Since the establishment of apartheid in South Africa in 1948, ** U.S leaders have studiously avoided giving Pretoria the legitimacy a presidential audience confers. So the question is, what has changed in South Africa to lead George Bush to meet with F.W. de Klerk this week and reverse this long-standing policy?
Optimists point to de Klerk's pledge to dismantle apartheid, release all political prisoners and move toward granting full political rights to South Africa's black majority. They cite the release of Nelson Mandela and the legalization of the African National Congress as evidence of good faith.
But skeptics note that although de Klerk let Mandela go, hundreds of other activists still languish in South African prisons and thousands of political refugees are unable to return home. Moreover, they argue, de Klerk has been unwilling or unable to stop the bloody factional fighting that has ravaged South Africa's impoverished black townships, and there are ominous reports that South African security forces may be abetting the violence to derail the reform process.