S. Africa sees hope, irony in Peace Prize Mandela, De Klerk win despite strife

October 16, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- For the third time, the Nobel Peace Prize has come to South Africa, arriving in a country that is far from peaceful, indeed that seems obsessed with violence.

Making the announcement in Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was honoring President F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."

"By looking ahead to South African reconciliation instead of back at the deep wounds of the past, they have shown personal integrity and great political courage," the committee said.

The two winners congratulated each other by phone. Mr. de Klerk later said, "I think this peace prize will bring a message to all South Africans that the world wants us to succeed, that the world wants us to achieve lasting peace."

Mr. Mandela said, "I dedicate this award to all the courageous people of my country, black and white, who have suffered and endured so much and pledge that in whatever time remains to me, I will spare no effort to bring peace, freedom and justice for all to South Africa."

The two followed in the footsteps of Albert Lutuli, an earlier ANC leader who won the award while jailed in 1960, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 choice.

But the announcement was hardly greeted with universal acclaim in their native land.

"Giving this prize to Mandela and de Klerk smells to high heaven," said one caller to a talk radio station. "What peace have we got?'

About 10,000 people have died in political violence since Mr. Mandela was released by Mr. de Klerk in 1990 after 27 years in prison. The country's murder rate is now thought to lead the world.

In the first seven months of this year, 1,675 deaths were attributed to political violence, 467 in July alone after the announcement of April 27 as the date of the country's first nonracial elections.

"We think that the award is premature, to say the least," said Paul Pereira, a spokesman for the Institute of Race Relations, a liberal group that has been a long-standing foe of apartheid.

The executive director of the institute, John Kane-Berman, has been arguing recently that much of the country's violence is due to the legacy of ANC policies of the 1980s, when the group battled apartheid by trying to make the country "ungovernable."

"At this point, it is not at all clear that the policies of either Mr. Mandela or Mr. de Klerk will lead to peace," Mr. Pereira said.

Indeed, some argue that the country is already in a state of civil war as fighting rages in the black townships in the Transvaal and rural settlements in Natal, much of it between members of the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

"If you read that book 'The Prize' by Irving Wallace, you can see that anybody can win a Nobel Prize," said Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

"It is strange: De Klerk is the commander in chief of the armed forces that just killed those five people," he said, referring to last week's raid by the South African Defense Forces on an house alleged to be used by terrorists from the Pan Africanist Congress. The dead included two 12-year-olds. The oldest was 19.

"And Mandela used to be commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which has been systematically killing our people for years," he said, repeating a charge he often makes against the armed wing of the ANC.

"But I am sure that the committee is composed of honorable people who made their choice for the right reasons," he added.

Inkatha has joined with white right-wing groups in an effort to stop the negotiations for a new government. They assert that the parties of Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk, far from making peace, are leading the country toward war by dominating those negotiations and by failing to take into account other positions.

Complicating the situation is the fact that, in addition to being partners in leading South Africa out of apartheid, Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela are active politicians who are beginning a campaign to oppose each other in April's election. Each party blames the other for the violence.

Mr. de Klerk's National Party runs full-page newspaper advertisements with a picture of a brick, and text that says the National Party builds with it instead of throwing it.

The ANC at every turn tries to blame the government, and a mysterious "third force" made up of rogue right-wing elements in the security forces, for the violence.

The Democratic Party, which traditionally provided liberal opposition to apartheid in the white Parliament, has tried to distinguish itself from the two others by flooding Johannesburg with posters that say, "We never killed people . . . only apartheid."

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