Can business sense save South Africa?

Down at the southern tip of Africa is an associate of Western Enterprises Inc. that is turning over some $70 billion a year. At constant prices, turnover has risen 20 percent since 1975.

Of course, most people - including South Africans - don't think of the country in those terms. To outsiders it is preeminently the country in which 45 million whites subjugate five times as many people of other races. To its inhabitants of all races it is their homeland about which they think in fierce (and opposite) nationalistic terms.

For the Afrikaners, the largest group among the whites, it is forever the land of the Voortrekkers, Paul Kruger the victim of the British, and gradual Afrikaner ascendancy until the declaration of the Republic of South Africa in 1961. For the Azanians (surely the name by which South African blacks prefer to be known), it is the land of which their forebears were deprived, the land of dead Steven Biko and imprisoned Nelson Mandela, the land which will one day be Azania.

There is truth in all these views. But whereas the others have enormous emotional support from millions of people, the business-oriented view mentioned in the first paragraph has none at all. This is a serious indictment of people who live by the free enterprise system and who have sat at the feet of Adam Smith and Peter Drucker.

The West is less than true to itself as long as it fails to give intellectual and emotional support not to apartheid (which would be unthinkable) but to creditable production capacity. Even South Africans today sensibly decry the argument that the West could not do without the country's numerous raw materials. But the fact of mining, industrial, and other capacity created in the image of that in other parts of the West remains.

Adam Smith would surely have pleaded for the use of all manner of ingenuity to safeguard that capacity against wanton alienation between the country's peoples, which must (particularly after the Pretoria bomb-blast last year) lead to further outrage and counteroutrage, a damaging lack of common objectives, and a potential flight of capital and expertise. All the writings of Peter Drucker speak of what can be achieved if men bring their organizational ability to bear.

What South Africa needs above all is a new view of the role of each of its peoples, and the interaction of those roles.

Show the descendants of the Voortrekkers who founded the Boer republics that history has made them political managers of the West's most successful production offshoot in Africa. Persuade the Azanians that, provided they move carefully, this same production capacity can uplift them more swiftly than any other Africans will be uplifted.

Most important of all: Persuade the Afrikaners that, in the interest of good management, they must step down from what is clearly a disproportionate management role, keeping only that share in management which is essential for the maintenance of their language and culture.

It may appear that rationalization mechanisms for achieving an Afrikaner step-down and an Azanian advance (in peace, and while the economy continues to progress) simply haven't been devised anywhere - but think again. While the European Community struggles to integrate transport and communications systems, South Africa (thanks to British-inspired unity early this century) has integrated systems already, in addition to customs and monetary unions which include Swaziland and Lesotho. Why not entrust the management of the infrastructure (which is everyone's creation and everyone's need) to a body like the EEC Commission, while precious national hegemonies (also history's product) are reduced or enlarged according to realistic assessment?

A Western supermanager appointed to see South Africa through its inevitable rationalization would surely consider such a course. Meeting Azanian aspirations ever more meaningfully in this manner would not be the anathema to Afrikaners that an all-encompassing one-man, one-vote Azania must be. And to the English-speaking South Africans who still direct most mining, industry, and commerce, it should be a mighty inspiration.

After all, they have always considered themselves the strongest conduit to southern Africa of all that is best in the West.

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