JOHANNESBURG — WINNIE MANDELA has changed her style. These days she strikes the look of a hard- working member of Parliament, wearing conservative suits - a far cry from her days of flamboyant African dresses and soldier-like suits.
Mrs. Mandela's change is part of an attempt to try to save herself politically. This week in a Johannesburg courtroom she suffered a major defeat: Her husband of 38 years, President Nelson Mandela, won a divorce that she fought to prevent. The sympathies of many South Africans lay with her husband, who spoke sadly of being "the loneliest man" at the end of their marriage.
The divorce of Mrs. Mandela (she now takes the name Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) is widely seen in South Africa as not just a divorce from the respected president, but from future political power for herself.
Madikizela-Mandela's radicalism - her open clashes with superiors in the government and her continued militancy - has marginalized her within her own party, the African National Congress (ANC) and is costing her public support, say political analysts. She no longer has the powerful role as apartheid fighter she assumed while her husband was in prison.
Her fall comes at a time when other radical political elements in the country are also on the decline. Both left-wing black nationalist groups and white-right organizations are losing influence all over South Africa as more people identify with the reconciliation advocated by mainstream political parties.
"Radicalism in this country is no longer in vogue," says Greg Mills, director of studies at the South African Institute of International Affairs. "Right now, people here are strongly focused on reconciliation."
ONE example of the demise of a radical group is the Pan-Africanist Party. The PAC is in such disarray that it is having a hard time finding a president and raising money. The PAC found support in the early 1990s by arguing for a more radical approach to majority rule than the ANC was advocating.
But by the first all-race elections in April 1994, few voted for the PAC. The party's poor showing has been blamed on its hesitancy to enter into negotiations over the end of apartheid in the early 1990s and its talk of violence even after the end of white rule.
The group South Africans worried would cause the most problems after the advent of black rule was the white right. The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) is the most radical of the groups. Prior to the historic elections, 500 members of AWB "invaded" a former South African homeland in support of a South African puppet ruler. Thirty members of the group were arrested for involvement in a bombing spree.
Since the elections, however, members have moved away from the AWB to more moderate rightist parties, such as the Freedom Front, which holds seats in Parliament.
"Now that the end of the world has not happened as they predicted, most right-wing whites have drifted back toward the middle," Mr. Mills says. "Whites, and not just Afrikaners, have been astonished by the spirit of reconciliation shown by the black leadership here."
One thing keeping radicalism at bay at the moment is the calming factor of Mr. Mandela. After his departure from politics, radicalism could again emerge, says Jack Bloom, a provincial legislator for the moderate Democratic Party in Johannesburg. "Mandela is keeping a lot of people in line today just by his presence.I wouldn't be surprised that after his departure, more hard-liners in the ANC will start making noise.
"Likewise, I would not write Winnie Mandela off yet," he adds. "If she is able to hitch her star to Thabo Mbeki [the present first vice president and likely next South African president], she might end up with a ministerial position yet."