When it comes to South Africa, it is getting harder to distinguish between what actually is happening and what one would like to see happen.
For instance, since South Africa is richly deserving of revolution, there is a strong temptation (among those who sympathize with that country's oppressed majority) to read the current unrest as at least the beginning of righteous revolution. But is it?
One paragraph of a recent news story raises the point:
"Two white men were killed and two others badly injured last night by a crowd returning from a mass funeral outside the port city of East London. The victims were only the third and fourth whites to die in a year of political violence that has claimed about 675 black lives."
What kind of revolution is it when the oppressed do virtually all the dying, and when the oppressors are more concerned over the status of their currency than the safety of their person?
Of course the argument could be made that a good many of the blacks who have died were suspected informers and collaborators killed by other blacks, and that as soon as the quislings are out of the way, the anti- apartheid revolution can truly begin. But while that may be what a lot of us would like to see happen, there is dismayingly little evidence that it is in fact happening.
There are others here who would like something quite different to happen in South Africa and who, as a consequence, read the actual events to reflect that wish. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, for instance, finds it difficult to believe that white anticommunist Christians (which is how the ruling regime sees itself) could be so ruthlessly and uncompromisingly committed to continuing their race- based oppression of the black majority. So he makes himself believe that the Botha government is fundamentally reformist and would shortly establish a just society -- if only the international community weren't quite so pushy and the natives quite so restless.
President Reagan's preference (and therefore his interpretation of events) is for his policy of "constructive engagement" to pay off. He will acknowledge that apartheid is wrong, but he insists on seeing the present violence not as racial but as a struggle between the forces of order and the forces of lawlessness. After all, haven't the victims of the black mobs included black policemen?
The one thing you cannot see in South Africa's turmoil, no matter how fervently you might wish it, is a nonviolent resolution of the crisis. There is, on the one hand, a dearth of Mohandas Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings to lead a nonviolent campaign and, on the other, a dearth of whites of sufficient good will and vision to respond to it. The most predictable result of a campaign of nonviolence would be the long-term jailing of its leaders.
The remaining nonviolent possibility -- a negotiated settlement -- was essentially spiked when President Botha refused to meet with Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu or to release without precondition Nelson Mandela.
So where is it all headed? Wishful thinking says that either South Africa, with a healthy nudge from the international community, will come to its senses and make major concessions to its disenfranchised majority, or else the present unrest will become full-fledged revolution.
Cold-eyed reality suggests that things in South Africa may well simply get worse: for everybody.