South Africa's Pre-election Struggle

March 16, 1994

The brutal small civil war fought out in the streets of dusty little Mmabatho in recent days moved South Africa closer to a successful election leading to majority rule.

The town is the capital of some noncontiguous black islands in northern South Africa that supposedly were set free in 1977 as the black homeland of Bophuthatswana. It was a sham, but the despotic "president," Lucas Mangope, liked his authority and determined not to allow his homeland to be reincorporated into South Africa, not to allow the election to be held and not to allow the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela to campaign.

A popular uprising ensued. Belying its "sovereignty," white resisters led by extremist Eugene Terre Blanche rushed in from South Africa to support the local police, only to be defeated and run off by those police. The summary execution of three white militia by an indignant Bophuthatswana soldier was caught on television to horrify the world. White-officered South African troops entered to restore order and escort the Afrikaner Resistance Movement out of the homeland. Mr. Mangope resigned and South Africa's "ambassador" to this pretend-sovereign nation became its interim "president" until the election.

Some 24 people were killed. It was probably the high water mark of white reactionary armed resistance to the election, which failed miserably. The 2.5 million Bophuthatswanans were freed to vote in the April election and constitutional referendum, which will make them citizens of South Africa.

The depth of South Africa's problem, stemming from the stake that white and black racists had in the old regime, was shown when black gunmen burst into an integrated church and murdered the whites there. Murderers of all sides are making their last stand to stem the tide of history.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, prime minister of KwaZulu homeland and head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, has decided to boycott the election. He was just given an object lesson in reasons not to deny KwaZulu people the right to vote.

The white vigilante movement split as its more respected leader, former army chief Constand Viljoen, registered to campaign in the election. The so-called Freedom Alliance of resisters came out of its first battle much weaker. The multiracial Transitional Executive Council, which oversees the remaining days of the white government of President F. W. de Klerk, emerged stronger. Obstruction took the field, and was run over.

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