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What FW was really telling Mandela
In his television address FW de Klerk presented himself as the reasonable man. But beneath the benign tone lay a much harsher message.
What FW was really telling Mandela
What FW was really telling Mandela

Both President FW de Klerk and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela have claimed democracy as their mistress, in the blizzard of words that has passed between the ANC and the National Party in the past weeks.

Perhaps the public can hardly help the fact that they do not share this avowed passion, or even understand what is going on.

The newspapers and political analysts don't always help. Almost to a man, they told us to ignore the harsh rhetoric of De Klerk's radio and television broadcast last Thursday night and read the fine print instead.

Embedded in the proposals were supposed to be concessions that in the long run could lure the ANC back to the negotiating table.

Alas, there was no such thing. De Klerk's updated proposals merely put flesh on the NP's constitutional plans and offered nothing significantly new since the deadlocked Codesa II talks. They are proposals that would permanently entrench the NP in government, and provide the party with a veto on the constitution: the right to say when and if majority rule can come into being in South Africa.

In fact in offering so lime, in such a gong-ho manner, De Klerk's political body language was to tell the ANC to do its damndest. The 70 percent special majority that is required to approve a final constitution, regarded as one of the NP's concessions, involves both the national assembly and the senate sit- ting together.

While the NP has agreed that the senate will be elected, it will not be by straight proportional representation and hence will have an inbuilt distortion. Every region (and the regions will be based on the country's 10 develop merit regions) will have an equal number of seats. The inevitable effect of equal weighting of all the regions will be to load the more rural, more conservative parts of the country with a disproportionately high representation in the senate.

Thus, the northern Cape with perhaps half a million voters will have the same number of seats as the PWV with, say, eight million voters. The ANC, with a hypothetical 70 percent support in the PWV, will earn the same number of seats with 5,6-mil- lion votes as the NP with 350 000 votes in the northern Cape.

Maybe there is a rationale for that in the final constitution as there is for the similar composition of the United States senate. But is it fair to incorporate its distortions into a constitution making body that already has a threshold mark of 70 percent? It could mean that the mark is really closer to 75 percent.

The ANC and its allies would have to win more than 70 percent of the vote merely to achieve a final, democratic constitution at all. That is a tall order.

De Klerk's memorandum says that -- "for the amendment or substitution of the transitional constitution, a majority of 70 percent will be required and 75 percent for the Charter of Fundamental Rights".

The crucial point is that the memorandum mentions no deadlock-breaking mechanism, no time-frame within which a new constitution has to be agreed upon.

Instead De Klerk says: "If the transitional constitution has not been replaced within three years, a general election will be held in terms of the transitional constitution."

In a second general election the ANC, having been rendered impotent and unable to deliver by having to share power with the NP for three years, could fare even worse than in the first.

Thus, the ANC's worst fears of being trapped into legitimising an interim constitution that would remain the final constitution until such time as the NP decides it has had enough of power and agrees to relinquish its minority veto are confirmed.

Nothing is said in De Klerk's special annexe on constitutional proposals about the composition of the government the most controversial of the NP's interim constitutional proposals. Here one has to take a clue from an earlier part of the memorandum.

Note the language in which De Klerk couches his proposals: "Universally acknowledged constitutional mechanisms like bi-cameralism, regional autonomy (federalism), effective proportional participation in government by all significant parties ... serve precisely the purpose of curbing majority domination."

What this gobbledygook amounts to is that no single party can form a government. Any party with "substantial" support will automatically be part of the executive.

Behind the high-minded language of political science, De Klerk is attempting to do what the NP did in their previous failed experiments of grand apartheid and the tri-cameral parliament: to defy the arithmetic of democracy and to maintain minority control, all at vast expense to the country.

The effect of the NP's proposals is government as a permanent dictatorship of all the leading political parties. In short you will not be able to vote it out of power, and there will be no opposition. Let us be practical for a minute.

Would you like to see the combined arrogance of the NP, the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party carving up the spoils of office? Who will be outside the government serving as a watch-dog? The Black Sash?

Will an ANC member of the national assembly attack an ANC minister for a rise in the bread price? Or will his criticisms only be heard when an IFP minister raises the bread price? But what if the decision to raise the bread price was taken by the cabinet on the basis of consensus?

The ANC has acknowledged that a form of power-sharing, a government of national unity, will have to be formed as a temporary first step in the socio-economic reconstruction of the country. The movement has also been open to discussion on the question of minority protections in the constitution and other democratic guarantees. None of these questions can really be dealt with in a forthright way until the end product -- majority rule -- is guaranteed.

But there is something even more dangerous in the proposals. While the day-to-day running of government will be a form of consensual government by cabal, the constitution of the country, far from being a uniting force, is ultimately rendered the most divisive area in politics. It is the arena where political parties will squabble over power, attempting to overcome or resist the threshold of 70 percent.

This has less to do with political science than with a bad habit of messing with the constitution that the NP developed back in the 1950s, when they loaded the senate to disenfranchise the coloureds, and refined in the 1980s to bring in the gerrymandered tri-cameral parliament.

If one follows the proposals literally, the first election in this country will be fought over what kind of constitution we will have.

In Namibia, many South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo) activists hoped that their party would not get the two thirds needed in the November 1989 election to write the constitution on their own.

They wanted the constitution to be as inclusive and non-controversial as possible, which it is, and which is why the Namibian transition has been relatively so easy. One of the most disturbing features of the NP proposals is their slippery, eel-like quality. There is more in what they don't tell us than in what they do.

But they tell us enough to be deeply bothered. What is equally disturbing is the absence of voices, particularly from within the liberal press, raised against them. Instead, one has the sense that the ANC, by rejecting De Klerk's proposals, is being an unreasonable party-pooper.

White liberals have fallen for yet another clever sleight of hand by De Klerk. The motherhood and melktert concept in our politics is negotiations, not majority rule.

The desired outcome of the constitutional negotiations, in this perspective, is a compromise between the NP and the ANC, not a constitution that enshrines the will of the people. Which raises the most dangerous facet of De Klerk's proposals.

No matter how many eminent professors from Harvard tell us otherwise, there is ultimately only one explanation for the rejection of majority rule, and it is a racist one.