THE joint award of the Nobel Peace prize to President Frederik de Klerk and African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela is an affirmation of their success in transcending the bitter legacy of apartheid to advance the goal of democracy in South Africa.
Events of the past two weeks have provided a stark reminder of how profound an achievement this is.
Last Thursday, the day before the Nobel peace committee announced its decision, Mr. Mandela was asked by reporters in Paris whether he would be prepared to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. De Klerk following a raid by South African security forces (Oct.7) on the black homeland of Transkei that claimed the lives of five black youths.
``I think so,'' Mandela replied, adding that the award would acknowledge their joint efforts to bring peace and democracy to South Africa.
But when he arrived in South Africa a day later, ANC negotiators participating in multiparty talks were venting their anger at De Klerk's endorsement of the raid.
``He [De Klerk] will have the ignominy of having the blood of the children of Umtata [the capital of Transkei] on his hands when he receives the Nobel Peace Prize,'' said Pravin Gordhan of the Natal Indian Congress, an ANC ally.
At a subsequent news conference, Mandela was distinctly cool in fielding questions about the joint award and dodged questions about the state of his relationship with De Klerk. In the same basket
``The reality is that he and I have been placed in South Africa and we have no alternative but to work together to bring about a democratic South Africa,'' Mandela said.
De Klerk, who has consistently acknowledged Mandela's integrity and leadership qualities, said that their relationship was too formal to be described as a friendship.
These exchanges were a reminder of the pressures that Mandela has had to face from his ANC constituents in maintaining a working relationship with De Klerk. They have often seemed lonely figures -
like an estranged couple whose respective families are determined that their separation should be finalized.
The perception of black South Africans - that De Klerk has pursued a strategy of negotiating while unleashing the security forces on ANC supporters - has led to repeated allegations by Mandela that De Klerk regards black lives as cheap and is either a deliberate or helpless collaborator in political violence that has claimed 11,000 lives since 1990. De Klerk denies such charges.
Mandela's first public gesture toward De Klerk, after emerging from 27 years in jail on Feb. 11, 1990, was to describe the South African leader as ``a man of integrity.'' The observation, which was made after two meetings with De Klerk while Mandela was still behind bars, sent shock waves through the ANC rank-and-file. Behind closed doors
During the past three-and-half years Mandela has resisted intense pressure from his supporters to withdraw his assessment of De Klerk.
Until formal negotiations between the ruling National Party and the ANC got underway at the end of 1991, the fragile democracy process was almost entirely dependent on the relationship between the two leaders. When crises occurred - as they frequently did - all eyes would focus on the personal chemistry between the two men as they disappeared behind closed doors to seek a way out.
As long as they could confer alone, they always were able to come up with a solution. But the going got much tougher after their first public clash in December 1991, at the first session of formal negotiations. Mandela gave De Klerk a severe tongue-lashing - broadcast live on television and radio - over what he regarded as a breach of trust by De Klerk.
Since that encounter, senior officials of the two organizations have insisted on accompanying their leaders and making the De Klerk-Mandela relationship a more formal affair. It was also the moment at which the responsibility that rested on their shoulders could be shared with others. Momentum of its own
South Africa's tortuous transition to democracy is unfolding in a plethora of national forums and joint committees that have acquired a life of their own.
Although the manner and timing of the arrival of full democracy is by no means written in stone, even the most recalcitrant elements in the society accept that the process of change is irreversible.
As South Africa flounders on its way toward a democratic order, it is easy to lose sight of the elusive goal that Mandela and De Klerk have brought within reach.
Mandela took the risk of negotiating with his jailers. De Klerk took the risk of meeting his conditions.
Nobel Peace laureate (1984) Archbishop Desmond Tutu hailed the joint award as a fitting climax to the dismantling of apartheid and a ``wonderful symbol'' for the negotiating process.
``Here we have two men - one white and one black,'' he said. ``One who stood at the head of a racist government but contributed to peace.... The other, who had spent many years in prison fighting for peace and freedom, contributed through his dignity and magnanimity.''