WORLD

A PROMISE MADE

NELSON MANDELA AND PRESIDENT DE KLERK GET THEIR TALKS BACK ON TRACK DESPITE OPPOSITION

JOHN BIERMAN April 16 1990
WORLD

A PROMISE MADE

NELSON MANDELA AND PRESIDENT DE KLERK GET THEIR TALKS BACK ON TRACK DESPITE OPPOSITION

JOHN BIERMAN April 16 1990

It was late night, and their talks had clearly been exhausting, but both black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and South African President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk seemed elated. In separate statements last Thursday, they announced that plans for formal negotiations between the government and Mandela’s African National Congress, cancelled by the ANC a week earlier because of alleged police brutality, would continue. As well, both leaders agreed that the atmosphere at their first meeting since Mandela’s release from jail two months ago had been notably friendly. Said the ANC leader: “The cordial nature of the discussions and the concessions made by both sides give us the impression that we are correct in sitting down with the government to explore a peaceful solution.”

Some observers described that as an unexpectedly optimistic view of the prospects for negotiations on South Africa's constitutional future. But, on the edges of the country’s political spectrum, the response was more predictable. Andries Treuernicht, leader of the pro-apartheid opposition Conservative Party, bitterly attacked even the concept of black-white talks. “We won’t negotiate the nonnegotiable—our freedom and our claim to the land,” he declared. And Barney Desai, a regional co-ordinator for the equally extremist black Pan-Africanist Congress, described the pending negotiations, which are to start on May 2, as a “sellout.” Said Desai: “The smell of appeasement is thick in the air. It smells awfully.”

De Klerk made the critical concession that opened the way for rescheduling the opening of formal negotiations. He told Mandela that the government would launch an “in-depth” investigation into the killing of 11 blacks and the wounding of more than 400 others by police gunfire during a March 26 demonstration at Sebokeng, near Johannesburg. And he promised that at the next cabinet meeting he would propose the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into the affair, which Mandela called “the massacre of innocent and defenceless people.”

De Klerk was apparently careful not to concede that the police had, in fact, been guilty of brutality. But it is widely recognized that many police oppose his declared intention to abolish apartheid and enfranchise the black majority. And, in accepting de Klerk’s undertaking, Mandela appeared to signal that he understood that problem. In fact, insiders said that, when the commission is set up, it will include one or more anti-apartheid figures.

Mandela also said that he and de Klerk had made “very solid progress” on another thorny issue: the near-civil war between competing black factions in Natal province, in which about 3,000 people have died in the past 30 months. Although he evidently had doubts about the impartiality of the police, the ANC leader approved the deployment of a large troop contingent to assist in quelling the violence between supporters of the ANC and the United Democratic Front, on the one hand, and the conservative Zulu-based organization, Inkatha, on the other.

Earlier last week, Mandela visited the battle zones around the Natal provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg. He later described it as a harrowing experience. Accompanied by a 50-car entourage of bodyguards, supporters and journalists, Mandela drove through the so-called Valley of Death, where by unofficial count more than 100 people have been killed in the past two weeks. As the motorcade wound through the war-ravaged townships, thousands of chanting residents turned out to greet him.

The two-day visit was clearly a morale-booster for ANC supporters, who have suffered the heaviest casualties in the savage fighting. But, despite increased patrolling and aerial surveillance of the troubled region by the security forces, the killing continued. On Friday, 11 more deaths were reported from Natal, and a further 13 people died the following day. As well, a monitoring group set up by the white liberal Democratic Party reported that at least 1,400 people were either homeless or refugees.

Before de Klerk began his talk with Mandela, he suffered a setback to his attempts to weaken the ANC’S bargaining strength by bringing more amenable black leaders into the negotiating process. The South African president had invited the leaders of South Africa’s six semi-autonomous black homelands to a meeting in Cape Town on Thursday morning. But only two of them arrived, and one of those, Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, insisted that he was there not as chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland, but in his capacity as the leader of the Inkatha movement.

Among the four homeland leaders who did not appear for the scheduled meeting was Frank Ravele, president of Venda, who was overthrown in a military coup the same day. It was the second homeland coup in little over a month, and many analysts said that it was a symptom of the growing demand by residents of the homelands for reincorporation into a reformist South Africa. David Welsh, professor of political studies at the University of Cape Town, described the Venda coup as “the fall of another homeland domino, which effectively means the collapse of the grand apartheid system instituted in the 1960s and 1970s.” Of Venda itself, an impoverished area on the Zimbabwe border, Welsh said: “Since its inception in 1979, it has been a squalid, authoritarian banana republic.”

De Klerk’s first reaction to the failure of his attempt to recruit the homeland leaders was to blame intimidation by the ANC. Mandela denied the charge, and two of the absentees backed the ANC leader. One of them, Chief Minister Mogobiya Nelson Ramodike of Lebowa, declared: “The homeland system is illegitimate as a form of government. It promotes divide and rule.” Said Mandela: “We are prepared to forget the past and mobilize everyone who will work for an end to apartheid.” In the end, that spirit of compromise appeared to be the only hope for real peace in South Africa.