Americans examining the South African upheaval of 1976 to 1994 are often prone to
read that period of dramatic change as the analogue of the Civil Rights Movement.
There may perhaps be some justification for making that comparison a basis for
historical sociology, but it is a very bad guide to understanding the thinking of the
South African activists of that time. For, outside of a relatively small number of
liberal activists, and a handful of religious leaders, Marxism—in a number of
varieties—was, by far, the dominant set of ideas amongst militant anti-apartheid
activists. The people who made the political running in those days did not believe
they were participating in the March on Selma, but rather that they were involved in
the analogue of, variously, the Russian, Cuban, Vietnamese or Nicaraguan
revolutions. They may well have been deluded in this regard, but this was how
they thought. In the 1980s, as Marxist politics crumbled elsewhere, it was very
vigorous in South Africa. And this was also true of the oppositional political culture on South Africa’s campuses.