Local power at issue as S. Africa maps out future

July 25, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Among the tasks facing the people trying to make a new country out of the old South Africa is one of the most basic -- drawing the lines on maps that will form the boundaries of the country's new states.

Current provincial borders that divide the country into the Cape province, Orange Free State, Natal and Transvaal came about in a similar way to the evolution of state lines in the United States: a combination of traditions, land grants, natural boundaries, military fights between white settlers and natives as well as between British and Afrikaners, and a bit of politics.

And redrawing those boundaries has caused about the same amount of excitement and consternation that a proposal to redo state lines would cause in the United States.

Complicating the matter is the existence of 10 so-called black homelands, places that were designated by the white government as independent countries for South Africa's blacks to keep the people from South African citizenship. Most of those homelands are eager to join a unified democratic country, but the leaders of some seek to hold on to their regional power.

Indeed, contributing to the line-drawing controversy is what is probably the most contentious dispute facing the negotiators -- how much power the regions should have in comparison to the central government.

Some whites have long seen a strong regional system as a way of avoiding coming under the domination of a black-controlled national government.

They found black allies in the members of the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Mangosutho Buthelezi. This Zulu-based party has the possibility of coming to power only in the Natal region -- home of the Zulu homeland KwaZulu -- and so it is pushing for strong local autonomy.

Now the cry for a white state is coming most loudly from Afrikaners, descendants of the original white Dutch settlers, the people who imposed the apartheid system during the past 45 years while they have dominated South Africa's politics.

These Afrikaner separatists, calling for their "rights of self-determination," want a "volkstadt" where they could continue to rule joined to the rest of South Africa only in a loose confederation.

The problem is that no one has figured out how to draw any lines anywhere in South Africa that would delineate a state where whites, let alone Afrikaners, would be in the majority.

Not that this has stopped Afrikaners from trying. While both the government and the African National Congress, by far the two most powerful parties in the negotiating process, agree that there should be a central, urban state incorporating Johannesburg and Pretoria, 40 miles to the north, the Afrikaner parties want Pretoria, their traditional capital, for their Afrikaner state.

The most radical design comes from the Afrikaner Volksfront, the umbrella group of right-wing Afrikaner parties, whose proposed state looks like a pinwheel with Pretoria in its center. The parts between the blades of pinwheel contain many of the townships where most of the country's blacks live.

The more moderate Afrikaner Volksunie calls for Afrikanerland, a state that looks like a small map of Ireland with Pretoria on its western border as it stretches east to Swaziland.

Thus far, though, the map-drawing process has been notable more for its agreement than disagreement. The government has two proposals, one for seven regions, one for nine. The ANC calls for eight new states. Their maps bear a close resemblance to one another.

Both include Natal as a separate province in hopes of pacifying Inkatha, though Mr. Buthelezi continues to call for guarantees of strong regional autonomy that he probably will not get.

Both have a state that includes all the various parts of Bophuthatswana, the strongest of the independent homelands, that should allow it to be integrated peacefully into a friendly region.

And their proposals for an Eastern Transvaal region closely resemble the Afrikaner Volksunie's Afrikanerland proposal, except that they exclude Pretoria.

A technical committee of the council negotiating the form of the new South Africa is charged with coming up with a recommendation on regional borders later this month.

In considering the recommendations of the various parties, it will take into account the country's many language and cultural differences as well as its charge to make the states economically viable, able to support the necessary governmental infrastructure.

Beyond that, it must judge such things as disputes along the coast east of Cape Town, where various white towns fear domination by the black homeland of Transkei, as well as white hopes that they can oversee a separate rural state north of Cape Town, not to mention environmentalist demands that rivers not pTC be used as borders because that separates water catchment areas into different political regions.

No matter where the lines are drawn, further arguments are inevitable.

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