'Frontline' tackles violence and complexity of South African politics


December 11, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

This is a warning: "The Struggle For South Africa" will contain some of the most graphic pictures of violence you have ever seen.

This is a guarantee: The graphic depictions are not gratuitous. They communicate a real feeling for what life, death and politics seem to be these days for many South Africans.

That does not mean "The Struggle For South Africa," which airs at 9 tonight on "Frontline" (Channels 22 and 67), is great television. It is 90 minutes long. And, at the end of it, you are likely to be more confused than when you sat down about the ongoing reports of factionalism and violence in black townships.

But that does not mean it's a failed report either. The subject matter BBC producer David Harrison tackles is complicated. At the end of the report, most viewers will be smarter than they were when the show started. They will be smart enough to know how little they understand about South Africa and that South Africa was never as black-and-white as the pictures and reports last year which portrayed Nelson Mandela as the good guy and white leadership as the bad guys.

Harrison's report focuses on the brutal warfare between Mandela's African National Congress and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha movement led by Chief Buthelezi. The intensity of that warfare, which has left 800 dead since August, is going to shock some viewers. There is a sequence showing a youth being kicked, stoned, clubbed and beaten to death by young members of the ANC. There are pictures of bodies being set on fire, bodies horribly maimed and boys being shot in the head and their blood running into the dirt.

This is a report about factions and factions within factions. It examines the radical youth leaders of the ANC who criticize Nelson Mandela for ceasing armed struggle during peace negotiations with F. W. deKlerk. It looks at the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), which denounces de Klerk and calls for an all-white state within South Africa.

In addition to the ANC and Inkatha, the report looks at the possibility of a "third force" fomenting violence between the two black groups for its own ends. But Harrison comes up empty handed in his search for this shadowy group.

By the end of "The Struggle For South Africa," viewers will know who the main players are. They'll also have a sense of the horrible brutality those players are inflicting on each other. Most viewers, though, won't have much understanding of the rules or even the deadly game that's being played.

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