The UN and S. Africa

NOT long ago, direct international involvement in South Africa's internal affairs would have been unthinkable, at least in Pretoria. Now both sides in the struggle toward a democratic South Africa want such involvement.

A special United Nations envoy, probably former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, will be traveling to South Africa with a mandate to assess what's needed to bring all parties back to the negotiating table and to quell the violence that caused a breakdown in the talks.

He may end up recommending greater UN involvement, including the posting of monitoring teams in the black townships that are typically the ignition point for violence. This idea pushes the government of President Frederik de Klerk further than it wishes to go at present. Without question, international monitoring presents logistical problems: How many monitors would it take to stack out all the townships and worker hostels with a potential for violence?

The African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela, wants international monitors. The ANC may be motivated, in part at least, by a desire to undermine the sovereignty of the white-led government. But more important, black South Africans can argue that objective sets of eyes and ears on the scene might provide the best chance of resolving the debate over who is initiating events such as the June 17 massacre of 46 people in Boipatong township.

In pushing for monitors, the ANC runs risks of its own. Some of its young militants could well be implicated. People prone to violence can be found on all sides in South Africa.

And so can people who earnestly want to resolve differences and get on with building a new, democratic system. International monitors might be able to take some of the heat off the subject of who's causing the violence and thus allow this central task to be taken up again.

In fact, it has never been completely dropped, though the Convention for a Democratic South Africa talks have lapsed. Negotiations between white business leaders and black trade union leaders show that the momentum toward agreement continues. These two sectors are critical to a new South Africa; the peace charter they've drawn up could be a basis for renewed talks at the national level.

In addressing the UN, South African foreign minister Roelof Botha said, "We welcome foreign advice on how to curb the violence." The advice from UN sources will be most valuable if it springs from monitors who are on the ground in the townships and who know what's going on.

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