Archive for Monday, February 12, 1990


February 12, 1990


The winds of change that have been blowing around the world have now swept into South Africa.

Sunday, Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, was freed after 25 years as a political prisoner. The message of freedom sent by President F.W. de Klerk and received by thousands of jubilant South African blacks is heart-warming. But the end of Mandela's imprisonment is not the end of the struggle in South Africa.

De Klerk and Mandela appear to be working in the same direction, but perhaps with different motivations and varying timetables.

While de Klerk probably is sincere in his desire to improve the standard of living for black South Africans and widen their participation in the nation's government, he also has to be concerned with world opinion. It is in the blacks' best interest to be involved in the government, but it also is in the government's best interest to quell world criticism of apartheid and perhaps bring an end to some of the economic sanctions other countries have imposed on the segregated nation. At the same time, de Klerk faces the task of giving black South Africans more independence while not abandoning the concerns and welfare of white South Africans.

From Mandela's perspective, freedom will allow him to take a more active role in leading the fight against apartheid, which he seems determined to continue. Observers have noted that Mandela has said nothing so far that he wouldn't have said during his confinement or that should surprise African officials. Being able to say those things to crowds of hundreds of thousands of people at one time, however, should add momentum to the anti-apartheid movement.

Mandela now faces some tricky strategic problems of his own. During gatherings Monday, Mandela reaffirmed his alliance with the African National Congress, but acknowledged the contributions of such groups as the ANC's military wing, Spear of the Nation. Although Mandela's speeches are taking a moderate tone during his first days of freedom, he has not ruled out more militant solutions to the problem of apartheid. It certainly would do the ANC no good in the eyes of the world, however, to be seen as a group that encourages violence and terrorism, especially at a time when the South African government seems to be trying to work with the nation's blacks.

Mandela also saluted the ANC's ally, the South African Communist Party "for its steady contribution to the struggle for democracy." His statement seems almost a contradiction of terms, but other communist nations around the world are working toward democratic goals. Why not in South Africa?

Although Mandela and de Klerk appear to be moving closer together, they certainly aren't walking hand in hand in their view of South Africa's future. De Klerk has proposed a broader role for blacks in the government, but his ideas fall far short of the one-man, one-vote ideal Mandela seeks for blacks. Bringing the two sides together will be a long struggle against many generations of segregationist attitudes.

In the meantime, the world's response should be cautious. So far, only Britain's Margaret Thatcher has called for an end to sanctions against South Africa. That is predictable, considering British ties to the country, but other nations are likely to take a more conservative approach.

Mandela's release is a joyous event for black Africans as well as for the leader himself, who must have doubted many times whether he ever would be allowed to walk free. Hopefully his release and the continued efforts of Mandela and de Klerk will be a positive influence on the government of South Africa, but the challenges that face that nation are complex and will not be resolved overnight.

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