South Africa: An Incomplete Story

WITHIN days, South Africa's parliament, the legislative machinery of apartheid, will cease to exist. Blacks for the first time hold positions of national authority on a joint executive body that is steering the country toward its first multiracial elections in April. The country's two most prominent figures, President Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, received the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.

You won't read this in David Ottaway's book, and that is its central problem. ``Chained Together: Mandela, De Klerk, and the Struggle to Remake South Africa'' is incomplete. Ottaway, South African correspondent for the Washington Post from 1990 to 1993, moved to a new assignment a year and a half before South Africa is to hold its elections, the logical end of the story he has tried to tell.

What Ottaway does offer is a thumbnail narrative of the struggle between two men and their parties - one in power and one coming to power - to bring democracy to South Africa. He focuses on the period that opens with Frederik de Klerk coming to office and Nelson Mandela to freedom after more than 27 years of political imprisonment. The account, as much as is given, may provide the uninititated reader with an accessible review of events, but it reads too much like an extended newspaper story. Ottaway seldom penetrates the surface to the depths of intrigue, betrayal, and dealmaking that mark the final gasps of white rule.

On Feb. 2, 1990, less than five months after being elected president, Mr. De Klerk announced that the time had come to lift the ban on anti-apartheid groups, release all political prisoners, end the nationwide state of emergency, scrap all media restrictions, and repeal the central statutes of apartheid.

Nine days later, Mr. Mandela walked out of prison. The two events marked the formal beginning of a dramatic and violent period of negotiations toward democracy. In the next four years more than 12,000 South Africans would be killed in the cross-fire of political strife.

What motivated De Klerk? Ottaway never really answers this question. He describes the president as a strict Calvinist Afrikaner whose bland political record gave no hint of the reformer he would become. But he seems more interested in comparing De Klerk with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev than exploring how political violence, international sanctions, and the end of the cold war forced the government to negotiate with the black majority.

South Africa's pangs of reconciliation ought to provide more compelling reading than Ottaway offers.

Inside the negotiating forum, De Klerk, Mandela, and the representatives of roughly 20 other parties disagreed over power-sharing arrangements, federal vs. central government, and control of the military. The two leaders came to verbal fisticuffs over allegations of police complicity in political violence. Strategies shifted, mistrust grew.

Outside, De Klerk's reforms unleashed the darkest remnants of apartheid's past. The South African Police assisted Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party in a war against the African National Congress. The military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress launched a campaign of violence against whites. Covert groups within the vast and byzantine South African Defense Forces that had long waged a ``dirty tricks'' war against the ANC in exile brought that conflict home after De Klerk lifted the ban on anti-apartheid groups.

Ottaway's discussion of these developments is thin: He depends too much on press conferences and speeches. He sometimes fails to convey the significance of events, such as the Boipatong township massacre on June 17, 1992, which killed 42 people, sealed the bad will between De Klerk and Mandela at a particularly tense moment in the negotiations, and precipitated the ANC's three-month campaign of ``mass action'' protests.

Not addressed at all, because this happens after Ottaway had closed his final notebook, is the rise of the Freedom Alliance, an umbrella group of right-wing white and conservative black groups attempting to thwart the transition accord. These groups want their own homelands and as a joint force have become the foremost threat to the transition to democracy.

As for the relationship between De Klerk and Mandela, Ottaway makes a crucial observation almost as an afterthought. These two men were ``like two escaping convicts chained together and hating each other, but realizing full well that they needed one another to make good their run to freedom.''


Following is an excerpt from Nelson Mandela's speech at the April 19, 1993, funeral of Chris Hani, the assassinated leader of the South African Communist Party, as printed in a new collection of Mandela's words: Black lives are cheap, and will remain so as long as apartheid continues to exist. And let there be no mistake: there have been many changes, and negotiations have started, but for the ordinary black person of this country, apartheid is alive and well....

What does an election mean for us? A one person, one vote election, throughout South Africa ... is, at this point in time and given the gains we have made, the shortest route to a real transfer of power. Such an election will produce a government that, for the first time in our long and arduous struggle, will be a government that represents the democratic wishes of all South Africans....

South Africa will then, through radical opposition to apartheid, be transformed into a united, nonracial, democratic, and nonsexist country. -- From `Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic Nonracial

South Africa,' Pathfinder, 296 pp., $16.95 paper

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