Keeping Watch on South Africa


United States foreign policy toward South Africa was dictated primarily from the bottom up. It was the little people -- church-goers, students, union members, community activists -- who insisted upon sanctions, divestiture; the economic, political and cultural isolation of the apartheid regime.

And, when apartheid eventually falls, it will be the little people who can claim at least a small share of the victory.

But, apartheid has not fallen yet. The next few months will be crucial to the country's future, as representatives from the South African government, the African National Congress, the Inkatha Freedom Party and other groups negotiate over a new constitution. The negotiating parties hope to hold elections for a constitutional assembly by the end of the year. That assembly would then have nine months to propose a new constitution.

So, the question becomes: What role should the little people play now?

The U.S. representatives of two of the major participants send this message to the grass-roots here: "Don't abandon us yet!"

"Americans can still play a significant role," said Harry Schwarz, South African ambassador to the United States, "but not in a simplistic way. Americans here concentrate on the vote -- one man, one vote. But the vote by itself is meaningless without a constitutional structure to make that vote meaningful. We say please encourage the process. Our people will need training, education, economic assistance."

Said Madala Mthembu, assistant to the chief representative of the ANC here, "Americans played a singular role with regard to sanctions, but we're saying now, 'Remain with us throughout the process.'

"Those people who helped us isolate the apartheid regime can help us as we try to remove the legacy of apartheid. We are looking for economic links, educational links -- we say, give us the advantage of your expertise."

The two men sound similar on several points: Both Ambassador Schwarz and Mr. Mthembu agree that apartheid is doomed. They both agree on the importance of a constitution that guarantees one man, one vote while protecting minority rights; that establishes a "true democracy" with protections for free speech, a free press, freedom of religion and assembly; and a separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. They both stress the importance of moving toward economic equality as well as political equality.

But significant differences remain. For instance, the ruling National Party argues that the U.S. ought to lift sanctions now. The ANC believes communities should wait until later in the process -- once the current government is replaced by an interim executive council, the bantustans are eliminated, and a date is set for a popular election on a constitutional assembly.

Their greatest apparent difference, however, is on how a new constitution can be written in a way that will protect minorities.

Ambassador Schwarz argues that a new constitution must contain specific protections.

"I am not just speaking of whites," he said. "We need a constitution that takes into account the potential for some politician in the future to exploit ethnic and religious differences. We have to unify the country, bearing in mind that there are ethnic and religious conflicts all over the world: Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, Spain, Northern Ireland. The potential for conflict in South Africa is tremendous."

Thus, the government proposes a executive council chaired on a rotating basis among representatives chosen from three to five of the parties with the most votes. A multiparty cabinet would be required by the constitution.

The ANC, however, proposes a constitution that protects individual rights instead of group rights, said Mr. Mthembu.

"If you have a Bill of Rights, entrenched within the constitution, that establishes the framework and values and principles within which the government will have to operate, then the rights of minorities will be protected," he said. "But they will be protected as individuals, not as groups. We believe that is very important to the establishment of a non-racial society."

The ANC favors a president elected by popular vote who can serve a maximum of two five-year terms. The president would appoint his own cabinet as well as a prime minister who would chair the cabinet.

"We ask that the anti-apartheid lobby become a pro-Africa lobby," said Ambassador Schwarz, "and I stress 'Africa,' not just South Africa. Africa, right now, has been marginalized."

And Mr. Mthembu? He agreed.

Wiley Hall is a columnist for The Evening Sun.

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