J Daniel O Flaherty. Foreign Affairs. Volume 72, Issue 4, September/October 1993.
Observers of South African apartheid have long predicted that the imposed system of racial separation could only come to a cataclysmic end. The violent aftermath of the April 12 assassination of the popular black leader, Chris Hani, as well as the dramatic assault by right-wing Afrikaners on the site of constitutional negotiations in June, offered a glimpse of that convulsive future. But alarming as these events were, their real significance lies in the fact that neither was able to derail progress toward eventual black participation in government.
In July, South Africa’s traditionally bitter enemies agreed to hold the country’s first multiracial election next April 27. That vote will be the first step in implementing an unprecedented five-year power-sharing arrangement. Despite persistent problems, South Africa retains significant potential for reconciliation. The imperatives that sparked multiparty negotiations since 1992 have only grown more compelling. A worsening economy continues to drive the desire for accord. All major parties, moreover, including the African National Congress, have accepted that none is strong enough to govern successfully alone. Despite the impression lent by ANC President Nelson Mandela’s decision to delay calling for an end to economic sanctions, South Africa’s post-apartheid transition remains on course.
The language of democracy is being spoken in South Africa by politicians who are simultaneously striving to create a new order and prevail within it. The deals still required for a lasting accord run the risk of decoupling leaders from their followings. Each major party will have to convince wary constituencies of the benefits of compromise and that their interests are not being sold out. ANC leaders, having already abandoned armed struggle, must now explain that sanctions should be lifted and power shared while many of the outward manifestations of apartheid remain. The governing National Party (NP) must still reassure its increasingly nervous white constituency of its future after one-person one-vote elections without the safeguard of a white veto. And Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has already had to agree to an elected constituent assembly, and therefore a leading national role for its bitter rival, the ANC, before securing the degree of regional autonomy it had wanted.
The danger of polarization is real. South Africa’s ongoing negotiations are about far more than constitutional mechanics. They represent an effort to construct a political center that will hold together. But selecting an election date before fully establishing the rules of the game decisively transforms South Africa’s constitutional negotiations into a power struggle among these contending parties. This struggle is certain to have a number of unsettling consequences that will provide the first major test of South Africa’s transition. Further negotiations will only become more politicized and potentially polarized, making compromise harder to achieve.
The ANC’s New Pragmatism
For the past two years the ANC has engaged in intensive talks on a range of policy issues with the government and other important institutions, such as business, labor and church groups. In the process it has Jettisoned the political baggage of a socialist past—most important, its support for nationalizing private companies. The ANC leadership is now focusing on finding ways to generate new wealth to meet the pent-up demands of its mass base. Consequently, it has accepted power-sharing and a more market-oriented approach to the economy. The ANC will likely cohere on political and constitutional issues. But when it comes to the degree of state intervention in the economy and the redistribution of wealth, significant internal disagreements persist.
The most serious potential fissure is between the ANC’s negotiators, who accept the interim power-sharing formula and a major role for free markets, and its more militant wing, which favors mass action and greater government economic intervention. Hani, though often in the latter group, could have served as a bridge. His assassination complicates the task of the moderate ANC leadership surrounding Mandela, which is operating on the premise that, at least initially, the ANC will need the cooperation of the white establishment in order to run the country.
Since 1992 the negotiating parties have tried to act as a countervailing force to the powerful trends pulling apart South African society. This pragmatism stems in part from the ANC’s realization that it lacks the broad support for a mass uprising. Evidence of this fact was demonstrated in September 1992 when, after the ANC had pulled out of negotiations, its more militant wing led a “mass action” on Bisho, the capital of the “independent” Ciskei homeland. Instead of being welcomed by a sympathetic population, 28 ANC demonstrators were killed when Ciskei soldiers opened fire. The ANC realized then that there would be no South African “Leipzig,” the site where hundreds of thousands of East Germans had thronged into the streets in evidence of that regime’s terminal illness. Indeed, aware of the destructive potential of violent demonstrations, ANC leaders actively intervened following the Hani assassination to keep mass protests under control.
This pattern of restraint will now be put to the severe test of a ten-month election campaign. Political violence, on the wane during the first half of 1993, is now rising in the townships, where rival political organizations greeted the announcement of the election date by killing more than 160 people in ten days. Criminal violence has also reached alarming proportions. The murder rate has doubled in the past four years and now stands at more than ten times that of the United States. In 1990-91 blacks were the victims of 96 percent of the the average 49 murders committed daily in South Africa any of these deaths were due to the low-grade civil conflict between the ANC and IFP, exacerbated by the prolonged recession and the absence of a legitimate police authority in the townships and squatter camps. Both the transitional executive that will oversee the election and the ensuing government of national unity are widely expected to conduct some sort of crackdown to restore order. Meanwhile, many fear that political violence could undermine the legitimacy of the election results.
These conditions have combined to convince Mandela and ANC economists of the need to revive South Africa’s economy by regaining access to international capital. Consequently, the ANC abandoned its insistence that full majority rule be a precondition for the removal of international economic sanctions and made a tactical retreat in favor of a power-sharing agreement. While power-sharing will allocate some unspecified ministerial portfolios to minority parties, it will also undoubtedly reflect what now appears to be a decisive ANC electoral advantage. But the ANC’S glowing confidence about its electoral prospects has yet to overcome its lingering insecurities about the final stages of negotiations.
The participation of Buthelezi and the IFP is the sine qua non of any successful political agreement. Despite the apparent willingness of the ANC and government to continue negotiations in the IFP’S absence, both understand that the country cannot be governed in the teeth of IFP opposition. At each decisive juncture, the IFP has demurred, delayed and finally come around after extracting concessions.
Although the IFP attempts to be a national political movement, its strategy is ultimately designed to shore up its base in Natal province and eventually to use that support, in a federal system, as a kind of parliamentary make-weight holding the balance of power. As chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland, Buthelezi wanted the IFP to “entrench devolved power now, before a new constitution is drawn up.” He advocates a weak central government and, on that point, the white government agrees, as both fear ANC domination under strict majority rule. Buthelezi is now clearly accepting less entrenched devolved power than he would like.
Two sources drive Buthelezi’s hostility toward majoritarianism. First, almost half the population in Natal and his KwaZulu homeland seems to support the ANC. Second, Buthelezi fears that resources might subsequently be allocated to ANC-dominated areas such as Soweto and Johannesburg rather than to the KwaZulu/Natal region, which has a lower per capita income and provides Buthelezi’s main base of support.
The conflict between the ANC and IFP has much to do with deep-seated fears at the grass-roots level about political gang warfare based on historical allegiances. Such anxieties have led to concern that the low-intensity conflict currently simmering in KwaZulu/Natal and elsewhere could boil over. What makes the possibility of escalation especially dangerous is Buthelezi’s real and potential white allies on the extreme right.
Conjuring up nightmare scenarios for the nation’s future is a cottage industry in South Africa. In the most extreme, Buthelezi plays a role similar to that of Jonas Savimbi in neighboring Angola, where the rebel leader resumed fighting after losing an election. Buthelezi could thus unite with rogue elements of the security forces, disgruntled homeland leaders, extremist Afrikaner groups and the Conservative Party—currently the official parliamentary opposition, some of whose leaders are charged in the Hani assassination. This unseemly alliance, the conjecture goes, would oppose an ANC-dominated central government, by force if necessary. In fact, the nucleus of such an alliance already exists in Buthelezi’s “Concerned South Africans Group,” which links the Conservative Party and several anti-ANC homeland leaders.
Buthelezi has been variously perceived in the United States as an ally of the South African government, an advocate of free enterprise, a source of political violence or a friend of business interests. He is also thought to have strong links to conservative groups in the United States that may advise him to be overly confrontational. At the moment, however, Buthelezi is best understood as a regional leader, uncertain of his political footing and fearful of having been outmaneuvered by both the government and the ANC.
De Klerk’s Gamble for the NP
By the end of the 1980S the governing National Party had concluded that persisting in apartheid would impoverish the country and render it ungovernable. The NP thus began pursuing accommodation with the ANC, gambling-that it could find enough common ground with its leadership to drive a negotiating process. The NP bet that it could keep Buthelezi on board, or at bay, long enough to create a survivable political center and a structure that offered real guarantees to white South Africans, if not a white veto over government policies.
The deal that has emerged includes a package of simultaneous measures: a transitional constitution assurances of objective media and a fair electoral process, a transitional executive council and the agreement on the April 27 election of an assembly that would create a “government of national unity” composed of all parties receiving at least five percent of the vote. The government of national unity will run the country for up to five years while the assembly produces a final constitution.
The NP made it clear when it won its negotiating mandate in the March 1992 referendum that there would be no more all-white elections. At that time, the NP fantasized briefly that it could win enough black and mixed-race votes to govern, either alone or in coalition with the IFP. The party opened its membership to blacks and has courted mixed-race and Asian voters with little success so far. In fact, it has been more concerned with preventing its own right wing from defecting. It seems unlikely that President F. W. de Klerk would win an all-white election today, as the near-term costs of the transition become more evident and the long-term benefits appear more elusive.
The erosion of de Klerk’s traditional base of support among conservative whites raises the possibility of a challenge to his dominant position in white politics and increases the opportunity for vigilante elements to assert a claim to defend white South Africa. No political figure, however, has yet emerged to pose a credible challenge.
Building a Political Center
Polarization is the most serious threat to South Africa’s transition. The success of the transition depends on the persistence of a political center that can resist power, centrifugal forces and prevent the initiative from passing to violent elements on both the left and the right.
To date this center has consisted chiefly of those around de Klerk and Mandela. It is currently fraying, however, and will doubtless be subjected to great strains as the election approaches. A perverse and potentially explosive interplay, for instance, has developed between the radical wing of the ANC and white nationalist farmers who have coalesced with a group of retired top commanders of the security forces. In the weeks following the Hani assassination the ANC Youth League took up the chant, “Kill the farmer; kill the Boer,” leading to the Afrikaner retort, “I’m a farmer and a Boer; come and try me.”
While their sentiments may resonate with a substantial portion of the old National Party constituency, the white nationalists are seriously limited by the absence of an achievable objective. In the short run they would like to see negotiations slow down while law and order are restored. Although many aspire to a white homeland, there is little consensus on its boundaries, much less on how to achieve its racial homogeneity. In the end, the right wing may have a greater store of grievances than troops among largely suburbanized Afrikaner households.
The emergence of former general Constand Viljoen as the leader of a “committee of generals” may provide the government with a focal point for dealing with a highly fragmented collection of right-wing groups. Viljoen himself disavows any interest in paramilitary operations and has pledged loyalty to the civilian political leaders of South Africa. At a minimum, however, the emergence of the generals’ committee and their following of disaffected white farmers and Afrikaners gives public expression to the erosion of de Klerk’s support on the right and further diminishes the luster of his victory in the March 1992 white referendum on negotiations.
There is a final serious constraint on the threat that the right wing poses to the transition: the more overtly racist white nationalists become, the more difficult it is for Buthelezi to make common cause with them. On important issues such as the degree of federalism to be embodied in the new constitution, an alliance of white conservatives and the IFP may be able to block proposals they dislike, but they are unlikely to agree on a positive program.
Fissures on the left of the ANC may also cause disruption. The PanAfricanist Congress, with its infamous slogan “one settler, one bullet,” (borrowed from the liberation struggle in Rhodesia) will clearly pick up some of Hani’s support among the more radicalized populations in the townships and squatter camps. Within the ANC signs of competition to succeed Mandela have surfaced, with the more radical ANC Youth League playing a significant role. It seems unlikely that the current moderate ANC leadership will lose control to a more radical faction in the foreseeable future, although it is certain that its policies will be driven by the need to expand and consolidate a base of enduring support.
The election polls—highly tentative measures of a volatile situation—show a slight drift to the extremes, but still reflect a solid ANC/NP political center. A nationwide survey of the entire electorate released this spring by the Human Sciences Research Council shows the ANC alliance possessed 47-54 percent of popular support (up slightly from the fall), the NP 2l-26 percent (down slightly), the IFP 8-11 percent (also down), the radical Pan-Africanist Congress 3-10 percent (up), the centrist Democratic Party 3-6 percent and the combined right-wing parties 56 percent. The five-percent threshold for participation in the government of national unity could result in the exclusion of both the left-wing Pan-Africanist Congress and the right-wing parties, further inclining them to extra-parliamentary action. It could also have the effect of excluding the Democratic Party, home of such stalwart opponents of apartheid as former parliamentarians Helen Suzman, Harry Schwarz and Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.
The real challenge confronting the ANC is the ultimate governability of a country in which rapidly improving the economic well-being of the majority population is highly unlikely. The ANC-dominated government following the April 27 election will face essentially the same choice as the current NP government: some combination of economic revival and authoritarian crackdown on violence. The latter will almost certainly bring the ANC into conflict with the IFP. But because tribal rivalries have been muted by several decades of urbanization, a real economic revival would do much to undergird peace and civil order, providing an opportunity for democratic institutions to take root.
The Need for Economic Revival
The overriding imperative for South Africa’s new government will be to lift the economic growth rate as far as possible above the population growth rate without falling victim to hyperinflation. Given the limited amount of investment capital available within South Africa—and the very real limits on South Africa’s ability to reduce the size of its public sector—foreign investment is imperative. But even foreign capital is no panacea, because of the la between private investment decisions and the creation of new jobs. South Africa will clearly also need significant foreign assistance, from both bilateral and multilateral donors.
To a great extent political agreements are being made in the hope that foreign investors will return—hence the ANC’s agonizing about whether to call for the lifting of sanctions. In fact, foreign capital inflows have dropped steadily since 1985 along with gross domestic figured investment, which has fallen to 15 percent of GDP from 30 percent in 1977-There is little evidence so far that foreign investors are poised to come into South Africa on a grand scale. U.S. direct investment in South Africa has fallen dramatically from its 1981 peak of $2.6 billion to about $820 million today. From 1984 to 1992, 218 U.S. companies withdrew from South Africa, leaving only about 120 U.S. subsidiaries in the country, many of them very modest in size.
Large and growing black unemployment is also a cause for concern. Unemployment and underemployment among blacks is currently running at a staggering 45-50 percent. The economy is producing no net jobs, and employment is likely to remain scarce among black youths, whose education and training have been severely neglected. South African economists estimate that even with six percent annual growth in GDP, seven million South Africans will remain unemployed by the year 2000. Unfortunately, the sectors that show the most promise for labor-intensive growth—chemicals, textiles, automotive assembly and electronics—also face intensely competitive world markets. The new South African government will have to walk a fine line between economic liberalization—throwing off 45 years of policies that promoted bloated bureaucracies and import-substitution protectionism—and the need to increase black employment.
The ANC leadership recognizes that South Africa’s present economic position is untenable. It also acknowledges that foreign investment is the key to recovery. Although Mandela stated publicly that the principal aim of his July visit to the United States was to encourage American investment, for now the ANC has apparently decided to place the tactics of the negotiations above its longer-term interest in economic revival. By delaying a call to end sanctions the ANC hoped to gain some last-minute leverage. That leverage, however, is surely a wasting asset as the ANC comes closer to becoming a part of the government and having to deal with the consequences of sanctions.
Updating U.S. Policy
If the United States wishes to foster democracy and free markets in Africa, it should quickly dismantle remaining sanctions against South Africa and provide incentives for U.S. private-sector trade and investment.
This may not happen as quickly and efficiently as the ANC will eventually desire. The remaining U.S. sanctions—more than 160—are state and municipal measures. Local governments are likely to dawdle in the absence of constituent pressures from grass-roots organizations that may be slow to change their position on sanctions repeal.
Another obstacle may be the imperfections that are almost certain to abound in South African democracy. If the new government does not attempt to redistribute wealth radically, as it appears it will not, many will argue that apartheid remains. If the government displays an authoritarian strain—and all indications are that it may—some will question whether freedom has in fact arrived. The long investment of activism by the U.S. anti-apartheid movement should now be joined with the interest of the business community in encouraging private investment in South Africa.
Additional U.S. investment in South Africa will clearly take pace, especially in the computer industry, telecommunications, consumer products and automotive assembly. The Clinton administration will, however, need to encourage the creation of a hospitable investment climate in South Africa, given a world where competition among developing countries for investors is intense. American investors will obviously be aware of the need to make a contribution to social development. South Africa for its part will need to avoid making demands that discourage investors. This will require effective, ongoing communication among the private sector, Washington and Pretoria.
The ANC hopes that the anti-apartheid movement represents the nucleus of a support group for assistance. It has close and long-standing ties to the Congressional Black Caucus and to civil rights and church organizations in the United States. For many members of this formidable coalition, South Africa has become a domestic civil rights issue and a vehicle for expressing broad mistrust of the motives of multinational corporations overseas. The ANC may need to devote considerable effort to transform this constituency into enthusiastic supporters of a U.S. assistance effort led by private enterprise.
In the end, U.S. policy toward the South African transition will depend largely on Nelson Mandela. The Clinton administration will move when Mandela gives the word. The state and local governments may move then as well. And surely, U.S. companies will consider major investments only after Mandela has successfully campaigned for removal of the obstacles remaining from the sanctions era.