WORLD

'LET A NEW AGE DAWIN'

December 20 1993
WORLD

'LET A NEW AGE DAWIN'

December 20 1993

'LET A NEW AGE DAWIN'

WORLD

It was a deeply symbolic moment for both black and white South Africans. In the shadow of Cape Town’s majestic Table Mountain, and within sight of the spot where the first Dutch settlers put ashore 341 years ago, a multi-racial group of officials gathered in the former Good Hope Theatre last week to begin the difficult task of steering the divided society to its first all-race elections. Etched on the faces of the delegates from the 16 political parties present at the inaugural meeting of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), a sort of shadow government overseeing key areas of the administration leading up to next April’s parliamentary elections, were the mixed emotions of that moment: jubilation and triumph, stress and exhaustion. It had taken two years of often bitter recrimination, tough negotiations and dangerous brinkmanship to get to that point. But for those present, the difficulties had clearly been worth it. Three centuries of white-minority rule were effectively over. And, as the council’s only female member, Queen Vilankulu of the Intando Yesizwe Party, put it, the installation of the TEC meant that the “long dark night” for the disenfranchised black majority was finally over. “With the end of this dark night, the weeping will end,” she predicted. “Joy will come.” The poetic references and emotion-charged language of the delegates, each of whom was given the opportunity to address their fel-

low council members, reflected the power of a moment only dreamed of by generations of black South Africans. And at another symbolic event half a world away, 1993 Nobel Peace Prize recipients Nelson Mandela and President F.W. (Frederik) de Klerk stood smiling side by side in the ornate Oslo City Hall, where the African National Congress (ANC) leader ended his acceptance speech with the triumphant words, “Let a new age dawn!” But as promising as the TEC’s first session was— the United Nations promptly lifted a 15year-old oil embargo against Pretoria—it coincided with conflict within and beyond

the baronial elegance of the council chamber. Hardly had the delegates got down to business when there was a heated dispute between senior government spokesmen and their counterparts in the ANC over whether the council amounted to a merely advisory body or a super-government controlling such critical elements as the police, army, justice and interior ministries. Meanwhile, the conspicuous absence from the proceedings of five conservative groups, both black and white, posed a major threat to the country’s transition to full democracy.

In Cape Town last week, chief government negotiator and TEC member Roelf Meyer was adamant that the task of the council was on-

WHITES BEGIN SHARING POWER WITH BLACKS IN SOUTH AFRICA

ly to “level the political playing field” and that it was not an alternative government. Speaking shortly before flying to Oslo, de Klerk threw his weight behind Meyer. The government, he said, would not stop governing. Declared de Klerk: “I regard the TEC as an important body with an important role, but it has a clearly demarcated role.” ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa, also a TEC member, reacted sharply, accusing de Klerk of indulging in “wishful thinking.” He asserted that not only would the council have executive powers but it could also reverse presidential decisions. De Klerk “must go back to

history if he thinks the ANC will allow itself to be sucked into a toytelephone type body,” said Ramaphosa, referring to a string of defunct and discredited bodies set up for blacks and other disenfranchised groups by previous white administrations. Adding further fuel to the fire was the refusal of the Freedom AÍliance, a conservative group of five black and white parties, to take part in the TEC. The alliance includes Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, two conservative black homeland governments and two white rightwing Afrikaner groups. Despite their obvious differences, those groups quit constitutional talks after they failed to win support for greater regional autonomy—a euphemism for separatism, in the case of the Afrikaners. And they have threatened to boycott the April elections. Still, Ramaphosa and other council members emphasized that despite the formal start of the TEC’s working life last week—with a $ 1.1-billion International Monetary Fund loan application as the council’s first order of business—the Freedom Alliance should consider the door still open.

But while Inkatha and one of the two black homeland governments in the alliance appeared to be mulling over that invitation,

there seemed little chance of reconciliation with the alienated and militant Afrikaners, descendants of South Africa’s 17th-century European settlers, whose leaders had repeatedly warned that the establishment of the TEC meant inevitable civil war. Last week, in an ominous foretaste of how far angry and fearful Afrikaners might go, a group of about 30 armed right-wing militants declared their opposition to the democratization process—and to the TEC in particular— with the predawn occupation of a military museum on the site of an old Boer fort near Pretoria. Ensconced behind razor wire and sandbag barricades, the rebels vowed to hold out against all comers for at least four days to defend Fort Schanskop, a symbol of Boer resistance a century ago to demands for obedience from their British colonial rulers. In response, heavily armed troops and police, most of them black, sealed off the fort in a day-long siege. The standoff ended peacefully 24 hours after it be= gan with the surrender of 17 of the rebels: they each paid fines of $40 for trespassing and

were sent home. But it could easily have become a bloody rallying point for Afrikaners trying to organize resistance to democratic change. Rebel leader Willem Ratte, a former Angolan bush-war veteran, said that the protest was “symbolic” of the Afrikaners’ continuing struggle against oppression and for self-determination.

In its way, the outcome of the “battle of Fort Schanskop,” as some local media commentators wryly labelled the protest, was also symbolic of the greater struggle taking place as South Africa sheds its apartheid past. Just as opponents once took to the battlefield to shake spears and make loud noises to frighten their enemies, the battle so far has consisted mostly of random skirmishes and studied posturing. But there remained a sinister conviction, at least among South Africa’s militant Afrikaners, that the real bloodletting was yet to come.

CHRIS ERASMUS in Cape Town