MOVE YOUR SHADOW; South Africa, Black and White. By Joseph Lelyveld. Times Books. 389 pp. $18.95.
ANYONE WHO HAS managed to withstand what Joseph Lelyveld calls the "riot of euphemisms, analogies, and fatuous forecasts" with which white South Africans like to demonstrate their decency is left with a heap of broken images. Like the memories of an unbelievable nightmare, these images demand some sort of exorcism. Move Your Shadow is in some ways an attempt at exorcism. Joseph Lelyveld expresses the anguish, anger, confusion, and frustration he felt during the years he was writing from South Africa for The New York Times. His book is, however, no self-indulgence. He rarely sacrifices the events he describes to his own reactions. He is the impassioned vehicle through which the "heap of broken images" -- my reference is to Eliot's Waste Land -- form an extraordinary picture of South Africa.
As a foreign journalist Lelyveld came to know South Africa the way no South African, white or black, can know it. Within limits he could cross the psychological and legal barriers of apartheid and see the contrasting worlds of whites and blacks, coloreds and Asians. "The difference can be between an 'international' hotel and a squalid rooftop barracks for black migrant workers that is periodically raided by the police. Or it can be between white bus stops conveniently located near the main shopping areas and black bus stops hidden away at the edge of town."
To readers bombarded with daily death counts from South Africa, pictures of mutilated children, and reports of torture, Lelyveld's contrast may seem anemic. But that is just the point. Apartheid determines the texture of everyday life. It grinds down the dignity -- the sense of possibility -- of those it discriminates against, and it deprives the privileged of ,elan and self-esteem. The whites spin webs of rationalization around themselves. Lelyveld calculated that the laws and regulations of apartheid weigh over 10 pounds! Vast sums are wasted in maintaining its awkward structure. The South African government spends more on subsidizing the bus trips of workers from KwaNdebele to Pretoria than on any single development of that wretched homeland.
South African whites have mastered the rhetoric of apartheid so well that they often dupe themselves. Lelyveld describes the "capriciousness of a system that can ban a mug (on which political slogans have been scratched) and release a poem, torture one activist and seem to ignore another." This capriciousness keeps "enemies constantly off-balance while enticing potential collaborators," and, I would add, confuses such outsiders as the American bankers who seriously expected P. W. Botha to announce meaningful reform last August. Of Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid's prime mover, Lelyveld writes: "He sounded reasonable because he spoke in syllogisms; the premises were batty, but the conclusions were what his audiences yearned to believe." No wonder there is so much legalism. Logic covers for desire, and in that way no white has to question the premises upon which his South Africa is constructed.
"A system that has to justify to itself its use of harsh interrogration methods," Lelyveld observes, "cannot easily reserve them for saboteurs and assassins, for it has need to incriminate anyone it suspects in the seemingly illimitable conspiracy that threatens its continued operations. Once a suspect has been tortured, the interrogation has to be continued until some shred of evidence vindicating the torture's use has been extracted."
Violence seems to offer the whites one escape from their endless chains of rationalization. Lelyveld notes ironically -- he was writing before the latest rioting -- that "the major arena of interracial violence remains the highways where the death rate . . . is at least four times what it is in the United States, with blacks, who own fewer than 15 percent of the vehicles, accounting for more than 60 percent of the deaths -- a statistic that can only partly be explained by the alleged carelessness of black pedestrians who are the main victims." For more and more blacks, violence appears to be the only means to bring about significant change. For them the question is how to make a commitment that will be more than a sacrifice, particularly when so much of the world assumes that a solution to South Africa's problems will have to come from the whites. Lelyveld paraphrases Winnie Mandela: Constructive engagement means "telling blacks to call off their struggle because 'the bosses are working it out.'"
SO PSYCHOLOGICALLY powerful is apartheid that violence seems also to provide the only contact between whites and blacks. There seems to be no real understanding between them. A white woman, on some philanthropic mission to a Cape Town squatter community, spoke to a black man there in baby talk. ''We sorry you not have house, permit, warm clothes like us. We very sorry." The woman meant no harm. She saw only a victim. The black man's response was a dismissive, "Oh."
After the Bulawayo massacres in Zimbabwe, Lelyveld forced himself to visit the refrigerator cars filled with the dead. Among the Africans looking for their relatives, he spotted an Afrikaner in powder blue shorts and matching knee socks with his two adolescent sons. Lelyveld imagined he was showing the boys what blacks do to themselves when they rule. But, he learned, the Afrikaner had brought his sons to see the dead firsthand so they would stop making wisecracks about the recent killings. "I bring my sons here to see firsthand what they are speaking. . . . I just want themselves to feel, 'Hell, this is terrible,'" he said. "I want them to stop talking about it really." Lelyveld assumed he was speaking for peace and humanity. But perhaps he meant simply there was nothing to say. The horror, Lelyveld tells us, is that it can all go on indefinitely.