Mandela optimistic S. Africa will hold first democratic elections this year

January 18, 1993|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela said yesterday that the cornerstone has been laid for a post-apartheid South Africa and that 1993 will be the critical year in his country's shift to democracy.

In an interview before departing for the United States, where he will attend the Clinton inauguration, Mr. Mandela said he is optimistic that South Africa will hold its first democratic elections this year.

Negotiations between his African National Congress and the white-minority government have resulted in agreements on a timetable for elections and the broad outlines of a multiracial interim government that will draft a new constitution.

The negotiations, which began in 1990, have been stalled for six months.

"The delays that have taken place ought not to have been unexpected in our situation," said Mr. Mandela, who noted that before 1990, the white authorities had refused to talk to the ANC and labeled it a terrorist organization.

"Now we are talking and exchanging ideas," he said.

Mr. Mandela, 74, who spent more than a quarter-century as a political prisoner, said the lull in negotiations served a useful purpose in focusing politicians on the urgency of putting a new government in place.

"That delay was fortunate, because now the lesson has been drummed into the minds of politicians that we can no longer afford delay because our economy is in tatters," he said.

"And if we don't do something about it, if we don't make 1993 the most decisive year in the attempt to normalize our situation, a democratic government will not be able to repair our economy."

South Africa is in the grip of a three-year recession. More than half of the labor force in the formal economy is unemployed. Crime is increasing at an alarming rate, and political violence has kept investors from bringing much-needed foreign capital into the country.

Mr. Mandela maintains that none of problems can be tackled until a stable new government is installed.

He said he has expectations that Mr. Clinton will "strike a new direction" in ensuring that the transition to democracy is quick and smooth.

"The election of Bill Clinton has aroused high expectations from the people of South Africa," the ANC leader said.

He noted that his organization also had maintained friendly relations with the Bush administration and had been consulted on major international issues. But he added, "As you would expect, our views did not always coincide."

Mr. Mandela, who met Mr. Clinton last July in the United States, said he had had two telephone conversations with him since the election but had not made any specific requests for assistance to South Africa or to the ANC.

The ANC president was invited to the inaugural by Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

If the ANC wins a majority in elections, Mr. Mandela said, it will invite the National Party of President F. W. de Klerk to join a government of national unity to ensure whites that they still had a role to play and to ward off right-wing attempts to undermine the new government.

"There is a potential of danger in this country from right-wing elements and from other dissidents," he said.

Right-wing political and paramilitary groups have pledged to go to war to prevent black majority rule. In addition, the ANC maintains that right-wing forces within the national security forces are fueling violence in black communities in an effort to create instability and sidetrack political reform.

Mr. de Klerk conceded last month that certain military officers were involved in dirty-tricks campaigns against the ANC. He dismissed 16.

But Mr. Mandela said that was "the tip of the iceberg." He said the massive security structure built up under Mr. de Klerk's predecessor to combat anti-apartheid organizations would have to be dismantled once an interim government was installed.

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