De Klerk's plan to entrench privilege

Wednesday, September 11, 1991

By Norm Dixon

The African National Congress has condemned constitutional arrangements proposed by South Africa's President F.W. de Klerk. It calls them a "recipe for disaster" and a ruse to "retain the accumulated privileges of apartheid".

De Klerk unveiled the outlines of the National Party's plan to entrench white supremacy when addressing a party congress at Bloemfontein on September 4.

The proposals would give South Africa's white minority a veto over government decisions. Minority parties, with which the National Party hopes to cobble together a conservative alliance, would have great scope to prevent changes in the status quo.

De Klerk proposed two houses of parliament. The lower house would be elected by proportional representation by all South Africans. An upper house, with veto power over legislation passed in the lower house, would be elected from nine regional areas, each with an equal number of representatives. Each region's delegation would be split equally between all parties able to win 10% of the vote.

Constitutional changes and laws that affect "minorities" and regions would require an undefined "weighted majority" to pass.

The current presidential system would be replaced by a presidium of the leaders of at least the three largest parties. The chair of this body would rotate between its members. The presidium would appoint a cabinet drawn from all parties with "sufficient" support.

De Klerk also proposed that black and white local governments be amalgamated but that there be two electoral rolls — one for property owners and one for the propertyless. A property owner's vote would be worth twice as much as that of a propertyless voter. Almost all property owners are white and almost all the propertyless are black.

The ANC said that "the NP proposals are a recipe for disaster, designed to deny a future South African government the power to truly liberate the country from the misery that apartheid has wrought. The proposals attempt to create a weak parliament and executive, hamstrung by arrangements requiring broad consensus amongst small interest groups. They are no less than an effective minority veto ... It is this very approach that has caused the tragic conflict in a country like Lebanon."

While the ANC acknowledged the need for constitutional checks

and balances, and affirmed the need to protect the fundamental rights of all South Africans, it pointed out that de Klerk has proposed mechanisms that will ensure the retention of white supremacy.

Democratic government would be paralysed by the multiparty presidency and cabinet: "Coalition governments are formed voluntarily. Yet the South African government wants to make coalition government a constitutional principle, together with measures to paralyse any attempts of the party with the most votes to use its strength for social reconstruction.

"We find it unacceptable to have a second house, constituted in a totally undemocratic manner, with the power to block legislation."

The proposal for regions with equal representation "is obviously loaded against areas where Africans are the overwhelming majority. Furthermore, they propose that every party that obtains more than 10% of the vote would have an equal number of representatives ... Thus if, for instance, the ANC received 70% of the votes in [a region], all parties that obtained 10% would have equal representation. Thus minor parties have as much power as the majority party."

The ANC added that the changes to local government, as well as the proposal of neighbourhood committees empowered to create regulations relating to "norms and standards" as well as local "security matters", mean "the maintenance of group area arrangements [apartheid] under another name".

De Klerk's proposals "are a cynical attempt to deny the people of South Africa their basic freedoms ... The ANC warns that the proposals will make South Africa wholly ungovernable."

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