Time to Talk in Black South Africa

November 07, 1992

The warfare between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party in Natal Province threatens to halt South Africa's progress toward democratic rule. The ambush slaying of Reggie Hadebe, the ANC's second-ranking official in Natal, is just a punctuation mark in the inter-communal violence that has taken 12,000 lives throughout South Africa since 1984. The government's offer of an $8,500 award for information leading to the killers is a token of good faith in solving the problem, but only a token.

Pressure is mounting on ANC President Nelson Mandela and Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi to meet, as President F. W. de Klerk has repeatedly urged, in order to reach a truce. Both have expressed a willingness to do so. They have not met in more than a year. But a meeting would be no end in itself. Both sides must relinquish the goals for which their members are encouraged to fight and kill.

The ANC must acknowledge Inkatha's hold on most Zulu people's loyalty and cease pretending that ANC alone has a monopoly on representation of South Africa's black majority, or on virtue. The ANC made progress recently when Mr. Mandela admitted its past violence in the killing and torture of reputed defectors in bush camps in exile. Mr. Buthelezi, for his part, must quit insisting that a future regime enshrine rather than overturn the apartheid power conferred on him and other leaders of "homelands" established by South Africa.

And Mr. de Klerk must confer credibility on the government's ostensible effort to halt the inter-communal violence. The ANC may too glibly blame everything on secret police agents stirring up trouble -- the agents could not fan tribal and political animosity if it were not already there -- but there is something to it. While Mr. Mandela and Mr. Buthelezi have to deal with their own communities, Mr. de Klerk must insure his government's control over the security forces to make sure they are not still following old orders to spread mayhem among the black enemy. An even-handed police role is needed.

These three leaders are in this effort to bring South Africa into the modern world -- together. Probably, none can "win," in terms of achieving his group's whole agenda. But all of them can lose, and likely will, if South Africa does not escape the anarchy into which it is descending.

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