Reporting on a visit to South Africa, Meg Greenfield, The Post's editorial page editor, wrote in the Outlook section Nov. 14 of the "fundamental monstrosity" of the apartheid system in place there. Here, South Africa's ambassador to the United States offers another view of his country.
Strange as it may sound to Americans accustomed to hearing of the South African government as perhaps the world's prime example of an immovable object, there is presently an intense and wide- ranging debate in the country about its future course: some remarkable statements are being made by senior members of the South African Cabinet. For example:
* "We have made mistakes in the past and if we are unable to see where we have gone wrong, then we will not be able to correct our errors." (J. C. Heunis, minister of constitutional development, Sept. 8, 1982)
* There is (in the government and in the ruling National Party) outspoken and strong emphasis on the need for reform . . . the realities of our situation and the unacceptability of the status quo are spelt out in no uncertain terms." (F. W. de Klerk, minister of internal affairs, Oct. 19, 1982)
What do independent black leaders in South Africa say? Lucy Mvubelo, one of South Africa's leading black labor leaders and general secretary of the National Union of Clothing Workers and vice president of the Trade Union Council of South Africa, spoke last year of the changes being made and the charge that they are "cosmetic":
"To say that the changes are 'cosmetic' is to misunderstand. It is not plastic surgery any more, but is much nearer to a heart transplant, for a change of heart has taken place. We have really entered a new phase: rights and privileges are being extended to blacks, to coloreds, to Asians."
Simply put, the South African government has officially embarked on a program of political reform that, for the first time, breaks with the principle of exclusive white political control by extending effective political participation and representation to coloreds and Indians.
It is this development that caused the split within the National Party. The willingness of the government to proceed with reform in the face of revolt from the right is witness to to its determination and to the historic significance of the change.
The government thus rejected the notion that only one particular group among South Africa's peoples should have the upper hand at the expense of other groups.
At the same time, the notion that the diverse cultures of South Africa can be forced into a unitary society on the basis of a one man, one vote formula is ruled out because, like single-group supremacy, it promises only conflict.
The goal of this reform course is to create a political system that gives full self-determination to all national groups within South Africa while establishing institutions for cooperation on common affairs. In the exercise of the right of self-determination expressed through the ballot box, four black nations have already opted for independence, and more are expected to follow.
But political participation and self-determination are not the only measures of meaningful reform. On a continent beset by low food production, massive unemployment, deep poverty, lack of housing and chronic health problems, the government is equally determined to improve the economic and social conditions, for all groups.
Let's look at the record in four areas, relating to blacks: labor and employment, housing, education and health.
* In 1979, the trade union system was opened to black trade unions, and access to training programs and management positions was guaranteed for black workers. Black unions engage in collective bargaining with employers, and black workers receive unemployment insurance and unemployment compensation.
The new system is characterized by equal opportunity, advancement and parity in the treatment of workers, in virtually all fields. This approach has resulted in a reformed labor dispensation that complies in most respects with all International Labor Organization conventions and recommendations governing race, color or sex.
* Since 1975, nearly $2 billion has been spent to provide new homes for blacks in South Africa's cities, at a construction rate of 100 houses per day. In 1980, the government doubled its annual spending on black housing. Approximately one-third of urban black families own their own houses, while the average home rental does not constitute more than 7 percent of the monthly income.
* Between 1975 and 1980, funding for black education rose by 230 percent. In 1981-82 there was a jump of another 51 percent representing three times the average increase for all other state department expenditures. Free and compulsory education for all South African children has become a policy objective to which the government is committed. Seventy-nine per cent of school-age black children attend school.
* Health services available to South Africa's blacks are the most comprehensive on the continent. Sixty-two percent of all beds available are used by black patients; 67 percent of admissions to hospitals are black patients, and 78 percent of all outpatients are blacks.
As in almost all developing countries, a growing percentage of the population is being attracted by the magnet of the industrial centers, overstretching amenities and causing social upheaval. Whereas in the past, efforts were made to control the situation through legislation, a bold attempt is now being made to take jobs and opportunities to those parts where unemployment exists. In defining eight developing regions it was accepted that the existing regional distribution of economic activity had to a large extent been brought about by market forces. Hence generous incentives to encourage the private sector to relocate industries in development regions for the benefit of the communities concerned. These take the form of transport rebates, housing loans, energy subsidies and non-taxable grants.
No magic-wand-waving can change everything overnight. The one-party states of our continent demonstrate that building political participation is a difficult task. African countries with far less complicated situations have suffered the fate of less freedom, more poverty and little peace for the average citizen when political change has moved too swiftly, not met reality, or failed to recognize diversity. South Africa is a place that should be posted: "Beware of simple solutions."
It is rightfully said that each generation is engaged in a race against time, a contest concerning whether man can grasp enough about his circumstances to make the changes necessary for the next generation to survive and prosper. South Africa is mindful of its responsibility and has embarked on steps to meet this obligation.