Transition Time in South Africa

February 21, 1993

A measure of the progress toward majority rule in South Africa is the deal between the white government and the African National Congress. President F. W. de Klerk and ANC leader Nelson Mandela say they want a five-year government of national unity, following elections late this year or early next. First they agreed, then they backed down under pressure, and then they agreed again.

Objections were manifold. The Inkatha Freedom Party, an ANC rival, wanted strong regional government in territories it dominates. The Conservative Party insisted that whites ought never to give up power. The more radical Pan Africanist Congress, the Azanian People's Organization and Winnie Mandela, estranged wife of the ANC leader, demanded a transition of months, not years.

Negotiations go on but everyone should note that the principle of a transfer of power is no longer in dispute. There is going to be one. In unofficial ways, it has begun. It will not make the vast majority of poor black people richer overnight. It will put some black leaders at the pinnacle of power very swiftly. It will, very soon, establish a government that is concerned about redistributing living standards. It will lead to majority rule of a country that will remain multi-racial and multi-lingual.

The transitional government will, by next year at the least, give the most power to the party with the most votes, which will almost certainly be the ANC. But it will have a place for every party winning 5 percent of the total vote, which offers something to Inkatha and perhaps even to intransigent whites in the Conservative Party.

Of the objections made, those within the ANC and by the Inkatha Freedom Party are the most serious. That party's leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, enjoys the power he wields now in a so-called homeland and wants it perpetuated in some fashion. He has had difficulty accepting the probable hold on the majority electorate of ANC, which in turn has difficulty acknowledging his prestige among Zulus. Fortunately, three-way talks of both groups and the government are scheduled for next month.

The 74-year-old Mr. Mandela, who has had to rest in the middle of arduous negotiations, is already the co-leader of the nation and the next president if his strength and health permit. Even the smaller leftist organizations in the black population ought to acknowledge that. So should Mrs. Mandela. The great duty falling on Mr. de Klerk is to insure that the vast security apparatus accepts the authority of black leadership that is now so inescapably imminent.

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