Sense on South Africa

Many pundits have more opinions than understanding

THE American press is awash in articles and columns advising United States policymakers on solutions to the intractable problems besetting South Africa. Unfortunately, many of these analysts fail to comprehend the complexity of the clashing forces that must be taken into account when evaluating the competition for power in South Africa. Many advise the US government to do that which has already been attempted, instituted, or rejected a long time ago.

Such advice reflects, understandably, our own American public ethos, but most of it is largely irrelevant to South Africa's specific situation. We hear continued calls for the release of Nelson Mandela, phasing out apartheid, negotiations between blacks and whites, easing sanctions, black empowerment, lifting the state of emergency, legalizing the African National Congress (ANC), and talking to black leaders.

All these actions are fraught with far-reaching consequences in South Africa. For example, universal franchise in South Africa would mean a total power reversal between blacks and whites.

From this would flow a host of likely changes such as the introduction of a semi-socialist economy, a reduction of social benefits for whites, a threat to their investments and pensions, possibly widespread breakdowns of law and order, a brain drain, capital flight, and international realignment. Disinvestment may follow in a degree its advocates never dreamed about. The whole economy could come crashing down.

We hear the call to release Mr. Mandela. But what then? The question concerns not the release of Mandela only, but the incorporation of the other 31 million non-whites into a single, integrated political society. What about the release of the other political prisoners - who, unlike Mandela, are young enough to assume an effective revolutionary role?

Legalize the ANC? Sounds good, but it not only advocates the use of force to overthrow the state, it uses such force effectively. Would legalization sanction a declaration of internal war?

``You must negotiate,'' commentators urge. But what do you negotiate in South Africa? And with whom? Whites know that the blacks want what the whites have: authority, access to public resources, and power. Do whites negotiate power away? Perhaps it is more appropriate for whites to first negotiate among themselves - just what are they prepared to yield?

With whom do they negotiate? There are many competing black groups - but our advisers say the results must be acceptable to everyone. Is that feasible?

South Africa is a greatly divided society. The divisions go beyond whites and blacks - and even Indians and ``coloreds.'' The Zulus, for example, are divided between the rural, poor, uneducated, traditional followers of Chief Buthelezi, and the younger, urbanized, better-educated, activist members of the United Democratic Front. This group, whose leaders are usually incarcerated, is not nearly as radical as the ANC, which, in turn, is out-radicalized by the Pan African Congress, Black Consciousness groups, and the Communist Party. There's even a black political spectrum on the right in the homelands.

The whites are also greatly divided, and their right-wing movements make the ruling National Party moderate by comparison. Indians and coloreds are divided among radicals, activists, quasi-collaborators, and many who shun all political choices. But blacks are the most divided - along virtually all conceivable lines. Hence the simple directive to negotiate to everyone's satisfaction smacks of naivet'e.

Another piece of advice is offered: The US should end sanctions. Advocates of this course argue that sanctions don't work, but then they contradict themselves by noting that blacks are losing jobs and being hurt. That implies that sanctions do work.

In fact, sanctions work, but not as we popularly believe they do. Few, if any blacks lose their jobs when American companies disinvest. These companies are merely bought out by mostly South African firms, so only the top management changes. When General Motors sold out, the new company stepped up production, since now the company could sell cars to the military and police, which the American-owned company couldn't do.

Most of the punitive economic measures work indirectly, and their effects will be felt mostly in the future. The young white generation realize that they will probably not be able to enjoy the high economic standards their parents did, given the deteriorating economic conditions.

Much of South Africa's economy derives from imports and exports, and this leaves it very vulnerable in a hostile world. The young whites realize that their future economic prospects are bleak.

SOUTH AFRICA has eliminated many of the 210 laws which were associated with apartheid. This has, if anything, only increased the demands for the elimination of all of them. Archbishop Tutu correctly notes: Apartheid can't be reformed, it must be eliminated! But apartheid will exist until apartheid in the voting booth is eliminated, and that goes considerably beyond only the easing of peripheral social restrictions.

Is there nothing the US can do? Indeed there is. The US can send its best intellects, along with Europe's best, to study the requirements for a new governmental system there, based on viable, long-term considerations - including the assumption that whites will retain a future role in South Africa.

Under black political authority, whites could remain to help manage the technological aspects of the sophisticated economic infrastructure that can serve not only South Africa's 36 million inhabitants, but also the other 60 million people in southern Africa. In the meantime, let us acknowledge South Africa's true complexity much more.

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