Giant Step for S. Africa : New compromise could prove to be fatal blow to apartheid

Finally there is undeniable progress in South Africa. The black majority--30 million men, women and children--will soon have their first say in how their country is governed.

Negotiators for the overwhelmingly white ruling National Party and the predominantly black African National Congress agreed Tuesday to create a multiracial Transitional Executive Council. President Frederik W. de Klerk will have to consult with the council on all major decisions. The council will also give blacks a voice in the arrangements for the April 27 election. That contest is crucial because black South Africans will be allowed to vote for the first time.

This new power-sharing agreement indicates that the powers that be--the National Party and the ANC--can find common ground in their common homeland. Without compromise, the new interracial coalition government would surely flounder.

Violence overshadows the most recent political success in South Africa. On the day after the negotiators agreed to the new council, more than two dozen blacks were murdered. Most of the victims were commuters massacred by 10 black gunmen at a taxi stand in Johannesburg. Others were killed in a taxi-van, a common mode of transportation for black South Africans.


Was this round of violence a political attempt to sabotage the emerging democracy or was the timing merely a coincidence? Conservative whites quit the negotiations two months ago. Was the massacre committed by mercenaries paid by white right-wingers who fight every change in South Africa? Or were these killings another attack by black extremists who resent the ANC’s domination in the negotiations? Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, who heads the small but potent Inkatha Freedom Party, has boycotted the multi-party negotiations since July, when the 1994 election date was set.

The source of the violence notwithstanding, South Africa’s dead now number more than 10,000 since De Klerk freed Nelson Mandela in February of 1990. Most of the victims have been black. Most have died in factional fighting between the most militant followers of the ANC and vicious loyalists of Buthelezi, who arrogantly covets a presidency that by all predictions will go--and rightly so--to Mandela. Both leaders have deplored the violence. Buthelezi, however, has given only lip service; some of his henchmen were trained and encouraged by the white government to undermine the ascension of the ANC.

Among the recent victims of the violence was Amy Biehl, a Fulbright scholar from Newport Beach who was killed after being pulled from an auto. The tragedy of the murder of this young, idealistic Californian is compounded by its far-reaching effect: It tells the world that anyone can be a victim in South Africa. That is a message that may deter many of the foreign investors so sorely needed now by South Africa.

Black and white South Africans share a common economic goal of luring international investment back to their country. Massive investment would allow the new interracial government to narrow, although perhaps by only a bit, the yawning gaps in the quality of housing, health care and education provided to whites and blacks.


The ANC is expected to call soon for the end of economic sanctions. Those restrictions were imposed in the United States at federal, state and municipal levels to pressure the white minority to end apartheid. Major foreign corporations such as IBM and General Motors left South Africa nearly a decade ago. Most states, including California, divested huge amounts of stocks in companies doing business with South Africa. European nations also limited investment in response to the white minority’s odious practices.

Apartheid, finally, is dying. Democracy can flourish in South Africa only when the violence is stopped. Meanwhile, the courageous compromises achieved by farsighted people--people of goodwill on both sides--must continue.