Search for a new identity By Ned Temko, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Monumentkoppie, South Africa
SOME monuments soar; others take your breath away. But Afrikanerdom's national shrine -- this monolith, ringed by stone ox wagons drawn into a defensive laager (camp) -- seems to proclaim with defiance: ``We shall survive!'' This peculiarly Afrikaner mission to survive, inherited by President Pieter W. Botha, has rarely seemed more difficult, or more urgent, than it does today. In a country beset by black rebellion, white confusion, economic recession, and international criticism, he is under great pressure to shape a new identity for himself, his party, and his people. ``We must offer our supporters a clear vision of the future,'' a Botha aide says privately. ``We have not yet done so.''
In the short term there will be more violence. The 16th of June -- next Monday -- marks the anniversary of the blacks' Soweto uprising of 1976, during which an estimated 575 people, mostly black, were killed. Despite the government's recent ban on any indoor or outdoor commemoration ceremonies, blacks pledge to hold memorial ceremonies, rallies, and work boycotts.
This will provide a focal point for new pressure from South Africa's black majority for the white-ruled government to scuttle apartheid -- forced racial segregation -- not reform it, as the government is attempting to do. But in a proposal of toughened security laws and in President Botha's recent remark that the state still has huge police muscle in reserve, he has signaled it is ready to meet force with force.
For the government, August is the month that really matters. President Botha has called a rare federal congress of his National Party, to be followed by a reconvened session of Parliament. His supporters have hinted at party fund-raisers that there may be a national referendum later in the year seeking a ``constitutional dispensation'' for blacks, similar to the 1983 vote that led to the creation of separate parliamentary houses for mixed-race ``Coloreds'' and for Asians.
According to Mr. Botha's colleague: ``A clear vision of the future -- that is what August is all about.''
It is likely to be an Afrikaner's vision, for Afrikaners alone. Some outsiders posit a new National Party -- enlisting support from reform-minded Afrikaners, English-speakers, and an emerging black middle class for the kind of transition to black majority rule that has occurred in Zimbabwe. But Afrikaner history seems to cry out against the analogy.
The National Party not only represents, but embodies, Afrikanerdom. Many of the 2 million English-speakers, who are part of the country's roughly 5 million whites, openly accept or support the idea of a ``Zimbabwean'' experience for South Africa. And, especially at a time when President Botha appears threatened by opposition from the Afrikaner right, the government figures that most English-speakers will back it -- to avert a right-wing victory.
The government, however, has no intention of presiding over the ``Zimbabweization'' of South Africa.
A senior government minister confides: ``My aim is to share power, without abdicating power.''
Most Afrikaners still seem to cherish that aim -- to somehow share power without losing control.
At Stellenbosch University, some student leaders have made headlines in the past 18 months by proposing political initiatives far more daring than their government's.
Last year, President Botha withdrew the passports of eight students to keep them from traveling to Zambia to meet with exiled leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), the most powerful black nationalist group fighting to overthrow the white-ruled regime.
Last month, several student leaders called on the government to legalize the outlawed ANC and release Nelson Mandela, a founder of its military wing, from jail. Mr. Mandela has been in prison since the early 1960s when he was convicted of plotting a revolution.
``These so-called student leaders are on an ego trip,'' complains one law student. ``Most of the students aren't in favor of the things they're announcing. We know the dangers.''
Other students, although critical of the government's interference with the students' Zambia trip, say they have misgivings about any ANC role in negotiating the country's future.
Gerrit Olivier, a Stellenbosch graduate who teaches Afrikaans at a university in Johannesburg, recently edited a book of interviews with the youths who attempted the Zambia mission. He sensed ``a fundamental change with these students -- in the sense that more and more people seem to want more open discussion.'' But, he adds: ``It is all still very tentative . . . a bit naive in certain respects. I think most students don't realize that any future [ANC-negotiated] constitution will also entail a redistribution of wealth.''
In Pretoria, veteran apartheid foe Willem Kleynhans says he has noted a change in tone among Afrikaner students taking his political science course. ``But I can count on the fingers of one hand the number who accept genuine power-sharing and reform as I'd define it: the idea of a single, fully integrated Parliament.''
Rebel Afrikaner cleric Beyers Naude concurs: ``Even among Afrikaner students there is only a very small percentage that would be willing to share power -- one man, one vote -- in a single system. . . . Among the rest of the Afrikaner population, there are virtually none.''
The government seems to agree. Asked whether he feared political rebellion among Afrikaner youth, Deputy Minister for Information Louis Nel replies: ``Yes, there are Stellenbosch students who criticize. But they will, nevertheless, vote for the National Party.''
It is on the Afrikaner right that the party feels vulnerable. In Parliament, the Nationalists today hold a commanding 117 of 166 elected seats. A 1982 defection of party right-wingers into a new Conservative Party, under apartheid theologian Andries Treurnicht, siphoned off fewer than 20. The further right-wing Herstigte (reconstituted) National Party holds one seat.
But the 1982 split put an end to the unquestioned assumption that the interests of the National Party and those of Afrikanerdom were necessarily one and the same.
``The ethnic glue of Afrikanerdom has dissolved,'' wrote Prof. Hermann Giliomee from Stellenbosch at the time.
The Conservative Party has won two by-elections in the rural Transvaal. It came close to capturing a third from a reformist party youngster named Piet Coetzer, in the working-class town of Springs, near Johannesburg.
``The surveys show 45 percent to 50 percent of the electorate support the National Party,'' an NP leader remarks. ``But in a by-election like Springs, in the type of constituency where the NP should get at least double, according to the surveys, you find we won by a very narrow margin. . . . The right wing is a very real risk.''
Most South African pundits now predict the right-wingers could seriously trim -- but not erase -- the government's majority in a national election.
Botha's attempt to preempt the right-wing's opposition to reforms seems to have made the problem worse. The new Constitution that caused the right-wing split in the first place changed the locus of power from prime minister to a more powerful president. Botha, who was prime minister, became president.
In addition, national elections had been due by this spring at the latest. But, using the argument that the expanded tricameral Parliament was an entirely new system, the election clock was restarted, and will now run out only three years from now.
``We have an unelected government!'' complained a 33-year-old NP defector earlier this month, when right-wingers staged a rally in the shadow of the Voortrekker Monument. Criticizing the deferral of a national election, he charged, ``P. W. [Botha] is a dictator!''
The right-wing anger no longer seems confined to its earliest exponents, the farmers of the Transvaal veld and blue-collar workers in cities.
A protester at an earlier such rally several weeks ago confided that he had only recently quit the National Party. ``I left because the party has stopped listening to its own people,'' he said.
There seemed an equally sobering message for the government in May, when right-wingers disrupted a rally by President Botha's foreign minister, scheduled at a northern Transvaal site.
Less surprising than the right-wing turnout was the inability of the National Party to muster more than a few hundred to carry its side of the battle. ``The grass roots stayed at home,'' Professor Kleynhans remarks. ``They could not be mobilized.''
In the heyday of apartheid, the strength of the National Party lay in its organization. The Dutch Reformed Church worked in tandem with a group that promoted and protected the Afrikaners' cultural identity and political dominance and a network of annual party congresses in each province. The party's rule was as monolithic as the Voortrekker Monument on the hill outside Pretoria.
Now, in Kleynhans's view, ``The leadership is estranged from its electorate. . . . The right wing are the only whites with a clear cause.''
Afrikanerdom, now as in 1948 when it rose to power, thrives on such clarity. It is no accident that the most ardent voice on the Afrikaner left is not the quiet agony of a Nico Smith or the reasoned analysis of a Hermann Giliomee, but the messianic protest of Reverend Naude.
Nor is it surprising that the most influential voice of reform on Nationalist Party benches seems to belong to Stoffel van der Merwe, who says: ``With the same ardor we set about implementing apartheid and separate development, we will implement the new system that is being evolved here.''
President Botha's apparent hope is to convey a clearer vision of that ``evolving system'' -- perhaps at the August convention -- and then seek a specific mandate via referendum rather than risk Afrikaner chaos via election.
That task will be difficult enough.
In selling reform, the National Party must combat the effects of decades of its own teachings. ``They brainwashed generations of Afrikaners with white supremacy, instilled fear in them,'' Professor Kleynhans says. To this Mr. Naude adds: ``How do you undo the fruits of your own indoctrination?''
But even more daunting for Botha will be the task of getting credible leaders from another quarter -- the more than 22 million South Africans who are neither Afrikaner, nor white, nor on the national voting rolls -- to negotiate, much less agree, on whatever he proposes.
Daunting, too, will be the effort to persuade the world's bankers and businesses to reverse the South African currency's downward spin and refuel the economy.
``Afrikaners with money are losing their money,'' right-wing chief Eugene Terre Blanche remarks. ``Our enemies have helped me. . . .''
An Afrikaner executive with one of the country's largest firms agrees: ``We've had to lay off some 3,000 people in the past year or so. Where do they go? The blacks cross the border, join the ANC. The whites join Terre Blanche.''
After a pause, he continues: ``I am an Afrikaner who feels Botha can't possibly provide the reforms we need. He's a man who has spent his whole career building and enforcing apartheid; how can I believe he'll really dismantle it?
``This is my country, and I've come to see that only by accepting that this is a black country, part of Africa, can we begin to move toward a united and peaceful South Africa, the place I want my children to grow up in.
``I can't bring myself to leave. I would never leave, unless I felt my family was in immediate physical danger. But in the present political situation, so far from the kind of change we need, I feel so helpless sometimes. What on earth can I, as an individual, hope to do?''
Last of a three-part series. The earlier articles appeared June 11 and 12.