Ethics & Public Policy Center

Switzerland at the Cape of Good Hope?


George Weigel

Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies


In South Africa, a book that sells 5,000 copies is thought a considerable success. Since March 1986, sales of South Africa: The Solution have topped the 30,000 mark. Frances Kendall and Leon Louw’s volume has now been published in the United States under a slightly different title, After Apartheid: The Solution for South Africa; and while dust jacket blurbs shouldn’t be taken as the final authority on a book’s possible merits, it is intriguing to note that Winnie Mandela of the African National Congress (ANC), Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Zulus and Inkatha, and white liberal novelist Alan Paton appear in tandem on the back of the Kendall/Louw collaboration. These three crucial figures in the South African drama are not regularly espied on the same side of the what-to-do-about-South-Africa argument, beyond their common rejection of apartheid. And yet Mrs. Mandela thinks (or at least says) that “Here lies hope for a shattered nation.” Chief Buthelezi thinks (or at least says) that “… The Solution may prove to be a rational, workable answer to South Africa’s unique problems.” And Alan Paton is “… pleased that people are taking this book seriously.” What gives?

What gives is, in essence, a Swiss solution to the South African dilemma. Kendall and Louw are liberatarians on matters political and economic, and their solution to the problem of who rules in a post-apartheid South Africa is, “everybody rules.” That is,

South Africa’s highly centralized national government should be drastically weakened, and a loose federation of 300 or so cantons created. The cantons would be non-racial. The national government would be responsible only for national defense, finance, and foreign relations. A new national constitution would include a bill of rights “… listing certain fundamental and inviolable rights of citizens and cantons.” Amendments to the bill of rights would “… require unanimous agreement by all canton governments and an 80 percent majority of voters in a compulsory national referendum.” And everything else-local government structure, economic system, social and infrastructure services-would be left to the individual cantons. Those who wanted a one-party canton with a state-run economy could form the canton of their choice. Those who wanted a democratic canton with an entrepreneurial, free-market economy could have what they wanted.

The “crucial ingredient” in the mix, write Kendall and Louw, is “. . . complete freedom of movement for people and wealth. . . .If AZAPO-ruled cantons were to introduce full-blown Marxism with disastrous consequences, people would be able simply to move or seek jobs in cantons with greater wealth and freedom. Conversely, if Marxism were to provide the level of welfare and benefits it promises, Marxist cantons would attract more people, and other cantons would follow their example.” This “demonstration effect,” the authors believe, would allow both a wide range of social and economic experiments among South Africa’s diverse peoples-and it would permit the cream to rise to the top, as it were, of the cantonal system. Cantons that didn’t work would simply have to change or disappear. But everyone would have a specific political and existential say in the kind of socio-economic-political system under which they lived. People would vote with their ballots at the cantonal and federal levels, and with their feet.

The solution for South Africa, in other words, is to create 300 plus South Africas, loosely federated.

It is an intriguing proposal and not just because of the surprisingly wide support it has drawn. Perhaps the greatest contribution that Kendall and Louw make is to force the South African debate to the question of politics while facing squarely the irreducible pluralism of the country. There is no solution for South Africa that does not end apartheid and give its black majority effective political and economic power. But that black majority is itself widely diverse and badly split on basic questions of polity and economy: some are statists, others are democrats; some are socialists, others are capitalists. And then there are the sundry white tribes of South Africa, with their own distinctive ethnic and political heritages. There will be no peace, freedom, security, or prosperity in South

Africa unless a plurality of moral and political claims can be somehow met minimally.

Kendall and Louw opt for a minimalist solution at the national level and a free-wheeling, pick ‘em approach-at the canton level. The solution doesn’t require the conversion of all South African souls; it requires, on the Kendall/Louw argument, a minimum of agreement on letting everyone have their druthers. The results of those choices, the authors argue, should be allowed to determine the political, social, and economic future of South Africa.

H. L. Mencken used to say that for every problem there was a solution that was simple, obvious, direct-and usually wrong. Some questions can indeed be raised about the Kendall/Louw solution. Does it accurately measure the ideological commitments that move the most violent elements in the African National Congress? That is, why should a long-time communist like the white ANC chieftain Joe Slovo trade Leninism for libertarianism? And if he should, as a tactical matter, accept the solution in order to get “his kind” of canton, what is to stop him from violently exporting his political and economic preferences to other cantons? The same question would apply, of course, to Afrikaner extremists like Eugene Terre Blanche. How will the federal government enforce freedom of movement across the cantons if things get out of hand between these mini-states? Is there sufficient agreement in South Africa today on even the minimalist bill of rights that Kendall and Louw envision as the guarantor of freedom in a new South African federation?

Kendall and Louw hope that answers to some of these questions will come into focus through the work of their new grassroots organization, Groundswell, which now has hundreds of chapters across South Africa. Leon Louw envisions a two- or three-year education campaign, creating a climate of public opinion that will force politicians to start thinking along the lines of the cantonal solution. There would then be a period of behind-the-scenes negotiations, following a third party, mediated dialogue between the current white government and the ANC. After the negotiations, there would be an implementation phase of two years or so. In all, “We’re talking about a minimum of

5 years, but more realistically 7 to 10,” says Mr. Louw.

Whether The Solution turns out to be the solution is a matter for the future. Frances Kendall and Leon Louw have, at the very least, nudged the South African debate away from high-voltage moral posturing and onto the tough questions of politics and economics. Their libertarianism may yet founder when it abuts the hard rock of late twentieth-century ideological commitment. But Kendall and Louw remind us that the South African dilemma is, in a metaphorical sense, the world dilemma; and thus the resolution of the South African drama may have not a little to do with the shape of other things to come. Their book closes with the imaginary report of a U.N. Secretary-General who visits South Africa in 1999 and writes:

“The mistake we all made was to believe that a single political system would solve South Africa’s problems. But the solution proved to be many different systems working simultaneously. We thought there should be one popular leader, but now there are many popular leaders working side by side.

“We thought a demagogue would preside over central government. Now a relatively unknown person does. We demanded ‘one person, one vote’ in a unitary state. South Africa chose ‘one person, many votes’ in a cantonized state.

“We wanted single citizenship for all South Africans. Now they each have three citizenships-of their country, their canton, and their community. . . .

“With her newfound diversity added to her heterogeneity, resources, beauty, and history, South Africa has truly become ‘the world within one country.’ ”

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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