Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Affirmative Action at Work in South Africa's Government

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Affirmative Action at Work in South Africa's Government

Article excerpt

It took me some 30 years in journalism to discover it, but I'll pass it along for the price of a newspaper: On virtually every public question, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.

Do you know anyone who isn't troubled both by abortion and by the government intrusion that would be necessary to stop it? Or who doesn't want both to continue welfare (as a safety net for the innocent poor) and to end it (to force people to behave prudently)?

Why do our civil and political leaders go out of their way to avoid the common ground on which we just might have a decent and useful conversation? Wouldn't we, for example, have a more fruitful discussion of affirmative action if we could acknowledge that almost everyone involved in it both believes in it and harbors visceral misgivings about it?

I know it seems that America's political right cannot find any basis for supporting any idea that runs counter to meritocracy (in hiring and appointments) or equality of individual voters (when it comes to elections).

But when have you heard a conservative complaint against the system that made possible F.W. de Klerk's election as vice president in newly democratic South Africa? Or that has other whites in important positions there?

De Klerk was elected under an arrangement that delivers the presidency and a first deputy presidency to the winning party and the second deputy presidency to the party that comes in second.

That is a color-conscious concession, an acknowledgment that blacks now in majority would probably have claimed whatever their voting power allowed - leaving whites in the political cold, as blacks had been before.

Zimbabwe, which earlier had transformed from minority-white to majority-black control, was more explicit in reserving political power for whites - a set-aside of a certain number of parliamentary seats for which only whites could run.

What's interesting is that many conservative American critics of domestic affirmative action were enthusiastic supporters of the parliamentary set-aside in Zimbabwe. Hypocritical? Maybe. Or maybe they always believed both sides of the issue. Their belief in the merit side of the debate leads them to conclude that no special arrangements should be made for America's minorities - no special political protection, no racially dictated congressional districts, no affirmative action of any sort. …

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