De Klerk's red carpet

September 26, 1990

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.

Both are right. It is indisputable that some progress has been made in "dismantling apartheid," as de Klerk promises. But there is also reason to question his sincerity when de Klerk speaks in riddles by promising "a vote of equal value" to all South Africans ++ in the future. Those words have a faintly disturbing ring of "separate but equal."

De Klerk can resolve these doubts simply by committing himself to a nation in which all citizens, regardless of color, have the same right to move about their country freely, to own property and live wherever they can afford to, to hold whatever jobs their talents and training entitle them to, to be accorded equal protection of the law in the courts of justice, and above all to vote for their representatives in the nation's supreme parliament -- in short, commit himself to non-racial democracy.

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