COLUMN

A disgrace in 'The Beloved Country’

DIANE FRANCIS September 21 1992
COLUMN

A disgrace in 'The Beloved Country’

DIANE FRANCIS September 21 1992

A disgrace in 'The Beloved Country’

COLUMN

DIANE FRANCIS

It is ironic that the highest-profile assassination in South Africa’s stormy history was in 1966 when a man stabbed white Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, an enthusiastic supporter of racist apartheid laws, to death. The assassin, who was of mixed south European and African descent, firmly believed that he was white. But he was unable to get anything except the most menial jobs in South Africa because he was classified by racial officials as “Colored.” If he had obtained the precious “white” classification, the assassin would have enjoyed extraordinary privileges under apartheid. Coloreds, under that unfair system, were condemned to certain occupations, certain living quarters, less-generous social entitlements—and, as a result lower living standards. The self-described white man, unwilling to live like Coloreds or blacks, murdered their oppressor.

Now, thankfully, 26 years later apartheid, or separate development for races, slowly unravels. But not quickly enough, which is why mass demonstrations and general strikes continue to plague the country, as blacks demand that the government immediately hand over power to a transitional administration. The situation has deteriorated over the summer because none of the factions trust one another—hardly surprising given centuries of bloodshed and tyranny. Negotiations to create a new power-sharing government ended after a June massacre in Boipatong, outside Johannesburg, of 42 blacks amid accusations of white police involvement And last week, another massacre occurred in the Ciskei region where soldiers fired on an unarmed crowd, killing at least 28 people and injuring hundreds of others.

That is all the more unfortunate, given the encouraging sign in March, 1992, when the “tribe” in power, the whites with only about 14 per cent of the population, agreed overwhelmingly in a referendum to negotiate a new government with blacks and others. The referendum was called by courageous State President

South Africa’s whites must make a leap of faith. And blacks must deal fairly with whites to keep the wealthcreation machinery.

E W. (Frederik) de Klerk, who released black leader Nelson Mandela from jail in February, 1990, lifted the ban on his militant African National Congress (ANC) party and, in 1991, let Coloreds and others join his ruling National Party for the first time. Armed with a mandate and international acclaim, de Klerk then set about to drive a hard bargain. Among other conditions, he wanted the type of checks and balances to protect the rights of the white minority that the whites never granted the black majority, Coloreds or Asians during white rule. Talks were deadlocked, then abandoned after the Boipatong massacre.

It is little wonder that whites want checks. They fear reprisals from a black majority. But it is also little wonder that Mandela and his ANC have lost their patience, as have others. There is also the problem of an unofficial civil war under way between violent followers of Mandela and of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose tribe is the country’s largest ethnic group, with an estimated 10 million members out of a total population of 33 million. Zulus claim ANC atrocities and vice versa. Clearly what is needed here is not democracy as we know it, but a treaty or some form of independently imposed powersharing agreement to avert more violence. Whites, like it or not, must make a leap of faith and form a partnership government with blacks. And blacks, like it or not, must deal fairly with whites to preserve the country’s wealthcreation machinery because, as oppressive as apartheid has been, South Africa’s blacks are economically better off than their counterparts in black-ruled Africa. The gross domestic product per capita for blacks in South Africa is $1,200 a year compared with about $496 in Zimbabwe and only $240 in Ethiopia, according to David Graaff, South Africa’s deputy minister of trade and industry. “There are more engineers and doctors, more black millionaires here than the rest [of Africa] combined,” he said. “We cannot live without one another. The alternative is Beirut.”

That is true, but the gap between rich whites and poor blacks must close as quickly as possible. Not far from the restaurant where I interviewed Graaff in Cape Town is a squatters’ camp where people live in makeshift tents, cardboard boxes and huts made out of everything from driftwood to planks pilfered from garbage dumps or white backyards. Disgracefully, across a highway is a better “neighborhood” than these blacks occupy: the fashionable Cape Town Turf Club where horses are housed in sturdy, dry stables made out of attractive breeze-blocks with tin roofs and landscaping.

Such contrasts underscore the fact that blacks, Coloreds and Asians have suffered terribly under apartheid. And housing will be a huge problem for the next black-white government to solve. Unfortunately, the cost of providing basic shelter for everyone is twice the current annual gross domestic product of $155 billion. There is also the education disgrace to clean up. The white regime earmarks $1,574 a year per capita for whites, $1,140 for East Indians, $950 a year for Coloreds and just $380 a year for blacks. Said Graaff “Obviously, white schools with tennis courts and swimming pools must go.”

Unfortunately, any new government is condemned to upsetting both blacks and whites. That is because whites must pay higher taxes for fewer government-bequeathed privileges. And many blacks will be upset if a new black regime does not help them catch up to whites immediately, even though that is impossible given the recession, instability, lack of investment, drought, damage caused by years of sanctions to protest apartheid, and low gold prices. Besides, if the whites are suddenly plundered or the economy wrecked by huge debts to pay for social catch-up spending, whites will leave in droves with their capital. Said Graaff: “After Algerian independence, some 1.1 million French left within six weeks, and the economy in that country collapsed by 36 per cent”

Clearly, whites will dig in rather than leave, which means that things threaten to career out of control. Negotiations seem impossible at this point because to work, they require trust among those who haven’t trusted or liked one another for decades. That is why independent arbitration is the answer. Alternatives are unthinkable.