Settlement in South Africa

April 20, 1994

The deal by which the Inkatha Freedom Party will contest South Africa's mold-breaking multi-racial parliamentary elections next week offers that country a way out of civil war and a more promising start in democracy.

Another way to put it is that Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Zulu chief, leader of Inkatha and prime minister of the KwaZulu homeland, realized the bus was leaving the station and hopped on after everyone thought it too late.

This will require amending ballot papers and other strenuous efforts to get Inkatha candidates on a ballot they were boycotting. It is a total reversal of what Zulu leaders were telling their people. It might not hurt them in the election as much as might seem likely, however, since their agitation against the election was in effect their campaign, keeping their cause in the public eye.

The deal that made this possible was a triumph for African diplomacy in settling African problems. The mediation effort by seven foreign dignitaries, including former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, failed when Chief Buthelezi tried to change the terms of reference from a constitutional compromise on federalism to a delay of the election. Those mediators packed and went home.

A Kenyan diplomat and former U.N. official named Washington Okumu, who was not part of that group but was once Mr. Kissinger's student at Harvard University, picked up the pieces and mediated the deal.

What he had that the non-Africans lacked was the trust of Chief Buthelezi and Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, who is expected to emerge from the election as the nation's leader. The other thing Mr. Okumu had going for him, in four days of whirlwind negotiating, was an executive jet belonging to Anglo-American Corp., the giant South African mining conglomerate, which wants a smooth transition to majority rule with minority rights.

The agreement worked out among President F. W. de Klerk, Mr. Mandela and Chief Buthelezi renounces violence, creates free federal and regional elections with full Inkatha participation, preserves a ceremonial role for the Zulu king in Natal and postpones unresolved problems to post-election foreign mediation, presumably by Mr. Okumu. From what is made public, it appears to ignore -- and therefore reject -- the demand for Zulu autonomy.

It would be foolish to believe this achievement will end ethnic and political turmoil in South Africa. But it allows the South African people to move forward in growing confidence and harmony to take charge of their destiny by democratic means.

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