MANDELA'S BALANCING ACT: East vs. West, Left vs. Right, North vs. South

Michael Clough is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Negotiating an end to apartheid may prove to be one of the easiest challenges facing Nelson Mandela.

The nature of the struggle in South Africa has changed dramatically during the past five months. Apartheid and white rule are on their deathbeds. What remains to be done is to draw up a will and schedule the funeral. All the major parties in South Africa recognize this. Their attention is shifting to the issue in future negotiations: Who will inherit what, and under what conditions, in a post-apartheid South Africa?

In his speech to the U.S. Congress last Tuesday, Mandela eloquently articulated a vision of a just, nonracial, democratic South Africa committed to economic growth with equity. His words should reassure even his harshest critics that the leader of the African National Congress is not a Moammar Kadafi or a Fidel Castro in sheep's clothing who is secretly plotting to transform South Africa into a Marxist dictatorship. Mandela is a committed democrat in the best sense of the word.

The question is whether he will be able to realize his vision. To do so, Mandela and his allies will have to accomplish three tasks: transform the ANC into an effective, representative political party on the ground in South Africa; help create a democratic political culture in the country; and develop an economic strategy that can satisfy black demands for social justice while ensuring steady growth.

While he commands tremendous support among black South Africans, Mandela's commitment to negotiations and his faith in President Frederik W. de Klerk's good intentions are not universally shared. rAt the time of his release last February, some within his movement worried that he had made a secret deal with the government that would compromise their interests. This explains Mandela's assurance, after walking out of prison, that he "had at no time entered into negotiations about the future of our country, except to insist on a meeting between the ANC and the government."

Mandela's strength and credibility derive from his personal moral stature and his role as a reconciled leader of the ANC. Without the support of the organization, his ability to carry the black majority along with him in negotiations with De Klerk would be greatly limited. Without that support, he would find it impossible to implement his vision of a post-apartheid South Africa.

The ANC is only beginning to establish itself as an organized force inside South Africa. Until recently, there were three ANCs: a mythic ANC, which gained widespread popularity as the symbol of opposition to apartheid; a bureaucratized ANC, which operated in exile for nearly 30 years; and an internal mass movement, which was associated with, but largely independent of, the exiled ANC.

Within both the external and internal wings of the ANC, moreover, there has always been considerable diversity. Among the exiles are communists, democratic socialists, traditional African nationalists and modern technocrats. The ANC's allies inside the country consist of a dizzying array of trade unions, civic associations, human-rights groups and so forth. Mandela's challenge is to create a single cohesive party out of these strands.

It is unclear whether all these strands will ultimately choose to submerge themselves within a single party. In the past, ideological and other differences among ANC members have been outweighed by their common commitment to the struggle against apartheid. As the focus shifts to such issues as the shape of a post-apartheid economy, differences may begin to outweigh the points of agreement. It is conceivable, for example, that the South African Communist Party will decide to reconstitute itself as an independent party.

A cohesive, well-organized party with a democratically elected leadership is what most hope will emerge. Without such a party, there will always be lingering questions about the true extent of the ANC's support and the ability of its leaders to deliver on their commitments.

The ANC has already begun to reconstitute itself inside the country. But party organizing requires time and resources, both of which are in short supply. As far as time is concerned, Mandela is caught in a double bind in his negotiations with the government.

He is under pressure to deliver results quickly to quiet those on his left who argue that negotiating with De Klerk is a waste of time. But it would be best if a settlement were not reached before the ANC has had a chance to get organized internally. The need for resources for party organization explains why Mandela has attached so much importance to raising funds for the ANC during his visits to the United States and European countries.

Barring a dramatic shift in the loyalties of black South Africans, the ANC is likely to emerge from free elections as the leading political force in the country. This would impose a special burden on Mandela and other party leaders. Whether or not a post-apartheid South Africa becomes a fully democratic society will depend, in large part, on their actions.

The ANC is not committed to the establishment of a one-party state. Thabo Mbeki and other ranking members of the party have repeatedly emphasized that the ANC has never claimed to be the sole representative of the South African people.

But a commitment to a multiparty political system is not enough. What is required is a conscious effort to build a democratic political culture. This will not be easy.

The apartheid system has served to divide South Africans. Besides pitting blacks against whites, it has pitted blacks against blacks. It has done so in many ways:

--The architects of apartheid consciously sought to heighten and entrench tribal divisions by forcing all black South Africans, regardless of their place of birth, to identify themselves with one or another of the black "homelands."

--They created a class of black "insiders"--officials in the homelands and local councils and others--who benefitted from collaborating with the authorities and came to be hated by most of their fellow blacks.

--The South African police armed conservative groups in the townships and rural areas and encouraged them to wage vigilante campaigns on supporters of anti-apartheid groups. Most of what is now called "black-on-black" violence is a direct legacy of white efforts to build and preserve apartheid.

In addition, during the past four decades, political competition among anti-apartheid groups has been highly competitive and sometimes violent. This competition has had many sources--ideological, organizational, personal. At least three different groups today claim to be the true heir of the tradition associated historically with Robert Sobukwe of the Pan Africanist Congress and Steve Biko, the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Mandela and the ANC must take the lead in dealing with this legacy of conflict. They must reach out to other groups--the PAC and Inkatha, for example--and offer them a opportunity to be involved in the negotiations to create a new South Africa.

They must find ways to instill tolerance in their own members. The so-called comrades have been embittered and hardened by their battles with the security forces and township vigilantes. This is another reason why it is so urgent that accountable ANC party structures be established quickly.

Finally, Mandela and his party must find ways to ensure the independence of civil society in black South Africa. The best guarantee of democracy lies in encouraging and protecting the multiplicity of groups working to improve conditions in their local areas; to promote the interests of women, children and other vulnerable sectors of society; and to safeguard the interests of workers.

The greatest challenge for the first post-apartheid government will be to create a strong and growing economy while meeting the needs of the majority of the population. No matter what their ideological orientation, no future South African leader will survive in office unless he addresses the bread-and-butter issues that most directly affect the lives of black South Africans. Economic arguments, no matter how rational, are unlikely to satisfy those who see the end of apartheid as a chance to obtain education, jobs and housing.

Patrick "Terror" Lekota of the ANC puts it this way: "The constituency with which the movement has to contend is a constituency that is subjected to heavy deprivation--lack of housing, no proper education and training, lack of recreational facilities. We could go on and on." A few facts dramatize his comments:

--According to the South African Housing Trust, there is already a need for 1.2 million homes. It estimates that it will cost roughly $2 billion a year to meet the demand for housing between now and the year 2000.

--Unemployment rates in black communities range between 20% and 50%.

--In the 1980s, more than 3 million entered the labor force, but the formal sector of the economy created only 100,000 jobs.

--By one standard, South Africa has the highest measure of economic inequality of any country in the world.

--Whites currently control 87% of the land and 95% of the means of production.

--Government expenditures to meet white social needs are presently 5-6 times higher per capita than expenditures for blacks.

Then there are two political factors.

The single strongest force within the internal anti-apartheid movement are the independent trade unions. Understandably, their major concern will be to ensure that their black workers reap some of the benefits from the end of apartheid. This will mean pressure for higher wages and a greater say in the workplace.

And the main demand of the ANC's main political rival--the Pan-Africanists--is for the return of all land to the Africans. If an ANC government were to fail to deliver quick economic returns, the Pan-Africanists' popularity could grow quickly.

These realities make it inevitable that a post-apartheid government will move to restructure the economy in ways that will clearly benefit the mass population. At the same time, however, the government will be under pressure to attract foreign capital and prevent a mass exodus of skilled whites.

It should not be surprising, then, when Mandela and his advisers refuse to rule out nationalization. It is simply unrealistic to expect any South African leader to detail the ways in which he will deal with the challenge of ensuring growth with equity.

Ending apartheid is only the beginning. This should be kept in mind as our 11-day celebration of Mandela's long walk to freedom draws to a close.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World