Medals' Moral for S. Africa

MORE than fireworks took place in Philadelphia this Independence Day. The city recognized an apparent success of the new world order on the Fourth of July as it presented its Liberty Medal to both Nelson Mandela and President Frederik de Klerk of South Africa.

Both men deserve recognition and acclaim for implementing a political process that has permitted South Africa to travel a long way in a very short time.

Multiparty negotiations are about to usher in a new political structure that will include some kind of transitional government and lead, it is hoped, to a one-man-one-vote election in April 1994.

In addition to being the central motivators of this most unique process, Mr. Mandela and Mr. De Klerk also have adeptly worked their constituencies and kept their parties on the negotiations track.

That's the good news. The bad news is that there are major hurdles to clear if South Africa is to avoid the one-man-one-vote-one-time trap that has snared other African countries.

Although the "democratic middle ground" continues to grow, attracting black and white moderates, the political extremes appear committed to wreaking their havoc on South Africa's already violent society.

The Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) appears to take to heart its slogan "one bullet, one settler" as it pursues its terror, murdering white farmers and shooting white motorists. This feeds its white racist counterpart, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB). The two extremes have a sort of symbiotic relationship that, if left to its own devices, could spiral out of control and bring South Africa's fragile political accomplishments crashing down.

Although the extremists and their terrorist actions cannot be dismissed or ignored, a far more subtle, yet equally dangerous, political phenomenon could undermine South Africa's transition to democracy. The two principle political parties that constitute the new democratic middle ground, De Klerk's National Party (NP) and Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), will require vigilance as they forge a new "government of national unity." A careful eye is needed to watch over South Africa's young democrat ic traditions, its civil liberties, and its political-party rights.

Neither the NP nor the ANC possess what could be described as a history of respecting civil rights or individual liberties. Both organizations historically have been authoritarian, intolerant of dissent, and at times extremely brutal.

De Klerk and Mandela have tried to keep these tendencies in check, but their parties' recent pasts cast dark shadows.

For the NP and the government it has controlled for the past 45 years, the practice of detention without trial, political assassination plots, and the often-vicious application of apartheid, is hardly a strong base from which to launch a pluralistic nation.

Likewise, the ANC's reputation for quietly condoning the infamous practice of "necklacing," in which a burning tire is jammed over a victim's head, as an intimidation tactic in the townships, does not bode well for political tolerance and compromise.

After a recent report that the ANC and the NP already were considering the criteria that would be needed for the new government to declare a "state of emergency," one South African human rights activist stated, "Pity any political organization that falls outside of the NP-ANC alliance when they enforce a state of emergency together."

However, the remarkable political transition about to get underway does not have to be the swapping of white authoritarian rule for a multiracial authoritarian governance. If the new South Africa is to break its ties to an ugly past and establish a democratic nation, it must design democratic institutions and a framework that will safeguard civil liberties. The creation of a protected bill of rights, constitutional safeguards for private-property rights, and the design of a government with a system of ch ecks and balances (most probably through a federalist structure involving provincial and local governments) will be imperative if South Africa is to have a democratic future.

De Klerk and Mandela richly deserve the Liberty Medal for the courageous decisions and actions they have taken. The Fourth of July ceremony in Philadelphia celebrated the positive achievements that have thus far occurred in South Africa.

However, the award should also serve as a reminder that all South Africans must remain steadfast in their pursuit of liberty and freedom in the new South Africa.

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