This reviewer, who has enjoyed the friendship of Colin Legum for the past two decades, can without any fear of contradiction describe him as perhaps the most knowledgeable commentator on matters concerning the vast continent of Africa. Having met him several times in India, Africa, London and New York and having participated with him in a couple of international seminars on Africa, it would be fair to call him a leading Africanist. Essentially a journalist, he is highly respected even by academics from Africa, the United States and Britain.
Colin Legum should be fairly known in India, because he has been contributing articles on Africa for The Times of India for the past many years. A passionate lover of freedom and peace, he is a known opponent of apartheid and all it stands for.
The book The Battlefronts of Southern Africa is not an original work. It brings together in a single volume Colin Legum’s detailed and analytical essays on the crisis in Southern Africa that appeared in the last ten years of Africa Contemporary Record —an annual survey and documents—which he has been editing for the past 20 years or so. The year-by-year assessment of events of South Africa and their spillover into neighbouring countries, all compiled into a book, with a historical introductory chapter, make it an extremely readable piece of work.
Before one goes to look into the merits and demerits of the book, a few words on Africa Contemporary Record would be useful. It is a valuable annual reference publication of more than 1,000 pages, devoted to contemporary Africa. Each volume offers comprehensive coverage of the year’s political, economic and foreign policy developments by scholars, journalists and area experts. Cross-referencing from one volume to another provides continuity and adds to its reference value.
Colin Legum is in and out of Africa all through the year. He spends more time in Southern Africa and, therefore, his knowledge of the region is intimate. One may not agree with all his views, especially on the Soviet and Cuban roles, of which he is highly critical, but undoubtedly, he is an authority on the subject. He knows all the actors in the ugly dramas being played in the region and has an easy access to them, even to bandits like UNITA leader Jones Savimbi of Angola.
The period 1975-76 to 1985-86, to which these essays relate, is extremely important in relation to South Africa and its mischievous record in the region. Many important developments took place during that time. But the most important were the UN Security Council Resolution 435 of 1978 on the decolonization of Namibia, the historic independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, the escalation of the armed struggle by the ANC and SWAPO, the. arms-twisting and destabilization of the region by South Africa during early years of Reagan’s Presidency and the increasing isolation of the racist regime in the mid-eighties. There were thus many regional conflicts and conflict settlements in this period, which Colin Legum has dealt with and analysed in an incisive way. He also handles the international dimensions of the conflicts articulately. But he puts too much blame on the Soviets and the Cubans on their involvement in Angola. The author is, however, disappointed with the linkage of Cuban troops in Angola and Namibian indepen-dence and with the delay in the implementation of Resolution 435.
Colin Legum is right in warning that any further delay in the dismantling of apartheid will lead to greater violence and increased international involvement. He would be very much like the West to acknowledge the central role South Africa’s apartheid system has played in the region’s difficulties. The author is not in favour of the Reagan administration’s ‘constructive engagement’ policy, which has made South Africa all the more intransigent. But he feels satisfied that since 1984 Washington has realized its mistake and had begun distancing itself from Pretoria.
The signing of an executive order in 1984 by Reagan on selective sanctions against South Africa was one such indication. The author describes US-South Africa relations in the following straightforward manner: ‘US relations with SA had deteriorated steadily since 1984 beginning with the recall for consultations of its ambassador in Pretoria over the commando attack on Botswana in June 1984… At the same time, its relations improved remarkably with Mozambique, but more slowly with Angola’ (p. 368).
Perhaps the most interesting chapters in the book relate to 1983-84 and 1984-85, which were the years of South African gangsterism in and destabilization of the region. Legum has an exciting expression to tell to his readers. He calls its Pax Practoriana. The Pretoria regime was able to force Mozambique to sign the infamous Nkomati Accord. South Africa agreed to stop aid to MNR rebels on the condition that Mozambique will stop ANC’s military presence and activities. The ANC was highly critical of this accord, because it was not consulted by Mozambique. Even Tanzania, a longstanding friend of Mozambique, rejected the accord, which died its own death in 1985, because South Africa did not honour it and kept on aiding the MNR bandits.
The author is against violence, yet he gives a lot of respect to the ANC. Of the ANC he said in 1986: ‘It took the ANC almost 20 years since its armed wing, Umkonto we Sizwe, launched its struggle to win international recognition as a key actor in SA political developments. Its preeminence as the leading challenger to the apartheid system owes much, perhaps most, to the recognition that the ANC’s imprisoned leader and the man who launched the Umkonto’s struggle, Nelson Mandela, has become the touchstone for black participation in any negotiating process with the SA regime.’ (p. 418)
It is good that Colin Legum takes SWAPO rather seriously. He says Sam Nujoma has conspicuously followed a policy of nonalignment in his relations with the major powers, and travels frequently between western, Soviet bloc, Cuban and Chinese capitals. The author wrote as far back as in 1986: ‘Few doubt that SWAPO would emerge as the major political force, if elections were held in Namibia under the terms envisaged by SCR 435.’
It appears Colin Legum in his essays of ten years gives more attention to China’s role in Southern Africa than it deserves. He is by no means pro-Chinese, though. China’s armed support to FRELIMO’S freedom fighters in Mozambique and to Robert Mugabe’s ZANU in Zimbabwe have historical importance, of course. But that is practically about all. Why has he given so many pages to China, practically in every chapter of the book? The author is right in saying that in the post-Mao period, China’s role was to counter the Soviet influence in Africa. But its success was minimal. Although in his last chapter covering the period 1985-86, Legum says that ‘China continued to maintain a relatively low profile in Southern Africa’, he, more than is necessary, highlights the visits of ANC leader Oliver Tambo and SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma to China in the year 1986.
Indian chauvnists, like this reviewer, given to torm torm India’s policies towards Africa, would feel dismayed that Legum does not give even a marginal role to New Delhi in the Southern African region. Reading the 450 pages of the book, from cover to cover, it is amazing to find that India is mentioned only twice and that too in passing—once the author says that India and Nigeria were expected to provide security the Beira Corridor (from Zimbabwe to the Mozambiquean port) against MNR attacks and second time he talks of Swaran Singh, former Foreign Minister of India, as a member of the Commonwealth’s Eminent Persons Group on South Africa. He has totally ignored even important facts that India was the first country to accord diplomatic status to SWAPO in 1985 and Nelson Mandela was given the coveted Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1979.
Legum, one is inclined to feel, gives little importance to the role of the nonaligned in Southern Africa. All through the book only one paragraph (last one) is devoted to the Nonaligned Movement. It is a brief reference to the Harare NAM summit in 1986 and to the Luanda NAM ministerial meeting in 1985. It is most disappointing that the author makes no reference to AFRICA Fund, although the acronym AFRICA stands for ‘Action For Resisting Invasion, Colonialism and Apartheid’. This Fund created at the Harare summit, under India’s chairmanship, has won world-wide acclaim, but Legum does not think so. Nor does he realize that the creation of the AFRICA Fund had turned the NAM, for the first time, into an action-oriented organization against the obnoxious policy of apartheid. Even as Legum ignores India in his book, it would be incorrect to call him unfriendly towards India. He hap-pens to be a great admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru and India’s economic cooperation programme with Africa.
Hari Sharan Chhabra is Editor of Africa Diary.