New Hope in South Africa

August 16, 1991

The agreement to agree made by the white government, the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party on Wednesday is the most hopeful news in South Africa in some time. Contact was poisoned by last month's revelations of secret government subsidies to Inkatha, while the ANC boycotted constitutional talks, blaming the government for strife in the townships.

The agreement, calling for all-party ratification on Sept. 14, does not automatically end fighting between Zulu members of Inkatha and Xhosa adherents of ANC. It will not abolish suspicions that the government fomented Inkatha violence to discredit ANC. But it will go a long way to try, by establishing institutions outside government, to monitor the conduct of political parties and security forces and a development program. The five committees to be created look like the embryo of a post-apartheid regime.

President F. W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela of ANC and Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Inkatha hold the future of South Africa in their hands. It may be that the government tried to promote Inkatha, which opposed economic sanctions by the outside world, against ANC, which favored them. It may be that Inkatha is not politically correct in the eyes of Americans who oppose apartheid. But those three forces still need to find an accommodation for South Africa to have a future. The black people of different traditions need to harness their rivalries in constructive ways. Neither ANC nor Inkatha is legitimized by an election. It would be presumptuous to predict how people will vote when they get a chance. ANC as well as Inkatha has skeletons in its closet.

The damage to the government's integrity and to Inkatha's credibility is not undone. Mr. de Klerk is helped by violent opposition to him from the extremes of the white community. This reinforces the genuineness of his commitment to change, but does not make clear his picture of the desired end result. South Africa has made strides in breaking down apartheid, and has passed the point of no return. Mr. de Klerk could not resurrect the old system if he wished. But his regime, the formerly rebel ANC and the collaborationist Inkatha are all necessary to the process.

Church and business leaders who brokered the new agreement saw the need of restoring peace in the townships and of persuading the ANC to return to constitutional talks with the government. The politics of intimidation and murder is the enemy of hope in South Africa, and all parties are starting to realize that.

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