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Interviewer: Susan Swain

Guest: Christopher Hitchens

Network: CSPAN

Interviewer:

South Africa is back in the front pages again this week. You’ve just returned from a trip to Africa. As we sit right now on the close of 1985, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the situation in South Africa?

Christopher Hitchens:

Huh, well, I’ve been following it for a long time. As a British person, we were all kind of brought up on South Africa because one of my earliest memories is of it being expelled from the British Commonwealth for its racial policy. I’ve been saying, sort of repetitively, for years that if the government doesn’t change, it will be changed by force. There will be a revolution. I suppose I’ve been saying that as someone who thinks that would be a just thing to happen. And I think that the revolution isn’t around the corner; it has now begun. So, to that extent, I guess I’d have to say I am an optimist. But in another way, it makes me sad because it needn’t have come to this. It needn’t have gotten this bad, and it’s going to get worse. A lot of good people are going to die, and that’s needless. So, it doesn’t make me a pessimist, but it qualifies my optimism.

Interviewer: 

Good morning, thank you for joining us this morning. Our topic is South Africa and our guest is Christopher Hitchens, the Washington correspondent for The Nation. Let’s start off by telling people about your magazine before we talk about South Africa.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, The Nation is the oldest weekly magazine in the U.S., founded in 1865 by a group of abolitionists and liberals. We have held true to that tradition ever since. We wouldn’t mind being called the left end of the mainstream spectrum. We come out every week and are published at 72 Fifth Avenue, New York City, where subscriptions can be obtained. Thank you very much! I also write a column for it from Washington, but I summarize and take that column elsewhere. Recently, I took it to Southern Africa.

Interviewer:

How many subscribers are there here? Also, it does have a UK price. How many subscribers are there in Great Britain?

Christopher Hitchens:

Good question. I think we have about 70 thousand subscribers in total. I don’t believe many of them are in Great Britain. Very few of my friends there read it, I blush to say. We think the number of readers per copy is very high. Many libraries and institutions of higher learning take us. I don’t know what our true readership is. I should have checked it out. Probably about a quarter of a million on 70,000, which is far too few given the generally conservative turn of the American press and mass media these days. 

Interviewer:

About your column, first of all, the reason for your trip? 

Christopher Hitchens: 

I wanted to keep myself up to date. I have been in South Africa, Namibia, and Angola. I’ve been in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was a great passion of mine for a long time. I wanted to go this time to Zambia, to Lusaka, to see the African National Congress. I succeeded in seeing them and in seeing Bishop Tutu when he met with the African National Congress, actually in Zimbabwe. I also went to Harare as well. It was the first time, I think, that they’ve officially met. I mean, he has contacted them before, but they’re a banned organization in his country, and it was quite a delicate matter for him to meet in public at a World Council of Churches meeting with the leadership of the organization that says it will take power if necessary by force.

Interviewer:

Your intention was to enter South Africa, itself?

Christopher Hitchens: 

Well, they’ve just put a freeze on all press pieces, now. I mean, they have a lot to hide and they hide it rather clumsily by means of censorship, banning orders, restrictions, and so on. Even now in South Africa itself, you need a permit to go to Soweto or to go to any of the black townships, unless you’re a black person, in which case you are not allowed to leave the township. And if you’re a black reporter, they can’t tell you that you can’t go where you’re forced to live. Those kinds of anomalies aside, I mean, what one has in South Africa is a pretty fully-fledged totalitarian state. 

Interviewer:

You didn’t even attempt to get in or you knew right off the bat you’d denied? 

Christopher Hitchens:

I wasn’t going to be let in, no.

Interview:

Okay, the thing that’s interesting about this column is that we hear a lot of references to the African National Congress without many explanations about what it is. Perhaps you could tell our viewers?

Christopher Hitchens: 

Well, the ANC, as everyone calls it, has a slogan in South Africa that says you A N C nothing yet. It was started in 1912 as a very modest lobby for what were then called native rights. It was something like what the NAACP used to be here – fairly polite, well-mannered, middle-class, and fairly Christian, or at least religious. It wasn’t banned until the 1950s, even though legal organizations were eliminated in South Africa. However, as the white minority moved to consolidate power and enforce total segregation and that no black person would ever be allowed to frame the decision on how he or she lived, the Congress had to become more militant. In 1961, it made the decision to set up an armed wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe, which means the spear of the nation. However, it had already been banned by then. So, it’s really a classic case of the evolution of a modest lobbying pressure group into a revolutionary organization by force of circumstance.

Interviewer: 

I would like to read a paragraph from this because it’s something I don’t think I was aware of, to the references of Apartheid, before. It says the political strength of the ANC lies in its advocacy of a non-racial society, as opposed to a multiracial one. Apartheid, as people tend to forget, does not only separates black from white, but also categorizes blacks by tribe and language, it demarcates Indians from Cape Coloured, separates Chinese and Muslims, and even designates Japanese as honorary Whites for commercial purposes. Your comments?

Christopher Hitchens:

Yeah, it’s worth remembering that apartheid – because people think of it as literally a black and white question – which in many ways it is. However, the system operates really on the basis of divide and rule. For example, in Soweto, most of the policemen tend to be recruited from Zulu rural areas, so as to use black on black. But it’s a different language that they speak, for example, a different background. It’s a rather tragic thing to see. You stole my favorite point already, or rather, you didn’t steal it, but you mentioned it. They’ll show the real absurdity of racialism, that the Japanese are counted as honorary Aryans, honorary Whites, because they have a good commercial relationship with South Africa. It’s also important to remember that the ruling national party in South Africa is the only ruling party in the world that took the other side in the Second World War. I mean, most of its leaders were quite openly and explicitly on the side of Hitler, and because of his racial theory, it used to be officially anti-Semitic as a party. Now, because of its relationship with Israel, that has slightly been watered down, but not by any means entirely. There’s a very strong streak of anti-Jewish prejudice in the Afrikaaner leadership as well. So, for the ANC, the task is very difficult because it has to, as well as oppose white fascist ideology, it has to prevent tribalism and other kinds of racial feeling from breaking out among the different groups of the oppressed. And in my view, its greatest achievement is to have done that on its executive in exile in Lusaka. There are Indians, there are colored people, there are quite a number of whites in the leadership. Also, by colored, we mean those of mixed race. We just, for this purpose, borrow the official definition. And there are different kinds of Africans, all different languages and tribes are represented. And they say that in the South Africa of the future, your race should not count. It shouldn’t be a social category at all in deciding your citizenship.

Interviewer:

We have a caller on the line, so I don’t know if you can answer this question quickly. However, given the view of South Africa as the ANC would like it, what happens to the political side?

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, the political side is, I think, is inevitably socialist in that the belief is that there is no meaningful racial definition of a person’s rights. This necessitates a belief in the Equality – Brotherhood, if you like – of man. If you say that’s socialist, they would say yes, some of them would even say they are communists.

Interviewer:

So, many people say that it will automatically invite the influence of the Soviet Union.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that’s what this questioner has in mind. Okay, I certainly understood the question.

Interviewer:

Let’s get ready to go to the phones. We have about 45 minutes to take your calls for Christopher Hitchens. The telephone numbers are on the screen. If you have a question or a comment, feel free to call in throughout this hour. Let’s take our first call from Lakewood, New Jersey.

Caller:

Hi, Mr Hitchens, I’m calling as one of your subscribers.

Christopher Hitchens:

Ooh, hello! Thank you. Merry Christmas!

Caller:

Thank you. What I wanted to say is that I just can’t understand this government going along with this. What really upsets me is the right-wing that keeps saying that the Zulus do not go along or, you know, go along with the ending of apartheid. They want to try to… I’m a little bit nervous, … They want to run, in other words, they go along with the government, help the government, and overcome this. But they don’t realize that Zulus are the policemen, and that’s why, you know. It kind of reminds me of Clarence Pendleton. You know, I have never seen such a replica in all my life. Really, I can’t even watch him. It really upset me, but I just hope that the Congress gets the government, you know, gets Mr. Reagan, to do a little bit more, because they really are embarrassed when they feel as though this country is not backing them, okay?

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, well, let’s not malign the Zulus. I mean, it’s a bit harsh, I think, to compare anyone to Clarence Pendleton, especially at the season of goodwill. The Zulus are, of course, opposed to apartheid. There’s no question about that. One of the founders of the African National Congress was Chief Albert Luthuli, who was a Zulu leader and, I think, the first black man ever to win the Nobel Prize in 1955. There are many Zulus who support the ANC. There is an organization led by Chief Gatsha Buthelezi. It’s called Inkatha, a Zulu organization and a political party that is tribally based and organized. It is, of course, not in favor of white minority rule, but it is hostile to the ANC and its non-racial policy. As a result, it is an organization with which the South African government can do business in pursuit of a divide and rule policy. But you shouldn’t mistake Zulus for Uncle Tom’s, and I think it would be inaccurate as well as unfair to say that.

Interviewer:

Let’s go out to California for the next call. Where is your town?

Caller:

Santee, California is located about 17 miles northeast of San Diego.

Interviewer:

Okay, you have a question or comment.

Caller:

Well, I have both, I’d like to ask you a question, Susan. Hitchens’ program, but I would like to make comments regarding your guest. First of all, he kind of alludes to the fact that he would like to be referred to as left. Let me just say – this man is not just left, he has a pro-communist mindset. In South Africa, you know the Communists are writing an issue, taking a worthwhile issue, anti-apartheid. It’s certainly worth well thing to be involved in, but these people are doing just what the ANC is. There’s no doubt that they’re communist infiltrated. They fly the communist flag, talks we’ve seen that with Bishop Tutu standing there with the flag flying behind them, the raised clenched fist, and also the apartheid movement. You know it is wrong and these people are writing it, but they’re going to do just what they did in Ethiopia. It was just announced today that they’re moving populations lead to Ethiopia, not because of job, but because to relocate that for or control politically. Now, the thing I’d like to say is some months ago, I watched your program with Jerry Falwell when he came back to South Africa. And in the course of watching that program, after his remarks, a Mr. Lowry, a very hip Minister with fancy, you know, really far out dressed appeared and he did the big lie. And he said that after Ebola thought, he said, I’m not a pro-Jerry Falwell person. I was curious and I watched it. He said that Jerry Falwell didn’t even visit with the people, that he flew around in helicopters, that he spoke from the other hand. How could he ever really communicate and find out what’s happening in South Africa? Is black being said against black? There are people who are in leadership positions that are positive and pro-America. That this man would like to call Uncle Tom, but they are not. They are people who are set and are working toward a democratic solution. But these others, these radicals, won’t let them. They’re doing they’re killing them just like they did in the communist method. They did it in South Vietnam. They’ve done it all over the world. How about that question for a second? I’m asking you, is how come you didn’t expose Lowry about the big lie? How come the press has sat and gobbled him up and applauded? They sneered their questions toward Falwell, were pointed, slanted, and their questions to Lowry were just applauded. Whose question from you as the press that C-SPAN didn’t catch that, didn’t investigate it, didn’t reveal it, didn’t bring out the big lie, and why they were playing this down is why Falwell basically it’s been sized and okay, why did she folks do that?

Interviewer:

Alright, and thank you for the comments, sir. C-SPAN is a public affairs network that doesn’t engage in investigative reporting, so that’s the short answer. However, I would appreciate your comments and observations on the matter.

Christopher Hitchens:

Yeah, I don’t mind a point. It all started with questions, and I don’t feel that they’re illegitimate. I don’t mind even the one you asked me, which I’ll come to right away. The South African Communist Party is now and has been for a very long time the only political party in South Africa that doesn’t discriminate on grounds of race in its membership. This has earned it a position of respect and admiration among a lot of black people, as you’d expect. I think it’s to the credit of the Communist Party. I’m afraid I can’t think of any other way of putting it, but that’s always been their view. It’s the only thing that is to their credit. In every other respect, politically speaking, they’re an unusually conformist Moscow line group. But some of their people, in particular some of their lawyers, have acted heroically in my opinion in the past. Now, what makes me so confident about what I say about the ANC and what makes me so sure that Jerry Falwell is yet again either being sold a bill of goods or selling one or both is this: there is no survey of African opinion in South Africa that does not consistently reveal, whatever the question is and however it’s put, that the popular leader is Nelson Mandela. And Nelson Mandela is the honorary president of the African National Congress. If I’m wrong about that, I can be demonstrated very easily with the following method: Nelson Mandela can be freed from prison and invited to contest a democratic election. I would abide by that verdict, and so would he. It’s a very simple challenge to make. I made it on television the other day with Mr. William Keyes, the black PR man who the South African government has hired in this town for, I think, 350 grand, which I don’t think he’s worth. His response to me was to say that that would be like calling for the release of Charles Manson. If you’ll buy that, you’ll buy Jerry Falwell. I will simply repeat that I will abide by the result of a democratic election. I think Nelson Mandela would win it, but if you want to prove me wrong, you have to address your question to the South African government.

Interviewer:

Good morning, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Caller:

Hi, I have about four questions I’d like to ask your guest speaker on South Africa. Okay, let’s begin. Happy holidays!

Christopher Hitchens:

Thank you, sir. The same to you.

Caller:

Look, I don’t know if he will be able to answer them, but here goes anyway. It seems that tribalism has always been a fierce force in all of Africa and shows little sign of ever stopping. What makes you think that this fierce tribalism would stop in South Africa if the blacks were to gain any kind of power? Secondly, all the boycotts against Russia have been lifted, and for anyone to tell me that South Africa is the worst political force in the world and leave out the genocide that goes on in Cambodia, or the hostilities that Russia is putting against Afghanistan, is very naive. It seems that we have selective indignation against the South Africans. Okay, next point. It seems that little is said about the South African Armed Forces. The news media is saying that they are insignificant, but they have yet to begin flexing their muscles. From what I understand, they have a large standing army, a very powerful Air Force, and an effective Navy. What would be the role of this force if the whites felt that their backs were against the wall? Okay, the last point is that there is still very little coverage about atrocities and the rest of black Africa in the news media. Very little coverage is given to how blacks leave other parts of Africa and go into South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, the conditions aren’t great, but they appear to be better than in their own land. In some of the border areas between South Africa and the rest of black Africa, there’s barbed wire, people are shot, and their bodies are left to rot. These actions are carried out by black governments that let this happen. I hope you’ll be able to answer my questions. I’ve called in some other time and given this kind of questions, and they seem to always be overlooked.

Interviewer:

Okay, thank you very much. Take care. Bye-bye.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, let me try not to disappoint you on your first question on tribalism. Yes, it’s the curse of Africa and every African nationalist knows it. It’s the reason for the existence of the OAU, which is the organization of African Unity. One of the most disappointing organizations in the modern world is that at least they recognize that that is the problem. It’s a double problem because the borders of Africa were not drawn by Africans, they were drawn by colonial powers. A very large number of them were drawn by my fellow countrymen, the British, and don’t follow or conform to tribal or other differences at all. They’re drawn for the convenience of outsiders, and Africa is still saddled with that. What I was saying about the ANC is that it realizes that this is the main problem and says that to join the organization, you give up your claim as a tribal or otherwise racially defined person. You have to try and decolonize, as it were, your mind. All I can say for them is that they have made that leap of recognition, and they are the only organization in the country that does give the promise of overcoming tribal feeling. But it would be a fool or an optimist or utopian who didn’t recognize the depth of it. I mean, for example, in Zimbabwe, where all Africans were agreed that white colonial rule should cease, that was about all they did agree about. And there is still a very deep-going political quarrel between the Matabele and the Mashona in the country as we speak. Whatever the answer to that is, though, it is not white colonial rule. I think we have to move beyond that stage. I hope you don’t think I’ve dodged your question then on tribalism, on the double standard, and the boycott thing. Yes and no. I didn’t say anything about Cambodia or Afghanistan because I was asked about South Africa, but I would have done if I had been asked. The difference, I think, is inescapable. The Soviet economy is not dependent on Western capitalist corporations. The South African economy, to a very large extent, is. That’s to say, we are in the West responsible for South Africa, not just in the moral sense, but in the practical sense. Money is made by American and British corporations, principally, but also by French ones and West German ones, from that economy, its labor practices, and its system of double oppression. That’s to say, people oppressed both as workers and as people of a different color. It is in our camp. Thus, the call for sanctions and boycotts is not just a matter of a gesture. It’s a matter of accepting and recognizing a responsibility that I think distinguishes it from, say, the Polish economy. Though, if you were to say to me that the Polish economy is largely written by Western banks, you’d be right, and I’d be in favor of taking the point. In the same way, I’m not for a double standard on the Army and the.

Sorry, minor point. We have a color that has been waiting for a bit. Instead of writing up his long-distance choices, why don’t we take that call? We’ll go back to the last two I just mentioned.

Christopher Hitchens:

I’m anxious because the questioner said he had his questions sloughed off before. I’m keen to take them on the chin.

Interviewer:

Okay, we will get back to them.

Christopher Hitchens:

Okay, sure.

Interviewer:

Portsmouth, Virginia, go ahead, please.

Caller:

Good morning.

Interviewer

Good morning.

Caller:

Well Christopher, I would like to encourage you. I think that you are one of the most fun and intelligent individuals I have come across. I have observed you for a few years and I really appreciate that. I would like to make two comments and extend an invitation to you. First of all, I am the president of Glory Enterprise and Educational Foundation, located at 13:17 East Brampton Avenue North, Junius 2/3 504. I know you are smiling, but the reason I am giving you this information, Christopher, is because I am hoping that you will have the opportunity to come to Virginia. I believe that the citizens of Virginia need people like you to address them and help them understand the world and global problems. Your perspective is valuable and we need to move beyond narrow-mindedness. I would also like to mention that there are many innocent children who are being affected by oppression around the country. It is disheartening that there is little mention of these children who are caught up in the struggle. My first question for you, Christopher, is whether you view the world crises as outrageous and gross human rights violations. And my second question is, do you think that these world leaders even consider the plight of these innocent children and their lack of freedom?

Interviewer

Okay, thank you for the call.

Christopher Hitchens:

It’s not just at Christmastime that one thinks of what a reproach it is that any child should have to suffer for the stupidities and crimes of people we know are like ourselves. But I suppose that makes it a more appropriate time for some people, even people like myself who aren’t lucky enough to have a belief in God to sustain them. We aren’t immune from the Christmas sentiment. That’s why South Africa moves people so much. Though we know that the human race has all kinds of inherent difficulties and possibilities that it will, by nature, be unhappy, there are some things we can see that are done that are just unnecessary, that we know we can eliminate and that are needless. One of these is racial prejudice. Any thinking person can see through it and outgrow it. To see it in practice is an outrage, and to feel that one’s own government or one’s own system is in any way condoning or supporting it is a terrible reproach. So I hope that’s a sort of answer to you.

Interviewer:

We will take a call from San Antonio, and then we’ll get back to those two questions. Glass, our producer, please hold off with calls for just a second so we can get those two responses. San Antonio, good morning.

Caller:

I think you make a good point on the multilateral nature of the problem in South Africa, and I’m glad to hear that the African National Congress also recognizes it. I think it’s easier to unite against something like the whites. Then, I think you would see the divisions among the African National Congress be much more pronounced if they came into power. However, the government and media in the United States seem to make this a black versus white question, ignoring the fact that in other countries, oftentimes there are black on black and intertribal problems. I think the fear of some of us, who are a little more to the right of yourself, is that we will exchange a racial elite for a communist elite in South Africa. I have two questions for you though: Do you think the president, government, and the moderates in that government are finished if the revolution is underway? And secondly, do you see the ANC, if they were successful in coming into power, being pro-west or pro-soviet?

Interviewer:

Thank you.

Christopher Hitchens:

Okay, this is part of the answer to the question of A for last as well. I don’t believe the story about the moderates in the government. I just don’t know who they are. They’ve never been successfully identified, and certainly, there’s no action by which we could recognize them as moderate. As I say, the ideology of the National Party, the ruling party, is not just a racial one. It’s a fascistic one. It grew out of admiration for the Third Reich and the losing side in the last war. That’s an important thing to bear in mind. If they were ever going to be moderate, they’ve had ample chances to prove it. I mean, even at the time of the Sharpeville massacre when there was such an outcry in 1961 around the time the ANC was banned, the government was saying, But you wait, there’s a reform program on the way. What is all this international outcry about? We’re changing for the better. Quite to the contrary, it changed for the worse and continues to do so. I think that down the road, and here’s part of the answer to the South African army question I was asked earlier, there’s a real chance for a military coup in the country. Certainly, at the moment, the army under General Magnus Milan effectively has a great share of state power. For instance, by the use of it, they keep Namibia/Southwest Africa an independent country under complete occupation and subjection. I also think, and it’s a terrible prospect, but I think a real one and one that hasn’t yet been written about, there’s a serious problem of death squads in South Africa. A large number of people, opponents black and white of the regime, have been disappearing or being mysteriously murdered. I think there’s almost no doubt as to who’s behind it and very little doubt that it will increase. I even wonder if the allegedly anti-white bomb in Durban yesterday was planted by anyone who’s really opposed to the regime. I’m afraid that the ideology and the entrenched racism of the National Party is likely only to get worse as it approaches its death agony.

Interviewer:

I will go back then, since you’ve answered three out of four. The fourth one is on the atrocities in the rest of Africa, yeah.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, yes, I mean, I often give people the benefit of the doubt on that. I mean, just to say, Well, the rest of Africa, it’s all black. I mean, as if you know, they all look alike to you, which is the unconscious assumption of a lot of these questions I find objectionable. But let’s admit that whatever the problem in the Congo is, for example, or Uganda, it isn’t white minority rule. What I think is distinctive about South Africa, and this is very well put by Joseph Reillyfelt in the New York Times in his really excellent book on the subject, called Move Your Shadow, published by New York Times books, I really recommend it, it’s the best anatomy of the topic that I’ve yet read, is this: if you are poor in South Africa, which is a very rich country, it is because you’re black. It’s a matter of state policy if you’re maltreated and if you’re exploited and if you’re told where you can and can’t live and if you’re told that you can’t vote, all the rest of it, it’s deliberate. It’s a systematic policy. You’re intended to be like that. Now, that isn’t true in the same way of an unfortunate in the middle of the, you can, you had a civil war, for example. It isn’t such a deliberate infliction on him, even if his condition, as it would be in some cases, is a worse one objectively. I hope that point has come across. I think it’s one that explains what some people always want to ask, which is why does one go on about South Africa so much? That’s why did I leave anything out? Why do people go and work there when they’re black? Because South Africa dominates the regional economy. It holds a commanding position in minerals and industry in capital. If you live in Mozambique, for example, over the border, do you have two options? You can either cross the border and work as virtually a slave, as an indentured labor with no rights whatsoever, even fewer rights than a black South African, or you can have no work at all. I don’t really think, therefore, a person who resolves that problem by crossing the border as an indentured labor is paying any compliment to the South African system.

Interviewer:

Newspapers this morning have many editorials on South Africa, from The Washington Times to The Washington Post. So, we take our next call from Grand Rapids to show you the Tony Auth cartoon in The Philadelphia Enquirer on South Africa. Good morning, caller. You’re on the air.

Caller:

Good morning.

Interviewer:

Good morning.

Caller:

I want to ask Mr. Hitchens about South Africa and why everyone seems to be so against the homeland concept. Maybe the way it’s implemented right now is wrong, and I’m certainly not in favor of apartheid. But it doesn’t seem to me, after living in the country for a few months, that there’s actually going to be power-sharing. It doesn’t seem possible or workable down there. It seems like a division of the country and separate rule is just about the only way that there’s going to be peace and a peaceful solution.

Interviewer:

Thank you.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, some people have said that the end result of all this will be a repartition of the country, with the whites building themselves up and not trying to rule everybody else, as well as themselves. I think myself that’s unlikely because a repartition of the country would mean them giving up the areas that are rich in gold, uranium, and other endowments, and the other reasons that they’re there in the first place. But your question is good. I mean, there are only two possible outcomes. One is a generalized collapse of the country, in which every racial tribe, low national group tries to grab something for itself, including the white tribe. The other is the solution of the ANC, which is a non-racial republic. This reminds me, I do have a question unanswered, which is what form of government, whether Pro-Eastern or pro-Western. I think the answer to that question lies very much with the United States. It has the power to resolve that question if it persists in the present policy. I think they’re too embarrassed to continue calling it constructive engagement, but anyway, of effective collusion in collaboration with the South African regime. Then the successor regime will not be friendly to the United States.

Interviewer:

Good morning, Norfolk, Virginia.

Caller:

Yes, I have a question about what you said. So, being the economic strength of a nation is important. I was just wondering about the recently formed Congress of South African Trade Unions leader, Mr. Lodge3re. I don’t know if this has been asked before, but is he challenging the government? He has given them a six-month ultimatum to abolish the Act. Yes, and I was wondering if there are currently 5 dollars under this Union. 

Christopher Hitches:

Right now, we have a slightly vague connection. I’m afraid I’m not hearing everything you say.

Interviewer

Caller, could you please start that sentence over again? We just lost the good start you had. Start your last sentence over again.

Caller:

Okay, do you see a strike by this Union as they’re barely crippling the nation? And what do you see the United States doing? Okay, thank you. Okay.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, yeah, as I said earlier, I mean the certain system, though it is based on racial demarcation, is also a system of exploitation. I mean, even if everyone at MIT was the same color, it would still be an outrageous system of exploitation. The emergence of the Congress of South African trade unions is one of the most powerful signs of that discontent in the last several years. For the very reason you mentioned, which is the extreme vulnerability of an economy that’s so heavily based on foreign investment, foreign investors are beginning to doubt whether they spent their money wisely and are reluctant to invest any more. The national currency, the rand, almost went through the floor the other day because of foreign confidence and its erosion. So, I think that a mass workers movement is a very likely means for the advancement of the black and democratic cause.

Interviewer:

If you’ve just joined us recently, we’re talking with Christopher Hitchens this morning. He is the Washington correspondent for this publication, The Nation. He has been with the organization since 1978. He is also the Washington correspondent for The Spectator, based in London, and writes a column on the American scene for the London Times Literary Supplement. In your prior assignment, you were with another news organization and authored a book called Cyprus: Oh Very Well Influenced. We’ve got about 20 minutes left with Mr. Hitchens. Let’s go next to Houma, Louisiana. Good morning.

Caller:

Yes, Mr. Hitchens, the last time I saw you on television was during an interview you did with a South African black PR man. I found that interview very interesting because a black man was supporting the apartheid government. It was televised on the cable news network, Crossfire. What I found amazing was that Robert, one of the correspondents in the interview, seemed to be against your views. I forgot some of the words he used, but it seemed like he felt you were backing a communist-type government in South Africa. Now, let me ask you a few questions. Firstly, does the white government in South Africa have enough artillery to prevent the black population from overthrowing them? Secondly, what do you think will be the final outcome of South Africa? That’s all I wanted to ask.

Christopher Hitchens:

Okay, thank you. Yeah, um, actually, I still realize I’ve left a question dangling, which you’ve reminded me of, about the Armed Forces. So, Africa has tremendously sophisticated Western-provided armaments. It ranks really almost as a NATO member with some of its alliances and with the sort of equipment to which it has access, either from the West or from Israel. It also has nuclear weapons, which it acquired from the Israelis or the technology for which it acquired from the Israelis in the French. But none of this is going to do it any good. I mean, they can invade, they do invade Angola, they’ve made incursions into Mozambique and Zimbabwe, they occupy the whole of South West Africa, Namibia, and they could certainly beat any army that the rest of Africa combined could put in the field. But it’s not going to help them against their own people. I think there are fanatics in the government who would go as far as say Somoza did in his dying days and literally bomb their own cities. They’re not going to nuclear bomb their own cities. The nukes are no good to them. They are, in effect, powerless if the black majority simply decides to fold its arms and withdraw cooperation, which I think is a recently likely scenario because the system is based on the exploitation of cheap labor. The white song kind of starts going down the mines and doing all the dirty work. They’re going to collapse if that happens. They will, of course, go to great lengths to ensure that it doesn’t, to try and decapitate the political leadership, to keep some of the statue of Nelson Mandela in prison for a quarter of a century, and so forth. But see how little good it’s done them. I mean, people who weren’t born when Nelson Mandela went into prison, and he hasn’t been quoted in a South African newspaper since then. It’s illegal to quote, it’s illegal to print his picture or his name, and everyone in South Africa knows who he is, and he’s a hero to people who weren’t born when he went inside. In the end, the whole attempt to keep this going by force is futile. It may end in blood and fire, or it could end quickly and cleanly. And the reason why I go on about this is that the West could make a difference. That economy is plugged into ours. We could decouple, really bring pressure to bear. What the administration fails to see is that doing nothing is a policy. Doing nothing is a decision, and looks to those on the bottom like a decision to stay with those on the top. And there’s no escaping a decision of that clarity, in my view.

Interviewer:

Good morning. Alright, go ahead. What’s your question? Paper? What is your question, sir? A questionnaire, bro.

Caller:

Actually, this is really great for me. Although it is possible that my hands are another thing that our people want in South Africa, they want a friend. That’s all. That’s what the action is for. They’re not asking for nothing against the George rule. They have freedom. That’s what they have. Okay, thank you for your call.

Christopher Hitchens:

I agree. I mean, I don’t think I’m the one who needs it. I think that was its own comment.

Interviewer:

Can you give a lesson on National Public Radio? The commentators were referring to this scenario between Mrs. Mandela and Mr. Burrowes’ government as a chess game. Could you comment on what is happening or at least provide an overview of it?

Christopher Hitchens:

No, chess is a much more fluent, fluid, and subtle game than they know how to play. I mean, that was just another stupid manifestation of the apartheid regime. People say, Why do they act so dumb, Lee? You know, why do they get themselves in positions like that? It’s the nature of the beast, I’m afraid. If you say, First, Mrs. Mandela, because you’re black, you have to live in Soweto, she can’t choose which part of Johannesburg she lives in. Then they say, Well, you’re free, but you can’t go home to the place we otherwise say you have to go to. What you’ve done is simply expose the ironies, if you like, the contradictions, the stupidities of your own system. None of the apparent blunders of this regime, analyzed in the West as blunders, are blunders at all. They are apartheid at work.

Interviewer:

Good morning, Maury, in New York City.

Caller:

This morning, the South African government has been reported saying that they would release Nelson Mandela if he renounced violence. What is your comment on that? Also, don’t you feel that in order to prevent a resurrection, if you will, from the right or from the army that you mentioned before, it is necessary to have not a moderate but someone who represents the establishment to take the steps to move South Africa in a direction that we might consider more acceptable for their general populace?

Christopher Hitchens:

Okay, the renunciation of violence is just a trick. What they say is, We’ll release you if you surrender. Nelson Mandela says, Don’t be ridiculous. He countered by saying he would stay in prison if the South African government itself renounced violence. I mean, that’s simply propaganda. The time for it was a long time ago. If they wanted the ANC to renounce violence, they could have dealt with it when it renounced violence itself. I mean, the ANC was a pacifist organization until very late in the day. Chief Albert was truly a pacifist, and I think I said earlier, it was only in 1961 that the decision was taken to move to resistance. Mandela would rather stay in prison, would rather die than tell his people to surrender, and that’s a measure of his stature in my view. I don’t think anyone really fell for the boaters’ trick. As for the moderates, you said yourself it’s become an absurd term, so I don’t know where you’re going to find a person of goodwill. I’m afraid that it seems to be something in the nature of the ideology of the National Party that prevents it from evolving moderates. I would think that the element of its ideology that prevents it from evolving moderates is to say that moderation is the agency of the devil and that their rule is biblically ordained. That doesn’t conduce to moderation.

Interviewer:

If you’re watching this program live on December 24th, we invite you to stay tuned. In about ten minutes, we’ll be having our open phone session, and the topic this morning is the Man of the Year. Next week, Time magazine will be coming out with its annual issue naming the event or person who, for good or ill, has changed the world this year. We’d like to hear your nominations on who you think would best be awarded the Man of the Year this year. Let’s go to Christopher Hitchens way out west in Chula Vista, California. Good morning, you’re on the air, caller. You’re on the air, sir.

Caller:

Hi, good morning doctor. Your, uh, your guess holds right there. Go ahead. Uh, you know, you’ve already come across a couple of times about South Africa, right? Yeah, and you know, I do agree with some of their philosophies. There are certain things I don’t agree with, yours so no.

Interviewer:

Okay, why don’t you name one and we’ll respond to it?

Caller:

Okay, one of them is white. Easy, Eliza. Americans are welcome to Tsavo. The South African government arrests that lady in that government, right? What do you disagree with, sir? Why is it? I want to know why they arrested her.

Interviewer:

Okay, I think we responded.

Christopher Hitchens:

Well, yes, but I mean I can just say quickly because she is while her husband Nelson Mandela remains in prison where he has been for 21 years. As the spokesman of the black majority, she very courageously acts as his spokesman and as she believes he would wish her to act while he is powerless. For this, she has incurred the hatred and repression of the South African government and has, for the last decade at least, been in restriction, as they call it, which means that she has been confined to her home.

Interviewer:

The column that you have written in The Nation this week is called Minority Report. Have you been filing some columns from Africa as you travel?

Christopher Hitchens:

That was the second of two that I did from southern Africa. Yeah, it’s always called Minority Report. That’s its name.

Interviewer:

How many do you anticipate writing on this topic? You have a schedule tomorrow.

Christopher Hitchens:

Um, well, it looks like it’s not going to go away as an issue. It’s going to stay in the headlines, so I hope I’ll be able to keep up with it. Also, I hope I’ll be able to return. How long were you actually there? I was there for three weeks.

Interviewer:

Okay, let’s take our next call for you from Knoxville, Tennessee. Good morning. Okay, what is your question, sir?

Caller:

First of all, I would like to say that I enjoy your program very much. Secondly, I am strongly against apartheid as a whole. However, I think there are several questions that need to be answered. People believe that there will be two possible outcomes: either the blacks will overthrow or there will be some kind of compromise. But I believe the situation is similar to when India first achieved its freedom. I don’t believe there are any blacks who can effectively rule the country of South Africa. They have been suppressed for so long. Even if Nelson Mandela were to be released from prison, I don’t think he would be able to rule South Africa. However, this does not mean that they don’t deserve their freedom. I believe they do. South Africa is a very important economic force in the world and it cannot simply be thrown to the wind of revolution. Thank you.

Christopher Hitchens:

if you took the executive of the African National Congress and added up all the university degrees and other qualifications that they have between them, not to speak of the decades in prison that they have amassed. As well, the wastage of their time, or rather, in spite of all that, you would find that it easily outbids the collected expertise and qualifications of the South African cabinet. There is no question at all that if the ANC is permitted to form an orderly transition regime, it could be voted into power if an election was held. If that is not allowed to happen, it is not the ANC’s fault. And yes, there is a possibility that if the extreme right goes down fighting, the place could go through a Lebanese experience before it gets to its independence. But what you can’t stop is people wanting that independence by one means or another. They have taken the decision, as I put it in my article, that this is the last unfree generation. They will survive the regime. That decision, once taken, is quite impossible to untape. So it will come one way or another. And I repeat, the Western democracies have a large role to play in deciding whether it will come by democratic means or not. Just Hitchens next calls from Anchorage.

Caller:

Caller:

Good morning, good morning. Not the greatest show in the world, gone. 

Interviewer:

Oh, thank you, sir. Happy holidays – happy holidays. 

Caller:

What I wanted to discuss is the advocacy of disinvestment in South Africa on the part of all sorts of American entities: university trusts, municipal retirement funds, etc. And way below, up in Alaska, believe it or not, we have a thing called our permanent fund. We have, from our oil revenues, something in the order of 10 billion dollars invested in Wall Street and various securities. It just seems to me that those who are advocating this have it backwards, so to speak. I think there’s a tendency, upon those who are acutely concerned about apartheid South Africa, for the advocacy of disinvestment to seem backwards. It’s like running, it’s like playing Pontius Pilate, washing one’s hands of the situation. For example, if the state of Alaska, rather than disinvesting, were to go on to the stock market, I believe of the 500 international corporations (non-American corporations), the nine largest in South Africa, and make the list, some of them are available for purchase. In no case do any of those corporations have a stock market value of a billion dollars. So, could we effectively go in, state of Alaska’s Permanent Fund, and buy operative control of seven of the nine largest corporations of South Africa? And that’s without getting into most of the gold mine stock. I just wonder if really that wouldn’t be the way to go about it. Just effectively have our pension fund buy control of all the South African corporations, and then maybe we could tell the corporations, maybe you ought to allow the families to live with the workers. We’re going to build housing, we’re going to have equal pay, and by golly, if it costs us a little bit for a while, maybe we’ll just break even instead of making a profit. And then, where is the South African government going to get their revenues? I have a suspicion that some of the people who are heavily advocating this just don’t like the profit motive. They don’t like owning equity in corporations. They come from other philosophical positions. They might have a line even in the Nation magazine. But I think it might be a more responsible way to go, and I think we might get more bang for the buck by acting responsibly and putting an end to apartheid. 

Interviewer:

Thank you very much. Okay, we’re running out of time.

Christopher Hitchens:

Sure, um, first, it is very flattering to get a call, um, all the way from Anchorage, from the great state of Alaska, whose Senator, honest Gruening, actually used to be the editor of the nation before he took Alaska into the Union. So, I feel a fellow feeling for anyone in Alaska, and that’s certainly the most ingenious question we’ve had today. I think we’d have to say that it had never occurred to me before actually to buy them out, and I really don’t know whether they’d sell. I think the African National Congress would probably say that the resources, most of which are actually underground in South Africa, a tremendously mineral-rich place, belong to them into the future, and they want to have a say in whoever owned them. But, and I think that would actually be their first response, but I just congratulate you for an amazingly ingenious proposal all the same.

Interviewer:

Two minutes left, our last calls from Roanoke. Good morning.

Caller:

Excuse me, good morning. How are you today?

Christopher Hitchens:

Fine, sir.

Caller:

I would like to find out why it is perfectly okay for the American people to monkey with a non-communist government from an external point of view, yet you, as a newspaper, wish to prohibit us from monkeying with a communist government to turn it into a free government.

Christopher Hitchens:

No, not quite. What I said earlier was this: we are already intervening in South Africa. That is to say, the flow of capital investment and weapons into South Africa all comes from the West. So, the intervention has already been made. The point is, if we can intervene one way, why can’t we intervene another? Since that relationship doesn’t exist between the United States government and any communist one, I don’t think your analogy holds. But if it did, I’d be in favor of the same policy.

Interviewer:

We’re out of time for Christopher Hitchens. Thank you for joining us this morning. Thank you for your questions and comments on South Africa. Interesting morning.

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