For FW read PW; Delivery pains; High stakes on the frontier; Return of the mystery donor; Back to Kissinger.

For FW read PW

There are good and bad reasons why FW de Klerk received such rough treatment from the TRC. The good reason is that everyone is tired of hearing that The National Party leadership had no idea of the atrocities committed under its rule when the rest of us, even without the privileged insight of the powerful, had a pretty clear idea of them. It's not good enough to shred the evidence and then plead ignorance. The bad reason is that the TRC knows perfectly well that that PW Botha is fifty times guiltier than FW but it lacks the guts to go for him -indeed, Tutu happily took tea with him and rushed off to comfort PW at the funeral of his wife, Elize. But the TRC wants to bash the NP and feels that anyone who has the chutzpah to accept the NP leadership is volunteering to carry the party's sorry history on his shoulders. Therefore it wants to bash the current NP leader, whoever he may be.

But imagine if FW had retired in 1994 as, in his own interests, he clearly should have. The TRC would now doubtless be celebrating him as the one good Afrikaner in a bad, bad bunch - and would be crucifying his successor instead, particularly if they could link him to the ministries of law and order or defence. And that would have been easy, for had FW departed in 1994 his successor would have been a veteran of both departments: Roelf Meyer.

Delivery pains

About time too, you may say. But do not rush to welcome the plan: it may involve abolishing the only reasonably efficient organisation in this field -the Independent Development Trust (IDT).

The trust is the country's largest non-governmental organisation. And although like any other pre-1994 institution that has undergone "transformation", it has made its full share of dodgy appointments, it still seems to work, just about. In particular, it has made clear that it sees its mission as working with local communities and that it does not wish to delegate its work to other NCOs unless they have a strong record of delivery and the confidence of local communities.

Enter the large number of ex-struggle NCOs, loosely organised in the NCO Coalition. Now that money for such groups has dried up, many are hungry, clamant and believe that the best way to achieve delivery is to hand large sums of money over to them. But the IDT's policy cuts them out and leaves the strugglistas feeling snubbed and muttering about apartheid era institutions. Some of the coalition's members are worthwhile organisations with good track records, but others are haphazard affairs with few concrete results, a tradition of struggle accounting and are led by entrepreneurs whose careers seem uncluttered by much real achievement but who have still risen without trace. Such discontented activists would be only too delighted if the government takes over the Independent Development Trust lock, stock and barrel and pours its resources into the coalition's pockets.

The report from the deputy president's advisory committee which recommends the National Development Agency is pithily entitled "Structural relationships between government and civil society organisations", and is littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. The agency will be located in (surprise, surprise) Mbeki's office and will be "dedicated towards the funding of civil society organisations"; that is, its job will be to give away taxpayers' money to NCOs rather than to carry out development work itself. Both the IDT and the Transitional National Development Trust (TNDT), a worthy body but still in its infancy, would be wound up and dissolved into it.

The committee seems to have overlooked the fact that, as its name implies, the IDT is an independent trust and legally cannot be forced to give up its autonomy. It has also failed to think through the consequences of letting the coalition have its way. Because of the acute shortage of expertise in the development field, the plan would very probably lead to a collapse in delivery. In this, "the year of delivery", ministers are acutely conscious of unspent rural development funds mounting in government coffers and of the sharp dissatisfaction this has created among voters. Several ministers are handing over substantial parts of their budgets to the IDT as the one way of getting things done on the ground. Ideologically they may sympathise with the strugglistas, but they cannot afford to see capacity to deliver slump even further.

Who will run the National Development Agency? The government does not want to hand it over to the IDT which it dislikes not only because it is an apartheid era organisation but because it is Cape Town-based and its upper echelons are mainly Coloured, not African. The Kagiso Trust has lost international donors because of its poor delivery record and anyway has moved away from development activity into black business empowerment (i.e. making serious money for its own movers and shakers). The TNDT, though it has made a good start, lacks the capacity to run the new agency. The answer of the NGO coalition is "us - though wearing other hats". The idea of such large-scale patronage being handed over to the chief beneficiaries seems hardly plausible; indeed suicidal. But at present it looks as if this is the government's intention. Huge sums of money are involved - most aid to South Africa is development aid -and what is at stake is the country's continuing ability to use it productively.

High stakes on the frontier

The fight over whether Bushbuckridge and Groblersdal should belong to Mpumalanga, whether chunks of the North West should be unloaded into the Northern Cape, or whether Umzimkulu and Mount Currie should be in KwaZulu-Natal or the Eastern Cape (see KwaZulu-Natal Briefing 8) - have a significance way beyond the territory involved. The real question is whether an election can be held in 1999 with an electoral register, as the constitution demands, or whether the constitution is to be amended to make that unnecessary or even to postpone the election altogether.

Time is already very short for the new electoral commission to be set up and to organise the 1999 elections. The shambles of 1994 was rescued thanks to business, the military, international helpers and a large dose of charity. Many of those actors-and that charity - cannot be relied upon a second time and there are also grave worries about the commission's independence (see Focus 5). In addition we need one register which will serve for all provincial, municipal and national elections, with polling stations positioned in the same places for each so that our inexperienced electorate begins to see voting as an understood routine. Drawing up such a register is an enormous task and a difficult one in a country where many people live in unnumbered houses in unnamed streets. It will have to be begun soon if it is to be finished in time.

But to draw up a register which is also valid for provincial and local ballots, we need to know where the municipal boundaries are - which is impossible while we are still stuck with transitional local councils without finalised boundaries. Or while whole chunks of the country do not know which province they are in. But if the government remains determined to make top-down decisions about such matters they will drag on forever. The only way to get a quick and final decision is to go for local referendums. The people shall govern - remember?

Return of the mystery donor

When a parliamentary row blew up over the way the health minister, Mrs Zuma, had handed over R 4 million to Bongani Ngema for his ill-fated musical, Sarafina II, a mystery donor appeared, volunteering to buy Mrs Zuma out of her embarrassment. This was so obviously improper that the deputy finance minister, Gill Marcus, indirectly censored her colleague by making it clear that the government could never again get involved with mystery donors. Now another mystery donor (or is it the same warm-hearted spirit?) has emerged to pay Allan Boesak's senior counsel's costs, estimated at over R l million. Interestingly, despite Boesak's earlier claim that in him "the struggle is on trial" he has very deliberately avoided struggle lawyers and gone instead for Mike Maritz, who defended Magnus Malan.

All of which makes one wonder what one has to do to deserve such charity. Mrs Zuma was in trouble because she had broken all the rules about spending public money while Mr Boesak needs help because he is facing 32 charges of fraud and theft concerning a sum of R9 million. The general principle is, apparently, that the more questionable your behaviour, the more the mystery donor would like to give you. It puts one in mind of Mae West's famous dictum: "When I'm good, I'm very, very good. But when I'm bad, I'm terrific."

Back to Kissinger

What was South Africa's intervention in the Congo crisis all about? Attempting to mediate between Mobutu and Kabila merely infuriated the latter into hitting out at South African economic interests there, it also upset the French and the Francophone African bloc; it cost a lot of time and money, and it did not secure a democratic transition. On the face of it Pretoria would be better off if it had done nothing.

But the crisis did allow South Africa to emerge as a major continental player, acting as America's regional partner and thus displacing the French from their historic role in former Zaire. This, together with the fact that Pretoria was willing to coordinate its policy with Washington so closely, means that Henry Kissinger's policy of devolving local security responsibilities to friendly clients (Pakistan, the Shah's Iran, Turkey, Vorster's South Africa etc) has been revived.

Not long ago the sight of Pretoria eagerly snuggling up to Washington would have led to an explosion from the communist party and ANC left - remember the furious suggestions that Mandela's stand against Abacha's human rights abuses in Nigeria was somehow due to the machinations of "Anglo-American imperialism". But the left is a dog that no longer barks - not even when it sees the frenzied rush of! 30 officials, including one third of the cabinet, to join in the junketing in Washington and, heaven forefend, actually signing up to a joint defence arrangement with the US. At the same time the R7 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is going through. The key point to realise about this (apart from all the inevitable kickbacks, favours and the like which are a routine part of such deals) is that the Saudi arms market is almost the monopoly possession of the US and that no South African deal with Riyadh could possibly have gone through without American agreement. The moral is clear: try and sell arms to Syria and Washington will stop you. Behave well and you can be rewarded with a large Saudi arms contract. The ANC's previous ideological anti-Americanism is no match for the appeal of the American relationship if it can deliver a deal like that. The ghosts of Joe Slovo and Chris Hani walk uneasily these nights.

What Thabo Mbeki seems to want from this is American support for South Africa's (and thus his own) role as the effective leader of Africa. This is the realpolitik behind the rhetoric of the "African renaissance". Not surprisingly, this offends the other power with pretensions to continental leadership, Nigeria. This is why Nigeria admonished South Africa as "a white country with a black president" -and why the gibe had just enough truth in it to hurt. Pretoria clearly felt vulnerable on the issue and rushed to mend its fences with the Nigerians -Mandela actually ended up apologising to "my good friend Sani Abacha" over a minor technicality. Nigeria chose that moment to name Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, as a traitor and the head of its most wanted hit list - without any apparent fear of a South African protest.