South Africa's Only Hope?

"End apartheid now!" has become a Hi. rallying cry throughout the world. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions against South Africa. Major corporations, notably General Motors and IBM, have begun selling off their South African operations and pulling out of the country. All this activity is aimed at forcing change. But change to what?

Is there a solution? This is the question South Africans everywhere are asking. It is the question that is debated on buses, in trains, and in car pools; on television and radio, and in magazines and newspapers; at dinner parties, exercise classes, and in bars.

The question confronting South Africa today is how to dismantle apartheid without pitting race against race, tearing apart the nation, and destroying the economy. My husband, Leon Louw, and I have proposed a radical answer to this question. In our book, South Africa: The Solution, a bestseller in our country, we suggest that South Africa adopt a new constitution creating a system of "mega-devolution," in which the central government is limited to only a handful of powers. Most government functions would rest with local regions, or cantons.

Switzerland, a peaceful democracy with a flourishing economy, offers a model for how this might be accomplished. In Switzerland, the central government is limited to seven areas of control, including foreign policy, national defense, federal railways, and the mint. All other functions rest with canton or community governments.

When the Devolution Comes...

South Africa is a nation of nations-eight black tribes, whites of Afrikaner and English stock, Indians, persons of mixed race, and some other small groups. And more and more people in South Africa are realizing that the only way to protect the rights of all racial and ethnic groups is to push government decision making power down to the local levels.

Dennis Beckett, the editor and owner of Frontline, a magazine aimed primarily at the black intelligentsia, has brought out a book entitled Permanent Peace. In it, he proposes that people from all groups get together in local areas and solve their own problems by their own means. The book contains no formal blueprint but rather a general argument in favor of what Beckett terms "intensive democracy." In his view, each municipality or group of suburbs should decide whether or not to have apartheid, wealth redistribution, and so on. Although the book has not been read widely, it has attracted considerable attention in academic and political circles.

Two national business groups, the Federated Chamber of Industries (FCl) and The Africaansehandelsinstituut (AHl), (representing Afrikaans Businesses), have also put forward decentralist proposals. Both organizations propose that the country be divided into cantons that would enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy but whose governmental structure would take ethnicity into account.

It seems that the idea of decentralization and devolution of power, at least in general terms, is winning adherents all over the country. Anton Rupert, chairman of the Rembrandt group of companies and South Africa's premier Afrikaner business leader, told the widely read, upscale magazine Leadership, "Personally I believe that the Swiss canton system with its maximum local autonomy is the most successful example of its kind for a country with a multicultural population."

The most popular proposal for a canton system, however-and the only one which, to my knowledge, has received support from people right across the political spectrum-is that outlined in South Africa: The Solution. In this book, we suggest that a new constitution be drawn up for South Africa based on the Swiss federal system, arguably the most democratic system in the world today.

In brief, we propose the following process to dismantle apartheid completely and increase all South Africans' political and economic freedom:

  • A new constitution should be drawn up establishing a cantonal system with extremely limited central government.
  • Leaders of all groups should be consulted while a constitution is drawn up. This means the government must release African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela from jail and unban the ANC and the Pan-African Congress (pac), another leftwing group.

("Banning" punishes particular individuals or groups for anti-government actions by limiting their rights to speech and assembly, as well as restricting media coverage of them.)

  • The constitution should include a bill of rights protecting such basic rights as freedom of movement, speech, association, religion, and-unlike most countries' constitutions-property ownership. Cantons, as well as the central government, would be subject to these restrictions.
  • Cantonal boundaries should not be drawn on racial lines.
  • South Africans of all races should be given equal rights of citizenship; those living in the tribal homelands created under apartheid should be given the option to reclaim their South African citizenship.
  • The new constitution should be put to a popular referendum of all citizens. In this referendum, all citizens' votes would be equal-one man, one vote.

A Nation of Nations

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