De Klerk Faces Test of Presidency

South African leader must restore government's credibility over Inkatha funding scandal

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE South African funding scandal has severely damaged the credibility of the De Klerk government and undermined its prospects of retaining political control during the transition to a new constitution."The level of trust in the government is at such a low pitch that we must have a joint mechanism for overseeing the transition process and establishing control of the security forces," said Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The disclosures that the government secretly funded the Inkatha Freedom Party after President Frederik de Klerk had legalized the African National Congress (ANC) - and that it gave at least $40 million to rivals of the liberation movement in Namibian independence elections in 1989 - have bolstered the ANC's call for an interim government. "It is now clear that the government cannot manage the transition on its own," says liberal Democratic Party legislator Jacobus Jordaan. "Government has all the power and legality it wants, but it lacks legitimacy now more than ever."

Western mood hardens The scandal has hardened the mood toward South Africa in Western capitals and is likely to delay lifting of sanctions by the European Community and Japan. Coming so soon after President Bush lifted some sanctions, the scandal severely embarrassed the United States administration and it canceled a visit by a government minister to Washington last week. US officials have hinted that lifting remaining sanctions - such as on air links and supporting Pretoria's requests for International Monetary Fund loans - will be put on hold pending Mr. De Klerk's response to the scandal. De Klerk is expected to announce an end to the secret funding of political parties and tighter controls on remaining secret projects. But the Cabinet appears to have closed ranks, and it is unlikely that any ministers will be fired at this stage. De Klerk faces the toughest test of his presidency tomorrow when he responds publicly to the disclosures. If he fails to restore his personal credibility and that of his government the negotiating process could collapse. Hard-liners, like Defense Minister Magnus Malan, could gain the upper hand if civil unrest ensued. The ANC has stopped short of calling for De Klerk's resignation despite the unrepentant tone of the key players in the scandal - Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, Defense Minister Magnus Malan, and Foreign Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha. "There can be no continuation of the process of negotiation without the establishment of an interim government," said ANC Working Committee member Patrick "Terror" Lekota. But the ANC's Executive Committee, which meets in an emergency session this week, is more radical than the Working Committee and could opt for halting talks if De Klerk does not go far enough in checking the security forces when he responds tomorrow.

Stalemate is broken Until the funding scandal, Pretoria and the ANC appeared to have reached stalemate over the ANC's demand for a sovereign interim government and the government's insistence that it would not relinquish sovereignty to any interim government, although it would draw black leaders into a "transitional mechanism." According to a government official, there have been behind-the-scenes attempts by negotiators from both sides in recent months to find a compromise on the form of an interim administration. Under terms of the compromise, a proposed all-party conference would act as a parallel administration to approve Cabinet decisions, while joint commissions would have a say in specific areas of government, especially the security forces and electoral procedures. Since the scandal broke, says a government official, there has been an admission in government circles that Pretoria's moral argument for guiding the transition has been shattered, and that it will have to relinquish more power than it had intended to ensure a legitimate interim administration. The scandal seems to have irreparably damaged the already tarnished image of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who is portrayed in leaked police documents as a puppet of the security police, political analysts say. "Inkatha's foreign credibility is smashed," says Mervyn Frost, a political scientist at Natal University at Durban. "Inkatha was slowly chiseling their way to a major seat at the negotiating table, but they needed sustained international support to get there." Professor Frost says that the elimination of Inkatha as a potential equal to the ANC and the government has changed the chemistry of the negotiating process. "We are back to a two-player game - the ruling National Party government and the ANC." The disclosures have also severely embarrassed Pretoria in its attempt to promote the idea of an anti-ANC alliance with Inkatha, sections of the mixed-race and Indian communities, and conservative black groups. De Klerk has never clearly stated that forming a Christian Democratic Alliance to defeat the ANC at the polls is government policy, but his ruling National Party had been holding alliance talks with Inkatha in Natal province.

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'Moderates' compromised The scandal has also undermined government denials that the security forces have colluded with Inkatha in provoking township violence aimed at weakening the ANC and bolstering the idea of a moderate alliance. In a defiant and unrepentant defense of the government action in a state-run television interview Thursday, Mr. Botha said De Klerk did not know about the funding and given traditional funding procedures was not required to know. He said he had no regrets about what had happened. "We did it and, under similar circumstances, we will do exactly the same," Botha said. Botha's mix of anger, defiance, patriotism, and humor appeared to go down well with most white voters. But it was criticized by Western diplomats and most black South Africans as compounding the government's credibility problem. "There is no doubt that De Klerk has now lost the moral high-ground," said one diplomat. "All he can hope to do tomorrow is to limit the damage. But regardless of his response there will be increased international sympathy for an interim government, and it will become more difficult for Pretoria to resist some form of international mediation."

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