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THE LANDMARK RELEASE OF NELSON MANDELA WAS A DRAMATIC TURN IN THE QUEST FOR HARMONY

HOLGER JENSEN February 19 1990
WORLD

FREE AT LAST

THE LANDMARK RELEASE OF NELSON MANDELA WAS A DRAMATIC TURN IN THE QUEST FOR HARMONY

HOLGER JENSEN February 19 1990

FREE AT LAST

THE LANDMARK RELEASE OF NELSON MANDELA WAS A DRAMATIC TURN IN THE QUEST FOR HARMONY

WORLD

The T-shirts proclaiming “Welcome home Nelson Mandela” appeared throughout South Africa last week as the jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader prepared to leave prison after 27 years. For hours before his release, ecstatic blacks chanted and sang in the streets in a dance of the revolution known as toyitoying. Mandela’s wife, Winnie, jumped for joy and exclaimed, “Hoorah!” Then, on Sunday, at 4:14 p.m. local time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 71, the effective leader of the nation’s 26 million blacks, walked hand in hand with his wife into the steamy 30 C sunshine at the gate outside Victor Verster Prison, 60 km north of Cape Town in the hilly wine country of Paarl. He and his wife both gave triumphant clenched-fist salutes to the crowd of hundreds of cheering supporters. They stepped into a car, which then proceeded slowly through the jubilant throng that surrounded it and the rest of the motorcade as it left with a police escort for Cape Town. There, a planned rally was

suspended after police fired at some blacks who were smashing windows and looting stores.

The announcement of Mandela’s impending release came on Feb. 10 at a Cape Town news conference held by President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk. “I want to emphasize there can no longer be any doubt about the government’s sincerity to create a just dispensation based on

negotiations,” he said. “All of us now have an opportunity and the responsibility to prove that we are capable of a peaceful process in creating a new South Africa.” Still unresolved, however, was the status of the formal state of emergency and the fate of other political prisoners. In his meeting with Mandela, said de Klerk, he had “stressed the importance of creating conditions which would enable me to lift the state of emergency.” As for the prisoners, de Klerk said that “exploratory discussions” would take place. On Sunday, an ANC spokesman said that the congress would not begin negotiations before the state of emergency was lifted.

Anti-apartheid activists and black communities across the country started celebrating as soon as they heard the reports of Mandela’s impending release. And within hours, world leaders hailed the move as a major step towards full rights for South Africa’s black majority. But the chorus of praise was not universal. South Africa’s most powerful right-wing politician, Andries Treumicht, said that his official

aopposition Conservative Party would stage protest rallies around the country. And members of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement marched through Pretoria on Saturday shouting “Hang Mandela.” As well, the Zulu leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, warned against “euphoria politics” and noted that “there will be no overnight burying of apartheid.”

De Klerk had already triggered an angry backlash from white supremacists on Feb. 2, when he legalized the ANC and first announced his intention to release Mandela and begin negotiations that will bring blacks into the political process. But the ANC also has extremists. Some young black radicals, who fought in the Johannesburg-area black township of Soweto while their leaders were in prison or in comfortable exile, say that the older generation is being too moderate and too ready to bargain with the hated white regime. Their resentment surfaced when Mandela conferred with former president P. W. (Pieter) Botha last July and again when he held talks with de Klerk in December. Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok said that the police had been aware for at least two years that some factions within the ANC “don’t like the role Mr. Mandela is playing.”

At his Saturday news conference, de Klerk said that he had a meeting with Mandela on Friday night at which the two men discussed the lifting of the 3V2-year-old state of emergency— one of the ANC leader’s preconditions for negoti-

ations. But the other issue of political prisoners remained a sticking point. So far, de Klerk has said that he would release only those who had not committed crimes of violence—including terrorism. And the police commissioner, Gen. Johan van der Merwe, has said that ANC exiles risk arrest on their return “unless amnesty is granted.” In Stockholm, Joe Slovo, exiled secretary general of the South African Communist party and a member of the ANC’s executive council, said that the issue would have to be resolved before any negotiations take place. “We have been engaged in a political struggle in

which armed activity played a role,” he said. “We can’t separate those who committed political offences and those who committed so-called terrorist offences.”

Observers say that de Klerk, anxious to get Mandela to the negotiating table as soon as possible, will likely concede that point. Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha appeared to be laying the groundwork for an amnesty last week when he told a worldwide television audience on the ABC Nightline program that his government had been wrong to outlaw the ANC and should have opened talks with that organization long before it resorted to violence.

Once negotiations do begin, they will likely be long and arduous. Although de Klerk told parliament that he wants to repeal the Separate Amenities Act, under which city officials can bar blacks from public facilities, other pillars of apartheid remain. The president made no mention of the Population Registration Act, which requires classification of all South Africans by race, or the Group Areas Act, which forces the races to live apart.

The two sides will also have to reconcile de Klerk’s vision of power-sharing, in which whites would be guaranteed protection from black domination, with the ANC’s insistence on blackmajority rule. Constitutional Planning Minister Gerrit Viljoen said that Pretoria envisages a five-year timetable for talks, after which blacks would have full political rights or would at least be engaged in the process of gaining such rights.

That may not be soon enough for young and impatient ANC militants, who could still try to speed up the process through the barrel of a gun. And it may be too soon for some Afrikaners, who clearly feel that de Klerk has betrayed them. But if they have nothing else in common, both the reform-minded Pretoria government and the moderate leadership of the ANC share a considerable risk—which could be the bond that brings them together.

HOLGER JENSEN with CHRIS ERASMUS in Cape Town

CHRIS ERASMUS