De Klerk's Opportunity

THE collapse of talks in South Africa and the polarization between Frederik de Klerk's government and the African National Congress must not continue. Accusations are being hurled by both sides across a widening abyss; the ground for a truce is eroding. Hatred and frustration is mounting - especially among the current "lost generations" of black youth in the townships for whom the relative discipline and patience of the ANC appears antiquated, and whose motto, sadly, is "liberation before education."

This is a crucial hour. It needs more than the petty concessions and hard-line polemics President De Klerk has offered in recent days. Throwing away two years of painfully wrought progress, including a white vote to dismantle apartheid, is a tragedy. In this hour, it is up to De Klerk to emerge as a moral leader capable of restoring blacks' faith in the gains achieved - and thus continuing momentum toward an interim powersharing arrangement between blacks and minority whites. That was the direction event s were headed before the Boipatong massacre. It is South Africa's best hope for a civil society.

Unlike Nelson Mandela, who has used up his political capital with his angry constituents, De Klerk can go further with whites. Given bad relations between Johannesburg and the ANC, De Klerk must leap over both and speak directly to all South Africans in a way no South African president ever has done before. He must unify and heal his country by admitting the fundamental wrong of apartheid.

No official apology for apartheid has been made to blacks. Whites have done so privately. South Africa's Dutch Reformed Church says apartheid is "evil." A mea culpa - public renunciation by De Klerk - would be an enormous symbolic act. De Klerk must reform the police and stop police complicity with militant Zulus. But to condemn apartheid, a policy South African politicians grew up supporting, would bespeak good faith to many blacks. It would speak to the international community whites want to woo. It wo uld also be the truth.

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