South Africa’s March 17 referendum led the government to toughen its position against the ANC. Within a month after the results, Mr. de Klerk got the ANC at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) to agree to the election of a transitional; government, the interim government the ANC had wanted appointed. The ANC had wanted CODESA (whose’ name echoes the Congress of Democrats—God—a front organization founded in 1953 by the South African Communist Party after its banning in 1950) to mask the transfer of power to itself. The government was able to win : this concession not only because of its two-to-one victory at the referendum, but because Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Zulu organization, Inkatha, had insisted at CODESA on an elected interim government. The government frequently suspected of private deals with I the ANC owes whatever strength this I victory shows to the Zulus, who also insisted that no elections for a transitional government occur before the ANC renounces violence unequivocally, another demand the government adopted more or less at the time it demanded an elected transitional government. It also demanded that the ANC transform itself into a political party, and that it lend its support to the creation of conditions for free and fair elections without coercion or interference. These demands presuppose a fundamental change of heart in the ANC, a change the government thinks possible because it believes the ANC to be different from European terrorist organizations like the Baader-Meinhof gang. In any case, there is no agreement on the form of the elections or the form of the transitional government, especially on whether there will be two houses with an upper house, with a veto, elected on proportional representation, which the government demands. More importantly, the violence in the townships, and the chaos and intimidation, makes elections impossible for a long time, as even a visiting committee of international jurists recently stated publicly. The government estimates that it will be at least a year before elections, but the real question is whether they will ever be possible without fierce intimidation.
The ANC’s tie to terrorist activity has been central to the situation ever since Mr. de Klerk decided to release Nelson Mandela in February 1990 without his renunciation of violence, a condition his predecessor, P. W. Botha, would not have waived. De Klerk implicitly recognized his break with Botha in the wording of the referendum that dated the “reform process” from Mandela’s release. During the campaign, however, President de Klerk blamed Botha for starting reform after Botha attacked him for gradual abdication. Botha then announced he would vote against the referendum, a statement carried the next day on the seven o’clock news but not on the eight o’clock, with its greater audience. Earlier at the first meeting of CODESA, Mr. de Klerk’s criticism of the ANC for not renouncing violence provoked a 25-minute attack from Mandela, live on television. De Klerk had “to forget [the notion] that he can impose conditions on the ANC,” Mandela said, calling him the head of “a discredited, illegitimate, minority government.” Mandela and other members of the ANC later made it clear they had no intention of renouncing terror or “armed struggle,” as they put it. Mandela clearly thrives on violence, understandably—since it was terror, and the international support it won him and the ANC, that got his release. In the end, after 27 years, it was the South African government that yielded to him, not he to it, an act that did not win his respect.
Mandela’s attack made a profound impression on South Africans who typically respect their leaders and can tell the difference between tough criticism and abuse. Mandela’s scorn made undeniable the gradual erosion in the authority of the police, army, judges, and most importantly even Parliament itself, another word for the “reform process.” By agreeing to CODESA Mr. de Klerk undermined his own Parliament, just as his exclusive preoccupation with the ANC at CODESA kept him from dealing with all blacks—not only Buthelezi : but also the other homeland leaders, especially Mangope of Bophuthatswana—who truly want to negotiate instead of using talks merely to seize power.
De Klerk’s preoccupation with the ANC and its international support may have also led him to consent to the exclusion of moderate groups from CODESA, among them the church groups and the elected town councillors, who incidentally are now critical of the National Party. In contrast to these : groups and to the homeland leaders, whose support can only be guessed at, nobody really knows how much of a following the ANC enjoys.
During the referendum campaign President de Klerk’s appeal to 70 foreign governments for support of a “yes” vote also betrayed his preoccupation with the ANC’s international connections. Instead of explaining his policies, he tried to intimidate the voters. As one of the best South African journalists, Ken Owen, wrote. President de Klerk claims “that he will insist on free enterprise, but he does not say exactly how that will be achieved. He talks of protecting private property, but does not really explain whether it will be achieved by the bill of rights, or tell us when and how the state might expropriate land. He says the constitution will protect minority representation, and he puts forward such curious mechanisms as a revolving presidency, which is unlikely to last, but he does not explain to the voters the more important concept of proportional representation (which not one in a hundred South Africans understands).” To win any kind of confidence, constitutions have to be discussed thoroughly in public before their adoption, for there is no way a people can trust a government it does not understand, especially a people whose majority has no political experience.
The government’s acquiescence to Mandela’s refusal to renounce violence, which Mr. de Klerk now seeks to undo, has had immediate consequences. A year after Mandela’s release, fear among whites was palpable, especially of car hijackings at stop lights—the drivers sometimes murdered. In 1990, the year of Mandela’s release, political killings rose to 2,674 in contrast to 659 the year before, and 28,000 people died violent deaths (in both criminal and political killings) in the 18 months before the end of 1991. Assigning the ANC’s terrorism to the realm of “township violence” has blurred the distinction between political and criminal killings, the latter usually seven times more frequent. Except for the fighting in Alexandra and other townships in the spring of 1991 and 1992, most of this violence has received much less attention in the American press than the more limited violence under P. W. Botha. In Alexandra in 1992, ANC killers were said to run wildly through the streets firing AK-47s at random with plentiful supplies of ammunition—in contrast to the Zulus who fought with traditional weapons, an imbalance rarely mentioned by the newspapers that usually seek to blame both sides equally. Perhaps the newspapers avoid reporting these stories in detail because they do not want to face their and the American government’s role in bringing about the violence.
The real story is that the ANC, because of its greed for power, is keeping the country from the constructive change almost everybody wants. The government runs the risk of colluding with the ANC not only because of destructive and self-destructive international pressure, especially from Britain and the United States, but perhaps also because the government prefers the company of cutthroats and ex-convicts to the company of people who respect their country enough to know that no change would be worth much that comes of fear rather than consent. Buthelezi and the Zulus, who have taken the positions one would have expected of the government and who have contributed most to the little stability there is in South Africa, have been constantly snubbed and sidelined, the reward for men of courage and reason in an irrational situation.