Commentary Magazine


Prisoners of a Dream, by Leo Raditsa

Terrorism in Southern Africa

Prisoners of a Dream: The South African Mirage. Historical Essay on the Denton Hearings.
by Leo Raditsa.
Prince George Street Press. 467 pp. $25.95 (paper).

For five days in March 1982, Jeremiah Denton (who was then a Republican Senator from Alabama) held hearings on “The Role of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and East Germany in Fomenting Terrorism in Southern Africa.” The hearing room was frequently crowded with activists, the curious public, and the press, but very little that was said there, especially by young black Africans who had escaped the terrorism and wanton brutality of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Southwest African People’s Organization (SWAPO), ever appeared in the general media. Leo Raditsa, a classicist by training, was so outraged by what he took to be further evidence of a systematic cover-up in the service of a disinformation campaign aimed at advancing Soviet purposes in southern Africa that he wrote this book.

Raditsa describes his work as a “historical essay on the Denton hearings,” and it is historical indeed, reaching back to the first Dutch settlers in South Africa in 1652, offering an account of the Anglo-Boer War, the unification of South Africa in 1910, and much else—all interspersed with references to the developments of the last few years. The result, however, is a frequently disjointed book that does not actually get to the Denton hearings until page 373, and then the reader encounters what amounts to an abbreviated transcript interwoven with running editorial comment on the evils of Communism.

It would be easy to dismiss Prisoners of a Dream, and I expect it will be generally dismissed where it is not totally ignored. Its prolixity is off-putting and its frequent intemperance of judgment is not reassuring. One wishes, for example, that Raditsa had explored more thoroughly interpretations other than that the United States has willy-nilly collaborated with the Soviet Union in undermining freedom in southern Africa. For instance, former Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker’s negotiation for the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and for the independence of Namibia may not be the great diplomatic achievement many have deemed it to be, but Raditsa is hardly convincing in portraying Crocker as a confidence man manipulating “the language of mirage” on behalf of a State Department determined to advance its sinister schemes by taking charge after “Reagan lost control of his foreign policy.” Nor, for that matter, is Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the UNITA insurgency in Angola, quite the unalloyed champion of humane and democratic values that Raditsa seems to think. One could equally well question other interpretations here that are asserted rather than argued.

Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Prisoners of a Dream. Raditsa is surely right that events in southern Africa are subject to widespread misconceptions which more often than not play into the hands of the declared enemies of democratic freedom. No sensible person can doubt that intellectuals in the West are, as Raditsa writes, often “fascinated by totalitarian violence,” and are therefore inclined to excuse or discount the terrible things that Communists do and threaten to do. More importantly, the book provides a great deal of information on ideology, alliances, and behavior of groups like the ANC and SWAPO, and the eyewitness testimonies from the Denton hearings speak with a compelling urgency that must not be ignored.

Raditsa may be right in believing that, Gorbachev notwithstanding, the Soviet Union has not changed one whit in its expansionist designs on southern Africa. Maybe, too, what is thought to be the Crocker triumph will turn out to have been a mirage. Possibly Savimbi has been double-crossed, and it could be that Fidel Castro has every reason to believe he can keep his troops in Angola as long as they are needed to maintain totalitarians in power. Perhaps it is true, finally, that the United States, inadvertently or otherwise, has sabotaged the efforts of the South African government to move peacefully toward a more just society beyond apartheid.

These dour judgments and others may turn out to be justified—but maybe not. Prisoners of a Dream would have been more persuasive had it engaged, even if to refute, the arguments for measured hope (very measured hope) that southern Africa has in the last several years been moved a little closer toward the prospect of stability with something like democratic freedom. Of course all the returns are not in and will not be for a very long time, but Raditsa’s dismissal of that measured hope reflects a style of anti-Communism that lends unwarranted credibility to the apocalyptic revolutionism of the anti-anti-Communists who will likely pay him no mind.

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