Panelists Discuss Democracy

Cite Need for Equality, Participation in South Africa

Economic equality, mass participation and remembrance of the past are essential to the establishment of democracy in South Africa, a panel of experts said Saturday at the Kennedy School of Government.

Ben Magubane, an anthropology professor at the University of Connecticut, said white economic dominance reflects "the essence of the struggle" and the enormous need for redistribution in South Africa.

He said inequality, "epitomized in the structure of apartheid," results in severe physical and psychological damage when people are kept "helplessly poor."

Graeme Block, an executive of the United Democratic Front, agreed, saying there is a need for "emphasis on technical skills" and a combination of academics and activism.

One way to get the people involved is to provide them with control of television, theater and other media, according to John Matshikiza, an actor, director and playwright working with the South Africa Research Program at Yale. Culture is farreaching and promotes "crucial changes," he said.

Political science professor Anthony Marx of Columbia University said South Africa needs a real "participatory democracy...not just an oligarchic rule by the elites."

There is also a need to invest in education to combat with the "backlog of generations" who were uneducated in the past, Marx said.

Asked why the African National Congress has abandoned two of its former practices, armed struggle and sanctions, Magubane said the focus needed to change to negotiations and mass mobilization.

"The terms of the struggle have to accept the reality of negotiations," Magubane said.

An Honest Understanding

Magubane and Matshikiza both emphasized the need for all South Africans to develop an "honest understanding" of the past.

In an emotional account of his exile and his attempts to re-enter South Africa, Matshikiza said apartheid "cuts people off from the nature of their being" by outlawing visits to family and to graves of ancestors.

"The legacies of apartheid and pre-apartheid are incredibly hard habits to break" because they are incorporated into the "physical, geographical structure," Matshikiza said.

He said that although real progress has been made, democracy in South Africa and the healing of "damaged psyches" is "still a very, very, very long way away."

Magubane said, however, that "there is nothing we can do about the past and much more we can do about the future" of democracy in South Africa.

The forum, attended by about 75 people, was sponsored by the Institute of Politics Student Advisory Committee and the Endowment for Divestiture, a group which calls for Harvard University to sell all of its investments in South Africa.