S. Africa urged to open more top jobs to blacks

Just by emphasizing the obvious, a prestige official organization sponsored by the South African government has effectively put one more bomb under the government's own increasingly shaky police of apartheid or enforced racial segregation.

In its annual report, the National Manpower Commission says there is no hope that the South African economy will be able to exploit its full potential if the whites -- who form only about 17 percent of the total population -- try to hold on to nearly all the top jobs.

In 1979, for example, although whites formed only 33 percent of the country's male work force, they controlled 82 percent of the skilled jobs.

But there must be radical changes, says the commission, if the economy is not to be stultified. Specifically, the Indians, the people of mixed race, and the Africans must be trained to take over top positions in commerce and industry, it says.

And the government has given its qualified approval. The result could be "revolutionary" (as a government-supporting newspaper noted at the weekend) or at least "astonishing" (as a leading opposition newspapers says).

It also turns the traditional conception of apartheid right on its head. In terms of this policy, government Cabinet ministers have in the past laid down explicitly that no white worker should ever be supervised by a black.

However, in recent years the government has been forced to backtrack hastily, and there are few work categories now formally reserved only for whites, although it is often still very difficult for blacks to obtain training for skilled positions.

However, the more the economy expands -- and it has been expanding rapidly recently -- the more it makes nonsense of economic apartheid.

Now the stage has been reached where white resources to fill the additional skilled jobs are running out rapidly. Immigrants are helping to keep things going, but this can provide just a temporary respite.

So the country must turn to its blacks.

And the indications are that there will soon be an overwhelming influx of skilled blacks into better paid jobs.

For example, it is projected that the number of whites who graduate from high school over the next decade will remain more or less static at 55,000 a year. But the figure for Africans is expected to rise from 22,000 in 1980 to about 187 ,000 by the year 2000.

The result is likely to be a staggering impact on South Africa, socially and politically as well as economically, as these people flood into well-paid jobs.

For a start, as the National Manpower Commission points out, attention must be paid immediately to improving the training of blacks. It implies that the policy of segregating the universities according to race -- a policy that is already beginning to crumble as more and more blacks attend so- called white universities -- must be abolished. And there must be more technical high schools and senior technical colleges open to blacks.

Then, business and industrial areas, which are mainly reserved for white ownership now, will have to be opened to all races, and restrictions on the movement of black labor will have to fall away.

But it cannot end there. As various observers have pointed out, black executives will not take kindly to being dispossessed of choice residential sites and being obliged to move to remote, racially segregated areas far from central city conveniences, as blacks are now.

And skilled black workers will demand exactly the same facilities that skilled white workers take for granted now -- including an effective say in running the country, which three-quarters of the population is denied at present.

Given the choice between building a healthy, multiracial economy that can provide rising living standards for all, and an economy stagnating because of apartheid, it looks as if Pieter Botha, the prime minister, has already opted cautiously for progress and expansion.

But, although he may realize the social and political implications, many of his followers clearly do not.

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