Shared Power in South Africa

BLACKS will be sharing power with whites in South Africa soon, conceivably during 1991. The ruling white National Party and the popular African National Congress (ANC) intend to continue negotiating the framework of that sharing this year. Leading politicians have already suggested controversial key elements of the framework. The National Party, still desirous of preventing majority blacks from dominating minority whites in the new South Africa, conceives a two-house legislature. The lower house of this revamped parliament could be elected by all voters, irrespective of color. Votes would be counted by proportional representation, and each party's seats would reflect its national support.

Under this system, blacks would hold the vast majority of places, and legislation would be initiated by them in the powerful lower house.

But whites, having conceded African leadership in the lower house, want to achieve a measure of protection for minority rights in an upper house, or senate. Its members would be selected along ethnic and regional lines, presumably as representatives of provinces or groups.

Whites want such an upper house so that its members could veto or at least put a brake on legislation which would injure minorities. According to one National Party plan, both houses would have equal weight.

Nelson Mandela, deputy president of the ANC, and his colleagues adamantly oppose any political arrangements short of pure majority rule. The ANC is against the creation of a special status for whites.

What the National Party and the Broederbond, the secret society of Afrikaners which provides some of the party's key intellectual impetus, hope to achieve, however, is a sense of common interest across color lines.

If some version of their plan prevails, Afrikaners and the National Party would develop mutuality of political purpose with Africans fearful of the ANC. Today the appeal of anti-ANC groups, even Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha movement, are either regional or marginal, but the first all-color electoral campaign will arouse concerns cutting across ethnic lines. At least that is the current white notion.

The National Party leadership has also accepted the long-time liberal cry for a national bill of rights. Now whites see such an entrenched and enforceable list (like the first 14 amendments to the United States Constitution) as essential for their protection.

They have also conceded the bankruptcy of separate development, the 30-year-old carving up of South Africa into so-called independent homelands. Those homelands are now widely accepted as as subterfuge, and their own leaders, as well as whites, are as prepared as the ANC to end their separate existence.

Under this reconstructed South Africa, an African could soon be at least a ceremonial if not an influential president. What the ANC and the National Party will continue to negotiate, however, is both the initial as well as the medium-term balance of power.

The ANC's enormous popularity may erode as it transforms itself from a guerrilla movement into a political party, and as it faces the rigors of an electoral campaign. Again, that seems to be the last best white hope as the Broederbond and other white groups focus on long-term survival instead of continued dominance.

White leaders know that political change is irreversible, and want to invent a system which preserves at least some element of white control. But apartheid probably continued far too long for the new proposals, especially the two-house parliament, to succeed in the face of what will be an ANC and a black hunger for unalloyed majority governance.

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