THE most immediate impediment to progress in South Africa is not the crumbling constitutional and legal structure of apartheid, which separates whites from blacks, but the political violence that divides blacks from blacks. Until the factional fighting that has taken some 5,000 black lives in the past three years is ended, even reform-minded whites may resist serious power sharing with South Africa's black majority. So it is significant that the major legal reforms expected to be announced by President Frederik de Klerk tomorrow at the opening of Parliament, which are discussed in the article by Robert Rotberg on Page 19, were preceded Tuesday by a historic meeting between Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party. The bloodshed in Natal Province and, more recently, in the black townships around Johannesburg has resulted principally from strife between members of the ANC and Inkatha.
The meeting between the two men, once young comrades in the struggle for black justice, was their first in 30 years. For months they have been ducking a face-to-face encounter, under pressure from militant constituents not to appear soft. But after 1,000 deaths near Johannesburg since August, the two leaders rightly put aside mere political considerations to clasp hands in Durban.
The meeting appears to have made a hopeful start. The atmospherics were cordial, and each man acknowledged the need to curb the fighting. Only the next few months, however, will tell if their message reached the rank and file.
Many fault lines vein relations between the ANC and Inkatha - as well as other smaller but significant black groups. The lines are ethnic and tribal, demographic (urban vs. rural), political, and tactical. There also are generational differences, with younger blacks tending to be more radical and impatient, and differences between returning exiles and blacks who have been battling apartheid at home. It will be perhaps a decisive test of black leadership to try to meld these factions and interests into a peaceful, though far from monolithic, body politic capable of assuming governmental authority.