COVER

TEARING DOWN THE SYSTEM

SOUTH AFRICA PROMISES TO FREE NELSON MANDELA AND LIFT A BAN ON BLACK GROUPS

JOHN BIERMAN February 12 1990
COVER

TEARING DOWN THE SYSTEM

SOUTH AFRICA PROMISES TO FREE NELSON MANDELA AND LIFT A BAN ON BLACK GROUPS

JOHN BIERMAN February 12 1990

TEARING DOWN THE SYSTEM

SOUTH AFRICA PROMISES TO FREE NELSON MANDELA AND LIFT A BAN ON BLACK GROUPS

COVER

In characteristic Afrikaner fashion, President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk’s manner was stolid and sober. But what he had to say at the opening of parliament in Cape Town last Friday was the most farreaching statement made by any South African head of government since the introduction of apartheid 42 years ago. Black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, the celebrated political prisoner, would soon be released unconditionally, said de Klerk. And the African National Congress (ANC), which Mandela symbolically heads, would be restored to legality, along with 35 other banned or restricted organizations, including the Communist party. “The season of violence is over,” said de Klerk, a former hardliner whose renunciation of apartheid has transformed South African politics since he was elected five months ago. He added, “The time for reconstruction and reconciliation has arrived.”

Demonic: De Klerk’s speech, eagerly awaited in South Africa and around the world, proved to be considerably more radical than most people on both sides of South Africa’s racial divide had expected. It provoked audible gasps of dismay from the opposition benches of the hard-line Conservative party. To the Conservatives, as to other pro-apartheid whites, Mandela, who has served nearly 26 years of a life sentence for treason, is a demonic figure (page 42). But although right-wing reaction was predictable, that of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid campaigner, Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was surprisingly wholehearted. He called de Klerk’s announcement “marvellous” and even said that such nations as the United States and Canada might now ease up on trade and finan-

cial sanctions against South Africa. But Mandela’s wife, Winnie, was markedly less enthusiastic. She demanded the immediate end of apartheid and the abolition of all regulations imposed under the 3V2year-old state of emergency. “We are not prepared to accept a bone with no meat,” declared Winnie Mandela, who remains a controversial figure in the anti-apartheid movement (page 48).

Among South Africa’s 26-millionstrong black majority, the reaction was ecstatic. “I don’t believe it,” exclaimed teenage activist Paulus Skosana, who was in an anti-apartheid demonstration outside parliament when he heard what de Klerk had said. Then, Skosana yelled in delight: “Power to the people. We shall rule.” Across the country, reaction among nonwhites was a similar mix of astonishment and joy. Said Azhar Cachalia, a spokesman for the United Democratic Front, one of the newly liberated organizations:

“There’s a lot of excitement in the streets. People are marching and singing and dancing.”

Freed: Still, it was clear that when the euphoria died down, de Klerk’s initiative would be recognized as only the start of a long, difficult process of negotiation—with no certainty of success. In the months ahead, black demands for majority rule will inevitably come up against the government’s often-declared insistence on safeguarding the position of the country’s five million whites.

As South Africa’s Roman Catholic bishops said in a statement last month, “No political community relishes the prospect of surrendering the sole control of its destiny. White attitudes must change profoundly.” ^

There will likely also be some fundamental soul-search| ing within the ANC and other ^ just-legalized black organizas tions as the country prepares for indaba, or negotiations.

Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik)

Botha said that he hopes that the government will be able to convene those talks on South Africa’s constitutional future “within weeks, rather than months.” Clearly, negotiations cannot begin until Mandela’s release, which de Klerk said had been delayed for a short period for reasons related to the black leader’s “personal circumstances and safety.” And although an ANC statement said that de Klerk’s speech went “a long way to create a climate conducive to negotiations,” there were important reservations. In fact, the leadership might not be willing to start talking at all unless—and until—de Klerk lifts

the state of emergency altogether.

In his speech, de Klerk announced the abolition of emergency media censorship, while warning that a new law would restrict television or any other photographic coverage of unrest. He also imposed a six-month limit on detention without trial, freed all political prisoners not convicted of terrorist acts and put a moratorium on the execution of the prisoners, many of them political, who are now on death row. But his decision to retain other emergency powers drew criticism from the ANC leadership. The retention of those powers, the group’s statement insisted, “must be changed without further delay.”

Meanwhile, at week’s end, the ANC said that it will retain its military wing, which for 30 years has waged a mostly futile guerrilla campaign against white South Africa. ANC information chief Pallo Jordan said that the council will not unilaterally drop its armed struggle, and added, “Any cessation of hostilities will arise

out of a mutually binding ceasefire.” The younger and more radical elements among the leadership, while not publicly opposing their older colleagues’ commitment to negotiations, are known to be uneasy about walking into what they consider to be a negotiating trap. Brought up on the idea that power must be seized by armed force, those elements seem ideologically closer to such organizations as the Pan African Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement, which are the ANC’s rivals for popular support.

Another factor is Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, prime minister of the semiautonomous Zulu homeland, and the 1.5 million Zulus who belong to his Inkatha (Royal Ring) movement.

Buthelezi claims to be an admirer of Mandela. But his Inkatha warriors have engaged in bloody clashes with ANC supporters in the townships of Natal province, and mainstream black nationalists have accused him of selling out to the government. It was not known whether ANC leaders would invite Buthelezi to join their negotiating team. Failure to do so would put the influential Zulu politician in a position to play a spoiling role.

Neo-Nazi: But perhaps the most fundamental dilemma facing the ANC was whether it should now move its headquarters from Lusaka, the Zambian capital, and relocate the 35man executive in South Africa. Some of the leaders are suspicious of de Klerk’s intentions, and their security might be at risk in returning. The most obvious threat to their safety would come from ultra-right-wing whites, either within the security forces or among members of such organizations as the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement. That group’s leader,

Eugene Terre’Blanche, was visibly appalled when he heard the substance of de Klerk’s announcement. “God, don’t tell me that,” he exclaimed. “No, oh no, it can’t be true.” And already some of his supporters are talking about assassinating ANC leaders. “Now, we will be able to get at these bastards,” said a resistance movement sympathizer, who gave his name only as Gert.

Murdered: In the weeks of speculation leading up to de Klerk’s historic announcement, the 71-year-old Mandela played a commanding role. Despite his continued incarceration, he was clearly in a position to dictate terms to de Klerk, who needed his co-operation to help calm rising black unrest. In fact, sources close

to Mandela said that the imprisoned black leader declined a meeting with de Klerk the day before the president’s speech. The implication was that Mandela did not wish to give the appearance of becoming too close to de Klerk, with whom he met last December.

Then, de Klerk took three major steps. He reversed an earlier decision and ordered a judicial inquiry into allegations that, during previous administrations, the police operated a “death squad” that murdered anti-apartheid activists. He instigated a separate investigation into the death in police custody last week of 20year-old Clayton Sithole, the lover of Mandela’s youngest daughter, 29-year-old Zindziswa. And he negotiated a deal that averted a threatened clash between police and ANC supporters outside parliament on the day of his speech by persuading the organizers of a mass demonstration to change their route.

Ebullient: De Klerk made his announcement in an atmosphere of relative calm, and it was widely welcomed abroad. President George Bush said that he viewed de Klerk’s initiative “positively, and I think most people around the world will.” British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called it “a historic landmark” and said that it vindicated her policy of “contact rather than isolation” towards South Africa. For his part, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who has played a key role in mobilizing sanctions against South Africa, said that de Klerk’s “wise and courageous decision” proved that sanctions had worked.

Just hours after de Klerk’s announcement, Tutu set off a burgeoning international debate over whether the industrialized nations should now begin to relax sanctions. Speaking on a U.S. TV morning show, the ebullient archbishop appeared to run ahead of his fellow antiapartheid activists, who called for further progress before advocating an easing of pressure on Pretoria. Tutu recalled that he and other black leaders had told the South African government that, if certain conditions were met, “we would begin to say to the world, ‘Give them a chance—put your sanctions program on hold.’ ” And he added, “I think they’ve gone

a very long way along the route to meeting those conditions.”

Invited: Still, there was little immediate prospect of such countries as the United States and Canada relaxing sanctions already in place. Said Bush: “I think we should review all our policies, but first we want to see the policy initiatives go forward and the release of Mandela.” The President, who had earlier announced that once Mandela is free, both he and de Klerk would be invited, separately, to the White House, is known to dislike sanctions against South Africa. But under the terms of the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act, he is not able to relax them until de Klerk repeals two major apartheid laws still on the statute book.

As for Canada, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark made it clear that the government planned

no easing of sanctions. “Canada is proud to have contributed to the changes that have taken place,” he said. “We intend to maintain pressure until those changes are irreversible.” Clark is chairman of a Commonwealth foreign ministers’ committee that monitors events in South Africa and reviews sanctions policy. It is scheduled to meet next in Nigeria on May 14. By that time, Mandela almost certainly will be free, and negotiations within South Africa may well be under way. But that will be just the start of a long, hard road back to international respectability for white South Africa—and to majority rule for its blacks.

JOHN BIERMAN with CHRIS ERASMUS in Cape Town, WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington and ROSS LAVER in Ottawa

CHRIS ERASMUS

WILLIAM LOWTHER

ROSS LAVER