DESPITE the recent speech by South African President Frederik de Klerk, in which he rejected majority rule in South Africa, it is possible for the first time since the establishment of apartheid over four decades ago, to see a ray of light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness, discrimination, and despair. My optimism stems in part from South Africa's decision to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and to unban the African National Congress (ANC). It is absolutely clear that without Mr. Mandela and the ANC, there can be no solution to the turmoil in South Africa acceptable to the great majority of black South Africans, without whose support no settlement could possibly work.
Several weeks ago I was part of a congressional delegation which met with Mandela in Lusaka. One of the most impressive political leaders I've ever met, he struck me as a kind of African Abraham Lincoln, in the sense that he possesses a deep commitment to the principle of majority rule but also an acute sensitivity to the concerns of the minority.
Much of what he said echoed Lincoln's Second Inaugural, in which the great emancipator, in the waning weeks of the Civil War, called for ``malice toward none and charity for all.'' Mandela made it clear he is just as opposed to black repression as to white tyranny.
In addition to a compelling personal presence, a quiet eloquence, and a gentle dignity, what is perhaps most remarkable about Mandela is that after 27 years in prison, during which the apartheid regime took away the best years of his life, he seems utterly unembittered and fully prepared to extend the hand of reconciliation.
I was also impressed by Mr. De Klerk. Compared to his predecessor, P.W. Botha, he is as day is to night. What most struck me about De Klerk was the extent to which he has broken with the conceptual rigidities and ideological shibboleths of the apartheid system.
He told us, for example, that he recognizes that for any settlement to work, it has to be acceptable to the majority of the black community. He seems to understand that the concepts of a separate black parliament, a separate white voter roll, or a race-based arrangement would be unrealistic and unacceptable as the basis for a future political system. And, perhaps most significantly, he appears to accept the validity of the basic black demand for a universal franchise within a unified state.
President de Klerk has, to be sure, rejected the concept of an untrammelled majority rule as the basis for a new constitutional dispensation in South Africa. To the extent that De Klerk's preference for a system of checks and balances constitutes a means of giving the white minority the ability to maintain its political and economic domination, it will clearly be unacceptable to the black majority.
But if De Klerk is willing to accept constitutional arrangements that are primarily designed to provide political protections for fundamental freedoms, as distinguished from a white veto over government policy as a whole, a political settlement may still be possible.
As for US policy, President Bush now has a rare opportunity to unite the Congress and the country around a new approach toward South Africa that would enable us to facilitate a settlement leading to the abolition of apartheid and its replacement by a new system based on the principle of majority rule and minority rights. Such an approach should have three components.
First, it should maintain the existing sanctions, which clearly played a critical role in leading the South African government to the conclusion that fundamental change was necessary, until such time as there has been irreversible progress toward the abolition of apartheid.
Even if negotiations begin relatively soon, there's still a long way to go before an agreement is reached. If the ANC and the other black organizations that participate in the negotiations are going to be able to get an acceptable agreement, the playing field needs to be leveled. Given the vast military, political, and economic resources available to the government, sanctions are one of the few conditions that create some equality at the bargaining table.
Second, American policy should include a program of increased assistance for Namibia, which has just received its independence, and which has adopted one of the most democratic constitutions and established one of the most multiracial governments in all of Africa. The administration's current aid budget for Namibia is $500,000. In view of its significance, however, something on the order of $10 million would be more appropriate.
What happens in Namibia is far more important for the future of South Africa than anything we say or do. If Namibia succeeds in preserving political pluralism, protecting human rights, and fostering a prosperous economy, it will clearly have a salutary effect on the willingness of South Africa's whites to adopt a similarly nonracial democracy for their country. But if Namibia should succumb to chaos and anarchy, or if there should be widespread political repression or an economic collapse, it will strengthen the hand of those in the white community of South Africa who argue that any change will necessarily produce a disaster for the country.
Third, we need a ``democracy initiative'' for South Africa in which we provide resources to multiracial organizations committed to the creation of a nonracial democracy. Such a program would be conducted through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), along the lines of NED help in Poland, Nicaragua, and Chile, where it supported pro-democracy movements.
An NED-sponsored program would make resources available to the ANC. It's important to recall that within the framework of the black political community, the ANC is not only the most predominant but also the most responsible of the principal groups. Compared to the Pan African Congress, for instance, or the black consciousness group AZAPO, both of which are opposed to negotiations, the ANC is a middle-of-the-road force for moderation.
Some may argue it's inappropriate to provide resources to the ANC because of its commitment to armed struggle. Yet the ANC has denounced ``necklacing'' and has said it would be prepared to suspend armed struggle for real and serious negotiations.
Furthermore, it would hardly be appropriate to reject funding for the ANC for the purpose of developing an above-ground, legal, democratic political movement in South Africa because it has not yet rejected armed struggle - when we haven't hesitated to provide millions of dollars to Jonas Savimbi in Angola or the contras in Nicaragua in order, so we say, to facilitate a settlement and the establishment of democracy in those countries.
The congressional delegation that went to South Africa several weeks ago, led by Democrat Bill Gray and Republican Dean Gallo, contained both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Yet despite our political and philosophical differences, we all returned from our trip believing that an approach based on these three components could unite the administration and the Congress, as well as the country, behind a policy that could make a real difference in South Africa.