A Good Week in South Africa

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IN a single week South Africa saw three important developments in its march toward racial justice and political reform. On Oct. 15, the Separate Amenities Act expired. The 1953 law was the legal basis for segregation of public facilities like libraries, parks, swimming pools, rest rooms, and drinking fountains. Conservative white communities in Transvaal and the Orange Free State are resisting the change by levying steep user fees for public amenities on nonresidents - which, because of segregated housing laws, include most blacks. Nonetheless, in discarding ``whites only'' signs on such facilities, Pretoria removed one of apartheid's most visible symbols.

Three days later, President Frederik W. de Klerk lifted the state of emergency in Natal province. Under the emergency authority granted in 1986 during a wave of anti-apartheid demonstrations in black townships, police had almost unfettered power to detain blacks indefinitely without trial. The state of emergency was lifted in most of the country in June, but remained in effect in Natal to deal with violence between followers of the African National Congress and those of the Zulu Inkatha movement. As the violence has recently subsided, President de Klerk declared that the ``ordinary laws of the land'' could cope with the unrest.

Lifting the state of emergency in Natal was one of the remaining conditions for constitutional talks between the white government and black political groups led by the ANC, so its demise is welcome. The ``ordinary laws of the land'' themselves, however, grant security forces powers that would be unacceptable in most democratic countries. The ANC calls for the removal of all security laws, which it says are not administered impartially. The government must still do far more to prove that it controls the security forces, and that such forces are not being used to perpetuate the subjugation of blacks, to provoke black violence, or to assist some blacks at the expense of others.

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This week the ANC's national executive committee reversed its earlier policy and agreed to a meeting between Nelson Mandela and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the Zulus and their Inkatha political arm. By, in effect, recognizing Buthelezi as potentially a full partner in future negotiations with the government, the ANC took a hopeful step in ending black violence - violence that has both weakened black solidarity and offered recalcitrant whites a pretext for continued opposition to black political aspirations.

The meeting of the two leaders will achieve this end only if the spirit of accommodation mitigates ethnic and political rivalry between ANC and Inkatha followers at the grass roots. A process of trickle-down education is needed.

As manifestations of widely different ethnic, political, and social cultures, the ANC and Inkatha will continue to be rivals, but that rivalry should be conducted with persuasion, not machetes.

It was, in all, a good week for a South Africa struggling to reinvent itself.

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