralism would simply lead to interpersonal frustration, annoyance, and tension, more than to an intensification of group conflict. Through its dominant position; however, the White group has been able to impose its value system, and to transpose value-judgments in the realm of discriminatory and coercive policies.

We have already given several examples of the practical


implementation of European values, such as the capitation or poll tax, land-betterment schemes, and cattle culling. But we must examine more closely the mechanisms through which values have been translated into policy. The simplest and most direct one is ethnocentrism. Europeans have naturally assumed that their values had absolute validity and universal applicability, and that any other outlook was either immoral or irrational. They have consequently imposed their values on the non-Europeans, and framed policy accordingly. However, European ethnocentrism in South Africa has not entailed its logical corollary, namely a policy of cultural assimilation, as has been practiced, for example, by the Portuguese and Spaniards in America. Had the White South Africans adopted assimilation as the consequence of their belief in their own cultural superiority, a short phase of acute cultural and social disorganization would have resulted (as in the period following the Spanish conquest of America), but the end result would have been considerable cultural homogeneity.[7]

White South Africans were, however, quick to perceive that cultural assimilation would be accompanied by social integration and "bastardization" of the Herrenvolk . Within a generation of the first Dutch settlement at the Cape in the seventeenth century, the baptism of slaves began to be resisted, and White South Africa launched on a deliberate anti-assimilationist policy. In this respect, as in many others, the Nationalist programme of apartheid represents a mere continuation and accentuation of a long-standing trend. The Nationalists not only endeavour to prevent Africans from becoming "imitation Englishmen," and to "keep the Bantu essentially Bantu"; they even want to reverse the process of "detribalization," to revive moribund traditional institutions, and to "re-Bantuize" the urban Africans.

The official position of the Dutch Reformed Churches


(D.R.C.'s) is identical with that of the government. Though the D.R.C.'s engage in missionary activities and do not oppose the Christianization of Africans, they strongly assert the principle of "separate development," and defend it on Biblical grounds.[8] A 1952 statement, for example, reads:

The Conference [of Dutch Reformed Churches] holds that our Church's acceptance of a policy which regards the separate development of the various races each according to its own nature, is in accordance with the teachings of Scripture. The fundamental principles of Diversity in Unity, of the recognition of the Divine Purpose, and of the urge for national self-expression must be borne in mind.[9]

How has this White-imposed nativism been implemented in practice? Clearly, traditional African societies have not been kept intact, even in the remotest rural areas. For one thing, no amount of government regulation could stop the process of acculturation. Secondly, while anti-assimilation was unambiguously aimed at the perpetuation of White political and economic supremacy, certain important aspects of traditional society obviously had to be modified in order to entrench White domination. Notably the entire African political system was completely subjugated to the White authorities, and reduced to a shadow


of its former self. Large nations were broken up (as were the Zulu after the war of 1879) to destroy their military power; chiefs were divested of most important powers; the White government arrogated itself the power to install and dismiss chiefs; standing armies were dissolved, etc. In short, while the forms of traditional rule were retained, within well-defined limits, to facilitate administration, much of the substance of power and authority was removed from African political systems.

Thirdly, "Native Law and Custom" have been reinterpreted, consciously and unconsciously, in terms of Western values. Here we return to our earlier question, namely how European values have affected practical policy. Not only have these values influenced policy directly through the operation of ethnocentrism, but they have also been introduced indirectly, under the guise of preserving "Native institutions." "Native Law and Custom" were codified by Whites in the Province of Natal, and a special system of Native courts was instituted, wherein Africans are judged by low-ranking White commissioners; the latter often have neither a knowledge of African languages nor any formal legal training. Court proceedings are translated by White interpreters who themselves typically have only an imperfect and unnuanced command of Bantu languages.

It is easy to imagine what distortions and misunderstandings arise from the routine administration of "justice" in such courts, all the more so when cases are expedited at a rate of twenty to thirty an hour, the average for pass offences.[10] But even the codification and interpretation of African law are distorted. In the first place, "Native Law" was deliberately changed to make it congruent with the codifiers' conceptions of "civilization," "humaneness," and "justice," in such matters as penal sanctions, "sorcery," and the like. Furthermore, European biases and insufficient ethnographic knowledge led to unconscious misunder-


standings and distortions of traditional law. Finally, the application in an urban and industrial society of a code of law which evolved in a rural, non-literate society has paradoxically encouraged a complete transformation in the functions and significance of such institutions as the lobola .

The second broad source of value conflict in South African society is perhaps even more important than the first. The crux of the conflict is found in the internal contradictions within the value system of the dominant White group. Not only is the ascriptive and particularistic ideology of racialism in disharmony with other elements of the social structure, notably with principles of economic rationality in an industrial system of production; racism also conflicts with basic political, ethical, and religious values which are an integral part of the Western tradition. While South African racialism constitutes a major deviation from the dominant current of the modern Western ethos, this deviation coexists, within the White group, with the Christian ethic of love, brotherhood, and charity, and, to a lesser extent, with the Western political ideology of democracy, freedom, and equality. This deep conflict within the value system of the dominant White group is becoming increasingly acute, and can itself be decomposed into two primary aspects, namely its effect on the non-Whites, and on the Whites. We shall successively examine the complex ramifications of this second type of value conflict on the two sides of the colour-bar.

In spite of the anti-assimilationist policy of the successive South African governments, acculturation of the non-Whites to the Western way of life started in the seventeenth century, and continues at a rapid pace. The process can be roughly divided into two phases. The first phase of Westernization, which lasted until the third or fourth decade of the nineteenth century, gave rise, in combination with extensive miscegenation, to the Cape Coloureds.

The Coloureds find themselves in a typically marginal position. On the one hand, they have assimilated Western values


(including, for the most part, the White outlook on colour), and have become culturally undistingishable from the Europeans. On the other hand, the Coloureds are the object of racial discrimination, and find themselves rejected by White society, solely on grounds of colour. Their steadily deteriorating position makes any hope of eventual assimilation to the Whites more unrealistic than ever.

The position of the Coloureds shows that acculturation does not lead to the elimination of value conflicts. In the presence of racial prejudice and discrimination, acculturation is likely to accentuate value conflicts. To the extent that the Coloureds share White values, they face, in a particularly acute form, all the contradictions inherent in the dominant value system of the Europeans. So far, the prevalent Coloured "solution" to these contradictions has been to use the egalitarian, Christian aspect of the White ideology to demand acceptance into European society, while, at the same time, adopting White colour attitudes to keep themselves separate from the Africans. Furthermore, the adoption of physical criteria of status among Coloureds has led to profoundly divisive tensions within the Coloured community, not to mention more latent attitudes of self-hatred and self-deprecation.[11] IN recent years, however, the Coloured leadership and intelligentsia have become clearly aware that racial prejudice among Coloureds undermines any legitimacy to claims of equality with the White group, and that the obvious solution to the value conflict lies in the total rejection of prejudice.

The second phase of acculturation in South African history


affected the Africans and the Indians, and began with missionary penetration into the territory of the African nations in the third decade of the nineteenth century. Unlike at the Cape, this second phase of acculturation was not accompanied by any large-scale miscegenation. For both Indians and Africans, the major agents of Westernization have been formal education (which has been almost entirely along Western lines), the wage economy, and, more recently, the mass media of communication and entertainment.

In the case of African acculturation, the Christian missions have played a preponderant role, the revolutionary implications of which were recognized by the Boers quite early in the nineteenth century. Because the missionaries all but monopolized African education until the 1950's, and insofar as they have emphasized (in theory, if seldom in practice) the egalitarian and universalistic aspects of the Western ethic, they have been the first and most effective agents to spread the values with which Africans were later to challenge the legitimacy of White supremacy. In South Africa as in many other parts of the continent, Christianity, which preceded or accompanied European conquest, has spread the seeds of the destruction of colonialism. But whereas elsewhere this Hegelian dialectical process was recognized only quite late, in South Africa, the Afrikaners have, from the seventeenth until the nineteenth century, combated the spread of the Gospel as conducive to the "corruption of the Natives." The Boers opposed the baptism of slaves quite early in the history of the Cape settlement, and later they consistently and bitterly opposed the activities of the London Missionary Society.[12]


When the Nationalist government took away the African schools from the Protestant and Catholic missions in 1954, and assumed direct control of "Bantu Education," it gave the logical final touch to a long tradition of Boer anti-missionary and anti-assimilation attitudes and policies. Of course, by the 1950's, the process of African acculturation was far too advanced to be reversed, and the government's aim to "keep the Bantu essentially Bantu" was doomed to failure. With the advent of the twentieth century, the participation of large numbers of Africans in the wage economy began to compete with the missions as a source of acquisition of Western values, or, rather, to reinforce mission influence in that respect. As literacy spread, so did the impact of the press which, combined with the radio and the cinema, has increasingly exposed Africans to outside influences, particularly in the field of political ideology.

Whether of religious or secular origin, the process of acculturation has been selective. As might be expected, educated Africans have most readily accepted the Western values with which they could challenge the legitimacy of the status quo . Paradoxically, then, the value system of Westernized Africans is closer to the mainstream of European culture than that of White South Africans. By selectively retaining the values of universalism, achievement, freedom, individualism, and equality, and rejecting the White syndrome of racialism, Africans have resolved the contradictions inherent in the values held by most Whites and Coloureds.

While, in some respects, White anti-assimilationist policies may have slowed down the process of acculturation by limiting social contact and educational opportunities, they have certainly not prevented Westernization, and they may even have accelerated it in devious ways. For example, the surest way to turn educated Africans strongly against traditional culture is for the government to adopt a "nativistic" policy. This situation leads to the amusing paradox that, in other parts of the continent, notably in West Africa, where the African elites have met with


less resistance to their political aspirations and to acceptance into White society, they have, on the whole, reacted against Western culture to a greater extent than in South Africa.

I am not suggesting that White racism has not also contributed to anti-Western reactions among Africans. In the Transkei, for example, the population has been split for a century into the "school" (i.e., Christian and mission-influenced) people and the "red" (i.e., traditional) people; the former show great cultural conservatism and reject all that is connected with the Whites.[13] Discrimination, segregation, and White control within Protestant denominations have undoubtedly contributed to the proliferation of African Separatist Churches, many of which have a strong anti-White and revivalistic slant.[14] In the political sphere, the rise of militant Black racialism, as exhibited by the Pan-African Congress, is another reaction to White rejection. Among the African intelligentsia there is a growing disillusionment with Christianity, or, at least, with the conservative stand taken by many denominations in South Africa.[15] But this reaction indicates not so much a blanket rejection of Western culture, as a movement towards secularization and rationalization.

On the whole, the majority of urbanized Africans, and certainly of the politically influential intelligentsia, do not reject Western culture. On the contrary, most Westernized Africans exhibit an attitude of "cultural shame" towards the traditional way of life, which they consider "backward," and share an antagonistic or, at least, ambivalent outlook towards African political and legal institutions, and the use of Bantu languages as media of school instruction.[16] While they do not


desire to become assimilated to White society as most Coloureds still do, they accept Western values, insofar as they have found these values a congenial platform for attacking the status quo. This Western orientation is clearly illustrated by the formal organization, policies, and methods of most African voluntary associations. In the political field, increasing numbers of intellectuals are attracted by leftist radicalism, but, after all, Marxism is itself a cultural product of the West.

The attitudes of Westernized Africans towards indigenous traditions deserve closer examination because of their complexity. "Cultural shame" reflects, in part, an adoption of Western criteria and values inculcated largely in mission schools, and an implicit acceptance of European deprecation of everything "pagan," "tribal," and "primitive." This attitude is particularly prevalent among the first Western-educated generation which is now regarded by the "angry young men" as consisting of "Uncle Toms," "compromisers," and "tea-drinkers."[17] Professor D. D. T. Jabavu, the South African Booker T. Washington, strongly exhibits this deprecatory or, at least, ambivalent attitude towards African traditions. In the 1920's he wrote:

From what we learn, the primitive Natives, though not religious in the modern sense of the word, were at least superstitious enough to have their moral life restrained by certain crude but nevertheless moral scruples. . . . The names of our earliest Native Missionaries will make us feel a flow of joy and pride in this excellent record of work in uplifting their people.[18]

Elsewhere he wrote:

They [the Natives] live on the absolute minimum that mother earth can yield, and they invariably follow the path of least resistance. They are satisfied to live from hand to mouth.[19]


More recently, the African intelligentsia still rejects "tribalism," but for somewhat different reasons. They no longer exhibit a respectful and uncritical emulation of Western culture, though most urban Africans obviously agree on the desirability of attaining a European standard of living, in the material sense. Tribalism is now rejected for two related reasons. In the first place, it is considered unviable in a modern urban environment, and technologically retarded. Secondly, tribalism is opposed as a source of political reaction and divisiveness in the struggle for freedom. The Western-educated Africans of the younger generation strongly react against the Pretoria brand of compulsory nativism, and against traditional chiefs who have compromised themselves with the government.

The prostitution of African traditionalism by the Afrikaner Nationalist government is itself a complex phenomenon. Politically conscious Africans view what we might call "Pretoria nativism" as a deliberate weapon of obscurantism (e.g., in the use of mother-tongue instruction in "Bantu Education"), and of divisiveness between the various linguistic groups. Undoubtedly, Bantustan policy is motivated in part by a desire to combat the growing solidarity of all Africans. However, such an explanation oversimplifies Afrikaner motivation to some extent. In particular, the Afrikaners project their own feelings of cultural pride and identity onto Africans, and have difficulty in conceiving that African nationalism is not defined in cultural terms to any significant extent. The government feels that the "tribal" way of life, though supposedly "backward," is peculiarly suited to the "primitive" mentality of the Africans, and, hence, that the latter must be kept "essentially Bantu."

Whatever the government's motivations may be, the reactionary use of tribal revivalism makes it very difficult for Africans to seek identity and self-respect in their cultural heritage. In


addition, the educated elite which is at the vanguard of the political struggle has been largely weaned from traditionalism, has interests which are antithetical to those of chiefs, and understandably resents any suggestion by Whites, however well-meaning, that Africans should revert to their own traditions. Mphahlele, a prominent South African novelist and essayist, expresses these themes very cogently in his critique of Négritude and of what he regards as the myth of the African Personality:

Traditional culture, much of which the missionary destroyed, has come to be associated by the Negro with an inferior political status and ethnic grouping which will destroy all the work that has been done by the educated Negro to unify all the tribes. A gramophone record company . . . tries to sell its wares by telling us that Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Beethoven, Mozart and so on are foreign and so we should love and stick to our own music.[20]

It is not difficult to see a Hegelian dialectic of ideological conflict operating here. The cultural attitude of the African intelligentsia is, to a large degree, antithetical to that of the colonial regime. Although Western-educated Africans no longer accept uncritically Western culture and Christianity in toto, they have, for the main part, remained predominantly Western in outlook. The government has contributed to this state of affairs by endeavouring to impose its version of "tribal authorities," "mother-tongue instruction," "Bantustans," "Native law and custom," and all the rest of "Pretoria nativism." The negative case of Négritude lends further support to this interpretation. Indeed, Négritude, a nostalgic return to the mystical essence of "Negroness," arose paradoxically among the Gallicized Negro elite of the French West Indies and Senegal, in antithesis to the French colonial policy of assimilation.

To summarize the argument, acculturation, while bringing about greater cultural homogeneity, has intensified value conflicts because of the internal contradictions in the Weltanschauung


of the dominant Whites. Westernized Africans have largely resolved these contradictions by selectively adopting the egalitarian, universalistic ethos of the broader Western, Christian tradition; and by using that ethos to attack the local White variant of Western culture with its racialist, ascriptive, and particularistic values. The same applies, in large measure, to the Indian population, but the Coloureds are in a much more difficult position; they have, on the whole, adopted the White South African value system in toto. This led them to an ideological impasse from which they are only beginning to extricate themselves.

Another facet of the effect of acculturation on Africans must be briefly considered. To be sure, Westernization in South Africa contributed to cultural homogeneity by creating an intelligentsia, a white-collar class, and a proletariat among whom ethnic affiliation is of decreasing significance. Conversely, however, Western influence, by differentially permeating various layers of African society, introduced a new dimension of cultural heterogeneity, and, hence, of value dissension, within populations that were originally homogeneous. Although Westernization has been considerably more profound in South Africa than in almost every other part of the continent, Western culture, except in the Western Cape, did not displace indigenous culture anywhere near completely. Consequently, different degrees of traditionalism or Westernism between rural and urban Africans, between the Western and the traditionally educated, between the old and the young, lead to profound dissension and tension among people who may, nevertheless, all claim membership in the same ethnic group. The "school"-"red" dichotomy in the rural Transkei shows that this divisive influence of acculturation is found even in the most "untouched" districts. In cities, this form of value conflict is often most acute between generations, and can lead to severe strains in family life, much as among European or Asian immigrant groups in the United States. This difference of outlook between generations often touches on such central attitudes as the desirability of a large progeny, of respect towards chiefs and


elders, of the emancipation of women, of kinship obligations, of love marriages, etc. Not uncommonly, intergenerational dissension is now translated in political disagreement between the more conservative elders and the militant young men (e.g., Professor Z. K. Matthews and his son Joe).

Value conflict is also present within the White group. Since that conflict is largely a product of the White racialist syndrome, and since it has important ramifications in all the population groups, the value position of Whites is obviously crucial. The central thesis of Myrdal concerning the "American Dilemma" can be applied mutatis mutandi to South Africa.[21] Myrdal argues that one of the major sources of strain in Negro-White relations in the United States arises from the contradiction between the dominant American creed of democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunities, and the clearly discriminatory treatment of Negroes. Much the same contradiction exists in the White South African value system, although in a less acute and less political form, because the dominant White group has developed elaborate myths and rationalizations to "resolve" value conflicts.

Prominent aspects of both Afrikaner and English ideology and ethical outlook conflict logically with White colour attitudes. This statement applies, of course, to the Christian ethos in general, although we have seen that the exclusivistic and particularistic slant of Calvinism favoured a racial reinterpretation of the Bible, in much the same way as fundamentalistic sects have done in the American South. There is, however, a strong element of frontier individualism, egalitarianism, and love of freedom (or, at least, impatience with authority) in the Afrikaner political ideology and tradition. Similarly, the nineteenth-century British ideology of individualism, liberalism, democracy, and fair play has, together with Christian values, contributed to shaping the outlook of English South Africans. At the same time, both White groups hold deeply ingrained attitudes of racialism which


directly clash with these other values. The question then becomes: How has the White group attempted to reconcile these opposites?

This is where the analogy with the "American Dilemma" stops. In the United States the dominant trend has been, certainly in the last three decades, towards the slow but gradual elimination of racial discrimination and segregation. In other words, the value conflict has tended to resolve itself by a slow yielding of the more specific, racialist syndrome to the more general, democratic values of the dominant political and moral creed. While South Africa also shows some evidence of a similar trend, that "liberalizing" tendency has distinctly been a secondary one, and the main trend has gone in the opposite direction. I.e., the general democratic and egalitarian norms have become redefined and reinterpreted in terms of the specific racial syndrome.

The basic mechanism for "resolving" the White South African value conflict has been a clear dichotomization of thinking along racial lines. Rather than abandoning either set of values, the Whites have clearly and rigidly delineated the spheres of applicability of each of these value sets: the egalitarian, universalistic norms apply to the Whites, whereas the discriminatory, particularistic norms apply to the non-Whites. The latter must, thus, be denied full human status. This statement may appear exaggerated, and when directly asked whether they consider non-Whites human, most Whites would answer in the affirmative. Yet they would immediately qualify their answer by saying that, although human, non-Whites are nevertheless fundamentally different from, and inferior to, the Whites.

The prevalence of this dichotomized outlook, even among people who are not rabid racists, is indicated more by inference than by open statements. Even the more "moderate" Europeans, who would not subscribe to overt statements of racialism, indirectly reveal their racially compartmentalized thinking. When, for example, a White speaks or writes about "people" and "South Africans" he almost invariably means "Whites." Conversely, if he


refers to non-Whites he will almost always use a racial label. In the press or radio, Europeans are referred to by name and courtesy titles, whereas non-Whites often remain anonymous. (E.g.: "Mr. Jan Joubert, 41, was killed this morning when his car overturned near Bloemfontein. He had a wife and three children. Two Natives were also killed in the accident.") This same dual standard applies to every practical aspect of life. E.g., a house or salary that would be considered "very good" for an African would attract commiseration if occupied or earned by a White, the non-White being supposed to live comfortably on much less than a European. A non-White is expected to show "gratitude" for whatever he has, no matter how inferior, the implication being that a non-European has no right to anything. Working conditions that Whites would view as intolerable for themselves are considered perfectly normal for Africans, who are supposedly "used to it." The privileges of citizenship, such as the franchise and freedom of movement, are self-evident for the Whites, but disfranchisement and pass laws are "normal" for the "Natives." One should be charitable but "charity begins at home." One should love and respect one's neighbour, and we are all God's children, but that does not mean that you have to treat an African courteously and as an equal.

Most White South Africans are conditioned since early childhood to divide humanity into two radically different groups, and this dichotomous outlook is so basic to the integrity of White South Africans that it is almost impossible to shake off. As we shall see presently, the few Europeans who have truly emancipated themselves from their racialist heritage have to pay a heavy price for their tolerance. It is therefore naive to expect that the mass of White South Africans will spontaneously show a "change of heart" on the colour issue. The Whites have too much to lose in the way of material, political, and status privileges to be expected to change their outlook and behaviour. Furthermore, by doing so, they expose themselves to ostracism from fellow Whites, and even to severe sanctions by the government.


But these strong dissuading factors do not touch the crux of the matter, namely that racial prejudice for a White South African is functionally necessary to his self-respect and ego-integrity . The only alternative is an almost unbearable burden of guilt.

At this point, one important question must be answered. Why did White South Africa "choose" rigid, racial dichotomization as a "solution" to its value conflict, rather than follow the American alternative for solving an essential, similar dilemma? Several complementary answers suggest themselves. First, Calvinist exclusiveness and the notion of predestination appear to have favoured the early development of this colour dichotomization, as we have already suggested. Once the basic equation of Black with heathen and evil became established in the outlook of the Boers, one could argue that the racialist mold was cast, and that further extensions of that outlook to the secular fields of politics and economics followed the line of least resistance.

Even if this hypothesis accounts for the genesis of the phenomenon, it is not sufficient to explain its perpetuation in the face of mounting tensions. Both the numerical ratios and the forms of contact between Whites and non-Whites differ markedly in the United States and in South Africa. In North America, Whites have always been in a large majority; Negro slaves were introduced into an already settled society which, along the Atlantic seaboard, had survived the dangers of frontier warfare; and the Northern White population did not develop slavery nor a substantial vested interest in anti-Negro prejudice. Had the Cape Colony remained isolated from the rest of the African continent, one can cogently suppose that White-Coloured relations would have undergone an evolution similar to White-Negro relations in the United States.[22]


However, the frontier explosion which started with the Great Trek prolonged the hazards of continuous warfare for nearly half a century, and drew large numbers of Africans into what was to become the South African body politic. The Whites consequently remained a minority, and fear of being "swamped" became a permanent part of their Weltanschauung . Attitudes of exclusiveness, superiority, and domination, which originally may, indeed, have been functional for survival, or at least for the preservation of cultural identity, thus perpetuated themselves and gave rise to the modern system of White supremacy. Once the latter was firmly entrenched (i.e., around 1880 when the African nations ceased to be a military menace), the cumulative benefits accruing from the Whites' privileged position made any change in values increasingly costly and, hence, unlikely.

All factors combine to make a "spontaneous" change in the colour outlook of the mass of the Whites less probable than ever before. Beyond the White desire to preserve political, social, and economic privileges, the mounting demands of the non-Whites increase European fears and reinforce an extremist, back-to-the-wall stand. The Nationalist and United parties both resort to the "Black danger" bogey to attract political support, and the government has long passed the point of no return on the road to oppression. Only by becoming increasingly tyrannical can it maintain its power, and a policy of gradual "concessions" would open the floodgates of revolution, as the Nationalists clearly perceive.

This is not to say that a clean break from Herrenvolk mentality is impossible. A few thousand Whites have, in fact, dissociated themselves clearly from racialism, and identified, in varying degrees, with African aspirations. These defections from the


solid front of White opinion have, however, been confined almost exclusively to a small segment of the intellectual, religious, and managerial elite. A few leading industrialists like Harry Oppenheimer, and Progressive Party politicians like Jan Steytler and Helen Suzman reject colour discrimination in principle, and consider apartheid morally wrong; but they remain socially and economically conservative. In practice, they make so many reservations that they fall short of complete liberalism, and cannot win the confidence of the non-Whites, except for a few old-style "Uncle Toms." The same applies to the "Black Sash," a highly "respectable" league of English women for the defence of civil liberties, and to the majority of the White Protestant clergy in the English denominations.

A number of Afrikaner university professors (mostly at Stellenbosch) and a few leading clergymen in the Dutch Reformed Churches have taken more or less open stands against apartheid as practiced by the government. They have sought to dissociate the cultural aspects of Afrikaner Nationalism (i.e., the promotion of Afrikaner language and traditions) from the racial policies of the government. Some of them who constituted the "left wing" of the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (SABRA) have gone no further than to advocate a more "equitable" apartheid for the Africans and considerable integration for the Coloureds. Many English-speaking wishful thinkers looked upon them as the nucleus of a split within the Nationalist Party, or at least as a potential source of pressure for more moderate government policies. However, since the 1961 SABRA purge, these "deviationists" have lost what little moral or intellectual influence they had in Afrikaner Nationalist circles.

On the whole, these SABRA and Dutch Reformed Church dissidents are politically to the right of the Progressive Party, and desperately attempt to retain an increasingly marginal and uncomfortable position on the fringe of Afrikanerdom. The most interesting aspect of their ideological position concerns their attitudes towards the Coloureds. Moderate Afrikaner intellectuals


advocate social assimilation of the Coloureds (short of miscegenation, of course) for a combination of practical and deeper psychological reasons. On practical grounds, they argue that the Coloureds belong to Western and, for the most part, to Afrikaner culture, and, hence, that their assimilation would strengthen Afrikanerdom. At a more covert level, they exhibit considerable guilt vis-à-vis the Coloureds, for whose existence they feel collectively responsible, and whom they regard as related by blood through male ancestors, and essentially identical to themselves except for colour.

Even much less numerous than these various groups of moderate, cautiously progressive Englishmen and Afrikaners are the few hundred Whites who are openly and unreservedly liberal in their outlook. They include some of the students and many of the professors and lecturers at the English universities (particularly in Cape Town and the Witwatersrand), a few leading trade-union organizers, some writers like Alan Paton, young artists and professionals, and a few members of the high clergy, notably the Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, and the Anglican bishops Joost de Blank of Cape Town and Ambrose Reeves of Johannesburg.[23] (Bishop Reeves, who exposed the facts of the police massacre of Sharpeville, went into exile in Britain, and had to abandon his diocese when he was refused permission to return to South Africa.) Politically, many of these Whites belong either to the Liberal Party or to the (largely Communist)


Congress of Democrats, although some have not joined any party.

The position of White liberals in South Africa is perhaps the most unbearable of all, a factor which accounts for their scarcity, and for the fact that many of them now emigrate permanently.[24] Not only are tolerance and non-discrimination punished by sanctions ranging from social ostracism to police intimidation, arrest, and stiff gaol sentences (for "immorality," for example), but, more importantly, the White liberal finds himself impotent to avert the impending tragedy, and guilty, through his actions, of condoning against his will a system which he abhors. Privileges which he considers unjust are forced upon him. He must use segregated transport facilities, and send his children to segregated schools. Unless he foregoes most forms of entertainment and cultural life, he must go to segregated cinemas, theatres, concerts, libraries, etc. If he wants to practice sports he must go to segregated beaches, swimming baths, tennis courts, etc. When travelling he is forced to eat in all-White restaurants and sleep in all-White hotels. If he courts arrest, he will be put in a prison which will be comfortable by comparison with that of his fellow non-White prisoners. If, in desperation, he should commit suicide, he will be buried in a cemetery "for Europeans only." In short, there is no escape from apartheid, unwanted privileges, and the resulting guilt feelings, except deliberate unconcern for ethical problems, or racial dichotomization.

Furthermore, social conditions make a totally unstrained, "natural" relationship across the colour-bar virtually impossible. The range of activities and places open to interracial groups is extremely limited. The White liberal also has to overcome the initial suspicion aroused among non-Whites by the unusual nature of his behaviour and attitudes. He must be careful lest a perfectly innocent remark be misinterpreted in a racialist sense. Above all, he must free himself of the presumption on the part


of non-Whites that he is simply a paternalist and a "do-gooder." In short, almost whatever he does is likely to increase his sense of guilt, to be misinterpreted, or to expose his non-White friends to embarrassment. Under such conditions, it is remarkable, not that there are so few White liberals, but rather that there should be any at all (at least outside of psychiatric hospitals).

As this chapter has tried to show, the manifold ramifications and the various levels of value conflict in South Africa make the "American Dilemma" look extremely simple by comparison. South Africa shares with all culturally pluralistic societies a lack of value consensus. Acculturation is gradually reducing the heterogeneity of cultural values, insofar as there is a clear trend towards the increasing Westernization of an ever greater proportion of the population. As acculturation has been accompanied by social rejection, political oppression, and economic exploitation, however, that process has unleashed new sources of tension which threaten the status quo. The Africans have selected from the contradictory White values those with which they could challenge the legitimacy of the status quo. The Whites have "solved" the contradictions in their value system by dichotomizing the sphere of applicability of these respective values along colour lines. The Coloureds, by adopting White values in toto , find themselves in an untenable position.

At the very root of the "South African Dilemma" lies White racialism. Without having to decide the question of historical precedence, or having to commit oneself to a position of ideological determinism, it is clear that, if one took away the racialist syndrome, the entire structure of South African society would be deeply affected. The very obviousness of this proposition leads one easily to wish racialism away, and hope that, somehow, there will be a White "change of heart." We have seen how remote the prospect of such a development is, until after the collapse of the status quo. After the structure of South African society will have radically changed, White attitudes will most probably readjust themselves to the new situation. I would even expect that this


readjustment will be faster and less difficult than many observers suppose.

Under present conditions, however, a "change of heart," except on the part of a small, White, intellectual elite, is practically excluded. The entire social structure of the country militates against it. If White racialism has powerfully contributed to the creation and the continuation of South African society in its present form, it will just as surely help to bring about the total collapse of White domination. Such is the basic dialectical process of change in South Africa.


previous chapter
Chapter Nine— Value Conflicts
next chapter