Course Correction in S. Africa

WHEN the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party administration of President Frederik de Klerk resume talks this month, they will continue the process of setting a course toward a new South Africa.

Over the past six months, this process has been undermined by outbreaks of politically motivated violence, sometimes minor, often monstrous. This week's news included reports of black commuters killed by gunmen in passing trains. Those who would thwart South Africa's transition to democracy are still very much at work. The aim of the gunmen, and those who direct them, is to so terrorize and anger South Africans - black and white - that political progress is paralyzed.

This strategy itself must be thwarted by the determination of leaders - notably President De Klerk and the ANC's Nelson Mandela - and by the courage of individual South Africans who are building bridges of understanding between racial groups. The establishment of a new South Africa is ultimately as dependent on the latter people as on the few at the top.

Most blacks want a nonracial society, and most whites favor a political solution to the country's problems. There's ample room for conciliation.

At this moment, however, the actions of Mr. Mandela and De Klerk are critical. Both face difficult choices. De Klerk has to decide whether to forge ahead in partnership with the ANC despite the protests of a longtime ally, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party. It may, in fact, be time for De Klerk to cut the ties to Chief Buthelezi, who has hinted at another alliance, with the white opposition Conservative Party.

Mandela has the problem of adopting a moderate path of negotiation while not alienating militant elements in the ANC. Many in the ANC prefer mass protest, which carries a threat of violence, to the often tough slogging of negotiating change. Some are bent on revenge for apartheid's ravages.

In accepting a prize for international cooperation early this month, Mandela said, "... our idea at the ANC is to let bygones by bygones." That simple statement could help set a constructive tone when the talks, scheduled for Nov. 22, resume.

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