Logjam on Political Talks Broken as Scandal Fades


Just five weeks ago, the march toward power-sharing negotiations in South Africa was stopped by revelations that President Frederik W. de Klerk’s government had made covert payments to the Inkatha movement, rival of the African National Congress.

Now the heat of that scandal has died away, and movement toward constitutional talks has resumed even more vigorously than before.

Moreover, political analysts credit the scandal with breaking a diplomatic logjam and pushing both the government and Nelson Mandela’s ANC closer to the bargaining table.


“Everyone realizes that there’s no alternative,” said Helen Suzman, a longtime liberal foe of the government. “The government cannot reverse its reform movement. . . . And the ANC also must negotiate. It cannot unseat this government by military coup.”

Today the ANC, the government, Inkatha and other organizations are preparing to meet Sept. 14 to sign a pact aimed at ending black factional fighting that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives in the past four years. Those fights have primarily pitted the ANC against Inkatha with, the ANC contends and the government denies, government assistance to Inkatha.

At the same time, the ANC has subtly, but significantly, changed its approach toward negotiations. Until a few weeks ago, the ANC had refused to enter formal constitutional talks until all political prisoners were free and all exiles home. But now, the new ANC executive committee believes that putting off the talks is no longer in the interests of the voteless black majority.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s new secretary general, told reporters earlier this month that the De Klerk government alone “is the obstacle that stands between us and the resolution of the South African conflict.”

And Joe Slovo, leader of the South African Communist Party and a member of ANC’s negotiating team, added: “We are now saying we are clearly prepared to . . . move toward an all-party conference to discuss the formation of an interim government.”

The ANC first plans a “patriotic front” conference next month to bring together most anti-apartheid organizations and discuss forming a powerful bloc during talks with the government.

After that conference, ANC and government officials say, all groups in South Africa will be prepared to meet to discuss how to write a new constitution and what type of government should be in place in the interim.

The scandal that spurred all this activity marked the low point of De Klerk’s two-year-old presidency.

Known locally as “Inkathagate,” it began with revelations that security police had made secret payments of about $90,000 to Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi’s Inkatha movement in 1990, shortly after the ANC was legalized and Mandela was freed from jail. The government confirmed those payments and later acknowledged giving $500,000 to an Inkatha-linked labor union.

De Klerk, denying knowledge of the funding but admitting that confidence in his government “has been shaken,” coolly defused the growing political crisis by ordering the demotion of Cabinet ministers in charge of the national police and the army.

The president also gave the first firm indication that “transitional arrangements” for governing the country would be needed during the constitutional talks “to ensure that the government of the day does not misuse its position of power.”

“Inkathagate” strengthened the ANC’s negotiating hand considerably. It ended any hope De Klerk may have had of being both referee and player in constitutional talks. And although Buthelezi denied knowing about the payments, the exposure of a secret link between his group and the government hurt Inkatha’s credibility.