To learn ABCs of politics, watch those p's and q's


August 19, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A political conversation here could easily go something like this: "Which do you think is more popular, the DP or the CP?"

"Hey, the way things are going, both might get more votes than the NP."

"Then again, the AWB and the PAC are probably growing."

"I think when it comes down to it, most people will back the ANC."

"Even those who are nervous about the SACP, or the influence of COSATU?"

"Sure, where else are they going to go? The IFP?"

Certainly, every country has its acronyms. In the United States, we bandy about FBI, CIA, AFL-CIO, even SPCA without thinking twice.

But if you come from the land of Republicans and Democrats, when you hit South Africa you can't tell the political players without an acronym program.

In the above conversation, the DP is the Democratic Party, thbasic anti-apartheid, white liberal party.

The CP is the right-wing Conservative Party, which refers to itself as the KP because that's its acronym in the Afrikaans language.

The NP is the National Party, sometimes referred to as the Nats, which has ruled since 1948.

AWB stands for Afrikaner Weestandsbeweging, the far right-wing, white group. PAC is the Pan Africanist Congress, a black-based, left-wing party.

The ANC is the well-known African National Congress. The SACP is the ANC-allied South African Communist Party (definitely not to be referred to as the CP), and COSATU is the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an umbrella labor group also tied to the ANC.

Then there's the IFP, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

All of that just scratches the tip of South Africa's acronym iceberg. The ANC alone spawns a small family. There's the ANCYL (its Youth League) and the ANCWL (Women's League), as well as the ANC's military wing, the MK, which, because of the peculiarities of Zulu capitalization, is the acronym for Umkhonto We Sizwe, which means "Spear of the Nation."

The PAC has its own military wing, APLA, the Azanian People's Liberation Army, while the government has the SADF, the South African Defense Force, and the SAP, the South African Police.

And don't forget AZAPO, the Azanian People's Organization, a black-consciousness-based group.

The right wing has recently tried to unify under the AVF, the Afrikaner Volksfront, but it strains to contain all its members' acronyms. In addition to the CP and AWB, there's the AVU, Afrikaner Volksunie, the BSP, Boerestaat Party, the HNP, Herstigte Nasionale Party, and a variety of groups that spring up and fall apart with regularity.

These days, you hear a lot about SADTU, the South African Democratic Teachers Union, which is striking against the DET, the Department of Education and Training, the government ministry for black schools, much to the dismay of COSAS, the Congress of South African Students.

Labor constructs its own acronym maze, from NUMSA, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, to POTWA, the Post and Telecommunications Workers Association, to SADWU, the Domestic Workers Union, not to be confused with SACWU, the Chemical Workers Union, or SACTWU, the Clothing and Textile Workers Union.

Beyond abbreviations for organizations, South Africans show a peculiar affinity for acronyms. They don't refer to Johannesburg's downtown, but to the CBD, the Central Business District. The region that includes Johannesburg is called the PWV for Pretoria, Witwatersrand and Vereeniging.

Financial publications regularly write about the BoP, the Balance of Payments, which is quite different from Bop, the universal abbreviation for Bophuthatswana, one of the so-called independent homelands.

So intense is the love affair with acronyms that the current round of negotiations on the future of the country was almost held up when a suitable name could not be found.

The original talks were called CODESA, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa. When the talks were reconstituted with more members, that name would not do.

So far, the negotiations have stumbled along under the unofficial title of the Multi-Party Talks. One suggestion was the Convention on the Future of South Africa.


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