AS the end of apartheid draws nearer, black and white leaders in South Africa are presenting a united front to show the international community that reconciliation is under way. The effort is more than just imagemaking - South Africans care what the world thinks because they want massive international assistance to build a new society here.
In a poignant moment on June 5, two men who stand as symbols of the effort to bring blacks and whites together peacefully - one a leader of the African National Congress, the other a minister in South Africa's government - were jointly honored by the University of Massachusetts.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa and chief government negotiator Roelf Meyer - dressed like twins in red-and-blue academic gowns, hoods, and black mortar boards - shook hands as they received honorary law degrees.
Twenty-four hours earlier they shared the Man of the Year Award from the ANC-leaning New Nation weekly newspaper and the Engen oil corporation at a gala occasion presided over by ANC President Nelson Mandela.
Mr. Mandela hugged Mr. Meyer after he received the award. It was the first time Mandela was seen giving this traditional African greeting to a member of the ruling National Party government.
"It was one of those moments where emotion takes over," says a Western diplomat who attended the dinner.
"There are few historical precedents for such a meeting-of-minds between sworn adversaries," he says. "But the question is: How long will they be able to sustain it?"
New Nation marked the joint award with a 16-page supplement that included a personal profile describing Meyer as "a man to watch." He is a clear favorite for a top job in an ANC-dominated transitional government.
Ramaphosa, a former mineworkers' boss with a flare for negotiations, and Meyer, the mild-mannered Constitutional Development minister, have a personal relationship that has survived major breakdowns in the talks. Masters in choreographed optimism, the two have been largely credited with the tentative setting of a date for the country's first democratic ballot on April 27, 1994.
They have also paved the way for a July 4 ceremony when President Frederik de Klerk and Mandela will jointly receive the Philadelphia Freedom Medal after meeting President Clinton in Washington.
In an interview with Time magazine this week, Mandela gave advance warning that he will use the occasion to appeal for a US commitment to "massive measures of assistance" once elections have been held. He also said he is ready to call for the lifting of international economic sanctions earlier than planned.
The ANC had insisted that the sanctions remain in place until after an election. But Mandela said in the interview that once a multiracial transitional authority is in place, "we would call off sanctions."
The lifting of sanctions will be a green light for international organizations such as the World Bank, which is poised to grant a $1 billion loan to the country, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to give monetary assistance.
Mandela made clear that he was expecting a collective response from the group of seven leading industrialized nations (G-7) similar to the West's Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II.
His view was reflected in comments by South Africa's ambassador to the US, Harry Schwarz.
"We would like to see an economic package coming from the G-7 the same as it has for the Russian Federation," he told a recent news conference in Washington.