Dialogue Counts

THE continued killing in South Africa's black townships could tend to obscure positive developments in that country. Even as 34 more people lost their lives in factional combat over the weekend, black leaders were striving to build coalitions across deep political divides. Negotiations with the government on a transition to democracy are likely next year, a prospect that impels unity.

Last week Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu brought together competing groups to find common ground. The African National Congress (ANC), the radical Pan Africanist Congress, and leaders of government-created African ``homelands'' within South Africa were represented. The meeting issued a call for ``a culture of tolerance'' - certainly a hopeful sign.

Conspicuously missing from that gathering, however, were representatives of the Zulu Inkatha organization. Friction between supporters of Inkatha and the ANC underlies the terrible killing. A conciliatory meeting between ANC deputy president Nelson Mandela and Inkatha leader chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has been the subject of speculation for months. Resistance within the ANC has been a major factor in preventing such a meeting, but a dialogue between the two leaders is now more important than ever - both to help heal the black community and to reassure white South Africans alarmed by the violence.

Dialogue is a counterweight to violent impulses within South Africa. Mr. Mandela and President Frederik de Klerk continue their talks about the country's future. Business leaders have met with ANC officials to discuss the economics of a post-apartheid South Africa. They recognize the need to invest heavily to upgrade the education and other services provided blacks. Dialogue between warring black factions must be added to these voices.

All this is necessary preparation for the work of constitution-writing and nation-building that waits just ahead.

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