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Mr. Huntington Goes to Pretoria

A Conspiracy that Can't Help South Africa

By Gay Seidman

Perhaps it is an occupational hazard: political scientists, even more than academics in other fields, seem to want to see their theories acted out in the real world. Machiavelli, offering unsolicited advice to Renaissance princes, may have been one of the first, but the path is wellworn--as the flow between Harvard's Government Department and Washington attests.

American political scientists, however, sufffer a disadvantage Machiavelli did not face. They usually advise a democratic government; their theories must be adopted by elected representatives, and application is limited by the rule of the law. No single academic theory, however valid, is likely to be put wholesale into practice.

That drawback, if such it can be called, need not confront advisors to the government of South Africa--which is hardly democratic, much less limited by the rule of law. As everyone knows, most South Africans are blocked from meaningful political participation by their skin color; most liberal opposition has been silenced; and the government's executive power is reinforced by draconian security laws.

So perhaps giving unofficial advice to the government of South Africa offers its own peculiar rewards. One would think, at least, that political scientists willing to look at things from the government's perspective would see their theories implemented efficiently.

But alas, such may not always be the case, as Samuel P. Huntington, Eaton Professor of Government, might tell us. Despite clear efforts by the South African government to implement Huntington's confident recommendations, somehow the real world has proved more complex than the academic theory suggested.

In September 1981, Huntington gave the keynote address to the Political Science Association of South Africa's biannual conference. Huntington, of course, is a well-known scholar, and director of Harvard's Center for International Affairs. His best-known thesis, drastically simplified, is that rulers in developing countries do well to limit popular demands on government. Too much participation, he argues, allows diverse groups to express sometimes-conflicting wishes and can hurt rulers' ability to enforce stability. This makes it difficult to carry out policies required for economic growth and national integration. (1)

In his 1981 address in Johannesburg (2), Huntington argued that the South African government should follow a policy of simultaneous reform and repression. Reform, he said, was necessary because "it seems likely that a minority-dominated hierarchical ethnic system...will become increasingly difficult to maintain"; the historical demise of other ruling racial minorities suggested apartheid could not survive unchanged. (p. 11). And rather than waiting for a revolutionary overthrow, he suggested that ruling elites might want to shape the changes themselves.

A system of one-person, one-vote--however appealing to Americans, South African white liberals and Blacks--would, Huntington wrote, prove unsatisfactory. Universal franchise "could seriously injure the interests of all four racial groups" by threatening people classified White, Colored or Asian, as minority groups, and leaving Blacks "disadvantaged in the economic system by the application of strictly meritocratic criteria." (p. 13)

Instead, he proposed a "consociational" set-up, where each group would have autonomy in its own affairs, and where each group could veto government policies which might harm its interests. His version of consociationalism requires that the elites of each group trust and cooperate with each other, and that each elite control its followers. "In essence," he wrote, "it is an elite conspiracy to restrain political competition within and among communal groups." (p. 14)

But since neither of these preconditions--cooperation or control--existed in South Africa in 1981, most of Huntington's paper focused on the process through which the basis for such an 'elite conspiracy' could be laid, a process he chose to call "reform." Based on the model of Brazilian President Geisel's "decompression", or "liberalization", Huntington recommended that the South African government pay attention to six factors. In order to wage a "two-front war against both stand-patters and revolutionaries" (p. 16), he said, reformers require:

a skilled political leader, able to inspire confidence and trusts, but also able to "shift allies and enemies from one issue to the next, to convey different messages to different audiences, to sense...public opinion and time his actions accordingly, and to hide his ultimate purpose behind his immediate rhetoric." (p. 17)

a step-by-step approach, letting neither conservatives or radicals know what changes lie ahead; and "blitzkrieg" tactics to get individual reforms through. "The proposed reform is drafted in relative secrecy; ....and then, at the appropriate moment, it is dramatically unveiled...and the reform enacted quickly before its opponents can effectively mobilize." (p. 17)

careful timing of reform, so that the government seems to make changes from a position of strength, rather than in response to demands from below. "Reforms which appear to be granted under pressure from events and the demands of more radical groups can only weaken the regime, strengthen the radicals, lead to more extreme demands from more groups, and provoke a counter-revolutionary backlash." (p. 19)

centralization of power, to "maintain the control over violence that is essential to carry through major reforms." (p. 20) Huntington argued that some form of "enlightened despotism" might help reduce white opposition to change in South Africa, but even more firmly, he suggested the government should repress three types of violence: revolutionary, spontaneous and backlash. "No reform occurs without violence...Within limits reform and repression may proceed hand-in hand...The government that is too weak to monopolize counter-revolutionary repression is also too weak to inaugurate counter-revolutionary reform." (p. 20)

cautious selection of reforms, and deception to avoid mobilizing opposition. The process may require "substantial elements of duplicity, deceit, faulty assumptions, and purposeful blindness." (p. 21) As an example, Huntington suggested that the government of South Africa would find it easier to grant political representation to "Coloreds" and "Asians" if it continued to restrict Black political rights to the bantustans, to reassure conservatives who would otherwise fear that expanding political participation to some people of colour might mean ultimately giving "Africans" the vote.

the creation of a coalition ready to support consociational reform, probably composed of elements from the Nationalist Party, Afrikaans and English business, the civil service, the military, "Colored" and "Asian" leaders, "urban middle-class Blacks, traditional Black leaders, and externally, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom." (p. 23) The government, Huntington wrote, may want to "divide and rule" Black groups, using "fragmentation among Black groups and the rivalry among Black leaders...to enlist some measure of Black support for the reform process." (p. 24)

Altogether, Huntington concluded, by "conducting the proper mixture of reform, reassurance and repression, sliding two steps forward and dodging one step backward, where necessary playing on fear and employing deception," would-be South African reformers could eventually bring "into existence a new system of political institutions and thus give renewed life to their country." (p. 24)

How much fundamental change would these new political institutions involve? Focusing on process rather than result, Huntington dodged the issue; but he acknowledged that Geisel's "decompression" in the mid-'70s did not lead to real democratization in Brazil (p. 16). Brazilians, incidentally, tend to be harsher on Geisel, under whom the Brazilian military continued its dictatorial control behind a thin facade of indirect elections.(3)

In 1986, Huntington returned to South Africa during Harvard's summer break. No doubt he was gratified to discover how much influence his earlier paper had had. According to a South African political scientist, the "profound manner in which Huntington's address to the Political Science Association of South Africa prescribed or reflected state strategy is clear in the light of subsequent events." (4) Huntington's reform strategy quite definitely informed the South African government's efforts. His 1981 paper helped provide the intellectual justification for, and is cited extensively in, proposals for the 1984 constitution, cornerstone of State President P.W. Botha's so-called reforms. (5)

In fact, the whole "reform" effort seems to be broadly following Huntington's proposals for change from the top. "Asians" and "Colored" have been offered limited political rights in the national parliament; Blacks are offered still more limited participation in the bantustans and in township councils; and whites continue to control the central government and the military. At the same time, power is increasingly concentrated in the executive, giving Botha virtually dictatorial powers--for both "reform" and repression, as has become abundantly clear during the last two years' intermittent State of Emergency. Behind a facade of new elections, real power has devolved to a shadowy set of appointed council and to the military-dominated National Security Management System. (6) Outside white-dominated political channels, the government has sought to prevent any mobilization by South Africans seeking more fundamental change; at least 30,000 people, including some 10,000 children, have been detained, and more than 2500 people have been killed. According to another South African political scientist, key South African idealogues found the 'Brazilian option' appealing "...because it endows the security establishment with the omniscient capacity to know in advance what is in the best interests of society (capitalism and reform, not revolution and socialism), gives it the power to implement reforms without the constraints of public scrutiny, and leaves all the major institutions of democractic government apparently intact for all the world's foreign investors to see." (7)

Change has certainly been inconsistent and incremental, and its spokesmen have certainly not revealed where is the process is heading--just as Huntington advised. Even the two-steps-forward, one-back sugestion has been followed: influx control laws were declared abolished, but Blacks' rights to move freely around the country are still controlled by legal fictions, including "citizenship" in bantustans and housing codes which block Blacks from living in "white" cities. Forced removals have broken up Black communities offering resistance to government policies--a perfect example of preventing opposition from mobilizing. Similarly, mass detentions, a constant troop presence on township streets, and a certain degree of dishonesty in the government's rhetoric--all these might be seen to flow logically from Huntington's 1981 proposals. The only thing missing, in fact, is a charismatic leader; but Botha has tried his best, and has certainly sought to expand his base. He now gains many more votes than he once did from English-speaking whites.

What could be more gratifiying than to see one's theories become the basis for sweeping changes in the real world?

Apparently quite a lot. Five years after his 1981 visit to South Africa, Huntington concluded that the government had not followed his prescriptions after all. (8) Rather than moving swiftly to impose piecemeal, limited reforms, he found, the South African government has moved slowly, raising expectations it did not meet and allowing debate to occur along with revolutionary violence. The government appeared to respond to pressure, thus appearing vulnerable. It failed to maintain the security Huntington viewed as so crucial to implementing limited reform; and it alienated large sections of the business community from its reform coalition. As a result, Huntington says, the situation has completely changed. Today, even if the government "followed my recommendations on strategy," it could not "conceivably carry out a policy of unilateral reform from above." (p.20)

Moving too slowly to implement reforms, and failing to contain the mobilized opposition on the right and left, Huntington writes, the South African government has lost control. Now, he says, the society is highly politicized; the government's authority is severely weakened; and it is no longer clear that the government wants reform at all. As Huntington says, quite accurately, since April 1986 "the government has given top priority to re-establishing its control, to eliminating violence, and to suppressing what it views as challenges to its authority." (p. 20-21) The danger, he says, is that it will abandon interest in reform--evidently placing South Africa back under threat of a revolutionary overthrow, which was what originally aroused Huntington's concern.

But there is another option, Huntington says--an option at which he hinted in his earlier work, although he modestly declines to say I told you so. (9) Now, he suggests, instead of seeking government-initiated change, would-be reformers should look to negotiations between major groups in South African society. Pointing to Venezuela and Malaysia as examples, Huntington suggests that arrangements negotiated between leaders can enforce stability, and limit in advance any social or economic restructuring in a post-transformation regime (p. 22-23).

For South Africa, Huntington sees two major obstacles to such a negotiated national accord. First, the government is neither collapsing nor withdrawing, and shows no sign of wishing to "voluntarily negotiate its own demise." While the government is weakened, it remains far more powerful than any Black groups, "which have very few resources to induce the government to negotiate seriously." Secondly, he does not see adequate "organizational coherence on both sides." In particular, he does not believe that even African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, were he freed from the prison where he has spent the last 25 years, could "deliver the Black community." (19) Thus, at the national level, he sees no one willing to negotiate for whites, and no one who could negotiate for Blacks. Even if negotiations happened, he fears that neither group would trust the other to "deliver the goods" (p.22).

So what's left? Huntington offers "a small ray of hope" in the form of local or regional negotiations, along the lines of the Natal Indaba. There, he says, white officials and businessmen on one side, and Kwazulu bantustan chief minister Gatsha Buthelezi on the other, are managing to talk to each other. This, he suggests, provides an example for other local negotiations, a pattern that "could gradually build up from below and lead to national negotiations and more fundamental change at the national level." (p. 22)

Huntington is not the only person who thinks such negotiations could forestall revolution or continued civil war. Dr. Dennis Worrall--main architect of the previously-mentioned proposals for the 1984 constitution, which followed Huntington's philosophy so closely--dramatically resigned from the ruling Nationalist Party early this year. Like Huntington, Worrall criticizes the pace of government-imposed reform, and calls for more concerted efforts at indaba-type negotiations. While no one knows quite where Worrall is heading, it's certain he is backed by a "reform constituency" looking very much like the coalition Huntington first suggested in 1981--including elements of big business and "enlightened" politicians.

Unlike Worrall, Huntington admits he is "not in any way an expert on South Africa" (p. 19), so perhaps he will allow some questions of his new agenda. The Natal Indaba, as he knows, does not represent most residents of Natal; in fact, none of the negotiators were elected by anyone. Buthelezi was appointed to his post by the Pretoria government and receives "a not-ungenerous salary from the South African state." (11) The original idea for a Kwazulu-Natal indaba came from the South African Sugar Association, seeking to protect its sugar estates from falling under the communal land tenure that prevails on the Kwazulu bantustan. It was seconded by the Buthelezi Commission, which hoped to separate political planning "from popular participation, and placed decision-making in consensus sessions between leaders representing various constituencies." (12)

The United Democract Front (UDF), an umbrella coalition including most anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, refused to participate in the Indaba, just as it refused to participate in elections for the triracial parliament. So did the Azanian People's Organization (APACO), a smaller anti-apartheid group, and the Congressof South African Trad Unions (COSATU), the largestnonracial labor federation. Undoubtedly, theirresponse was colored by dislike for Buthelezi,whose strong-armed followers are notorious forbrutal attacks on Black opponents. (13) The ANC,being illegal under the current regime, was notinvited, but it is as vehemently opposed to theprocess as the UDF, COSATU or AZAPO. The mainparticipants in these 'negotiations' have beenwhite businessmen, some academics, Natalofficials, and bantustan governmentrepresentatives--hardly a representative group.

Not surprisingly, given who drew them up, theIndaba proposals (thus far rejected by the centralgovernment) suggest precisely the kind of outcomethat Huntington advocated in 1981: this is theleading consociational plan for South Africa. Itwould create a regionally autonomous governmentfor a combined Natal Province and Kwazulu, withtwo houses of parliament. One chamber would beelected at large, with universal adult franchise.But the other chamber would be formed throughracially-divided voters' rolls, with 10representatives for each racial or language groupand a final category for people choosing to vote a"nonracial" roll. Each separate bloc of Afrikaans,English, Zulu, Asian and 'non-racial'representatives would have veto power overimportant government decisions--which means anysingle group could block attempts to fundamentallyalter apartheid.

The Indaba, a South African observer wroterecently, continues to define political rights inracial terms, and involves "the maintenance ofeconomic structures and political control by ahighly conservative alliance with scant regard fordemocratic processes." (14) In fact, it looks verymuch like the "elite conspiracy" to whichHuntington referred back in 1981, as the probablypreferred outcome for his government-imposedreforms. Here we have assorted elites, negotiatinga settlement to which they plan to hold theirfollowers. The only difference is that theprocess, as he says in his 1986 article, can nolonger rely on a cooperative 'reformist' nationalgovernment.

But Huntington is no dreamer. Back in 1981, hewarned that "consociational arrangements tend tobreak down when increasing social mobilizationundermines the authority of the leaders whonegotiated the arrangement and new, youngerleaders appear." (15) Such mobilization wouldappear to have already occurred in South Africa,although not precisely along the communal linesHuntington expected. Today, there is widespreadopposition to the government, and broad oppositionto any reforms imposed either by government or byassorted elites. Despite massive repression,people of all races continue to organizeresistance to apartheid; white liberals and Blacksstill call for one-person, one-vote in a unitarySouth Africa. If the preconditions forconsociational solutions include control over themasses, South African consociationalism still hasa long way to go.

So why is Sam Huntington still talking aboutconsociationalism, (16) when his own theory tellsus it cannot happen? Consociationalism of theIndaba sort, involving negotiation among eliteswith clearly restrictive ground rules, would giveSouth Africa a democratic facade without changingthe basic inequities of apartheid. It wouldinclude Black faces in leadership, but wouldrequire massive repression of Black aspirations.Undoubtedly, it would continue to restrict popularparticipation decision-making at all levels. Thisis not a solution which would make most of uscomfortable, nor is it one most South Africansaccept. Which means that until groups likeWorrall's "reform consitutency" are willing tonegotiate a more democractic proposal, thelow-intensity civil war that exists there today islikely to continue.

How, then, do negotiations like the Indabaoffer Sam Huntington even a tiny ray of hope? Ifone were thoroughly cynical, one might go back toMachiavelli: political scientists who want to seetheir policies properly implemented will not urgedemocratization, because democratic governmentsdon't normally follow a single theoretican. Eliteconspiracies, however, just might. Less cynically,and certainly more truthfully, one might believethat Huntington fears the widespread dislocationsthat majority rule will bring to South Africa,when people of all races try to restructure asociety warped by centuries of racial oppression.When that restructuring finally begins, an electedBlack government will probably face violentcounter-reaction from people who now support thegovernment or parties even further to the right.One can only wonder whether Huntington willcondone reactionary violence by a governmentelected by the Black majority, as calmly as heapparently condoned repression of revolutionariesby the old regime.

Gay Seidman '78, an Overseer and formerpresident of the Crimson, is writing adissertation in sociology at the University ofCalifornia at Berkeley, comparing labor movementsin South Africa and Brazil. She is grateful toGarth, Megan and Gavin for pointing outHuntington's contributions in South Africa.PhotoThemba NkosiSouth African workers in Durban in December,1985 celebrating the creation of a new democraticmovement, the Congress of South African TradeUnions.

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