It was a long time in coming, but South African President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk’s response to the simmering dirtytricks scandal was decisive. Fully 10 days after dramatic revelations that police had covertly funded the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, the archrival of the African National Congress, de Klerk demoted the two cabinet ministers most closely linked to the scandal. Responding to ANC charges that the secret funding had undermined his white-minority government’s credibility in the eyes of the country’s black majority, de Klerk told a televised news conference last week that Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok and Defence Minister Magnus Malan had become “stumbling blocks” to blackwhite constitutional negotiations.
Western observers called de Klerk’s action a deft exercise in damage control. “The government has been chastened,” said one senior Canadian diplomat in Pretoria. But he added: “The government is in a whole lot less trouble than it was a few days ago.”
Certainly, de Klerk has suffered a political setback. And he still faces obstacles in bringing the ANC back to negotiations, suspended in May, to work out a new nonracial constitution.
The ANC’s national executive committee said in a statement last week that the president had to do more than demote Vlok and Malan—both of whom will remain in the cabinet holding the relatively minor portfolios of prisons and the environment, respectively. Declared the statement: “This is a serious underestimation of the depth of anger among our people towards these two ministers.” The ANC also urged the government to resign to make way for a multiparty interim administration. ANC President Nelson Mandela, who was touring Latin America last week, went even further.
Declared Mandela: “The only way to a nonracial democracy in South Africa is that of an interim government. If de Klerk and his regime are not prepared to accept this demand, they must learn there can be no further discussion between them and ourselves.” However, de Klerk insisted at his earlier news conference that he would not hand power to a “temporary regime.” He added that, if negotiations resume, he would be willing to consider some unspecified “transitional arrangements.”
It was still possible that the government and
the ANC would work out some compromise. Despite their stem public statements, some ANC leaders privately expressed delight that the scandal had forced out the very two hardliners whose resignations they have been demanding as a condition for resuming negotiations. And although Mandela harshly criticized de Klerk, he did not cut short his Latin Ameri-
can tour to deal with the issue. Some observers said that de Klerk’s decision to demote his two controversial ministers may even have given the ANC leadership a face-saving victory, allowing it to resume talks with the government despite opposition from its more militant members.
Still, much will depend on whether the South African president can convince black leaders that covert operations, including the nearly $700,000 that police paid to Inkatha and an allied trade union over the past four years,
would cease. De Klerk last week pledged to suspend all such secret funding projects and to establish a private-sector committee to monitor their dissolution. “It is now up to de Klerk to keep these promises,” said the Canadian diplomat, “and he will be under intense pressure to do so.”
De Klerk must also respond to allegations from the ANC and former members of the security forces that police not only funded Inkatha, but also trained Inkatha militants and fought in battles between members of that organization and the ANC. Such skirmishes have claimed 6,000 lives in the past five years. Last week, amid speculation of further revelations implicating police in the fighting, de Klerk attempted to set himself apart from securityforce activities. He said that the government had no policy of taking sides in the ANC-Inkatha violence. But he conceded that “individuals on their own, without the knowledge of their superiors,” may have been involved.
Government officials expressed optimism that, despite the so-called Inkathagate scandal, an all-party conference to discuss the constitution, including representatives of the government, the ANC, Inkatha and other black organizations, would convene soon. One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it would be “a matter of a few weeks before the first moves on the all-party conference are made—that’s really the next move for everyone, and all the major players know it.” He conceded, however, that the scandal has enhanced the ANC’s position going into the talks. “I don’t think we have altogether lost the moral high ground,” he said, “but the row has meant we will probably have to give more than we wished on the interim government demands.” The group that appears to have lost the most from the scandal is Inkatha and its president, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The ANC had long accused g Inkatha of taking government money § and collaborating with the white-mi-
0 nority regime—allegations that Ini' katha fiercely denied. And although
1 Buthelezi’s personal assistant claimed ^ sole responsibility for accepting the u police funds, and the chief himself Q denied any knowledge of the money,
the organization’s credibility has clearly suffered. Said the Canadian diplomat: “For Buthelezi and Inkatha, this has been a disaster.”
Certainly, with more than one million members, Inkatha will continue to play a role in black politics. But when, or if, the all-party conference convenes, both Buthelezi and de Klerk will likely find that Inkathagate has eroded their influence—and propelled Mandela’s ANC to the head of the negotiating table.
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