Ethnic Power Sahring: South Africa's Model Proportional Representation Plays an Important Role in Rebuilding Countries Racked by Ethnic Conflict

By Andrew Reynolds and Arend Lijphart. Andrew Reynolds is the editor of "Election '94: South Africa" and a doctoral student Lijphart is a professor of political science California, San Diego. | The Christian Science Monitor, September 14, 1994 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Power Sahring: South Africa's Model Proportional Representation Plays an Important Role in Rebuilding Countries Racked by Ethnic Conflict


Andrew Reynolds and Arend Lijphart. Andrew Reynolds is the editor of "Election '94: South Africa" and a doctoral student Lijphart is a professor of political science California, San Diego., The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN a violent ethnic conflict ends, one of the the greatest unknowns is how long the calm can be maintained before hostilities and the horrors of ethnic retribution resume. South Africa's new constitutional order provides an exceptional example to other nations racked by civil and ethnic strife; the interim constitution engenders stability by forcing divergent groups to put their energies into constructive power sharing.

The framers of the South African constitution were guided by two key principles.

First, the new order had to protect all ethnic groups. In effect, the government promised to guard the liberties of former oppressors as well as those oppressed, and to pay heed to the haves as well as the have-nots.

The power-sharing elements of the new South African constitution recognized that the powerful white minority business community would have to play a significant role in post-apartheid South Africa if the country was to provide its black majority population with decent jobs, dignified housing, and an education system that nurtured the talents of all. The African National Congress, as the black majority's chief representative, accepted this key tenet; all significant groups now are represented in Parliament and in the executive branch of government. Currently, six members of the old apartheid National Party, led by F. W. de Klerk, sit in President Nelson Mandela's Cabinet, along with three members of Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

Second, Parliament needed to be structured around some form of proportional representation, which provides a truer guide to party strength than the Anglo-American method of single-member districts and winner-take-all results. The case against the winner-take-all electoral system and for proportional representation has been made overwhelmingly by the example of newly democratizing states of southern Africa. The United States State Department largely blamed the winner-take-all presidential election in Angola for the collapse of peace plans there and for the subsequent bloody conflict. …

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