African Questions

Publications of Dr. Klaus Frhr. von der Ropp

Political Observer and Consultant on Southern African Issues

Two years after Dakar, the dialogue continues

Klaus Baron von der Ropp

Van Zyl Slabbert's phone call inviting me to Dakar was the beginning of my most exciting time ever on African soil. This was so despite the years I spent working in "black" Africa and my 25 or so research trips to South Africa since I first saw the Cape of Good Hope in 1964. For in all those years I had asked myself, to put it in Alan Paton's words, "that most difficult of South Africa's questions... what are black hopes and what are white hopes, and can they be hoped together?".
At that time of course I did not know that my becoming a "Dakarite" would lead to a situation where, within a year, I would meet a couple of times, in Moscow and elsewhere, Soviet scholars of Southern African developments. But then "Dakar" was the very best introduction one could have to meet outstanding specialists like Vasili G. Solodovnikov, his country's former ambassador to Zambia during the crisis over Southern Rhodesia, Boris R. Asoyan, probably the top expert on Southern Africa of today's Soviet diplomacy, and of course Vladimir I. Tikhomirov.
It cannot be questioned that the USSR continues its close and very important co-operation with both the ANC and the SACP. It would be naive to believe that, as quite a number of political contacts have been developed between Pretoria and Moscow, the Soviets will now give up probably the only instrument they have to influence developments in South Africa. What has changed is, that the USSR has freed itself from its previous ideas of a post-apartheid South Africa that is the product of a military-revolutionary change. The Soviets have realised that there is no "law" that says that the armed struggle of the ANC must lead to the liberation movement's ruling the new South Africa in the name of the democratic masses as one of sub-Saharan Africa's many one-party states. Living in a country with a very heterogeneous population, being aware of the ethnic conflicts in Transcaucasia, the Baltic republics and, latently, in Central Asia and maybe even the Ukraine, they will understand the complexity of South Africa's situation better than many Western, particularly North American, South Africa watchers.
Dealing with Southern African issues seems to be a particular challenge to a German, be he from the eastern or the western part of this arbitrarily divided nation. For we know best a policy that first plunged the world into massive destruction and then led to the amputation and the division of what had remained of Germany. One of the most lasting impressions in Dakar was that of the possibility, and even the probability, of an all-out civil war between MK and the AWB. Against this background I remembered the pitiable failure of the Western Namibia initiative of 1977 that according to its fathers, American UN Ambassador Andrew Young and West Germany's Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher, should have led to a corresponding South African initiative. The initiators of this probably stillborn policy were its gravediggers, as they had not studied the Afrikaner's mentality. They indeed thought they would have little more than a child's play with Afrikanerdom and succeed in bringing first Swapo, in Windhoek, and then the ANC, in Pretoria/Kaapstad, to power. In Dakar, for very good reasons, there seemed to be nobody who still put much hope in the not always good services of Western mediation.
Listening to IDASA in Dakar one remembered a question the then West German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, used in May 1977 to reply to a remark by US Vice President Walter Mondale to the effect that the West must do everything in its power to force Pretoria to abolish apartheid. The question was "and replace it with what?". Even if very many self-styled Western experts on Southern Africa think it to be obsolete, Schmidt's question is the key to solving the South African conflict.
IDASA delegates had exactly this in mind, when they asked Thabo Mbeki and their other compatriots from the ANC again and again, what was acceptable to them: only a unitary state? Or could they also see the new South Africa as a federal, a consociational or a cantonal system? What did they think of a regional approach like the Kwazulu Natal Indaba? Could they even think of the founding of something as ideologically unacceptable as a "toevlugsoord" in the sense of a boerestaat - an Afrikaner-Israel? with Egon Bahr, the leading German thinker on foreign policy issues, the vast majority of IDASA delegates were looking for South Africa for a "hitherto unknown model of co-existence with equal rights and special protection for minorities".
The ANC apparently had a problem with such fears, expressed also by Slabbert's remark, that revolutionaries must convince whites, and particularly Afrikaners, that there is life beyond apartheid. What else could the ANC have done but to reiterate its belief in the Freedom Charter and its vision of a non-racial democratic order in an undivided South Africa? If white liberals expressed these fears repeatedly, and sometimes in very harsh terms (!), how could the ANC convince the 90 per cent or more white South Africans who are politically to the right a of the "Dakarites"?
To overcome these fears Oliver Tambo in a speech in April 1986 in Bonn had professed to the ideals of the French and the North American revolutions, as he had done earlier in November 1985 in an interview with the Cape Times. In Dakar the ANC confirmed its commitment to political pluralism. IDASA delegates who asked whether this would include the (obvious) rights of opposition got an ambiguous answer: there will be pluralism within the frame of "liberatory intolerance". And other statements were a sign of a somewhat strange interpretation of those liberal ideals: the ANC seeing itself as an umbrella leader and its defining "racist" and "tribalist" groupings out of the nation. Does this mean, that besides the NP, KP, HNP, AWP and very many other Afrikaner organisations - also the PFP, Inkatha, Azapo etc. will be defined out of the new nation and as a consequence be banned? Will the free South Africa go the way of today's Zimbabwe? In Dakar it was again to be felt, how very deeply divided a society South Africa is. And it is definitely not only a division between progressive and racist forces. Probably there are two democratic political cultures that often seem hardly to be compatible.
As the NP, and by no means the Dakarites, holds power it was perfectly understandable that the ANC in Dakar was not prepared to openly discuss compromises. Furthermore, from the ANC's standpoint it is to be understood, if the liberation movement thinks it to be strange and inadequate that a minority that has humiliated a majority for centuries asks for privileges (namely safeguards) in the new South Africa. But this point of view was only convincing, if the South African conflict was not one of power politics. The West will for a long time not be prepared to totally isolate South Africa or even declare war on white South Africa. And the Afrikaners will prevent their defeat by MK (and its allies) by using, if necessary with heinousness, all economic and military means at their dis-


portal. But as one particularly outstanding delegate, Breyten Breytenbach, remarked in Dakar, talking to the Afrikaners in power, the ANC too will realise that to negotiate is to think on fall back positions.
My message to my own constituency in Bonn is that we must do our utmost to promote this nascent dialogue. Financially and even more so politically! We must learn to abstain from prescribing to Africans and Afrikaners what the answers to their problems are. We must particularly abstain from abusing South African (and Namibian) problems for domestic purposes! And we must include in the growing number of our severe condemnations of apartheid, to quote Otto Count Lambsdorff, a liberal, that "it so happens that white security is the key to black liberation".
When in March 1989 the UK and the USSR surprised the diplomatic world with the news on the possibility of a common South African initiative, it was learnt that both London and Moscow will use their influence over Pretoria and the ANC (and the SACP) respectively, to moderate their views on a new South Africa. In times of an apparently decreasing interest of the US in South African affairs, London and Moscow may continue the fruitful US-UK-USSR co-operation of 1987/89 to solve the Namibian conflict. If this is to be done successfully, it will have to be done along the lines discussed, both in the open and behind the scenes, in Dakar and at follow-up meetings in Frankfurt, Harare and, most important, in Bermuda.
It remains to be seen, whether the Bonn government will support a UK/USSR attempt to organise a negotiation-process similar to the Camp David conference on the Middle East in the late 1970s. If it does not, it will be excluded from this policy of mediation, as it was increasingly excluded from the international Namibian initiatives since October 1978.

Klaus Baron von der Ropp is based in Cologne and has specialised in developments in sub-Saharan Africa for many years