The release yesterday of Maj. Wynand du Toit, a South African commando captured in Angola in June 1985, may have helped to clear the way for the release in South Africa of the jailed African National Congress leader, Nelson Mandela. Major Du Toit was released by Angola as part of a huge prisoner exchange involving him, two anti-apartheid activitists held in S. Africa, and 133 Angolan soldiers held by South African-backed Angolan rebels.
Du Toit's newly-acquired freedom completes a trio of releases which President Pieter Botha demanded as a condition for considering Mr. Mandela's release.
In January 1986 President Botha told Parliament that he would consider freeing Mandela on humanitarian grounds if restrictions on two dissidents in the Soviet Union, Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Shcharansky, were lifted and if Du Toit were repatriated.
The Soviet dissidents are already enjoying new lives: Mr. Shcharansky was freed in early 1986 to emigrate to Israel last year, and late last year Dr. Sakharov was allowed to return to Moscow from banishment in Siberia. Du Toit's release completes Botha's triad of conditions.
Analysts point out that Mandela's release was not an explicit quid pro quo in the negotiations leading to Du Toit's release. And it is unclear whether Botha will feel bound to follow through on his earlier statement.
There is, however, already one clear indication that Botha has advanced further toward freeing Mandela. In a speech he made to Parliament last month, the President redefined policy governing release of political prisoners. Botha had long insisted that political prisoners renounce the use of violence as a means of achieving their political goals - a condition that Mandela rejects.
But, in his speech last month, Botha effectively told Parliament that the interests of the state, rather than the attitude of the prisoner, were paramount in determining whether or not a prisoner should be released.
Journalists in South Africa operate under official press restrictions.