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South Africa's latest homeland: a new approach

A controversial international commission has just advised South Africans not to proceed withthe independence of its remaining black homelands. It also offers an imaginative blueprint for the creation of a multiracial, self-governing zone within South Africa.

Both recommendations are sure to excite black South Africans and dismay the government. The commisssion, composed of a former British ambassador to South Africa, two American academics, and four South Africans (including two prominent Afrikaners and an African lecturer), was appointed a year ago by the government of the Ciskei, a homeland of 700,000 Africans on the southeast coast of South Africa.

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Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda, three of the homelands carved out of the body of south Africa despite great African hostility, declared their independence in 1976, 1978, and 1979. None has been recognized internationally. Each has been shunned in turn by the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, and the leading nations of the West. Before taking a similar step to Ciskei asked for advice and appointed the commission.

After taking evidence in South Africa and sponsoring a detailed public opinion poll among Africans, the commission learned that urban Africans (especially Ciskeians) were overwhelmingly opposed to further grants of independence to places like the Ciskei. Even rural Africans (including those resident in the Ciskei) were opposed.

The commission was heavily influenced by the results of its poll and by its deliberate weighing of arguments in favor of and against independence for the Ciskei. Finally, in its report (released Monday, Feb. 11, in South Africa) it argued against indepedence because "in terms of size and economic viability" the Ciskei would be badly endowed; because an independent Ciskei would not be recognized; because of the attitude survey data; and because independence would cut off a place like the Ciskei from the political and economic benefits which would in the future accrue to the people of South Africa. The last, an argument in equity, was especially persuasive.

The commission recognized that the black government of the Ciskei might nevertheless decide in favor of independence. It might also be prodded by South Africa, the commission's report warned it to do so only if the majority of its people voted in favor of such a separation (no homeland has yet polled its people); if blacks were not forced to give up their South African citizenship as a result of any independence; if the Ciskei, now too small and too impoverished, were given a handsome land settlement, including important white areas; if Ciskeians were still permitted to seek work in South Africa; and if South Africa gave the Ciskei equitable financial terms.

In other words, independence in the style of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda is an unattractive option for Ciskei and the other six remaining dependent homelands of South Africa. The body of the commission's 130-page report, especially the central political and economic chapters, elaborates that point at considerable length.

It is only at the end of its report that the commission describes its vision of a possible alternative to independence. The commission proposes the joining of the Ciskei, a nearby white farming area of roughly equal size, and the adjacent white port city of East London (pop. 75,000) into a multiracial condominium, governed by blacks and whites, and supported economically by an industrial processing zone (like Singapore) and a free port. What is envisaged is a self-governing area about the size of Connecticut, freed from South Africa's restrictive racial legislation but remaining a part of the Republic for purposes of foreign affairs, defense, and the provision of national services like railways.

The commission calls this new entity a condominium, and provides only a sketchy blueprint for its implementation. But it clearly hopes that South Africans will want to creat such a black-white run area as an experimental harbinger in microcosm of a future South Africa.

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The members of the commission want the condominium proposal to be discussed. In today's changing and still tense South Africa it is a serious and unique contribution to the recently elevated debate over urgent political change.


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