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South Africa: Major Prospects and Pitfalls

June 18, 1989|Willem de Klerk | Willem de Klerk, the brother of Frederick W. de Klerk, is an independent political consultant and a professor of communications at Rand Afrikaans University

JOHANNESBURG — New doors open for South Africa. Stabilization of southern Africa is relieving tension in the area, and a summit meeting between leaders of southern African states and South Africa is a strong possibility. New agreements may be reached.

Glasnost and perestroika have changed the tone of the African National Congress. The option of violence yields to the option of negotiation and a willingness to compromise. Spokesmen for the African National Congress are making careful statements of agreement that all factions of the population must be represented at the negotiation table. And in a widely circulated document, the ANC has even speculated about a state economic policy that moves away from classical Marxism.

President Pieter W. Botha is on his last legs. He is expected to hand over the reins to Frederick W. de Klerk, leader of the National Party, within the next few months.

A De Klerk government is still to be defined. He has not made any important policy speech; it is not good political practice to announce a blueprint before becoming president. More, an election will be held in September. Elections in South Africa are traditionally not the time to make important announcements.

There are, however, positive things to say about a De Klerk presidency:

He is a pragmatic, realistic, open-minded politician, strongly inclined toward reform politics. His style and tempo will definitely accelerate progress.

He is a strong negotiator who plans intensive contact with the different groups in South Africa to discover areas of compromise or agreement.

He has committed to political reform rather than mere continuation, realizing that leaps, not small steps, are essential.

De Klerk recognizes that there is pressure within his own party and his power base concerning four critical issues:

1) The abolition of all racial laws.

2) Race groupings (White, Colored, Indian and Black) as political classifications in a future constitution are not a feasible solution. Pressure groups within his own party have openly stated that forced race-group classification and race- group participation in political institutions are obstacles in the way of solutions.

3) That discussion with the ANC is essential; a compromise must be found between struggle politics and system politics.

4) There is strong pressure within his party for the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and suspension of the state of emergency.

De Klerk's attributes as a person and the pressure groups within his own political party, plus international pressure, mean dramatic things could happen in South Africa.

There are, however, personal and political realities that cloud the picture.

De Klerk, unfortunately, still firmly believes that race groups are the basis of political realignment. If he persists in this belief, there can be no important negotiation with opposition forces.

His National Party lacks credibility. Historically, the NP is the party of apartheid.

The slow approach to reform is no longer credible because it fails to get the entire political system moving.

In the coming election, the new Democratic Party could become the official opposition. Now, 24% of the white electorate supports the DP; this may increase to 30%.

The power of the new party is based on three strong messages:

-- Emphatic rejection of the racial basis for South African politics, replaced by a geographical federation built on one man, one vote--a democracy of political parties, not race groups.

-- Judicial reform. Legal systems, for instance, must not permit detention without a hearing and human rights must be reinstated.

-- A willingness to negotiate on grounds of principles. The DP mobilizes white and black and has already started to negotiate intensively with struggle groups.

As an independent political communicator, I have had discussions with Afrikaners in both the DP and the NP, focusing on the following arguments:

1) The current racial policy is unacceptable for an overwhelming majority of moderates. It is structured on a basis counter to modern society and will lead to increasingly destructive international isolation. It is also unaffordable, producing duplication, confusion and conflict of functions. Politically, it paralyzes government administration and results in uncontrollable government spending.

2) It does not offer any protection for whites. On the contrary, we whites become a target for revolt and aggression. 3) It is morally indefensible.

4) It is not a model for settlement. This policy causes negotiation to reach a dead end, leading to greater international opprobrium.

Within six years, I believe, these arguments will have reached the majority of whites.

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