JOHANNESBURG — MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S vision of nonviolent change is gaining support in South Africa, despite sustained political violence at the grass-roots level. ``Dr. King's dream is coming to realization in South Africa in its own way,'' said the Rev. Tsietsi Thandekiso, general manager of the King-Luthuli Transformation Center.
At a dinner in Johannesburg yesterday, United States Ambassador William Swing joined black leaders in paying tribute to King and Chief Albert Luthuli, a former leader of the African National Congress (ANC).
Recent research has shown that Luthuli, a church elder who insisted on nonviolence, exchanged letters with King on the subject of nonviolent change. They saw eye-to-eye on many points, according to Mr. Thandekiso.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan visited South Africa this week while on an eight-nation tour of Africa to assess child survival programs and the impact of AIDS.
``We are very concerned about the violence and the tragic loss of life,'' said Dr. Sullivan, adding that it had slowed down the process of change and economic development. His visit coincided with a week of activities to commemorate King.
``There is a clear parallel between the history of colonial rule in India, segregation in the United States, and apartheid here in South Africa,'' said Sullivan, who knew King.
Sullivan recalled that Mohandas Gandhi's visit to South Africa - to prepare for Indian independence - had influenced King in his preparation for the US civil rights struggle. Sullivan said that ANC leader Nelson Mandela had found a ``courageous ally'' in President Frederik de Klerk as he [Mandela] helped lead all the people of South Africa to freedom and full citizenship.
``With its decision to suspend the armed struggle and join in a peaceful process of negotiations, the ANC has also returned to the path of nonviolence,'' Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted that, out of the four black recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize to date, two were Americans - King and Ralph Bunche - and two South Africans - Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Luthuli. He said that the nature of the struggle in the US and South Africa differed fundamentally.
``In the US, our struggle was to ensure that the rights provided by our Constitution would be extended to all citizens, regardless of color,'' he said. ``Here, in South Africa, the struggle is to develop an entirely new constitutional dispensation.''
The prospects of South Africa's violent conflict being transformed into peaceful struggle were boosted in August when the ANC agreed to suspend its 29-year-old ``armed struggle.'' In theory, this made it easier for ANC leaders to embrace the philosophy of nonviolence. But, instead of leading to peace, the accord unleashed a new wave of intra-black political violence, which has claimed more than 3,500 lives.
``South Africa is an angry nation. Our people don't know how to express their anger constructively,'' said Thandekiso.
During his US tour in June, Mandela was presented with the highest award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta. He endorsed the American civil rights leader's philosophy. But for many radical black youths, Mandela has not lived up to their expectations.
``They were disappointed to see that he wears a tie,'' said Thandekiso. ``They were hoping for a fellow comrade - a guerrilla fighter who would confront the government forcefully.''
``Only by steadfast commitment to the process of negotiation initiated by Mandela and other black leaders, and by President De Klerk, and by adhering to the powerful weapon of nonviolence, can this country overcome the long nightmare of apartheid,'' Sullivan said.