Cry, the Beleaguered Activist


Journey Continued, by Alan Paton, New York: Scribner's, 301 pages, $22.50

Born January 11, 1903, a year after the end of the English-Boer War, Alan Paton saw his country of South Africa emerge from an economically backward member of the British Commonwealth to a thriving republic and, finally, the world's pariah nation. Until his death in 1988, Paton was one of South Africa's strongest antiapartheid activists. Journey Continued, a sequel to an earlier biography, records his struggle.

Paton emerged on the literary scene in 1948 when he wrote Cry, the Beloved Country, a novel about the injustices of apartheid. The novel became an instant bestseller and is still popular some 40 years later, having been made into a movie as well as a play entitled Lost in the Stars.

Nineteen forty-eight was an important year for Paton and South Africa in other ways. That year, to the world's disbelief, Jan Smuts's United Party was sent down to utter defeat by D.F. Malan and his National Party. Paton at this time had been principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquent black youth for 10 years, making important reforms such as providing for inmate education and job training and eliminating barbed-wire fences.

The Nationals' victory signaled to Paton that black reformatories would be placed under the racially dogmatic minister of native affairs, Hendrik F. Verwoerd, who had nothing but contempt for Diepkloof and black people. Surmising that sooner or later he would have been broken, Paton resigned his post on June 30, 1948—a resignation made easier by the financial success of Cry, the Beloved Country.

Paton describes himself as having "a love of freedom and rule of law, and a complementary hatred of authoritarianism." No doubt Jan H. Hofmeyr, Paton's friend and mentor, had a significant impact on his intellectual development. Before the United Party went down to defeat, Hofmeyr was heir apparent to Prime Minister Smuts. Hofmeyr's pursuit of the rule of law, a nonracial society, and free trade go a long way toward explaining the stunning electoral success of the Afrikaner National Party.

In Journey Continued, Paton grapples with the question of how Afrikaners, who are devout Christians, could promote the thoroughly racist policies of apartheid. The Afrikaners' vision of God provides one part of the answer. God, they contend, created separate races; keeping them separate is thus doing God's work. Suffering, they believe, is a small price to pay for achieving the work of God.

Second, since whites are heavily outnumbered in South Africa, they must maintain a separate identity to avoid the swart gevaar (being overrun by blacks). After all, whites hold, it is they who bring civilization to the continent, and it is to the benefit of all, including blacks, that whites survive.

Paton views the third and fourth reasons—racial abhorrence and racial supremacy—as less respectable than the first two, and most white people will not publicly admit to these sentiments. He identifies the fifth reason as plain and simple greed, which has, for example, prompted nonwhites' removal from urban areas simply because those areas rose in value and whites wanted to establish residency there.

Paton professes to be "impatient with those who offer moral solutions to political problems," pointing out that South Africa is different from the United States. Blacks in the United States represent only 13 percent of the population; blacks in South Africa, over 70 percent. "Therefore," according to Paton, "the white people of the U.S.A. would find it easier and less frightening to grant full legal and political equality." In contrast, the majority of the white people of South Africa would find it very difficult and frightening. "It is easier," Paton notes, "for white people to act morally when they are in the majority."

He points to other complexities: American blacks and whites share the same culture and Christian-based religion and have a common language and shared respect for the Constitution. In South Africa, blacks speak at least 10 different languages and have a large diversity of religions and cultures. Though acknowledging huge disparities of wealth, income, and possessions among blacks and whites in the United States, Paton observes that they are nonetheless dwarfed by those in South Africa, making the achievement of political solutions all the more difficult.

I take little exception to Paton's accounting of the problems and injustices in South Africa. His troubled country, however, is really only a special case of a much larger phenomenon in which powerful elites determine social goals. If individual liberty, property rights, and the rule of law interfere with the achievement of these social goals, then individual liberty, property rights, and the rule of law are ruthlessly suppressed.

In South Africa's legal system, a mixture of Roman-Dutch and English common law, its citizens are equal in civil matters, with one important exception—where constitutional and administrative law has prohibited equality. For almost 100 years South Africa's appellate courts have carried on a running battle with parliament. The courts would find an apartheid law unconstitutional, and parliament would overrule by passing another law. In short, laments Paton, "there is no rule of law; parliamentary supremacy means the courts, unlike those in the US, cannot review acts of Parliament."

In 1953, Paton helped establish the Liberal Party and was an officer throughout its 15-year life. The party, announced its charter, "will only employ democratic and constitutional means to achieve the foregoing objects, and is opposed to all forms of totalitarianism such as communism and fascism."

The party came under attack not only from the African National Congress and other antiapartheid groups but from the government. The ANC criticized the Liberal Party for diluting the unity of antiapartheid forces with its anticommunist stance. But the party also raised the hackles of the rabid anticommunists of the National Party, who identified any organized attack on apartheid as a communist plot. For a dissenter, Paton was lucky. He was only followed by security police for 12 years, and beyond that, all the government ever managed to do was impound his passport.

One cannot help but admire a man whose principles often put him at odds with those he sought to help. This was particularly the case in his stance against disinvestment and sanctions: "I believe they are utterly mistaken to think that sanctions and disinvestment will bring beneficial change. You cannot change a society for the better by damaging or destroying its economy. Sanctions are intended to be punitive, and punishment is not the way to make people behave better."

My one criticism of Journey Continued is what I see as an important omission. South Africa, compared to the West, has many failures in protecting human rights. However, compared to the rest of Africa (and elsewhere, for that matter), it would rank fairly high in human rights protections. South Africa has no history even remotely comparable to the horrendous barbarism seen in Uganda, Ethiopia, Chad, Burundi, the Central African Empire, Zimbabwe, and other states. Paton must have known this, because he acknowledged that South Africa has never produced murderers like Hitler and Stalin.

Alan Paton died April 12, 1988, leaving behind many decent people who seek full justice for their fellow countrymen. The tragedy of Western policy toward South Africa is that it undermines the power and influence of blacks, Indians, Coloreds, and whites working toward a permanent peaceable solution and strengthens the hand of black and white extremists whose only concern is the color of the dictator.

Journey Continued is one of Paton's 11 books. It surely rivals Cry, the Beloved Country in literary quality and compassion and is well worth reading for people on both sides of the sanctions and disinvestment debate. The author comes to the end of the book, and his life, with the gentle plea:

God Bless Africa
Guard her children
Guide her rulers
And give her peace

Contributing Editor Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and author of South Africa's War Against Capitalism, to he published this summer by Praeger.