The Habsburg monarchy two decades before its total collapse might seem an odd source to go to for contemporary political solutions. But it is to that period, and above all to the writings of the Social Democratic leader (and later Austrian President) Karl Renner, that Afrikaner intellectuals are turning in their desperate search for a constitutional way out in South Africa. The ideas which are traced back to Renner and recommended as an intellectual basis for the replacement, or, alternatively, the gentrification, of apartheid derive from the principles of consociationalism: that is, a high degree of devolution down to the lowest possible unit of government organised either on a personal or on a territorial basis; proportionality between ethnic groups in the distribution of public positions; acompulsory coalition at the top between the leaders of the groups and a mutual group veto on matters to be decided in common. These ideas are discussed in the first two of the books under review; they were the main theme of a conference staged in New York in October 1978 by Dr NicRhoodie's Institute for Plural Societies at the University of Pretoria, with a view to spreading the idea that South Africa was to be thought of as just one of several states confronted with the intellectually challenging problems of plural societies; and they partially inspired the influential Theron Commission report on the condition of the Coloureds in South Africa.
LRB 1 May 1980 | PDF Download