South Africa's regional political economy: A critical analysis of reform strategy in the 1980s.

Cobbett, William
Glaser, Daryl
Hindson, D. C.
Swilling, Mark
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Since the late 1970s the apartheid state has faced a sustained and deepening crisis of legitimation.(1) This crisis has been exacerbated by the attempt, and failure, to implement the post- Soweto 'Total Strategy' reforms - reforms which, in the case of the black people of South Africa, left the territorial and political basis of grand apartheid intact. Since the end of the short-lived boom of 1979-82, the crisis of political legitimacy has been amplified by the slide into economic depression, and the scope for concessionary economic reforms has been drastically curtailed. For some time, the state has been caught up with the immediate threat of escalating opposition in the townships, the symptoms of the deepening economic crisis and spreading international hostility to apartheid. But while this has been happening, elements within the ruling groups, both inside and outside the state, have for some time been attempting to map out a longer-term strategic offensive aimed at defusing political conflict and re-structuring the economy. Faced with a shrinking material basis for concessionary economic reform and growing mobilisation behind the demand for the extension of political rights, the country's ruling groups have begun the search for political solutions to the crisis. The schemes now being formulated take as their starting point the ultimate inevitability of political incorporation of black people into a single national state in South Africa. They aim to meet this in ways that ensure that real power remains in the hands of the ruling classes. The move towards political reforms for black people has gone beyond the stage of discussion and planning in certain areas of policy. Already an important pillar of the emerging strategy has gained expression in local government measures passed in 1985. (2) However much of what is planned has so far only appeared in general policy statements. It is also evident that important facets of the strategy are still in the stage of formulation or are deliberately being held back for the moment. The fluidity of political conditions in South Africa is such that state strategy is the subject matter of open debate and contestation, and is unusually susceptible to official reconsideration and reformulation. Nevertheless we believe it is possible to identify the major contours of an emerging strategy which has been pursued with increasing determination by reformers within the commanding heights of the state since late in 1984. This offensive is significant in that it goes well beyond the policy package associated with the Wiehahn and Riekert Commission reports, the Koornhof Bills, the new constitution, and the confederation of ethnic states - it goes beyond the 'Total Strategy' formulated by PW Botha in the late 1970s. (3) In contrast to these policies, it is based on an abandonment of the political and territorial premises of apartheid, though not necessarily of race or ethnicity, and envisages the eventual reincorporation of the bantustans into a single national South African state. The manner in which this will occur is by no means clear or decided. However, this process of political re-integration of the bantustans is intended ultimately to result in the reorganisation of the territorial basis of South Africa's economic and political system. Central to the reform strategy is the conception that the present provinces and bantustans will be superceded by metropolitan and regionally-based administrative structures through a process of merging, absorption and crosscutting of present geographical boundaries. It is this geographic outcome of the intended reform strategy that has led us to describe the complex of evolving measures as the state's regional strategy. The aim of this article is to describe, anticipate and critically analyse the outlines of the emerging regional strategy. Its three major components are new controls on labour movement and settlement, regional development policies (notably industrial decentralisation), and local and second tier government reforms and corresponding constitutional changes. We examine each of these three components and their interconnections. A central issue taken up in the paper is the debate over the possible construction of a federal system in South Africa. We examine major alternative conceptions of the basis of federalism - geographic and ethnic - and show how they correspond to or contradict other plans to divide South Africa into metropolitan and wider planning and administrative regions. The paper ends with an assessment and critical analysis of the regional strategy.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented October, 1985
South Africa. Economic conditions