• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

South Africa on the Edge

The search for justice flows through our history like a gold thread. Within the framework of what was internationally acceptable, we have a very honorable history. We are proud of it.

De Klerk, in fact, has not changed the premise underlying all the Nationalists’ proposed reforms: whites, as a group, have an inherent right to govern South Africa. The Nationalists, de Klerk says, are not prepared to exchange “one form of domination [forty-four years of white minority rule by Nationalists] for another,” i.e., black majority rule by the ANC. For the past three years, de Klerk and his colleagues have been formulating a two-part strategy which amounts to a plan for preserving white privileges and Nationalist power.

The most important part concerns a new constitution.5 Having conceded that absolute rule by the white minority cannot continue, the Nationalists propose that the ANC or any other party representing blacks must not have full powers to rule even if it gets a majority of the votes in a free election. Instead, Nationalists seek a constitution that guarantees minority parties, such as their own, “effective participation” at all levels of government.

A central feature of a new constitution would be the transfer of many of the powers of the central government to regional governments that would be “autonomous.” De Klerk has not so far specified the number of regions he has in mind, their borders, or their powers. It has been generally assumed, though, that the Nationalists would insist on some kind of gerrymandering that would give them a strong position in some of the regions. With the central government thus weakened, the powerful office of the president would be abolished. In its place there would be a collegial three- or five-person presidency. The candidates getting the most votes would be represented, virtually assuring that a Nationalist would be one of the presidents.

The party also proposes a bicameral legislature. To satisfy the liberation groups, the first house would be elected on the basis of one-person, one-vote and proportional representation. The second house, which would have to pass on all legislation, is designed to “guard over the interests of minorities,” such as whites, and would be elected according to a system favoring minority groups and parties such as the Nationalists. Its members would be elected in equal numbers from the various regions, as with the American Senate. But like the multiparty executive proposed by the Nationalists, the parties getting the most votes would have an equal number of seats without regard to differences in electoral strength.

Important legislation would have to be passed by a large majority of the second house. At one stage in the negotiations the Nationalists proposed 75 percent. In this extreme form of the principle of checks and balances, the aim is to make it difficult, if not impossible, even for a political party with a large majority to enact measures without the consent of the Nationalists and other minority parties.

Once they have a constitution favorable to small parties, the Nationalists hope to work out a strategy for winning elections. Although many blacks initially praised de Klerk for his reforms, the Nationalists have made very little effort so far to recruit them into the party in large numbers. They have only recently opened a branch in Soweto, a city of two million people. De Klerk would like to attract some black votes, but he and his colleagues would prefer to remain the white man’s party and not risk the possibility that its white membership would be swallowed up by new black members. Most of their energies have been put into increasing their following among whites to the right and left of the National Party.

Some Nationalists have spoken of winning an election outright by building a successful coalition with conservative black groups as well as with smaller parties representing whites. This alliance would try to defeat the ANC, or at least keep the victory of Mandela’s group narrow enough that the “checks-and-balances constitutions,” as some Nationalists call it, would prevent it from governing on its own terms.

A Nationalist alliance along these lines would probably not look much different from the government’s recent political arrangements under the divide-and-rule apartheid system. Several black parties joined the Nationalist camp in the constitutional negotiations last year but they were ethnic or puppet organizations, or both, that have been ruling for many years in the “homelands” created by Pretoria to carry out apartheid. Naturally they strongly support the Nationalists’ proposals for regional autonomy.

Seemingly central to the Nationalist strategy, moreover, is an eventual alliance with Chief Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party, a group whose members come mostly from the six-million-strong Zulu tribe of the Natal province. Buthelezi, a Zulu prince who is the only homeland leader with a large following, is pushing for strong powers for the Natal region which incorporates Zululand. Polls have given Inkatha no more than 10 percent support throughout the country, but Buthelezi would no doubt be fairly successful in his home region and hence contribute substantially to a Nationalist-led alliance in parliament. A Nationalist-Inkatha alliance would have a good chance of controlling the regional government in Natal.

De Klerk’s strategy has already done much to shape the future, but not necessarily for the better. Ethnic differences cannot be glossed over; yet if South Africa is to be salvaged from the wreckage of apartheid, the hope probably lies in encouraging the strongest possible allegiance to the ideal of a common South Africa. This is not necessarily the impossible challenge it would appear to be. With the exception of a relatively small group of Afrikaners, and some of the homeland officials, most South Africans say they would prefer living in a unified South Africa to seeing the country splinter into a number of small ethnic states. In spite of apartheid, South Africa’s ethnic groups are sufficiently spread around the country and the economy to have encouraged a general sense of one nationhood. Neither the Afrikaners nor any other ethnic group, with the possible exception of the Zulus in Natal, can stake their claim to a territory that could become an economically workable state on its own.

De Klerk, however, would like the new system to be based on political parties that are essentially representatives of the country’s various ethnic groups. By so entrenching ethnic competition in government and politics, de Klerk increases rather than decreases the risk that South Africa will wind up like Lebanon or Yugoslavia.

Undoubtedly, the fears of the white minority must be addressed in an eventual settlement. South Africans have plenty of reasons to fear ANC rule. In post-colonial Africa, liberation organizations have not usually produced governments that respect individual rights and the rule of law. The ANC has at times during the negotiation process failed to restrain its own militants from engaging in provocations and acts of violence. The ANC claims to respect democratic values but it has acknowledged having set up detention camps in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda, where people suspected of being spies or traitors were tortured and in some cases executed. According to an internal ANC investigation ordered by Mandela and released in October, the gravest abuses were carried out at the ANC’s Quatro camp in Angola.6 Typically held without any form of trial, the detainees were kept in cells that were overcrowded, excessively hot, and unsanitary. They were subjected to physical and psychological hardships, including backbreaking manual labor. According to Amnesty International’s report on the camps, “former prisoners at Quatro described being forced to crawl through or sit on red ants’ nests.” 7

The worst abuses, though, involved severe beatings, the use of torture to extract confessions, and executions. The report described the pompa, in which the victim was required to puff out his cheeks while being slapped in the face, causing excruciating pain and in some cases burst eardrums and bleeding from the ears. The prisoners were also subjected to the “gas mask,” in which a hollowed-out papaya was pushed against the victim’s face to restrict breathing, and to “napalm,” in which a poisonous bush plant was rubbed on a victim’s skin to cause severe itching and burning.

The ANC’s investigators said that some prisoners were apparently executed following a mutiny over conditions at Quatro in 1984, and they reported serious allegations that other prisoners were murdered or disappeared. The report put much of the blame on the ANC’s security department, which it said had become a law unto itself. While some senior ANC officials had tried to halt the abuses, others, according to the report, did not.

Much remains obscure about the detention camps: How many people were held in them, on what charges? Who was responsible for the abuses that have been acknowledged? How the ANC now deals with these questions will say much about its actual commitment to protecting human rights. The organization has announced that a commission whose members do not belong to the ANC is making a new investigation of charges that members currently serving in the security department are guilty of past abuses in the detention camps. So far Mandela, with the support of influential allies in the ANC, has taken the initiative in investigating what happened, and in making the findings public.8

Mandela and most of the other senior ANC leaders have also acknowledged the need to deal with white concerns about a future of tyranny by the majority. They emphasize that South Africa’s economy can hardly survive without white skills and investment. They have also recognized that ignoring reasonable demands by minorities for protection will increase the risk of a civil war that would deprive their supporters of the benefits of apartheid’s end. In November, after months of internal debate, the ANC’s national executive committee formally endorsed a proposal for a “sunset” clause, which would guarantee minority parties a role in governing for a limited time even beyond the transition period. The ANC has also generally agreed to grant some powers to regional governments and strongly supports a bill of rights and an independent judiciary.

What the ANC probably will not accept is a constitution that entrenches white power so deeply that the majority would be prevented from exercising its will in vital matters, such as economic policy. One of de Klerk’s most serious failures has been in not accepting, or not frankly acknowledging to his supporters, that his initiatives imply that whites will one day have less political power than blacks. Instead, he has stuck to the reassuring line that the more things change the more they will stay the same.

De Klerk’s strategy, whether intentionally or not, has had a part in producing the violence of the past three years. The worst bloodshed has involved factional fighting between the ANC and Inkatha. Clashes between the two groups began in the Natal province in 1986, after the ANC concentrated both armed and propaganda attacks on Buthelezi as part of its violent strategy of making South Africa ungovernable. Through the influence of the Pretoria government, Buthelezi became chief minister and chief of police of KwaZulu homeland. He appealed for Mandela’s freedom, and he said he opposed apartheid, but he also used his position to build up an impressive power base. While the ANC was banned, and its members jailed for merely trying to organize meetings, Inkatha was free to carry on its activities. Its largely Zulu membership, which has an old warrior tradition, responded to the ANC’s attacks with attacks by its own fighting groups.

  1. 5

    An outline of Nationalist thinking is contained in “Constitutional Rule in a Participatory Democracy,” issued by the party’s federal council in Pretoria on September 4, 1991.

  2. 6

    See the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Complaints by Former African National Congress Prisoners and Detainees, ANC, August 1992.

  3. 7

    See Amnesty International, “South Africa: Torture, Ill-Treatment and Executions in African National Congress Camps,” released on December 2, 1992.

  4. 8

    In its report Amnesty International has underlined the continuing danger facing the prisoners released from the camps. “The issue of most urgent concern to former prisoners of the ANC is their own physical protection from attacks by ANC supporters in the townships of South Africa. The problem has been aggravated by the past failure of the ANC leadership to account fully for the behaviour of its security department and by the frequent public denunciation of former prisoners as agents of the security forces. First, many of those imprisoned and tortured were clearly not agents of the South African state. Secondly, their torture would in any event not have been justified. And thirdly, blanket denunciation of former prisoners in this way is an open invitation to ANC supporters to commit acts of violence against them.”

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print