by Rhoda Njanana
Sometimes lost in the seemingly endless spiral of violence in South Africa, amid accusations and counter-accusations by the key players in the struggle for a majority-ruled democratic nation, is what a new government would look like.

The African National Congress (ANC) has always advocated a strong centralized or “unitary” form of government. Indeed, so did all parties who signed the Declaration of Intent which established the now suspended negotiating process known as CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa).

Included in the Declaration’s signatories are the National Party (NP) of President F. W. de Klerk and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, along with homelands leaders and other parties.

Outside the CODESA declaration are some of the extreme white right-wing parties which advocate a fully decentralized “federalist” system based on ethnicity. This bears startling similarity to the existing “independent” and “non-independent” homelands.

This type of federalism would grant political independence to each region or nation, economic interdependence federally and co-operation on matters of defence and foreign affairs.

Critics call it the “balkanization” of South Africa. They point out that attempts to impose this form of government violates the CODESA principles and, more seriously, “is another try by de Klerk to maintain white power and privilege under the guise of federalism”.

In recent months de Klerk has “like a chameleon” changed colours from his stated commitment to a unitary democratic South Africa to a staunch advocate of federalism. He seems also to have persuaded his main supporters in CODESA — Buthelezi, President Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana and Brigadier Oupa Gqozo of Ciskei — to oppose any other form of a unitary South Africa.

All three are leaders of homeland governments and join de Klerk in claiming that a strong central authority would lead to “a new Beirut with bloody politics and a doomed economy”.

They want a federal system with rights to self-government guaranteed in a new constitution. Political analysts of all political stripes say this would assure the three homelands leaders of retaining power, along with the white minority.

De Klerk’s public argument is that strong regional governments encourage local initiatives and destroys docile dependence on the national government. ANC argues that it perpetuates segregation along racial lines.

Albie Sachs, a constitutional lawyer and member of the ANCs National Executive Committee, says federalism would erect “barriers of intolerance” and for that reason ANC insists on a strong unitary stale.

“When I think of all the armed forces and regular and irregular law enforcement agencies in this country, and how easily ethnicity can be mobilised and armed, I long for some system of national standards, coherent supervision and generalised accountability,” he says.

Sachs and other members of ANC’s legal committee argue that South Africa needs a three-tier democratic form of government with a strong centralized component which would deal with matters of national concern including foreign affairs, defence, security, economic and social policy. Education, health, housing, employment and job recreation, health and minimum family income would also be part of the central government’s mandate.

Responsibilities for the regional governments would include, within the ANC’s vision, the implementation of national policies, management of local resources and development in all its various forms.

Local or municipal government would deal with daily concerns of peoples’ development, especially public affairs and public action. It will be the place where ordinary peoples’ lives will be most affected.

“It is where the real battle against apartheid will be fought,” says Sachs.

In the vision for a new South Africa from the ANC’s perspective, the so-called homelands will not exist. These barren pieces of disconnected land were never developed under the grand apartheid plan of social engineering designed by the National Party.

It will require decades to develop these areas so that their citizens can enjoy equal opportunities with the rest of South Africa.

Most other members of CODESA agree with ANC’s plan with negotiable variations. The liberal Democratic Party (DP) advances a national government similar to ANC’s but with a stronger part to play by the regions including the power to levy taxes. Each state would receive a constitutionally guaranteed share of national financial resources.

The standoff between the ANC, the major black negotiating body, and the National Party is summed up by Sachs: de Klerk is pressing for maximum devolution of powers to the regions while ANC argues for limited regional autonomy always subject to the central government

Most analysts feel the final shape will fall somewhere in between. They suggest that for South Africa to become truly democratic and share its wealth equally among all its people, it will need a system of non-racial three-level government.

What Sachs sees as the outcome of negotiations is a unitary state with significant federal features. (SARDC)

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