ANDREW BILSKI March 30 1992



ANDREW BILSKI March 30 1992




Their future at a crossroads, white South Africans had the power to determine its course. The March 17 referendum called by President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk asked white voters whether they were willing to continue with negotiations aimed at sharing power with the country’s black majority. For Keith Coates, a 68-year-old land surveyor from Cape Town, the answer was “No.” Lamenting the lightning pace of change under the reformist president, Coates said that he feared that “de Klerk will hand over to the blacks willy-nilly and that will be that.” He added: “I predict that within seven years this country will go to the dogs, with nationalization and all the other disastrous economic policies that have been implemented in other African countries when they achieved independence.” But de Klerk’s question had the force to divide families. Coates’s wife, Beryl, did not share her husband’s apocalyptic vision, and said that she voted “Yes” because she was “confident that we have a hopeful and


National Party takes Four race groups required power on platform to live in separate areas, of apartheid. Births registered by race. 1948 1949 1950 1952/53 I Marriages between Blacks must carry passwhites and other books that control races banned. where they live. Public facilities, such as washrooms and parks, are segregated.

Blacks forced to move from white urban areas to townships.

Police fire on anti-pass demonstrators in Sharpevllle, killing 69 and injuring 180. The government bans the 48-year-old African National Congress.

ANC leader Nelson Mandela arrested.

Mandela and seven other ANC members found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The ANC launches sabotage campaign against white rule.

Several hundred peopf die in confrontations police after schoolchi! dren in Soweto protest teaching of Afrikaans.

good future.” Declared the 65-year-old homemaker: “To me, it was no choice at all—there was only one thing to do.”

The overwhelming majority of South Africa’s 3.3 million white voters reflected Beryl Coates’s confidence in a negotiated settlement. Despite a scare campaign by right-wing Afrikaners who warned of chaos, bloodshed and an inevitable takeover by black communists, 69 per cent of the electorate gave de Klerk the goahead to negotiate a new, non-racial constitution. Of the country’s 15 electoral districts, only one, in the drought-stricken northern Transvaal populated by Afrikaner farmers, voted against continued reform (page 24). World leaders, including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, praised the referendum result and indicated their willingness to discuss the lifting of economic sanctions. But the emotion of the moment was felt most strongly in South African cities like Cape Town, where a jubilant crowd of supporters gathered outside the parliament buildings to serenade de Klerk, who was celebrating his 56th birthday. The beaming president, whose National Party now appears set to yield its 44-year grip on power, proclaimed the dawn of a new era. “Today we have closed the book on apartheid,” he told his countrymen. “The message of this referendum is that today is, in a certain sense, the real birthday of the new South African nation.”

It was de Klerk himself who signalled the new beginning two years ago when he chose to release Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison. That set in motion a sequence of political changes that could see the African National Congress (ANC) leader take part in a multiracial interim government by this summer— and blacks voting for the first time in national elections by as early as next year. But enormous obstacles remain. A violent power struggle among rival black groups shows no sign of abating. And although about two million voters last week effectively decided to give up their role as the last white-minority rulers on the African continent, there remain up to one million whites who have sworn never to live under black rule. “De Klerk can’t ignore the substantial number of noes,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They have deeply held views—and guns.” Many of those whites support the Conserva-

referendum, approve a new ititution giving powers to (mixed race) Indian voters.

Demonstrations and riots continue. Astate of emergency is declared in the townships, giving sweeping powers to police and restricting media.

Pass laws scrapped, Widespread insurgency continues,

Government and the ANC agree on an all-party congress to discuss constitutional negotiation.

liots erupt in the townships, lovernment critic Bishop )esmond Tutu wins Nobel Peace ’rize. Government repeals ban sex and marriage between vhites and other races.

President F. W. de Klerk promises to abolish apartheid and legalizes the ANC. Mandela released from prison. Public amenities

March 17: White voters overwhelmingly endorse reforms aimed at negotiating a new, non-racial constitution, leading de Klerk to declare: “Today, we have closed the book on apartheid.”

tive Party, led by Andries Treumicht, a former theologian and newspaper editor who has carried on a long rivalry with de Klerk. Nicknamed “Dr. No” for his stubborn opposition to reform, Treumicht acknowledged last week that a government controlled by South Africa’s 28 million blacks was now inevitable. But he added that Afrikaners would continue their stmggle for an independent white homeland—a vague concept that would allow whites to govern themselves in a still-undefined area. Although Treumicht mied out violence as a means to that end, at least for now, more extremist groups, such as the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, threaten a race war to prevent black rule.

But armed with his new mandate from the majority of whites, de Klerk will now step up constitutional negotiations with all of the country’s racial groups. That will not be an easy task. Talks aimed at negotiating the transition to majority government began last December through a forum called the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, or CODESA. Its participants, 19 political groupings representing white, black, Colored and Indian South Africans, are to create an interim government, draft a constitution and call an election for a new, multi-racial parliament. But Treumicht’s Conservatives and militant Afrikaners—descendants of the mainly Dutch pioneers known as Boers, who opened the country up to European settlement in the 17th century—have so far boycotted the process. And on the left, the Pan Africanist Congress and other extremist black groups have also refused to take part.

Meanwhile, de Klerk faces an uphill battle with the ANC, the largest black group at the negotiating table, over his vow to build “checks and balances” into the new constitution to protect the white minority. De Klerk said that he will agree to a new constitution only if it ensures, among other things, limitation of the powers of a head of state, representation of more than one party in the executive and a free-market economic system. The ANC, while conceding that minorities must have certain safeguards, has shown little inclination to accept that the black majority be denied outright power. And Mandela refuses to agree to de Klerk’s demand that his movement disband its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of

the Nation), or that economic sanctions be fully lifted, until an interim government is installed. Said de Klerk last week: “Some tough negotiations lie ahead.”

Constitutional issues aside, rampant political violence in the townships threatens to undermine black unity and unravel the tenuous peace process. More than 11,000 blacks have been killed since 1984—nearly 300 of them during the three-week referendum campaign alone—and much of the fighting pits ANC supporters against the Zulubased Inkatha Freedom Party. The ANC, which has links with the South African Communist party, has blamed a shadowy “third force” for provoking violence, saying that elements in the government security forces side with Inkatha because they consider it to be a more palatable political group.

In the aftermath of the March 17 vote, a petulant Treurnicht compared de Klerk to former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who, he said, was a “victim of his own reform.” Declared Treurnicht: “Mr. de Klerk has won his referendum, just like Gorbachev won his. Gorbachev is today out of power and Mr. de Klerk is negotiating his own government out of power.”

It was an apt analogy. Like Gorbachev, who rose through the ranks of the Communist hierarchy under such hard-liners as Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov, de Klerk had strong conservative mentors, including Nationalist leaders B. J. Vorster and P. W. (Pieter)

Botha. And nothing in the early, toe-the-line careers of either man hinted at the radical changes that each would later foster in his stagnant society. The product of a highly politicized and devoutly religious Afrikaner farming family, de Klerk carefully shied away from taking sides during the internal Nationalist debates over apartheid in the 1970s.

But, again like Gorbachev, de Klerk became president at a momentous time. When he succeeded Botha in 1989, the black majority’s cries for justice had gained such widespread support that they could no longer be ignored. Faced with spiralling violence in the black

townships and economic collapse under the weight of international sanctions, de Klerk rapidly began dismantling the pillars of apartheid—beginning a process that may soon see the pariah nation join the world community.

His work nearly done, some South African observers have already begun referring to de Klerk as “yesterday’s man.” That may be so. But that is no slight to a skilled politician who has already changed the course of his nation’s history.



Cape Town