SOUTH African President F.W. de Klerk went further than many had anticipated. His announcement Friday that the 30-year ban on the African National Congress would be lifted puts the government squarely on the road toward negotiation with its anti-apartheid opponents. An end to that ban was a key demand of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. Mr. De Klerk announced, too, the unconditional freeing of Mr. Mandela. As a full player in the country's political development, the ANC chief could have tremendous influence.
The steps taken by de Klerk help initiate a process of change both necessary and difficult. Not only the ANC, but the black separatist Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party, and the huge United Democratic Front coalition will move freely into the political arena. Representatives of these groups are quick to point out that a six-month emergency detention law remains in place, as do some foundation stones of apartheid.
Turbulence can be expected in the months ahead, and some in De Klerk's Afrikaner constituency may be incensed. But the move toward inclusive democracy has to bring freewheeling public debate, and the last elections indicated that most white South Africans accept the need for change.
An impulse to crack down still exists. But de Klerk has made clear his desire to restrain police action. Even so, violence has been mounting at recent protests - such as those against a tour by British cricketers. Mandela and others in the anti-apartheid leadership will have their own challenges restraining militants in their ranks.
De Klerk lifted the onerous censorship imposed on the press during a three-year state of emergency. Citing instability, however, he left in place a number of restrictions. Such contradictory vestiges should dissolve as liberalization moves forward.
No one can say just how far down the road lie full South African democracy and a decisive end to apartheid. No one can now deny, either, that the country is accelerating along that road.