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Post-Apartheid South Africa Discussed at Washington Forum - 2004-05-12

The libertarian Cato Institute here in Washington Wednesday discussed ten years of freedom in South Africa. A panel of experts was generally laudatory of the country's achievements but cautionary warnings were issued.

Ghanaian-born economist George Ayittey worries that the ruling African National Congress, having just won 70 percent of the popular vote, could eventually become too authoritarian. Unchallenged electoral dominance, he says, led to that pattern in several African countries in the 1960s.

"They used their overwhelming majority to subvert the constitution, ban opposition parties, declare themselves one party states. In Namibia, for instance, Sam Nujuoma changed the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term. But anybody else who comes after him must obey by the two-term rule," he said.

Mr. Ayittey, a professor at Washington's American University, is critical of South Africa's black empowerment movement. Instead of focusing on putting blacks in top jobs in the modern economy, Mr. Ayittey says government policy should assist Africans in rural areas.

"If you want to improve the lot of black South Africans, the sectors you need to focus on the informal and traditional sectors," he said.

Mr. Ayittey's critique was rejected by South Africa's ambassador to Washington, Barbara Masakela. She says unlike elsewhere in Africa black South Africans mostly live in urban areas.

"Our people were removed from the land to become migrant workers in the big cities and in the mines. The chiefdom and the culture of South Africa was completely wrecked," he said.

The discussion emphasized achievements like positive moves towards racial reconciliation. Economist Marian Tupy endorsed the black empowerment initiative but said it must be implemented with a minimum of economic dislocation.

"My hope is that the South African government will continue with its reform program and avoid uncertainties and tensions, which are inherent in the process of redistribution," he said.

Mr. Tupy adds he has no doubt that should this occur, the next ten years in South Africa will be even better than the last.