WORLD

'A victory for the people'

Pretoria lifts its state of emergency

JOHN BIERMAN June 18 1990
WORLD

'A victory for the people'

Pretoria lifts its state of emergency

JOHN BIERMAN June 18 1990

'A victory for the people'

SOUTH AFRICA

Pretoria lifts its state of emergency

A formal meal from the kitchens of France’s Elysée Palace is all but guaranteed to induce a glow of well-being in any participant. But South African black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela was even more

genial than most as he emerged from a state luncheon with French President François Mitterrand last week. In Cape Town, Mitterrand’s opposite number, F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk, had just announced the lifting of the four-yearold state of emergency in three of South Africa’s four provinces. And Mandela said that he was “very happy to hear this.” Indeed, to underline his evident goodwill, Mandela renounced any claim to a victory for his African National Congress (ANC). Rather, he said, “it is a victory for the people of South Africa as a whole, both black and white.” But despite his expression of approval, it seemed likely that de Klerk’s declaration would undercut the black leader’s position as he began a 13-nation trip that is scheduled to take him to Canada and the United States later this month.

One objective of the 71-year-old Mandela’s world tour is to persuade Western governments not to relax economic sanctions against Pretoria until all vestiges of apartheid have been removed. Clearly, de Klerk's latest liberalizing action could weaken Mandela’s argument. On the other hand, it could also provoke

an ever-stronger backlash from worried white South Africans. Only the day before, a byelection result had shown a dramatic rise in support for the opposition Conservative Party, which wants to return to old-fashioned apartheid. De

Klerk’s National Party retained a normally safe seat by only 547 votes out of almost 12,000 cast. Commented elections analyst Donald Simpson of Potchefstroom University: “Based on this result, the Conservatives would sweep to power if a general election were held today.” The one province excluded from de Klerk’s relaxation of emergency powers was Natal. There, violent clashes between supporters of the ANC and the conservative Zulu Inkatha movement have claimed an estimated 2,500 lives in the past 18 months.

De Klerk said that the government would allocate an extra $431 million to bring the situation in Natal under control, while across the country as a whole the 61,000-strong police force would be increased by 10,000. Mandela, speaking in Paris, expressed disappointment that the state of emer-

gency remained in force in Natal, but in Johannesburg his senior ANC colleague Walter Sisulu was sharply critical. Indeed, Sisulu declared that de Klerk’s “half measure” was not sufficient to clear the way for negotiations to begin on a constitution that would enfranchise South Africa’s 28-million-member black majority.

But while de Klerk’s relaxation of the state of emergency, and his release of 48 political prisoners, may not have gone far enough to satisfy the ANC, it clearly outraged pro-apartheid whites. They had already demonstrated their dislike for de Klerk’s reforms in a byelection the previous day in the suburban Umlazi district of Durban, Natal’s provincial capital. There, the Conservative Party more than doubled the support it received in last September’s general election. And a third contestant, the white liberal Democratic Party, was almost wiped out, polling only 982 votes against 5,762 for the Nationalist candidate and 5,215 for the Conservative.

Independent analysts said that the result was an ominous sign of a swelling white backlash against de Klerk’s policies, which in recent months have included the legalization of the ANC and the release of Mandela after 27V2 years in prison. And it seemed to show that the white electorate is increasingly alarmed by the possibility of what right-wing extremists call a “sellout” of its interests.

á In an apparent effort to jc ease those fears, de Klerk spiced his speech last week with criticism of the ANC. “It is time for the ANC to give a true account of itself,” he said, in an obvious reference to that organization’s failure to renounce its policy of armed struggle. De Klerk also criticized the ANC’s continued demands for economic sanctions and its official policy of nationalization of major economic resources. The ANC, he said, “still has a long way to go.”

Still, such comparatively mild criticism seemed unlikely to mollify his critics on the right. Extreme right-wing groups are openly arming themselves, vowing to resist any extension of significant voting rights to the black majority. In partially ending the state of emergency, de Klerk had taken another risky step on the difficult journey towards what he has called “a completely new South Africa.”

JOHN BIERMAN

CHRIS ERASMUS