Upfront: The Solution Catches On


Tupperware-style parties. Catchy bumper stickers. Autograph-seeking fans. A write-up in Time magazine.

Mary Kay gone rock-and-roll?

Nope, it's Leon Louw and Frances Kendall, the South African authors whose proposal for replacing apartheid with a radically decentralized cantonal system was featured in REASON's January issue. (Louw is REASON's South African correspondent.)

More than a year after publication of the English edition of their book South Africa: The Solution, it remains number one on the South African bestseller list and has sold an unheard-of 30,000 copies—this in a country where sales of 5,000 will win a bestseller spot. Afrikaners, who don't usually buy many books, have purchased more than 5,000 copies in their native tongue, and the book is being translated into the country's eight tribal languages.

Abroad, The Solution is attracting diverse media attention. U.S. publications from Time to the Wall Street Journal and National Review to the "Green" newsletter New Options have featured Kendall and Louw's ideas.

At home, they've become part of the general debate. South African cars are sprouting bumper stickers that declare "I'm part of the Solution" in English and Afrikaans. "Solution parties," where guests talk about (and buy) the book, have brought the Mary Kay touch to political discussions. Leon Louw, in particular, has become a bit of a celebrity, stopped on trains and planes and asked to autograph the book.

The Solution has received wide support from black leaders and from business. Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, has not only endorsed the book but also written a forward to the Swedish edition. KwaZulu chief minister Gatsha Buthelezi, reports Time, has said, "Amid a sea of anger and tension, The Solution may prove to be a rational, workable answer to South Africa's unique problems." And Sam Motsuenyane, head of the country's leading black business association, sits on the board of trustees of Groundswell, a foundation established by Kendall and Louw to promote their ideas.

Groundswell has also garnered support from leading corporations. The chief executive of Toyota South Africa is a Groundswell board member, and several companies, including the huge Anglo American Corp., have contributed money. A major advertising agency is donating its services to produce TV, radio, and newspaper ads.

White politicians have been fairly reticent, although that may be more a sign of coyness than lack of support. Characteristically tepid endorsements include the statement by Minister of Transport Eli Louw (no relation) that the book is "worthwhile reading for those dealing with the future of our country." But one candidate for Parliament, not endorsed by the authors, has declared the Solution his platform. And four political parties, ranging from conservative to socialist/liberal, have asked Leon Louw to run for office.

Louw and Kendall have shunned politics, however, preferring to concentrate on generating grassroots support for their ideas. Groundswell has launched a campaign to raise $15 million for a two-year educational program to get the message out to not only city dwellers but also rural blacks, who are difficult (and expensive) to reach because they speak eight different languages and don't usually own TV sets or know how to read.

Changing South Africans' assumptions about their future is a daunting task. Changing the rest of the world's assumptions may be even harder. But the Louws' dogged idealism has already managed to inject a measure of hope and freedom into a usually dreary debate and to offer a solution that doesn't depend on violence. That itself is a remarkable achievement.