Something strange is occurring in the U.S.-South African relationship. At a time when our two societies need each other more than before, it is becoming unclear which one is more effective in exploiting divisions in the other. After nearly 20 years in which successive Republican and Democratic administrations have established some modest guidelines for U.S. policy, it has become fashionable to question whether the United States even has a policy toward South Africa. The fragile centrist consensus that so urgently needs to be strengthened among Americans instead founders in a fog of stereotypes and polarized perceptions about the country. On their side, South Africans are so enmeshed in their own internal ferment and so disenchanted with the recent American performance (globally as well as in southern Africa) that they view the United States increasingly as an object for manipulation, an ineffectual and reactive power.

With Zimbabwe's independence and Namibia's uncertain but inexorable movement in the same direction, Americans have to come to some minimal level of agreement about the question of South Africa. The problem is that the land of apartheid operates as a magnet for one-dimensional minds. How do we overcome the disturbing tendency to treat this troubled land as a political fire sale to be ransacked for confirmation of previously held convictions?

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that Americans need to do their homework and become less gullible in responding to the dissonant babble of voices from South Africa. A working familiarity with the country's major actors and institutions would help. South Africa is a vast and varied country, and one rarely meets the residents of Cradock or Koopmansfontein. Instead, one meets the urbane business elite, embittered black exiles, white refugees forecasting Armageddon, or slick hucksters of the status quo peddling a message of krugerrands, the Cape route and chrome reserves. More attention must be focused on those South Africans-the Afrikaners and the African majority-who are shaping and challenging the current order.

Another hurdle is coming to grips with our own parochialism. South Africa is an alien place where people dwell on potential or actual threats to their economic, political and physical survival and where they bargain on the basis of well-founded distrust. In South Africa, most players are speaking to multiple audiences-across borders, across ethnic lines, and within the group. It is worth the effort to become adept at reading between the lines of political rhetoric, much as observers of any other important country do.

The many changes occurring today in South Africa are inherently ambiguous. Nonetheless, it should be possible at least to agree that black politics are characterized by an increasingly confident experimentation with various strategies for challenging white control, while white politics are demonstrating a degree of fluidity and pragmatism that is without precedent in the past generation. The combination does not make meaningful evolutionary change certain, but it does make it possible for the first time in decades.


In deciding the course of American policy, we need to have some consensus not only about what is going on in South Africa but also about basic U.S. objectives, the American interests at stake, and the broad principles of policy effectiveness. Clearly, the fundamental goal is the emergence in South Africa of a society with which the United States can pursue its varied interests in a full and friendly relationship, without constraint, embarrassment or political damage. The nature of the South African political system prevents us from having such a relationship now. That goal will remain elusive in the absence of purposeful, evolutionary change toward a nonracial system. Consequently, a basic U.S. objective should be to foster and support such change, recognizing the need to minimize the damage to our interests in the process, but also recognizing that American interests will suffer inevitably if such change fails to occur.

This statement of the problem rests on a number of straightforward premises. As a multiracial democracy, the United States cannot endorse a system that is racist in purpose or effect. Second, the nurturing of institutions we value-democracy, pluralism, stable and decent government, nonracialism, a strong market economy-ultimately hinges on how change occurs and who participates in it. Third, the circumstances in South Africa do not justify giving up on the hopes for evolutionary change (as distinguished from a revolutionary cataclysm). Besides, the option of U.S. disengagement hardly exists in practice, except in the strictly limited sense of dissociating ourselves from specific acts or policies. By its nature and history South Africa is a part of the Western experience, and an integral part of the Western economic system. In addition, the exigencies of U.S. domestic politics virtually rule out disengagement.

The task, then, is to steer between the twin dangers of abetting violence in the Republic and aligning ourselves with the cause of white rule.

What part can the United States play in the achievement of change? The evolution the United States wants to see is unlikely to occur all by itself; external events and policies have always played a role in South African history, and are more likely to as internal power relationships become more equalized. Pressure for change should be a central ingredient in American policy, and that pressure must be credibly maintained if we are not to send misleading signals to South Africans. But pressure is not enough. Also required is a clear Western readiness to recognize and support positive movement, and to engage credibly in addressing a complex agenda of change.

In the past neither U.S. pressure nor U.S. support has been credibly organized, while policy oscillations have done little to engender respect for America's sense of purpose. Contrasts between administrations have been mainly a matter of style and tone. Yet even where the contrast has been relatively sharp, as it was between the Nixon-Ford and Carter periods, the difficulties in wielding carrots and sticks (or "radishes and twigs," as skeptics would have it) are reflected in mixed signals. Positive elements of the initial Nixon stance of active communication with Pretoria were soon overshadowed by White House unwillingness to push the policy publicly and energetically. What ensued was a two-track policy-a public posture of abhorrence for apartheid alongside de facto acquiescence in the policies of Pretoria on the one hand, and movement toward a tacit and confidential working relationship over the Angolan, Rhodesian and Namibian conflicts on the other. Ultimately, the conduct of South African policy "in the closet" backfired both at home and abroad. Constructive engagement was never seriously attempted.

False signals and the creation of unreal expectations (among various constituencies in South Africa) also characterized the Carter period. After strident assertions that Washington would not trade a moderation of pressure on South African internal issues For Pretoria's cooperation on Rhodesia and Namibia, the Administration did the opposite. After 18 months of verbal flagellation and lectures from the American pulpit, U.S. officials tempered their public statements almost to the point of inscrutability, because the initial stance was counterproductive on all fronts. As for results, the picture is decidedly mixed. Police behavior appears more civilized, but Washington helped the National Party (NP) achieve its most massive electoral victory ever. U.S. adherence to the U.N. arms embargo has had some symbolic value, but its main result has been to accelerate dramatically Pretoria's drive for military self-sufficiency. Pretoria's wrist has been slapped by a few modest trade restrictions that have made some Americans feel better while other Americans lose jobs.

With all its oscillations, however, Washington's South Africa policy has shifted substantially over the past 20 years. The trend toward increased distance in the relationship and a higher level of pressure for constructive change is unmistakable during this period. The designers of apartheid have failed to sell it to any but their own constituents, and our rebuff helps to explain the rethinking process now underway in South Africa.

On the other hand, however, we have forfeited significant influence over South Africa through our lack of appreciation of internal South African dynamics. Often this takes the form of a mistaken assumption that American and South African clocks are synchronized-that our impatience signifies the imminence of the revolution.

Clearly, U.S. interests lie in strongly encouraging South Africans to get on with deciding their future. How can we do so? It is striking how seldom policy discussions focus analytically on the specific consequences of proposed American actions. In the first place, we continue to suffer from an inflated notion of American power, despite considerable contrary evidence. The recent American experience, most notably in Iran, should have made it clear that effective coercive influence is a rare commodity in foreign policy. There are many things the West could do to South Africa in the interests of "bringing about change," but would such actions in fact produce the intended result? We might reduce its growth rate by curtailing trade or investment. Comprehensive sanctions backed by naval power could wreak major damage on its economy (and on U.S. and allied economic interests there). They might even spark a sustained uprising, a drastic decline in white living standards, and an outflow of emigrants. But this, presumably, is not the goal. South African capacity to cope with destructive actions is finite, but their ability to pervert our purposes and produce unintended and unforeseen consequences is not.

In the second place, too often our focus is on the wrong issue: the ultimate goal, instead of the process of getting there. The dismantling of apartheid and the creation of a new nonracial order is not going to take place through a sudden dramatic act, or result from one concession in one deal. Hundreds of decisions, drawn-out negotiations, and quite probably a combination of violence and politics will precede the dawn of a new age for South Africans. As a matter of logic, it is likely that major change will be preceded by lesser forms of change of the kind now occurring. Yet U.S. policy remains preoccupied with the goal of obtaining "full political participation," often presumed to be the outcome of a preceding "national convention" at which all politically relevant groups would be represented. A corollary Western reluctance to address (at least in some channel) the question of short- or medium-term goals is rapidly becoming a form of escapism-playing into the hands of those who believe that only a bloody upheaval can do the job.

The time has come for Americans interested in South Africa's future to address the question of what useful role the United States can play in helping all South Africans think ahead toward a different future. Since the power to coerce Pretoria is not in American hands, the limited influence available should be carefully husbanded for specific application to concrete issues of change. If this means that the United States becomes engaged in what some observers label as only "amelioration," so be it, provided that the process is open-ended and consistent with a nonracial order. In the end, events in South Africa will determine the basic parameters of American policy, and it is to these that we now turn.


Much of the Western policy debate revolves around interpreting the significance of what is now taking place in South Africa. The effort to develop a more effective policy would be wasted unless conditions on the ground warranted it. The ambiguity of these developments is best illustrated by two contrasting images that emerge from "the facts."

Proponents of the first image begin by stressing that over the past five years the obscure politics of Afrikanerdom have become more pragmatic and seemingly rational, less tribal and ideological. Leading Afrikaner (and other white) elites now openly confirm that the early architects of separate development (apartheid) policy-men such as former Prime Ministers D.F. Malan and Hendrik Verwoerd-have produced an unworkable monster. Afrikaans-speaking journalists cheer on politicians like Prime Minister P.W. Botha who proclaim that controlled change toward some "new dispensation" has become essential. Petty or social apartheid is recognized as offensive and "hurtful" to the black majority, while grand (territorial) apartheid is seen as an economic failure and a political cul-de-sac, if not a nightmare. Although this new white consensus is challenged on the Right, it appears to have substantial strength among key elites and leading institutions. The long-delayed prospects for political change have opened up.

Continuing with this first image, the new political climate has been accompanied by the clear victory of rational economics in government thinking. A group of tight-fisted Friedmanites has overturned South Africa's state capitalist and welfare-state traditions (at least for whites). The private sector will now be set free to become the engine of job creation and black socioeconomic advancement, and the state's role in managing the economy will wane. Artificial (i.e., political) barriers to black economic opportunity and the mobility of labor and capital are being removed. Botha's overtures to the private sector-still largely in non-Afrikaner hands-have accompanied freer foreign exchange, labor and capital markets. Such thinking lies at the root of recent policy shifts concerning black labor and freedom of movement in white areas, but the process even extends to questioning the policy of confining black citizenship rights to tribal homelands-the cornerstone of grand apartheid.

Moreover, the economy shows a potential for sustained growth that could undergird change toward a more equitable order. Africa's most diversified and dynamic economy weathered painful recession and political uncertainty in 1976-77, to emerge in better shape than before. Real growth is running at around seven percent this year. South Africa has the requisite industrial base and resource endowment to thrive in an interdependent, politically insecure, and resource-hungry global economy. Its business and financial elite includes skilled, internationally minded leaders who can capitalize quickly on market or policy shifts in other countries and on new technologies. The bulk of capital is generated internally. Pragmatic adjustment to regional change and global economic turbulence enables South Africa to prosper despite a degree of political isolation. Finally, the economy's depth and breadth assure that its growth will not be hampered by the gradual decline in gold output in the years ahead; in fact, soaring gold prices have hardly affected gold's share of total exports during the 1970s-a clear indication of balanced export growth.1

A second interpretation of the facts points in another direction. According to this image, a strong economy could be used not to support evolutionary change but to strengthen white control and distract attention from the need for change. In the socioeconomic sphere, promise continues to run far ahead of performance. Tangible change in such areas as elective black urban councils, labor law reform and trade-union rights, black home-ownership rights, multiracial sports, and access to public facilities has been implemented unevenly-often by permits that only qualify current policy. Such changes have been largely motivated by the need to respond to pressure or disruption and, while more than cosmetic, do not begin to address such central socioeconomic questions as the enormous black housing backlog in the "white areas," the grossly inequitable education system, or the liberation of black free enterprise.

Nor has the government's insistence that blacks can exercise political rights only in the "homelands," which comprise 13 percent of South Africa's land area, diminished. The poverty, hunger and unemployment of the homelands is almost universally recognized as the most striking indictment of official policy. Up to now, nothing significant has been done to improve conditions in these rural dumping grounds for those who fail to find a niche in the white economy. Black South Africans still face the loss of their South African citizenship, and the hated influx control policy, whereby large numbers of blacks are shipped out of white areas daily, or jailed for being there illegally, still stands. Questions can also be raised about the practicality of Pretoria's new embrace of free-market economics. How can the private sector generate the 300,000 new jobs that are needed each year just to avoid increased black unemployment-unless something dramatic is done to increase the attractiveness of labor-intensive investment? In the fields of housing and training, government and business are passing the responsibility back and forth like a hot potato.

Proponents of this second image also raise the question of white motivations. The Botha government has committed itself to a moderate reformist course whose end remains utterly unclear. Ideology may have been replaced by pragmatism, but toward what object? The majority of South Africans (and outsiders) are being asked to take a lot on faith from Afrikaner Nationalists whose quest for "cultural survival" over the past 32 years has translated into the domination and coercion of everyone else. This current ferment is very likely another occasion when official promises will be followed by paralysis. It could also be an elaborate smokescreen for a limited co-optation strategy aimed at wooing urban black and rural homeland elites into collaboration with the whites. At best it would signify only minimal change in the distribution of political power and economic rewards.

All the moves taken so far are consistent with a posture of continued defiance and repression of demands for basic decency and meaningful change. As evidence, one could cite the strenuous effort by Pretoria to gird its loins for continued conflict and a possible rupture with the West. Huge investments in military self-sufficiency, industrial diversification, and energy self-reliance are clearly targeted at minimizing the potential impact of current and future embargoes. Why has South Africa spent such sums to become a world leader in synfuels development and one of the leading arms producers in the Southern Hemisphere?

Finally, the second image stresses the major obstacles to serious change within Afrikanerdom: a recalcitrant apartheid bureaucracy still wedded to Verwoerdian principles, the absence of an alternative political blueprint to sell to the rank and file, and strong political and regional splits within the governing National Party itself precisely over the feasibility and desirability of controlled change leading to some form of power-sharing with the black communities. How can would-be reformers-assuming they exist-meet the argument of the verkramptes (conservatives) that such a process will degenerate into uncontrolled revolutionary violence and, perhaps, white political abdication? Analogies from American experience do not fit, and Rhodesian or Algerian ones are not especially comforting. Such fears underlie recent activities of the WitKommando, a white terrorist group; however, they are also shared by parts of the Dutch Reformed Church; by the rightist splinter Herstigte Nasionale Party; by some white trade unions; by the new head of the Broederbond; and by many in the powerful Transvaal wing of the NP itself, led by arch-verkrampte Andries Treurnicht-a politician-theologian whose name translates as "grieve-not," but who is known more playfully as "Dr. No."


"Half full or half empty"? There is, as we have just seen, much evidence for both images. Which of the two is nearer the real picture of underlying trends requires that one dig deeper into the South African reality. Basic to any such deeper analysis is an ingredient missing in most reporting on South Africa, namely the importance of Afrikaner nationalism-as distinguished from white racism and apartheid-as a distinctive and determining feature in the political equation.

The identity whose "survival" is at the core of Afrikaner politics is in part racial, but it includes other important ingredients. In light of what they have said and done, it would be difficult for blacks in South Africa to interpret Afrikaner nationalists as anything other than racist in the black-white sense. Yet conflict with the English-speaking whites was the main impetus behind national consciousness during the formative years of their drive to gain and consolidate power in all of South Africa. The Afrikaner nationalist experience is unique: in the long history of European migration, they are the only ethnic-cultural group to have formed a distinctly new nation and waged a successful nationalist revolution in their new land.

Despite their 325 years in Africa, this nationalism is barely 100 years old, tracing its origins to the creation of the two Boer republics ultimately defeated by Britain in the bloody conflict of 1899-1902. After South Africa's independence in 1910, nationalist politics became a domestic issue focusing on the drive for formal recognition of the Afrikaans language, social and economic welfare of poor whites impoverished by war and uprooted by urbanization, and opposition to the dominance of English capitalism and to the continued imperial link. Ultimately, the goal became the ethnic mobilization of Afrikanerdom to take over the country's political institutions as the best route to advancing group interests.

This strategy was victorious in 1948-not long ago in the consciousness of a people. At one level, the revolution was remarkably successful in meeting its own goals. Political domination at the national level is total. National Party rule has succeeded in dramatically improving the economic status of its ethnic followers, and in transforming Afrikanerdom into a primarily white-collar nation. Afrikaner-English income and education differentials have narrowed rapidly, softening the ethnic inferiority complex of one side and the cultural arrogance of the other. Despite the boer (farmer) stereotype, only 8 percent of the Afrikaans-speaking labor force is on the land (compared to 30 percent on the eve of the 1948 NP victory). Twenty-five to thirty percent of the private sector is now in Afrikaner hands, as well as 90 percent of the top jobs in the public sector.2

There are few modern parallels of a minority people emerging at the top of the political heap after years of bitter political and military defeat and economic deprivation. The result is a high level of group cohesion and loyalty, and a strong inclination to believe that group welfare is in every sense dependent on retaining political control or in some other way maintaining political autonomy. Since the Afrikaner revolution is a recent one, this nationalism has some rough edges. Although Afrikaner nationalist politics is by no means an authoritarian monolith, there are self-imposed ground rules. To the Anglo-Saxon outsider, this smacks of secretiveness, paranoia, or even conspiracy. But ethnics of other sorts in other lands will quickly recognize the syndrome: shun strategies that could divide the group; speak in code or riddles when others are listening; camouflage in-group tensions in the interests of group harmony; do not think aloud about plans or bargaining positions; value your reputation among fellow ethnics. The cardinal rule in nationalist politics is summed up by the Afrikaans journalistic convention onafhanklikheid-in-gebondenheid (independence-in-commitment), which in practice means working from within the system.

The implications for political change are twofold. A basic split within Afrikanerdom or the National Party is rather unlikely. It is in the perceived survival interests of the party leadership to retain the support of the great majority of Afrikaners and never to become decisively dependent on non-Afrikaners. Significant white-led political change will probably not come via this route. Nor is there much reason to believe that a basic split would suddenly produce radical change: English-speaking and other white groups (Portuguese, Jews, Greeks, Germans) are hardly a unified bastion of political enlightenment with whom verligtes (liberals or, literally, "enlightened ones") could coalesce. P.W. Botha is by no means as rigid on party unity as his predecessor, John Vorster, who once declared that he was unwilling to lose a single member of his NP caucus over the multiracial sports policy. Botha welcomes non-Afrikaner electoral support and might find it useful for his reformist image to hive off 20 or 30 ultras. More important, he is determined to lead and to make changes-"adapt or die"-but not by splitting his nation.

Second, the primary issue facing Botha and his like-minded lieutenants is how to organize and lead Afrikanerdom away from the dead end of Verwoerdian ideology. The answer lies in using the NP and the state apparatus itself as instruments for change. For the past two years South Africa's "new nationalists" have been preoccupied with the task of building coalitions and power bases within the party and government machinery. The meager tangible results of white-led change so far do not signify that Botha's coalition is not interested in major "adaptations" that could result in real change. It simply means: first things first.


Some of the preconditions of white-led change have already been met. The climate of Afrikaner opinion has unquestionably changed with the tumultuous events of the 1970s in South and southern Africa and indirectly in the West. Polling data indicate a rapid evolution in attitudes during the 1970s. Although there is no substantial mandate for major change yet, lesser reforms are widely accepted. Loyalty to the party appears to have roots somewhat independent of actual policies. Public opinion is highly deferential and responsive to signals of determined leadership, despite the claims of NP elites that suggest the reverse.

Botha's own emergence, historically fortuitous though it was, clearly meets the prerequisite of determined and ambitious leadership, and he personally shares the new sense of urgency. Between Verwoerd's assassination in 1966 and Vorster's resignation in 1978, the NP had been led from behind, by consensus. In the absence of a commanding figure, NP politics was a cautious balancing act between factions defined in terms of South Africa's traditional north-south friction, patronage, ideology and leadership succession. Botha, by contrast, is an NP machine politician with 44 years of party experience who fancies himself to be an expert manipulator of the complex party apparatus. He knows that its center of decision is at the top in the Cabinet as well as the Prime Minister's office: he cannot lead without a cooperative Cabinet. The Cabinet balance, in turn, depends on intricate personal alliances within the parliamentary caucus and the regional party organizations. Patronage and personal loyalty-not Left-Right political views-lie at the heart of these relationships.

Reformers require more power than mere rulers. The main checks on that power in South Africa are within the NP, the Westminster parliamentary system, and the bureaucracy. But reformers also require modern ideas and vigorous minds. Botha knows better than most that the NP establishment is woefully short of modern training or skills of any kind except those required to run the party. The most accomplished Afrikaners (in business, the professions, higher education, or the public service) have seldom played major roles in a party apparatus based largely on small-town lawyers, failed businessmen, schoolteachers, farmers, clergy, and professional politicians. South Africa's dynamic and competent white elites need to be drawn into the policy process.

Since taking office in 1978, Botha and his coalition have been carrying out the equivalent in Afrikaner nationalist terms of a drawn-out coup d'état. The recipe for this coup has several ingredients, of which the first is to build a solid coalition of like-minded modernizers and personal political allies. The coalition emerged gradually, and was formalized with the August 1980 Cabinet reshuffle, probably the most revealing shake-up in a generation. Key allies include: Alwyn Schlebusch (Orange Free State NP leader who assured Botha his premiership, former Justice Minister and now Vice State President and Chairman of the President's Council); Chris Heunis (Cape Province NP leader, now assigned the sensitive portfolio of Internal and Constitutional Affairs); S.P. ("Fanie") Botha (NP parliamentary leader, major Transvaal party figure and overseer of the Wiehahn and Riekert Commission exercises on labor and manpower issues); Kobie Coetzee (former Deputy Defense Minister, now Justice Minister); R.F. Botha (Foreign Affairs Minister and a widely popular advocate of reform); and Piet Koornhof (Minister of Cooperation and Development-i.e., black affairs-and the best-known modernizer in the field of racial policy). Moreover, Botha is now able to bring politically reliable and compatible people into pivotal Cabinet slots and the President's Council even when they lack a strong party base. Prime examples are Magnus Malan (former armed forces chief of staff and now Defense Minister) and Gerrit Viljoen (former Broederbond head, university rector and Namibia administrator, now National Education Minister and the leading intellectual in the Cabinet).

Somewhat apart from the core of political power are the economic policy technocrats headed by Owen Horwood (Natal NP leader and Finance Minister), backed by key advisers Gerhard de Kock, Simon Brand and Joep de Loor. The coalition-building process has also entailed isolating or neutralizing potential leadership threats (Andries Treurnicht and Connie Mulder, Botha's main rival for the premiership in 1978); and dispensing as gracefully as possible with such embarrassing obstacles to reform and domestic harmony as former Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger and former Community Development Minister Marais Steyn.

Apart from control of the Cabinet, the modernizers required a more responsive, streamlined apparatus for policy analysis, decision-making and implementation. Botha inherited a political-administrative shambles from his predecessor. Bureaucrats, serving as legally entrenched guardians of the status quo, had acquired legendary expertise in manipulating thousands of laws and regulations on behalf of 40 executive departments-exercising heavy-handed control over people and institutions of every kind, but especially over the lives of blacks and the activities of the private sector. Few ministers could operate creatively in the statutory morass, and few bothered to try.

Accordingly, a top priority has been to create greater maneuvering room for political leadership, expanding the range of available insights, options and devices for new policy development. The traditional device of appointing official commissions in specific policy fields has been converted from a means of burying problems in "further study" to a means of developing hard options. Talented figures from within or outside government have received Cabinet mandates to function as extra-bureaucratic point men on knotty problems (e.g., the planning of Soweto's future). University-based think tanks have gained an unprecedented role as potential agents of change in areas such as the reassessment of homelands policy. Hundreds of statutory instruments are in the process of being scrapped or consolidated. Ranking English and Afrikaans-speaking business leaders have joined the Public Service Commission and parastatal bodies to advise on streamlining the state machine: executive departments have been cut from 39 to 23.

Under Vorster, policy evolved haphazardly with limited inter-departmental coordination or collective Cabinet oversight. Administrative fiefdoms were permitted to develop (the Information Department, the former Bantu Affairs and Development Department) under ministers who tended to be captives of their senior officials. Coherence and coordination were largely absent. Botha's team has tackled these issues by creating what could become an awesome instrument of centralization and control. At the center is the Prime Minister's department, strengthened by an enlarged secretariat of trusted senior civilian and military officials who function simultaneously as Botha's staff and a Cabinet staff. Distinct planning groups exist in each of five major policy areas within the secretariat. This body serves as a clearing house and funnel on issues and proposals that flow to it from within or outside the bureaucracy's 15 interagency committees. At the center of policy are five working groups and five Cabinet-level committees, of which the most important is the resurrected statutory State Security Council (created in 1972), a body with the conveniently open-ended function of "formulation of national policy and strategy in relation to the security of the Republic." Reminiscent of the Nixon-Kissinger National Security Council system, but covering the full span of public policy, this highly articulated and formalistic structure is an elaborate device for assuring coherence and control, through myriad agendas, meetings and policy papers. Whether it works as an "orderly" policy-making vehicle or as a screen for monopolizing policy initiative at the top is a question for the future.

The third ingredient in Botha's coup is the 1980 series of constitutional amendments resulting in the creation of an advisory President's Council, the abolition of the Senate (upper house), and a provision for nominated members of Parliament and Cabinet. Because of their origins, these moves have been misunderstood. Widely heralded in the Afrikaans press as the basis for a "new dispensation" for all South Africans, the changes included a minimal gesture to Coloureds and Asians (invited by appointment to serve on the President's Council) and to Africans (offered a separate, appointive Black Council). When significant black leadership made clear their refusal to participate on unilateral white terms in such institutions, the NP leadership quickly accommodated itself to the fact, unceremoniously scrapping the Black Council. The influential daily Beeld noted crisply that it was a "mistake" to attempt political change involving blacks "without their consent." Had a lesson been learned?

The answer remains unclear, but what is certain is the success of the 1980 constitutional moves within the sphere of Afrikaner politics. Equally important, these measures strengthen the domination of Botha's modernizers at the expense of Parliament, the parliamentary NP caucus, and the provincial NP congresses-the main perceived obstacles to the kind of autocratic political change apparently envisaged. The beneficiaries are the Cabinet, its key committees and the Prime Minister's office. Only minimal symbolic gestures have been made to the NP's right-wing faction-in the form of two subsidiary Cabinet appointments-during this whole process of Cabinet and constitutional change. The age of modernizing autocracy is upon us, and its next step could be moves toward an executive presidential system patterned on Gaullist France.


The English-speaking South African author Alan Paton believes that we are witnessing "the awakening of Afrikanerdom from its protracted and narcissistic fantasy." If so, this awakening has so far concentrated more on procedure than on substance, on the bureaucratic politics of modernization rather than the bottom line of change. But the point is that, apart from revolution, change can only happen this way.

The modernizers who are taking over Afrikaner nationalist politics, unlike Verwoerd, do not have an ideological blueprint. They have a set of attitudes-pragmatic, flexible, determined-and a concept of strategy defined as the continuing process of matching means and ends. Malan's conception of "total strategy" is redolent of Gaullist and Maoist origins: the struggle against the "Marxist onslaught" (a convenient umbrella term encompassing Walter Mondale, Fidel Castro and African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo) is 80 percent political. It must be met by the mobilization of every societal resource, including those of the black majority.

Gerrit Viljoen's vision of strategy centers on the concept of undefined (obviously) "minimum conditions": Afrikaners would have a mission to survive in southern Africa even if they once again became a subjugated minority, but to avoid this they need an adaptive strategy, learning from "our neighbors" to take "action in good time so as to keep our options clear and free, so that we may direct events. . . . We must guard against the fallacy that there can be any final solutions or a conclusive blueprint, a fixed and infallible master plan." Afrikaners, he argues, must have confidence based on their own history in their ability now to dispense with "excessive" statutory defenses of their group interests. Finally, they need a more humble and humane nationalism, recognizing their own "backwardness," and "blind prejudice," and stressing the group's "unrealized potential."

The new elites being brought into important policy roles provide some clues about areas of potential change and the level of real interest in change. Business leaders, for example, are the only logical white lobby for addressing the "skills gap" estimated to reach over 700,000 skilled workers and 180,000 professional and technical personnel by 1990. Despite a recent upswing in white immigration, the only real solution is a sustained drive against the inequities of the apartheid education system (whose massive costs in manpower skills alone are apparent to all except those who actually administer it).

The entry of military elites into active participation in the policy process has uncertain implications. Stereotyping military preferences, some observers anticipate the rise of an authoritarian law-and-order mentality, a predisposition toward aggressive cross-border actions and a tendency to view blacks in general as "the enemy." But this prognosis overlooks the fact that these tendencies already existed in some degree before Botha's advent to power. It would be unwise to view the South African Defense Force (SADF) as an instrument of domestic brutality or as the rogue elephant of southern Africa, crashing across borders and wrecking Western interests. In Namibia, there is little evidence that the SADF believes in military solutions; nor is it the source of the atavistic ideologies that have landed South Africans in difficulty. Malan, Botha and their colleagues were in fact the first Afrikaner nationalists to articulate the view that the military's purpose is to buy time for political solutions that would expand domestic support and permit expanded black military recruitment. They were also the first to state publicly that defense depends on avoiding domestic disaffection-as several prominent black leaders have pointed out.

The SADF will maintain a tough external posture aimed at preventing the establishment of neighboring guerrilla sanctuaries, deterring Afro-Cuban conventional opponents, and raising the price of possible Soviet intervention. But one needs also to consider the SADF's potential as a lobby of modernizing patriots whose growing professionalism has altered its composition and self-interests from the days when it was an unprestigious patronage outlet for Afrikaner mediocrity. The nationalism of this largely Afrikaner elite could play a role in the idealistic search for self-renewal so needed by an increasingly materialistic and defensive people. Citizen soldiers have played important roles in Afrikaner history, but this is the first time that career professionals have done so. While there are, therefore, no direct South African precedents, there are plenty of analogies elsewhere.


The political and attitudinal preconditions for significant change have emerged in recent years, but what kind of change? White South Africans are engaged in an unprecedented ferment of constitutional trial ballooning, both within and outside the official structure. It is a difficult debate to follow, because the ground rules of Afrikaner political discourse inhibit communication with outsiders. The political leadership continues to define its minimum conditions in maximum terms, and whites are likely to remain at the stage of shadowboxing, at least until more is known about the participants and procedures for real intergroup bargaining. Nothing important will be disclosed prematurely, giving the impression that Verwoerdian taboos remain in force. The debate currently centers on terms like "commonwealth," "constellation," "consociation" and, tentatively, "confederation"; still beyond the pale are "power sharing," "federation" and "unitary state." This, of course, fuels charges that we are witnessing another "great evasion" of the core issues.

The Constellation of States proposal launched with much fanfare at a November 1979 businessmen's conference has been almost uniformly interpreted as a diplomatic initiative aimed largely at wooing nearby African countries into some form of regional political association with Pretoria. Its timing in relation to the Zimbabwe transition process and Namibia talks-as well as its similarity with earlier regional initiatives-lends credence to this view. But the constellation idea is more than a warmed-over version of the "outward policy" of the early 1970s; it is also a domestic proposal. Recalling that the terminology for homelands is "black states" (in the case of those that reject Pretoria's offer of "independence") and "independent black states" (Transkei, Venda, and Bophutatswana), the constellation concept is a thinly disguised rubric under which finally to admit the essential unity of South Africa. The doctrinal reunification of the country starts with a direct appeal for business-government partnership within South Africa to undo the economic fragmentation and irrationality of grand apartheid.

The Afrikaner political elite is edging toward a model featuring an economically unified confederation (coded "constellation") and a high degree of political decentralization. Political power would be "divided" (not "shared") among a wide range of units: "independent black states," a projected white-Coloured-Asian government (or governments), and a series of "autonomous" and "self-governing" black municipalities located in the "white areas" of South Africa. A new layer of eight to ten economically defined "regions" may be created around regional growth points, displacing (if not replacing) the four existing provinces (Natal, Cape Province, Orange Free State and Transvaal). The apparent aim is to enable homelands to "exercise their political responsibilities in the economic field" at the regional level, while "defusing" political issues that might become unmanageable at the central, confederal level. As elaborated in a detailed plan for Natal prepared by Jan Lombard and his colleagues at the University of Pretoria, that region would have its own authority comprising representatives of urban areas, the KwaZulu homeland government, and white farming zones. A bill of rights would be adopted and all apartheid laws scrapped in the new region.

It is interesting that the Lombard plan, commissioned by white farming and business interests, has appeared simultaneously with other studies: the government's own review of KwaZulu consolidation, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's formation of an Inkatha-based think tank, and the appointment of a 42-member multiracial commission to study Natal's future. In addition to Inkatha, significant Coloured and Asian leaders will serve on the commission as well as white business figures, church leaders, academics, and white opposition parties. The battle of think tanks and commissions appears to have been joined. Pretoria, asked by its Natal supporters to repudiate Lombard's plan, briskly told them to "carry on with your normal jobs and farming." This activity is the closest thing to a potential intergroup bargaining process underway in South Africa today.


We are entering a period in which it has become possible in white politics to talk about what amounts in practice to power-sharing (no matter how it may be camouflaged). The process of rethinking has started, obliquely, to deal with important political issues. The involvement of Chief Buthelezi and some other black leaders in studying models of change could be the precursor to some form of negotiation, or it could simply signify the hope among blacks that Afrikaners will choose negotiation over open-ended domestic strife. Pretoria can hardly be in any doubt that definitive change, as distinguished from unilateral concessions or adaptation, must be preceded by multiracial bargaining. Yet the procedural basis of intergroup negotiation is barely at the rudimentary stage. Before deciding whether this precondition for ordered change can be met, we need to know more about black attitudes, organization, strategies and bargaining power.

The events of the late 1970s have brought the black communities of South Africa to a new level of political awareness and ferment. Millions of people were caught up in the 1976 urban disorders that spread across the country, and millions have learned lessons from the continuing low-level confrontations that have occurred periodically since then. Today, the lives of the blacks are shaped not only by the demands of apartheid legislation and the requirements of economic survival, but also by the presence of increasingly active black organizations (overt and underground). Although overt nationalist politics is often ruthlessly repressed, legal and covert organizational activity of many kinds-some of it blatantly political-takes place.

Black South Africans are increasingly aware of the grossly discriminatory effects of the many laws, rules and customs that govern their lives. The painfully slow process of piecemeal socioeconomic amelioration launched by Pretoria and the white business establishment has had little basic effect so far. On the other hand, blacks can also clearly perceive that some change is occurring, and that it results in part from their own actions. Limited violence or peaceful protest actions-over job benefits, education or bus fares-often produce results.

The political reawakening in white politics may open important new avenues for black organizational activity. The two most obvious arenas are urban councils and trade unions, fields in which white-led change has presented black elites simultaneously with a challenge, a threat and an opportunity. Aspirant black leaders are seldom in a position publicly to endorse such change, for obvious reasons. At the same time, the Wiehahn Commission's labor reforms and the spread of elective urban councils create organizational bases that will be filled by someone. Unless they are totally boycotted, they become objects of political competition. The political dilemma is, therefore, what posture to adopt toward these institutions: can they be safely co-opted by blacks for their own purposes as potential bases of influence, or will participants in them be discredited? Is it politically safe to ignore them? Answers to these questions are subject to almost daily revision because black South African tactics are in flux.

The advent of African governments in Angola, Mozambique and now Zimbabwe-following upon guerrilla struggles-unquestionably has had the effect of raising black hopes and expectations. There is growing confidence among the black communities of South Africa that the southward spread of basic political change will not stop at the Limpopo and Orange Rivers. Through one means or another, South Africa's domestic colonialism will be ended and black South Africans will gain fuller if not total control of their country. But this new confidence in the potential of black efforts to acquire power raises more questions than it answers. It has varying implications for those committed to violent means and those working within the country or "within the system." It means different things to those with something to lose and those with nothing to lose in a violent upheaval. It also means different things to large and small ethnic groups, and to the Coloured and Asian minorities.

Black politics are fragmented on tactical and leadership issues, however united they may be about the need for change and its inevitability. Many, perhaps most, blacks would like to believe that nonviolent change is still possible. But optimism about the future is certainly tempered by the perception that whites are not yet prepared for major political change; quite a few black lives and material interests may have to be sacrificed in order finally to convince the white establishment to sit down and bargain. The way in which various black groups acquire the power necessary to produce a genuine bargaining process could be costly for all South Africans.

For all these reasons, the black political arena is an increasingly complex puzzle for outsiders to measure and for participants to operate in. No single leader or organization has a monopoly of legitimacy or a coercive preponderance in the black communities. The question of how best to organize for future bargaining with whites-as guerrillas, trade unionists, civic associations, students and writers, consumers and entrepreneurs, cultural-political movements, and government and business employees-remains without a definitive answer. It is risky to burn one's bridges in any direction.

Three things can be said with certainty. A competitive race is underway among blacks to fill the many organizational vacuums (or seize the new opportunities) that exist (or are being created by the government) within the diverse black communities. Some of the sporadic violence reported to the outside world as a function of black-white confrontation is, in reality, a reflection of this competition. Tests of organizational strength-between students, trade unions, and homeland and urban politicians-can be safely predicted.

The exile-based African National Congress (ANC) possesses significant assets as the oldest nationalist movement among blacks, but it has no guarantee of ultimate victory in the struggle over who will sit at subsequent bargaining tables. The ANC is today the group most active in guerrilla/sabotage operations, and its former leaders (notably Nelson Mandela) are among the country's best known political prisoners. It has legitimacy for many, if not most, politically aware blacks at the symbolic level as a unifying umbrella for nationalist activity. Few are prepared to repudiate it publicly. Outside South Africa the ANC is relatively well organized and funded, compared to other groups; reportedly its underground internal structure is also becoming more effective.

On the other hand, a variety of battalions can march under the banner of African nationalism at this stage in the conflict, and it may be neither possible nor necessary to resolve all divisive issues today. If the ANC were legalized now, a grand coalition, though fragile, might develop. But if it remains underground, the passage of time may deepen the rivalry between externally based and internal elites. Provided Pretoria permits them to operate, there is every reason to suppose that trade unions, civic and urban associations, affiliates of the Black Consciousness Movement, internal Coloured and Asian parties, and Chief Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha movement will gather organizational strength.

Many issues could splinter nationalist unity: the acceptability of political compromise with the whites; the use of physical intimidation by black against black; the fact of the ANC's financial and material support from Moscow and the role of white communists in the movement; and the legitimacy of ethnic-based politics (e.g., Inkatha) and of movements whose power base is a part of the South African official system. Over time, actual experience will produce a clearer pattern of leaders and tactics.

Third, the black communities of South Africa do not possess the means for a direct assault on white power, and there is little likelihood that this will change soon. The attitudinal ingredients of a potential revolution may be present, but the physical ones are not. Threatening groups or elites can be ruthlessly contained and controlled, and in the absence of reliable guerrilla sanctuaries, it is no simple matter to persuade or coerce disunited and impoverished populations in the rural areas to support a sustained guerrilla effort. Today and for some time to come Pretoria will be in a position to punish severely any neighbors that support or tacitly tolerate anything more than a token guerrilla presence. In the major urban centers black townships can be quickly cut off from the means of subsistence-food, water, electricity, communications, transport and jobs. Spontaneous violence is likely to be highly self-destructive and, in any case, is more useful as a mobilizational and public relations device than a military tactic. The means for sustained urban terrorism are developing but remain at an embryonic stage.

This is not to say that South Africa is invulnerable or that it will remain mostly peaceful. It is simply to note that the balance of coercive power remains overwhelmingly in favor of the whites, and the outcome of violent challenges remains entirely predictable. There is every reason to anticipate continued and even gradually increasing political conflict and violence of several types ranging from sporadic terrorist acts to mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, urban disorder and sophisticated sabotage against South Africa's many soft targets. The aim of such measures varies: to wear down domestic morale, to raise the price of the status quo, to focus attention on specific immediate grievances, to discredit Pretoria in Western eyes, and to instill discipline and political awareness among blacks. South Africans are at the beginning of a potentially long process.

Thus it is misleading to speak in terms of a simple choice between peaceful and violent change, and wrong to assert that it is too late to forestall mass revolutionary violence. The still enormous disparity in the kinds of physical power in the hands of the white and black communities provides a margin of time and firm check on sudden political disintegration.

Consequently, it is fatuous to argue that whites have already lost the initiative within South Africa. The importance of internal white politics derives from the fact that, on the one hand, whites continue to hold effective power and cannot be forced to share or transfer it; on the other hand, the way white leadership plays its cards will help to shape the question of who sits at future bargaining tables and under what circumstances. The governing white minority cannot "solve" the domestic political conflict unilaterally. But it could move to defuse a potential crisis, and take steps that would make genuine bargaining possible. Today's white debates and black organization activity both have important implications for an eventual choice between what white opposition leader F. Van Zyl Slabbert has called "siege politics" and "negotiation politics." Autocratically imposed reform could become part of a process leading at a future stage to compromise and accommodation between freely chosen representatives of all major groups.


U.S. officials correctly insist that the timetable and the blueprint for change in South Africa are not for outsiders to impose. Yet, without Western engagement in the region as a whole, it will not be possible to assure that South Africans are permitted to build their own future. The American stance must be firmly supportive of a regional climate conducive to compromise and accommodation in the face of concerted attempts to discredit evolutionary change and to exploit the inevitable ambiguity and periodic "incidents" that will accompany political liberalization.

Provided the Western nations know how to capitalize on it, there is at present a window of opportunity to create such a climate in southern Africa. Most of the region's governments are in pragmatic hands. With increased investor confidence and a readiness to build on the substantial interstate linkages already in place, this heartland of non-fuel minerals could surpass its already impressive 45 percent share of the gross domestic product of all of sub-Saharan Africa. Conflicts in Namibia and Angola seem tantalizingly close to some resolution, an eventuality that would further erode a Soviet position already weakened by Robert Mugabe's current policy line in Zimbabwe. But none of these possibilities can be taken for granted. Southern Africa's political climate is in a fragile transition phase, and it may prove to be easier to destroy and destabilize its potential than to build on it.

To take the initiative, Washington will need a sustained and nimble diplomacy, responsive to the pragmatic instincts of regional leaders. We do not face a choice between aligning ourselves with black or white since our interests cross racial lines; nor can we operate on the basis of a Marxist/non-Marxist litmus test in the choice of regional partners because there could be a widening gap between rhetoric and performance there. A wait-and-see stance toward delicately poised governments in Zaïre, Zambia and Zimbabwe could result in passing the initiative to others.

The real choice we will face in southern Africa in the 1980s concerns our readiness to compete with our global adversary in the politics of a changing region whose future depends on those who participate in shaping it. The choice has global implications, but the immediate decisions are, more often than not, regional ones. The United States will need the full range of policy tools to deliver increased tangible support for the development and security of African states. Official seed money may be a necessary trigger for expanded participation by the private sector.

Constructive engagement in the region as a whole is the only basis for Western credibility in Salisbury and Maputo. Our credibility in Moscow and Havana depends on adopting a strong line against the principle of introducing external combat forces into the region-a message best communicated by greater reliability in U.S. performance worldwide. There can be no presumed communist right to exploit and militarize regional tensions, particularly in this region where important Western economic, resource and strategic interests are exposed.

In the bilateral relationship with South Africa, a policy of constructive engagement does not mean rewriting the past 20 years of U.S. diplomacy, because some useful building blocks are already in place. Western governments have made it clear that they have no desire to participate in the defense of white minority rule. Adherence to the U.N. arms embargo and the U.S. refusal to use South African defense facilities are symbolically important ingredients of policy; they should be continued in the absence of major political change, barring a dramatic deterioration in the geopolitical situation facing the West in adjacent areas.

Another building block is the clear Western refusal to resort to trade or investment sanctions against Pretoria, and the recognition that engagement in its economy can be constructive for the majority. Our market economies will apply normal political risk criteria in their reading of the South African investment climate, thereby signaling a message of both hope and concern. The United States must make it clear that it does not intend to enter the slippery terrain of economic sanctions through the back door of incremental restrictions on exports of possible "strategic" value to a threatened state. Constructive engagement does not mean waging economic warfare against the Republic; nor does it mean erecting foolish pinpricks that only erode the American position in South African and world markets.

Another useful building block is the widely accepted understanding that European-American collaboration and mutual respect are the only valid basis for any future undertakings directed toward South Africa-on Namibia or other issues. Similarly, we should continue the readiness under recent U.S. administrations to bring our policies out into the open and to meet publicly with South Africa's top leadership when circumstances warrant it. Constructive engagement is consistent with neither the clandestine embrace nor the polecat treatment.

The innovative feature of constructive engagement is its insistence on serious thinking about the sequencing and interrelatedness of change. Priority ought to be given to those arenas of change that logically lead to, and make possible, future steps. We must avoid the trap of an indiscriminate attack on all aspects of the system-as though each were equally odious and none should be addressed first. If there is a "tilt" in such a policy, it is in favor of sustained and orderly change; in this sense, the United States would inevitably align itself with particular processes, change agents, and political forces in concrete cases.

Several categories of change can be distinguished (in random order): (1) measures to improve the living conditions and opportunities of the black communities; (2) steps that increase black bargaining power by strengthening the capacity to organize and to articulate common interests; (3) developing forums and procedures that expand the potential for intergroup bargaining and accommodation; (4) political-constitutional reform toward power-sharing; and (5) dismantling statutory social barriers and discriminatory access to public services and facilities. Some would argue that power-sharing (if not outright black rule) is the precondition of any major improvement in the economic position of blacks. On the other hand, basic political change of this sort will probably not occur until blacks acquire the economic and organizational base from which effectively to demand a larger share of political power. Improved facilities for intergroup negotiation could accelerate change in all other fields. By contrast, social apartheid (separate bus service, the ban on interracial sex) is probably of less importance to blacks than whites; movement in this field would be of symbolic value, indirectly affecting attitudes on other agendas.

Housing and health policies probably have less to do with power-sharing than does education. The case for education as a priority concern is powerful because it brings a capacity for participation, self-help, communication, and management. While education is the responsibility of Pretoria, its failure until recently even to recognize the problem justifies a determined external push backed by official and non-government facilities and inducements. Ironically, some black exiles currently receive externally sponsored scholarship and travel aid, but little has been done by Western governments and educational institutions to focus on upgrading internal opportunities or to support overseas study by persons committed to returning to their country. A major target of black aspirations has had a minimal echo among Americans.

Washington needs to develop priorities in the political-constitutional field. Piecemeal power-sharing steps deserve support if they are (a) consistent with the goal of expanded black political advancement, (b) demonstrably agreed to by the participants in them, and (c) not inconsistent with an open process of change. The United States cannot align itself with a policy of forcibly expatriating black South Africans to become citizens of inequitable ministates (the homelands); and it should not recognize the grant of "independence" to them in the absence of a meaningful test of the opinions of those affected by such action. But we can support the devolution of real power to local and regional bodies-assuming it meets the above criteria-as a constructive step.

The argument that the West can only support power-sharing that is preceded by a full-blown national convention keeps us immobilized by a distant objective. Since South Africa is a sovereign state, only the government itself can call and supervise such an exercise, and how likely is it that Pretoria would receive unanimous internal and international sanction to do so? The United States cannot place itself in the position of rejecting political change agreed to by substantial elements in the black communities without, in effect, granting a veto to other elements to determine the legitimacy of change. Americans have no mandate to judge how much reform is enough; but neither do we have the right to decide which black groups and leaders are "legitimate" representatives of the majority. If that is true for us, it is also true for others in the international community who might be tempted to follow the disastrous Namibian precedent of turning the United Nations into a propaganda agent for their favorite nationalist group before the Namibians have even voted.

The questions of sovereignty and citizenship are central to political change. The current white debate draws loosely reasoned parallels with the European Economic Community. Yet there is a basic contrast between splitting a single state into a "multinational confederation" and merging separate states into an economic community. The very term "confederation" implies multiple sovereignty, which perhaps explains why it has not been a stunning constitutional success in modern history. Unless Pretoria is prepared seriously to consider a negotiated partition, it ought to admit the concept of a unitary South African citizenship. It would be a potent signal of a new era, without committing anyone to any specific degree of centralized political institutions.

South Africa is a rigid society, severely lacking in the institutions and procedures that would permit bargaining and resolution of intergroup differences, in fields ranging from collective bargaining to municipal planning and the setting of bus fares. If meaningful power-sharing is to occur, it must be accompanied by the creation of new mechanisms for articulating and balancing interests. It should not be our purpose to impose American institutions on South Africa, but we can offer to share experiences, transmit concepts, and facilitate the creation of South African institutions, procedures and skills. The much-debated Sullivan Principles on fair employment practices by U.S. firms in South Africa offer a case in point. The endless reassessments in the United States and other Western nations of the content of our codes, the adequacy of our monitoring procedures, and the performance of our firms misses a larger point. The focus of effort should be to South Africanize fair employment concepts and raise the standard of corporate performance throughout that economy, where local firms account for the bulk of jobs. Employment codes will have the greatest credibility when black and white South Africans are writing and implementing them.

It is not plausible to argue that piecemeal reforms will lead inexorably to basic political change. Western policy should operate on the more modest assumptions that white-led change has just begun to get underway, and that the black communities will gain greater organizational strength through one means or another. Today's proposals are but a preview of what could evolve as bargaining positions and attitudes are shaped by actual experience.

It is too soon to predict whether blacks will conclude that physical violence on a large scale is the most effective avenue for challenging white control, or even whether it will prove to be "necessary." But despite the uncertainties, the West has everything to gain if it succeeds in pressing white-led change in the direction of real power-sharing and in strengthening the capacity of blacks inside South Africa to participate in shaping a changing system. If we can assist the society to better manage its intergroup conflicts, the temptation of violence will be reduced.

Can our policies, in fact, do these things? The U.S. government itself does not possess or control many of the instruments of influence that will make constructive engagement effective. It is not proposed that Washington finance the process of South African change, any more than it can dictate its terms. In selected areas such as education and cultural exchange, expanded official funding support could play a useful role through the intermediary of non-government institutions with expertise in these fields. In addition, tax policy may offer some leeway to provide positive incentives for U.S. corporations in South Africa to participate more aggressively in black socioeconomic advancement. To the extent that money is an obstacle in specific areas, the American banking system may be able to respond more effectively than government, as in the case of some $36 million in private bank loans arranged through the auspices of the non-government Urban Foundation in 1978 to support the 99-year leasehold housing project. Other target areas where Western financial backing could supplement and support local non-government initiatives include black business and agricultural development, education loans, and the expansion of community services.

An important role of official U.S. policy is to lay down guidelines, help create a climate supportive of constructive engagement by other Western governments, and encourage our diverse and pluralistic society to engage with, not turn away from, a changing South Africa. The skills, procedures and institutional clout of American foundations, unions, corporations, media, self-help organizations, professional groups, universities and cultural exchange bodies offer a vast potential as constructive agents of engagement in the U.S.-South African relationship. The government cannot duplicate these assets. Nor can it direct and orchestrate their potential contribution, and any effort to do so could easily backfire both at home and abroad. But Washington nevertheless has an important symbolic and facilitative role to play.

One essential diplomatic tool is a reliable and mutually respected channel of communication between senior officials of the two governments. Too often in the past it has been easier for the two sides to make scapegoats of each other, end-run each other's accredited representatives, and avoid a serious effort at mutual comprehension. There must be a primary channel in which Washington makes known its suggestions, issues its warnings, and offers its reactions to events and decisions. Communication "for the record" at home and abroad is a well-developed art form in U.S.-South African policy. Communication in the sense of actually transmitting ideas and signals about change is not.

Publicly expressed encouragement and support of positive steps is another important tool of policy. When South Africa's limited but real policy changes and its obvious political flux are continuously described by Western officials as "the status quo"-and when our officials speak only the language of ticking clocks and time bombs-it is not likely that we will be taken seriously by the leadership there. A tone of empathy is required not only for the suffering and injustice caused to blacks in a racist system, but also for the awesome political dilemma in which Afrikaners and other whites find themselves. The casualness and condescension with which Western observers endorse the benefits of cataclysmic political change for other societies may be one reason why the West finds itself to be ineffective in regions of tension and civil conflict. Support for evolutionary change implies sensitivity to the concerns of local actors, and is nothing for us to be reticent about. Such a stance also gives us a little-noted source of leverage because of the certainty that if we cease supporting it, no one else will take our place.

Pressure also has a role to play in a policy of constructive engagement. Pressure in both the public and diplomatic channels can strengthen the hand of official modernizers and other agents of change, adding to the far more important forces at work within South African society. Pressure can communicate to various audiences U.S. recognition of the unacceptability of current policies to the majority of South Africans, and it can also dissociate us from odious official behavior. Provided there is some relationship between the specific means applied and the ends sought, pressure in the arm-twisting sense can also offer Washington some influence, and that influence is likely to increase with the adoption of a more actively constructive policy.

On the other hand, the option of "punishment" in the context of mandatory U.N. sanctions carries a heavy price tag since such measures are in practice irreversible and tend to erode rather than strengthen future influence and flexibility. Western impatience with the inadequate pace of change in general is no excuse for indulging in the application of pinprick pressures and minor wrist-slapping proposals. These may offer us quick, temporary relief, but in South Africa they only underscore our futility.

The prime ingredient in an effective policy is to maintain a close, ongoing watch on the situation while carefully assessing our own bargaining position. American powder should be kept dry for genuine opportunities to exert influence. As in other foreign policy agendas for the 1980s, the motto should be: underpromise and overdeliver-for a change.

1 Gold accounted for some 35 percent of 1979 exports, compared to the 1972-79 average of 31 percent.


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  • Chester A. Crocker is Director of African Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University and Associate Professor of International Relations at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. Among his recent publications is South Africa into the 1980s, coedited with Richard E. Bissell.
  • More By Chester A. Crocker