ANTI-APARTHEID activists never tire of asserting, ``The struggle continues.'' And they're right. Next Monday, Nelson Mandela will have been free for a year. Just last Friday, President Frederik de Klerk announced the imminent end of laws governing land ownership, residence, and racial identification - apartheid's foundation stones. Yet the struggle indeed continues.
It's not an ``armed'' struggle. Violence will hurt, not help it. With the legal structure of apartheid being dismantled, the tremendous work of removing the economic and social effects of that system and building a new nation is just beginning.
This broader struggle embraces all South Africans. It also embraces political leaders outside the country who will make critical decisions about removing the economic sanctions that have helped impel change.
Many white South Africans, led by a president who has come to acknowledge the error of racial discrimination, are recognizing their own stake in the struggle.
News of some formerly all-white schools opening their doors to black students, with the encouragement of white parents, is heartening. So are stories like the recent Wall Street Journal account of progress toward community-building in the small town of Kirkwood, where paved roads and more water taps are beginning to reach once ignored black and colored neighborhoods. Significantly, a black consumer boycott spurred the change of attitude in Kirkwood.
These are the barest beginnings. Some whites, like the Conservative Party members who walked out on Mr. De Klerk's speech, want no part of them. But efforts to extend services - electricity, water, decent schooling, health care - to black areas are central to eliminating what De Klerk last Friday called the ``pressing problems of poverty and unemployment.''
The governments that have backed the struggle in South Africa by imposing economic sanctions have to decide when the process of change has reached the point where renewed trade and investment will serve the struggle for a new order instead of propping up the old.
That point is not far off. The European Community has said it will remove barriers to imports of South African metals as soon as legislative action to remove the apartheid statutes begins. De Klerk is well on his way toward meeting the conditions set by Washington for removal of sanctions. Apartheid's legal pillars will be gone before Parliament adjourns in June. De Klerk is likely to move quickly on other commitments as well, such as the release of all political prisoners and the repatriation of exiles.
Mr. Mandela's warning against premature removal of sanctions has to be taken into account. Conditions for black South Africans have only worsened over the past year, as violence has increased.
Removal of sanctions could help blacks economically; care has to be taken it doesn't undercut them politically.