South Africa's history has been so bloody that it would be naive to believe the peace plan signed a week ago will be a panacea. Nevertheless, the agreement hammered out in excruciatingly difficult talks over the past months between the white minority government and more than 20 anti-apartheid groups is an unprecedented attempt to end the current strife which, with proven government complicity, has cost thousands of lives.
Peace deserves a chance in South Africa. Although an orderly transition from more than four decades of apartheid rule will be a drawn-out proposition at best, the fate of that very process hinges on the success of the new peace plan. After all, the ZTC government and the two other main signatories, the African National Congress and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, are supposed to be principals in coming constitutional negotiations to dismantle apartheid and extend voting rights to South Africa's black majority.
Under the truce agreement, Inkatha, the ANC and the government pledged to end the use of violence and inflammatory language against opponents. The signatories also promised to refrain from provocative public displays of arms and adhere to a new code of conduct for political parties and security forces.
Enforcing the agreement could be difficult. Hours after the signing, thousands of Inkatha supporters chanted, sang and staged mock battles with the short-handled stabbing spears and body-length hide shields that have been traditional Zulu weapons ever since the times of Shaka, their powerful 19th century ruler. Heavily armed government soldiers watched nervously. Meanwhile, ANC leader Nelson Mandela complained that if his organization had held a similar armed demonstration, the police would have used force or firearms.
Mr. Mandela's bitter remarks reflect the suspicion ANC has openly expressed about Pretoria's conciliation efforts since it was officially disclosed the government had secretly funneled money to Inkatha rivals and its labor wing. To many ANC members and sympathizers, those revelations only confirmed what they had always suspected -- that the government was using Inkatha to undermine the ANC by whatever means necessary.
Mistrust is so deep in South Africa that the peace process is certain to be a very difficult one. Yet if provocations can be avoided and even an uneasy truce holds, the cause of peace will have been significantly enhanced. President F. W. de Klerk was right when he said those signing the peace accord "were under no illusions that it was a magic wand" but rather a "first step on the arduous road to peace."