Where De Klerk's Plan Goes Awry

Meaningful negotiations on power-sharing in South Africa will have to start from scratch

SHARING power means less than conceding power. That became clear this month when President Frederik de Klerk proposed a political rearrangement of South Africa that would give blacks the vote and substantial legislative authority, but with a minority veto.At the core of Mr. De Klerk's new constitution, offered as it was to a congress of his ruling National Party, is a two-house parliament. Africans, the overwhelming majority of the country, would elect representatives to the lower house (where legislation would originate) on the basis of universal suffrage. But what De Klerk extolled as "full participation" for all South Africans on "a universally acceptable basis" would then be limited, probably severely so, by an upper house. Vaguely following the US model, the members of the upper house would represent South Africa's regions, and would have the power to veto measures passed by the lower house. Modern South Africa has always been divided into four provinces. More recently 13 homelands were carved out of or across the provinces. De Klerk now wants to create nine new regions. The populations and productive capacities of the regions would vary greatly, but his party's proposal gives them equal representation in the upper house. The African National Congress (ANC) has voiced outrage at such a blatant undercutting of majority rule. Moreover, De Klerk suggests that any bloc receiving as few as 10 percent of the vote in a region would be entitled to seats. Thus a party representing but a small minority in but one region could have surprising influence nationally. If it combined its over-weighted strength with other small parties in other regions, the presumed power of the ANC could be frustrated, since critical legislation would be subject to a two-thirds favorable vote in the upper house. There are echoes in the National Party plan of concurrent majority theory, and also of a kind of Swiss- and Belgian-type consociation. Likewise, De Klerk proposed a collective presidency very similar to that employed by now fractured Yugoslavia. The ANC regards such a troika as a device to minimize black power. De Klerk told his party congress that his new constitution did not "mean apartheid in another guise" but "full rights for the majority, but not the ability to trample down or destroy the rights and values of others; a vote for all, but not the right to dominate or oppress." The cynicism of the ANC and other Africans may be excused, for they have often heard such fine words from National Party leaders. YET his proposal at least provides for a justiciable bill of human rights, for an independent judiciary (difficult to achieve without eliminating parliamentary sovereignty), a separation of executive and legislative powers along American lines (but without two centuries of evolutionary development), an impartial civil service (whatever that could mean for a bureaucracy now dominated by Afrikaners), and a decentralized federal structure in place of the current overly centralized one. De Klerk's plan would presumably give new powers to both the regions and, within the regions, to single municipal bodies encompassing the existing white-controlled cities and their black peripheral townships. That sounds reasonable, but the National Party wants to give power in these new municipalities to property owners, and Africans today own very little of the resource base in any area. Unless whites are secure, power-sharing cannot work. That is De Klerk's message. Just as strongly articulated is the message of ANC President Nelson Mandela: The new plan would make South Africa "wholly ungovernable." Both men know they must and will negotiate. But the opening white gambit has succeeded more in exacerbating feelings of distrust among blacks than in staking out a bargaining position. Blacks will now fear that whites still mean to deny them real power. Only if the National Party is willing to negotiate from scratch will the ANC, and other nationalist African groups, be content to craft a creative constitution that takes white concerns fully into account.

Robert I. Rotberg, president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., writes frequently on southern Africa.

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