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The politics of co-optation and of non-collaboration.

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Since the outbreak of the Soweto uprising in 1976 there has been a noticeable change in the thinking of the South African government. This change has been evident in the departure from classical Verwoerdian apartheid to reform apartheid where the state has increasingly undertaken a programme of restructuring of political positions. The main strategy has been to co-opt blacks into statutory bodies such as the homelands, the tricameral parliament and town councils. In response to this shift in policy, blacks have intensified resistance to reform apartheid by forming a number of "extra-system" organisations which have constituted the extra parliamentary opposition. Co-optive reforms have not been limited only to the political sphere, a number of social and economic measures intended to accommodate 'qualifying' blacks have also been introduced notably by the private sector. For instance, private corporations have attempted to 'deracialise' positions at work by instituting 'black advancement' programmes to integrate the workforce and allow for occupational mobility across all races. Further, there has been a measure of relaxation in the social sphere: petty apartheid in the form of restrictions on mixed audiences in places of entertainment has been abolished, the Immorality Act and the Mixed Marriages Act are no longer on the statute book and private schools as well as white liberal universities opened their doors to black pupils and students. The main objective of this thesis has been to establish how the African elites who qualify as the 'main beneficiaries' of these changes react to reform. The thesis is, therefore, a reflection of the attitudes of 93 respondents selected from the professional and managerial ranks, community leaders and opinion-makes in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand Vereeniging Complex in the Transvaal, the Durban-Pietermaritzburg region in Natal, and from the Eastern Cape. This almost covers the main urban metropolitan complexes excluding the Western Cape and the Orange Free State, and therefore, almost represents a national survey of African elites. Findings drawn from the data indicate that, in the main, African elites reject co-optation as an avenue of inclusion into the 'centre' of power primarily on political grounds. In the views of the majority of the subjects in this thesis, the solution to the national question is critical to any strategy of accommodation, and this precedes any other arrangements - economic educational etc. This 'primacy of the political' refutes any suggestions that a subordinate group may be won over through economic and status rewards without attending to the basic issues of human rights which are, in essence, political. Secondly, the findings demonstrate that co-optation as a hegemonic, strategy has not achieved the intended objectives. It has failed to legitimate a process of elite incorporation in spite of derived status and power that accrue to the beneficiaries as individuals. The subjects aligned themselves with the extra-parliamentary opposition as ideological opponents of apartheid including reform apartheid both in terms of policy and strategy. The thesis ends with three scenarios. The first postulates the failure of co-optation as a strategy and examines the possibility of non-collaboration as a successful substitute. This is, however, not possible in the immediate future given the power of the state on the one side and the weaknesses on the part of the extra-parliamentary opposition on the other, particularly at the level of organisation, and discipline as well as the capacity to deliver the requisite material goods and services to the masses. The second scenario projects a situation where co-optation succeeds. This is, again, a difficult scenario to realise given the massive opposition against the present state and the inability of the South African government, as is presently constituted, to address basic issues of human rights, issues which lie at the bottom of the present crisis. Finally, the remaining option is that the stalemate continues but with the possibility that both the present government and the extra-parliamentary opposition seek ways to reach workable alternatives as is crystalised in the pre-negotiations that are presently taking place.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1991.


Blacks--South Africa--Politics and government., Apartheid--South Africa., South Africa--Race relations., Cooptation--South Africa., Theses--Development studies.